Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


An Independent Inquiry into UTAS?

*Pic: The man who made the decisions … former Vice-Chancellor Peter Rathjen …

First published June 8

There is a powerfully urgent need for an independent inquiry into UTAS. The core business of UTAS is the provision of education and learning yet its management culture has twisted into a self-serving monstrous real estate concern. And it is an axiom of industry that when you deflect seriously from your core business you tread a path of danger.

The vast property portfolio in Sandy Bay once dedicated to student housing has been traded in circumstances that raise serious questions but dealings in Hobart city and in Launceston raise similar concerns.

At the same time the University has engaged in a furious agenda of internal reorganisation, which has little altered delivery or functionality. Again it is an axiom of industry that frequent re-organisation is a sure sign of dysfunction and failed purpose.

The analogy with business is appropriate as the university increasingly attempts to emulate corporate practice yet few in its administrative ranks have private corporate experience. And it shows. The previous Provost Mike Calford once said of Launceston, with some triumph, that enrolments had “declined by 5% each year over the past 5 years!” as justification for a suite of adverse administrative decisions. It was pointed out that in private enterprise if he told the board he had been responsible for such a decline in “sales” he would be fired for failure. The response was muted.

Universities are funded on the basis of enrolments and research output (other than private portfolio investments) so in a sense administration is a parasite on the output of lecturers and researchers. The performance criteria for teaching and research staff are onerous, that of administrators vague at best, yet the administrative overburden in universities expands exponentially while teaching staff are shed like dandruff.

The experience of the Royal Commission in Banking is a worrying indicator of serious malfeasance in core public institutions but of greater concern is that this cultural failure is replicated in other public institutions, universities amongst them. Central to that is a gross failure to serve its constituency: with banks it is customers; with universities, it’s students. This is why an independent inquiry into UTAS is necessary to ensure it addresses the state’s educational needs.

Probably the most egregious failure of UTAS is on the northern campus. Under the previous vice chancellor Launceston was systematically and deliberately asset-stripped. If multiplier effects are taken into account over 1000 jobs have been shed from Launceston.

The vice chancellor never denied this intention but promised 7-14,000 enrolments once the campus was moved to Inveresk and a suite of associate degree courses introduced. The fanciful assurance never had any foundation and the offerings and enrolments in associate degrees have been anaemic. In effect the northern campus has become a ‘branch office’, a TAFE with a tertiary top. As a university campus it is terminal.

The destruction of the northern campus has been administratively imprudent but to appreciate this you have to examine the amalgamation with the TSIT that took place in 1991. Hobart always saw the TSIT as waste, a dilution of resources and unhealthy competition but under the Dawkins plan UTAS Hobart alone would never have been viable. It needed the TSIT enrolments.

The TSIT had a vocational emphasis and while some courses overlapped, it attracted a different cohort of students. What enhanced the amalgamation was the distinct yet complimentary nature of the respective programs. It is that complementarity that has been destroyed and with it a wider offering and an extended enrolment.

It is easy to criticise but what would a viable northern program look like? The essence is complementarity not campus competition, a boutique college with a distinctive identity and an emphasis on the personal. It needs a distinctive name like Lyons University College, for example, corralling the northern Tasmanian identities Enid and Joseph Lyons. Rather than fragmentary units, courses would be inter-disciplinary geared to distinctive themes like the environment and sustainability. While vocationally orientated – towards education, nursing, social work and business entrepreneurship – it would sustain a broad humanities foundation.

These suggestions are not particularly original but success would be dependent on a dedicated determination to implement. It is probably too late, but something needs to be done to retrieve the disaster UTAS has created. And it is about building UTAS as a whole not just a northern or solely southern program.

An independent inquiry into the performance of UTAS is desperately needed not only to correct a failing culture which has forgotten its purpose but to map the future of a vital state institution.

*Dr Michael Powell is Conjoint Senior Lecturer, Humanities, University of Newcastle; Adjunct Researcher, Humanities, University of Tasmania

Leigh Murrell: Reponse to Prof Adams

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. scott heares

    June 12, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    The following is a quote from a letter sent from Ben Swain of Murdoch Clarke it is dated 22nd April 2010 …

    [i]“My meeting with him was cordial and productive. In that meeting Andrew Edwards advised me as follows:

    1. that he believes your property is worth as a current market value the sum of $1 million. He has based this upon a rationale of $2,000.00 per square metre. I note that Andrew Edwards is an experienced real estate agent and real estate consultant. As you may be aware, he is the “Edwards” out of Edwards & Windsor.

