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Growth has introduced the language of management and the deployment of administrative processes once the preserve of commerce. The Australian university remains overwhelmingly autonomous, professional, comprehensive, secular, public and commuter.The institutional model, the mode of instruction and even the pattern of enrolments indicate considerable continuity.
The Australian idea of a university, developed in the 1850s, remains the dominant approach.
The influence of founders Why have Australian universities retained so many founding characteristics?
Yet it encouraged a narrow range of choices, a singular understanding of a university.
This continuity of form can be hard to distinguish amid huge growth in scale. They are now large organisations with standard rules and procedures to deal with complexity.
Status hierarchies and peer esteem served to narrow the range of acceptable possibilities. Familiarity renders the alternatives invisible, because we see only what already exists.
Once established in our minds, a model of what constitutes a public institution will make any alternative seem inadequate.For most students and academics, the university has always primarily been concerned with preparation for the professions.Gaita, of course, understands well the reality of contemporary campus life: To avoid misunderstanding, I acknowledge without reluctance that vocational and professional courses have always been important to universities. Professional training dominated Australian universities from their earliest expression.These first institutions were comprehensive because there was only one in each city.Denominational divisions precluded an established religion asserting control.In 1855 only around 1 in 23,000 Australians attended a university. In 2013 it approaches 1 in 25, with many institutions educating more than 50,000 students each year.This step-change has altered once-familiar features of older universities—an end to the single cafeteria where everyone ate and conversed, student centres rather than departmental advisers, a campus with the features of a small city.These new institutions focused overwhelmingly on professional degrees as a first qualification because expanding colonies needed lawyers, doctors and engineers.Despite gothic-revival stone architecture and solemn ceremonies, the original universities were practical exercises in higher education.These founding institutions were built on the British tradition of operational independence from government.This was embraced in original legislation and has rarely proved a point of controversy.