In the last two decades at Australian universities, departments have primarily been funded using formulae that are based to a large extent on the number of Australian and foreign students that are enrolled in their majors, or are taught by their service courses. As such, there is a tremendous pressure on administrations and departments to increase enrollments at any cost – for instance by lowering course requirements, or removing requirements involving other departments and replacing them with in-house substitutes. As one consequence on this focus on enrollments, other factors such as research and teaching quality, or the needs of industry or the community, are considered secondary or are neglected altogether. Another effect is that department funding is subject to short-term fluctuations based on changes in student demand. [In contrast, in other countries such as the US, funding is usually not determined by rigid formulae, but instead changes slowly from historical levels in response to a combination of all the factors listed above.]
These factors have played a significant role in the recent USQ crisis, and as indicated in a letter to the most recent issue of the Gazette, have also had a detrimental effect on mathematics at the University of New England. In this post I would like to describe how this structure had largely destroyed mathematics at my old alma mater, Flinders University, in which the number of full time mathematics staff has dwindled from 19 during my time there in 1989-1992 to just three today, although a rebuilding effort is now being planned there, as reported last week in the Australian.