    2. that in the hypothetical event that the University did not own the rest of the block that he believed $1 million would be the appropriate fair market value.”[/i]

    Mr Swain was acting on behalf of the owners of 57 Campbell St who were in negotiation with UTas re the sale of their property. UTas had Andrew Edwards acting on its behalf.

    One year earlier, in 2009, UTas Real Estate negotiated with Mr Sultan to buy No 12-16 Bathurst St adjacent to the above property and paid him $3.5 million for the property. The property was 461 square metres. UTas Real Estate obviously based it on a rationale of $7,592 per square metre.

    In 2015, UTas Real Estate was very busy yet again buying 62-66 and 70-82 Argyle St for $9.8 million, with a capital value $5 million.

    Very strange, when dealing with 57 Campbell St, that the university decided to use Edward & Windsor and not UTas Real Estate. That’s just a small example. There are plenty more as UTas Real Estate is a very busy little business.

    Silly me, I thought they were in the business of education and medical research. I thought poor Professor Rathjen had fallen asleep at the helm, so I sent him a wakeup email with full details of what the real estate department was up to. No reply, but in the same year he did give himself a $250,000 a year pay rise .. as you do.

    Now don’t get too excited folks. There is a prerequisite when dealing with UTas Real Estate — you have to be a multimillionaire.

  2. Simon Jones

    June 12, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Why would any rational education organisation choose to tie up enormous amounts of capital so that it can offer “DIY” student accommodation, while at the same time outsourcing key administrative and technical functions?

    I can see no benefit to teaching outcomes, nor to research from UTas buying prime real estate for student accommodation and managing the facilities itself.

    On the other hand, the outsourcing of many highly skilled jobs within the university is resulting in higher costs, less flexibility, worse performance and significantly more inertia. These outcomes can only adversely impact the core functions of teaching, learning and research and once you have out-sourced key technical skills, it’s very hard to bring them back in house.

    To see how this can go wrong, look at the current reputational damage the University of Tasmania is suffering through the disastrous PageUp data breach. If you were a World leading academic, recently recruited to UTas and in the process of relocating to take up a position there, how would you feel about potentially having your Tax File Number, full name, address, date of birth and bank account details leaked? You might decide not to move to Tasmania after all.

  3. Ian Kidd

    June 11, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    The impending move to Inveresk is diminishing the reputation of UTas to that of an international laughing stock.

    Not many people outside Launceston realise that Inveresk is up to a metre below tide level, and with sea-level rise predictions anywhere between 20 cm and 3 metres this century, one can only conclude that UTas is climate change denier Central.

  4. Robin Charles Halton

    June 11, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Where was Saul Eslake as an Independent economist, speaker, company director and Vice Chancellor fellow of the University of Tasmania when negotiations were occurring to to shift both campuses into the cities of Launceston and Hobart?

    I always suspect that it could be closer links to China in fact as the University had this great ambition of attracting well heeled Asian students coming to the land of opportunity to experience a Western education and the university would suddenly become an exemplary model business collecting high fees, once the Federal government had provided the initial funding of providing an updated facility in both CBD locations.

    Both the Federal Government and the State Government have been conned as the political culture of China, compared to ours, is eventually going to test these ambitious plans for the university to continue to kowtow to potential Chinese colonists.

    Former VC Peter Rathjen has abandoned the university, making a swift exit for reasons yet to be determined as new VC Rufus Black will be required to deal with the universities political motivated outfall as it is highly likely the exorbitant moves for both campuses will never result in a financial reward for those running the show.

    As the tide turns and the Chinese political system has been allowed to go too far in our state, universities throughout the nation may find themselves compromised, especially in an out of the way place like Tasmania where education is only mediocre by national, or in fact by global standards.

    In my opinion the cash cow of the Federal Government to transform the university into something world class to attract masses of the emerging Asian middle class is an expensive joke!

