The Theodore Fink Memorial Symposium 2021

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‘It’s Time for Freedom … Yes It’s Time’: new perspectives on ‘free’ university and the 1974 abolition of fees in Australia

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The Whitlam Government’s decision in 1974 to abolish tuition fees for Australian higher education ushered in fifteen years when university was ‘free’ to students. The policy revolutionised the experience of attending university and altered the expectations of students and universities.

But what did the change mean? How different were the Australian changes internationally? How did it alter the relationship between universities, governments and the public? How did the different funding rules redefine ideas of student financial support, who could go to university, and how? How did the shift interact with wider economic changes and changes in the professions? How did students who enjoyed the benefits of this support respond to reshape their universities?

The wide-ranging discussion in this Symposium will explore the different meanings of ‘free’, examining its political, economic and moral dimensions, as well as offering new insights into this cohort of students, ‘livin’ in the 70s’, who were enabled to ‘go [their] own way’.


William Locke is Professor and Director of the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne, International Co-Investigator for the UK-based Centre for Global Higher Education (having been its Deputy Director 2015-19) and Founding Joint Editor of the Society for Research into Higher Education journal Policy Reviews in Higher Education. His research interests include the governance and management of HEIs; the changing academic profession; HE policy and policy-making and international higher education.


Bruce Chapman is an Emeritus Professor and economist from the Australian National University. He has extensive experience in public policy, including the design of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme in 1989 and as a senior economic advisor to Prime Minister Paul Keating, 1994-96. He is an expert on the economics of university tuition issues and income contingent student loans, and on these topics has been a consultant to the World Bank and the governments of about 20 countries. He was a consultant to Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education in 2008, and the Australian Government’s Base Funding Review, 2011. He has had published around 200 papers on issues related to higher education financing.

Gwilym Croucher is a higher education analyst and researcher, and a Senior Lecturer in the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. A Fulbright Scholar, he has been a Chief Investigator on ARC and Office for Learning and Teaching funded projects, and his work focuses the political economy of higher education, as well as higher education policy and management. His latest book Australian Universities (with James Waghorne) was published in 2020.

Julia Horne is Professor of History and University Historian at the University of Sydney. She writes on the history of higher education, women and postwar society, as well as the history of landscape and travel. She is author (some co-authored) of six books including the The Pursuit of Wonder (MUP, 2005), Sydney the Making of a Public University (with Geoffrey Sherington, MUP 2012), Preserving the Past: The University of Sydney and the national unified system 1987-96 (with Stephen Garton, MUP, 2017) and is co-director of

Hannah Forsyth is Senior Lecturer in history at the Australian Catholic University where she had taught modern history, historiography and Australian politics. Hannah is author of A History of the Modern Australian University (NewSouth 2014) and was President of the Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society for 2020-2021. She was the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2017-2019 for a history of professions in Australia, which reconsiders structures of class by exploring the rise of white-collar work. Hannah is currently writing a monograph based on that research tentatively entitled Virtue Capitalism: the rise and fall of the global professional class.

James Waghorne is a Senior Research Fellow working on history of universities in the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. His history Australian Universities (with Gwilym Croucher) was published in 2020, and his history of student life at the University of Melbourne is to be published later this year. James is investigator on the ‘Expert Nation’ and ‘Universities and Post-war Recovery’ ARC projects, tracing the careers of university graduates who served in the First and Second World Wars.

Theodore Fink (1855-1942), for whom this seminar is named, was a lawyer, politician and newspaper proprietor with a strong interest in Victorian schools, universities and workers’ education.

Image credit: University of Wollongong Archives

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