I had to pinch myself twice having read an article in the The Guardian,  about academics in an uproar over the union negotiating with universities over the impact of COVID-19.

The first pinch was for the fact that the National Tertiary Education Union had taken the eminently sensible approach to sit around the table with university management and figure out a compromise to deal with the impact of Covid-19. Having been brought up the Dutch tradition of “polderen” which means you sit down with your key stakeholders, talk through your different interests and positions, with the aim of reaching some form of consensus, I have always been fascinated and frustrated with the adversarial approach that has under-laid enterprise bargaining and the waste of time and effort involved in this ritual dance. So, it was wonderful to read in CMM about our key actors sitting down and talking about a way forward out of the difficult situation we find ourselves in. So sensible …

The second pinch was of course for the completely unreal reaction by some of my academic colleagues. In what universe are they living? Self-interest is the last thing we need when collectively we have to find a way forward and hopefully a better new normal than what we had in the past. It is good to see senior executive teams coming to the party in terms of salary sacrifices. The debate on their pay level is for another time. It is good to see universities caring for their students, domestic and international, through relief funds and flexibility in study arrangements. Of course, we can debate if this if enough for those in real need, but it is a significant and good effort. And much better than a political signal “to go back home … “

But it is completely beyond me how academic colleagues who are among the best paid in the world can come out and criticize the NTEU for sitting down with university management working out a way forward.

Undeservedly, our sector already has a bad reputation for being more obsessed with itself than with the broader society. Reactions like this will only reinforce such perspectives and immensely hinder the leading role our universities should play in a post-pandemic era, whenever we get there. Seriously, this is not what the academy is about.

Leo Goedegebuure | Editor-in-Chief, Studies in Higher Education

Professorial Fellow  |  Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education

Professorial Fellow  |  Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute


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