    Carry on Rufus as you wish, but you must be capable of some slippery politics to stay afloat, let alone provide mediocre university education.

  5. Gina

    June 10, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    Hahahahaha! UTAS accidentally sold the driveway into the Law School!


  6. mike seabrook

    June 10, 2018 at 4:36 am

    #7 remember john wyndham – day of the triffids – only in tassie

  7. Mike Adams

    June 8, 2018 at 1:39 am

    The well known title of “Barons of Brisbane Street’ raises its head again.

    Throughout the discussion about the shift of the northern part of TasUni there has been steadfast support from all levels of government, and most notably from the Launceston City Council which has constantly emphasised the benefits to the CBD and has donated publicly owned land to further the shift.

    The expensive redevelopment of the Civic Square, the current refurbishment of the Brisbane Street Mall, with adverts encouraging the public to visit the shops there, simply advertise the fact that the Chamber of Commerce runs the place.
    One is tempted to think that shopkeepers there are on shaky ground with closures frequent, but the main thrust appears to come from those fortunate and well established people who are landowners of the CBD.

    And now we have Council permission for the Uni to seek co-tenancy with commercial outlets on the Inveresk campus area…

  8. Simon Warriner

    June 8, 2018 at 1:07 am

    I recently, like a week ago, read a critique of US universities. Unfortunately it was in the early hours of the morning and I did not bookmark it. Mr Powell has repeated the major points almost verbatim.

    What is missing from this discussion is the machinations in Burnie which mirror those in Launceston, namely abandoning a perfectly good campus for something closer to the centre of town, and much closer to the probably rising tide.

  9. Mike

    June 8, 2018 at 12:13 am

    Michael Powell #8 … That’s why, If I were to plan a conspiracy, I would hire a bunch of incompetent people for the front line.

    But I suppose the theory of evolution could be wrong after all, and it really is survival of the thickest.

  10. cait

    June 7, 2018 at 11:48 pm


    Incompetance can only be applied to unrecognised outcomes. However, we are talking about an institution the is supposedly the teacher of evidence based argument.

    So, if this institution didn’t apply evidence-based reasoning, we are left with the possibility that they clearly knew what would happen and didn’t care about the community that funds it, or they were deliberately avoiding evidence that ran counter to their goals, neither of which can be construed as incompetance.

    The incompetance notion also fails in light of Rathegen’s first public speach in Launceston at the opening of the 2011 Esk Collection art exhibition (A exhibition of important works loaned from local collectors), where he stated that he saw “Hobart as the centre of this University”. We looked at each other and wondered why would someone come and tell all Launceston’s glitterati that he wanted to denude Launceston of its Utas facilities? Such openess also undermines conspiracy!

    No, there must therefore be other reasons at play, ones that psychologist lecturers could perhaps explore in their tutes.

  11. Andrew Tilt

    June 7, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    This article raises some very real questions and they involve more than just the University.

    For quite some years now the local media organizations have gone into raptures every time UTas has spoken of its moves into Hobart CBD and Launceston. Were they simply duchessed, or more substantially conned? What of the Civic Leaders and local MPs who went into supportive raptures as well? Has UTas completely tricked Northern Tasmania, promising new jobs from the relocation whilst simultaneously ripping out existing academic jobs in the process? This articles suggests such duplicity.

    If UTas is losing its way, is that why it sits on the bottom of national student retention ratings as revealed in the national media today?

    That Mr Rathjen has moved elsewhere suggests a timely exit, but where is the Chancellor, that famously slippery ex-politician Michael Field? As effectively the Chairman of the Board, now is the time for him to ‘fess up’ and respond to this article with some full and frank disclosures.If he doesn’t, well, leopards don’t change their spots .. but dodging the issues this articles raises will only give credibility to the unanswered questions. Some matters of great concern.

  12. Steve

    June 7, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    Totally endorse the “uneasy suspicions”. I cannot think of a single UTas decision that time has proven wise.

    Possibly others may have a more informed, and possibly more charitable, view but I have yet to meet them!

  13. Michael Powell

    June 7, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    The comments are welcome. The details of real estate transactions are deeply worrying, but without ‘expert’ assessment we are left with uneasy suspicions.

    Remember however, that when you have to choose between conspiracy and incompetence .. always go for incompetence.

