The commercialized Australian public university: An accountingized transition

Lee Parker, Ann Martin-Sardesai*, James Guthrie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the impact of neoliberalism on Australia's public higher education system. It examines flaws in the university system revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and identifies how the conditions created by neoliberal policies have limited universities' capacity to respond to a crisis. The paper reviews the previous literature on universities, neoliberalism policies, and new public management practices. It uses data from the literature, newspapers, and contemporary documents to shape an overview of the Australian public sector university system up to 2021 and its transformation by stealth. The impact of this transformation has been a heavy reliance on international onshore student fees to fund operations, infrastructure, and research activities. COVID-19-related public health measures have caused a significant downturn in the number of international students studying in Australia, in turn, creating a financial crisis that has seen many tens of thousands of university staff losing their jobs and courses being cut. The transformation has also seen accountingization of both individual academic and university performance to become the norm. The quantified performance metrics associated with accountingization have become universities' new language, and their goal displaced ends. Revenue generation and expenditure has been privileged over making a contribution to the nation and society. We call for a radical rethinking of the public sector university mission for the ultimate benefit of the Australian community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-150
Number of pages26
JournalFinancial Accountability and Management
Issue number1
Early online date1 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • accountingization
  • Australian public universities
  • COVID-19
  • neoliberalism
  • new public management


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