Over the past two days over 60 academics, students and activists from Australia and New Zealand gathered in Brisbane to discuss ways of challenging the neoliberal takeover of universities and reclaiming them as public good institutions. These included the development of a declaration of what good universities should stand for, and the formation of a network to support academic freedom.

The event – Challenging the Privatised University – was co-hosted by Friends of the Earth, the Ngara Institute, the NTEU, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the National Alliance for Public Universities and aimed to help revitalise the public and intellectual importance of universities.

Jeannie Rea, president of the NTEU and one of the conference plenary speakers said “universities have lost their way, and forgotten their mission to pursue knowledge for the public good, when they are focussed only on the bottom line and treat students as customers and staff as production inputs.”

Raewyn Connell, Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney and a plenary speaker at the conference, said: “Universities can be tremendous resources: sources of knowledge, imagination, skill and inspiration. Right now, they are being turned into over-controlled businesses working for privileged interests. That’s damaging for students, for staff, for knowledge, for society. It doesn’t have to happen – we know better ways of doing higher education! What we need is new ways to put the better ideas into practice.”

Associate Professor Dr Kristen Lyons, from the University of Queensland’s School of Social Science and one of the conference organisers, said “the response to this conference has been incredible. It’s clear there is great momentum to reclaim universities from corporate and managerial control. The new university is on its way.”