Problematising higher education enrolment policy: A comparative case study of Australia and Taiwan

Research output: ThesisNon-UWA Thesis


Over the last four decades, higher education enrolment has been perceived as various types of ‘problems’. Some government, for example, have widened university access to respond to the problem of growing student demand, while other sought to resolve the problem of an insufficiently skilled workforce. In short, and amidst increasing demographic shifts and economic transformations, higher education enrolment has emerged as a central approach to addressing a range of perceived problems while a robust body of literature has analysed the effectiveness of policies in resolving the problems outlined by governments; scant studies have delved deeper to explore the conceptualisations of the problems themselves.
This thesis examined higher education enrolment policies across both time and space to better understand how different ideas, beliefs, and norms could lead to diverse policies. This study used Carol Bacchi’s ‘What’s the Problem Represented to be’, informed by Michel Foucault’s problematisation, and Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus’s Comparative Case Study to explore the unique historical-political discourses that underpinned the representations of enrolment problems in Australia and Taiwan. These two contexts selected as sites for this study because both countries experienced a massive growth in student enrolment, but selected and applied opposite courses of policy action.
The study involved 40 in-depth interviews with former Education Ministers, legislators/MPs, senior policy analysts, union officers, and university executives in Australia (n=21) and participants of similar backgrounds in Taiwan (n=19). It secondarily collected a considerable corpus of archival sources from the two countries, including but not limited to education policy documents, university submissions, newspapers, and public speeches of Cabinet/Parliament members (n=66). The interview transcripts and policy documents were transcribed and analysed using an iterative and inductive approach to generate its themes.
The findings reveal three theoretical and applied implications. First, higher education expansions in Australia and Taiwan represented a specific domain where individuals and the population, universities, and the state were intimately intertwined, offering a unique ‘truth’ pronounced by governments related to their perceived obligations to both widen university provision to respond to growing student demand and to enhance national competitiveness. Yet, this ‘truth’ was produced differently according to local contexts. Second, this thesis
engaged in a critical policy analysis to explore the localities of Australia and Taiwan, arguing that policies were not produced through seamless rationalities, but in tension with extant power/knowledge relations and various historical-political entanglements. Last, both cases manifested complex governing apparatuses that shaped the rules of how university enrolments could function. Yet simultaneously, a ubiquitous though contextualised form of surveillance was formed wherein individual university executives and universities were influenced constantly by student markets and broader societal discursive concerns. In sum, this thesis makes unique theoretical, methodological, and applied contributions to the fields of higher education, policy studies, and comparative and international education.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sydney
  • Thomas, Matthew A. M., Supervisor, External person
  • Welch, Anthony, Supervisor, External person
  • Goodwin, Susan, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


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