This thesis is an exercise in policy sociology. Its interest is in the politics of influence in the production of higher education entry policy in Australia, particularly as this is engaged within the State of Queensland across the period March 1987 to March 1996. The research examines a 'package' of higher education entry policies and government documentation during this period, generated from both federal and State levels of the Australian state, and is concerned with their determinations and effects as much as their content. Further, and unlike some policy analyses, the research proposes that an understanding of the state is important for those who seek to understand influence in the production of education policy and social policy more generally.
Policies emanating from the federal level of the Australian state and analysed within this thesis for their contribution to contextual understandings of Australian higher education entry policy, include Higher Education: A Policy Statement (Dawkins, 1988) and A Fair Chance for All: Higher Education That's Within Everyone's Reach (DEET, 1990), as well as the 'Finn- Carmichael-Mayer policy triad' (Henry & Taylor, 1994) and numerous documents and statements on open learning, credit transfer and the recognition of prior learning (RPL). Queensland policies on higher education entry also referred to within this study include Tertiary Entrance in Queensland: A Review (Pitman, 1987), the Report of Committee of Inquiry into the Funding of Higher Education Places in Queensland (Sherrin, 1988), and The Review of Tertiary Entrance in Queensland, 1990 (Viviani, 1990).
Dale's (1986) identification of research topics and the resources to explore them and Tesch's (1989) distinction between the focus and purpose of research provide the thesis with two topics for research, its focus and purpose each a resource for the investigation of the other. That is, Australian higher education entry policy as manifested in Queensland - the research focus – is both a topic for analysis and a resource for theorising influence in the production of state policy - the research purpose - and vice versa. In addition to the policy documents mentioned above, other resources include government and quasi-government documents, newspaper articles and related academic literature that pertain to the research period. However, the primary data analysed within the thesis are 27 semi-structured interviews with policy actors located within and around the Australian state; politicians and political advisors, bureaucrats and policy advisors, independent authorities, and academics and university administrators involved at both federal and Queensland levels of the state.
The orientation of the thesis is critical and post-structural. It argues for a critical dialectic approach to theorising influence and policy production which accounts for both coherence and complexity; an analysis that seeks explanation but also acknowledges and accommodates discontinuity and exception in such explanation. This is attempted through deconstructing policy and accounts of its production, through post-structural methods, to identify their texts, discourses and ideologies. In reconstructing these policy intentions and practices, the thesis employs a quasi-historical case study method and techniques of critical discourse analysis which are informed by three broad narratives that include a critical historicism and Foucauldian contributions of archaeology and genealogy.
In keeping with these critical and post-structural understandings, the research adopts a view of the state as a strategic-relational terrain (Jessop, 1990), multi-sited and differentiated in its interests and influence, and of policy as text, discourse and ideology. Policy production is theorised as a process in which policy is determined by dominant discourses or 'temporary policy settlements', evident in contexts in which the state exercises significant influence. Such influence, it is argued, is secured through strategies that establish and negotiate the parameters and particulars of policy and its production.
Drawing on an analysis of the policy documents, the thesis contends that during the research period Australian higher education entry policy was resettled from a traditional or 'qualified-entry' arrangement to a 'diversified-entry' settlement in which more and different kinds of Australians were given access to higher education. However, this was accompanied by a differentiation in the higher education which students entered and an expansion in the postsecondary school destinations they were offered, such that privilege for certain groups of Australians was largely maintained. In exploring the strategies engaged by state actors to establish the parameters for this resettlement of Australian higher education entry, the research identifies two broad strategies within the interview data related to setting agendas and licensing policy actors and sites of policy production. The first notes the prescription, incorporation, leverage, currency, mediation and dislocation associated with setting policy agendas, while the second illustrates the claims to authority, boundary redrawing, and the selection of people, places and processes for policy production. Strategies for negotiating settlement particulars are also identified within the interview transcripts and are proposed as trading, bargaining, arguing, stalling, manoeuvring, and lobbying.
The empirical contribution of the research is not just in its identification of a shift from 'qualified' to 'diversified' entry in Australian higher education but that the latter also enabled privileged entry to become better hidden. Whereas, the theoretical contribution of the research is in its conception of temporary policy settlements which are strategically established and negotiated within specific contexts, and in the identification of these strategies and their interrelations. Within such understanding, the research demonstrates that while state actors and their policy networks might appear to be potentially similarly influential in the determination of policy particulars, some enjoy a significant and strategic position in establishing parameters for policy production which have implications for what policies are seen as desirable and possible.