    The comments about how to get a truly independent inquiry is very relevant. Universities are a culture club of cloned thought, so finding someone of sufficient expertise and independence would be difficult.

    Michael Powell

  14. john hayward

    June 7, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Before Rathjen appeared, UTas was hosting the Forestry CRC which became entangled in an international consortium which was involved in a clandestine project to develop GM plantation trees. Remember?

    Whether the mutagenic efforts also developed DFTD will never be known. What I do know is that they were also trying to develop plantation trees too toxic for browsers.

    Meanwhile, the ANU has just fought off a similar effort by pollies to establish a faculty of Western Civilisation, sponsored by a right-wing Ramsay foundation headed by J Winston Howard and including T Abbott.

    So relax, TGC and Robin .. the dead hand maintains its grip.

    John Hayward

  15. annika schmidt

    June 7, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Well said, Dr Powell. t’s about time someone started telling it as it is.

    UTas is an out of control spending machine answerable to nobody. An email has been sent requesting why the Audits office didn’t question UTas paying exorbitant prices for CBD properties to multimillionaires. A couple of examples back: In 2005 they paid $3 million dollars for a property with a market value of $1 million. In 2009, they paid $3.5 million for a property that, according to a respected real estate valuer, was worth $1 million .. and these are just a few examples. Six other properties were bought for millions of dollars over the market value.

    My request also included reasons why the DPIPWE refused to release details of the lease by Nekon Pty Ltd, of the Salmon Ponds at New Norfolk. Not only didn’t they give me details, but their actions were devious. I will keep you informed.

    A spokesman refused to say how much UTas paid for the Midcity Hotel.

    That’s not good enough UTas, and taxpayers deserve to know.

  16. mike seabrook

    June 7, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Inner bypass .. where is it?

    1. the extension of collins street from molle st to anglesea st south hobart

    2. the extension of forest road in west hobart to southern macquarie street

    and 3, the upgrade from molle street/macquarie street interersection to the burnett street/brooker highway interersection.

  17. John Biggs

    June 7, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you Michael, for this much needed commentary.

    Rathjen’s mid-city takeover was opposed by all UTAS staff that I had spoken to who believed it was simply Rathjen wanting to leave his name on something, then taking off when the inevitable chickens cam home.

    As Robin says, moving mid-city makes terrible logistic sense. Academic values are entirely different from commercial values, and imposing the latter to run the former is simply destructive.

    It all goes back to Dawkins and the rivalry between CAEs and universities. What Dawkins did was to turn all CAEs into “universities” and then manage the lot with a CAE-type top down administration. Howard, Kemp, and all Ministers of Education since Kemp made matters progressively worse.

  18. Robin Charles Halton

    June 7, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Dr Powell, what exactly is happening to the Sandy Bay campus?

    Talk of a real estate boom is worrying, as I have heard the Chinese intend to create an entire new suburban housing estate for their own needs as a part of their ambitious global expansionism!

    In my opinion the Utas move into the city is only adding to the clutter of population and traffic that is already increasing each day. For example Greater Hobart does not have a clear traffic plan that should involve a Bypass behind the city to shuffle traffic that does not need to stop over in the CBD having the option of an alternative route as a measure to ensure the city’s future through traffic and road transport needs are sustainable.

    The hotel on the corner of Bathurst and Elizabeth St is to become another student accommodation site, so why take up valuable visitor accommodation which is already in short supply as the State faces a visitation boom?

    This may seem to be boom times for CBD businesses, but the resultant increase could see us becoming a mini Melbourne but without instantly available public transport as Melbourne provides, mainly for free, with its efficient Tram network to serve the masses.

    The Federal government has politically aligned itself to the Utas move into the CBD by providing funding, without questioning the reality of such a bold move to relocate from a spacious site at sandy Bay into the clutter of the city’s CBD.

    None of it makes any sense in the long run!

  19. TGC

    June 7, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Given the ‘incestuous’ nature of Australian universities it’s difficult to see how an “independent inquiry” could be established.

  20. Rob

    June 7, 2018 at 11:44 am

    When you say “Independent Inquiry” I imagine you refer to an Australian Inquiry .. because surely a Tasmanian Inquiry would be a waste of time and money.

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