Don Anderson was born in Elsternwick, Melbourne, in 1926. His father
was a First World War soldier who on return to Australia took up farming,
on land at Stanhope, in central Victoria. As with many others in those
ill-fated soldier settler schemes, debt overcame Don's father, and he
moved to Portland to establish a shell-grit business. In 1938 the family
returned to Melbourne, where Don's father soon enlisted again in the
Don was educated at North Caulfield Central School, where he became
fascinated with science. He enrolled in metallurgical engineering at
Melbourne University but found this not to his liking. He transferred
to psychology and history, which then provided the underpinnings for
his lifelong vocation in education, sociology, and public policy.
After completing honours, Don was appointed Senior Tutor in psychology,
and soon after completed an MA. From there, his professional life became
one of teaching and research, including a PhD in social psychology some
During the 1950s an important national reexamination of education began
at the behest of the Menzies government. The resulting Murray Report
in the mid-1950s and Martin Report in the early 1960s brought about
important new directions for school and university education, including
a widening of access for poorer students and others. The consequent
increase in demand for university places resulted in quotas for entry
in many university faculties, which in turn required measures of the
relative 'quality' of applicants. Don saw these measures as potentially
contrary to the best sort of learning, and likely to distort outcomes
for those seeking the deeper values and life-expanding experience of
a true university education.
Accordingly, Don steered his research into assessing criteria and
techniques of student selection, and measuring concomitant downstream
effects on social equity and policy effectiveness. An important outcome
of this was the establishment of an Education Research Unit (ERU) at
Melbourne University, headed by Don.
In 1967, Don took study leave at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations
in London, a centre of excellence in many of the ideas that now interested
Don. There he worked with Barbara Falk and Fred Emery, who became important
mentors and teachers for him. Soon after his return from London, Don
was invited by Professor Perce Partridge, then Director of RSSS in ANU,
to join his school and establish an ERU to examine education policy
and its application in Australia, using multidisciplinary approaches.
Don was appointed Professorial Fellow in 1968, to begin a relationship
with ANU which has now lasted more than 40 years.
In those decades, most of Don Anderson's work has been at the interface
between psychology and sociology, studying the effects of social and
educational environment on behaviour. In particular, he has been interested
in the effects of institutions on people - schools, colleges, universities,
communes, 'social classes', and occupations, particularly the professions.
In the mid 1960s John Western (formerly of ANU) and Don instituted a
longitudinal study of some 3000 students commencing courses in engineering,
law, medicine, or teaching in Australian tertiary institutions. In this
study, which Don counts as one his major professional contributions,
he and Western maintained contact with the participants through their
university training, into practice, then until near retirement. The
ANU Social Science Data Archives now hold these nationally important
statistical data sets.
Much of the ERU's policy research at ANU focused on educational institutions,
contributing to the design of secondary colleges in the ACT, the structure
of post-secondary education in Northern Australia, and the evaluation
of colleges of advanced education nationally. In recent (post-retirement)
years Don Anderson and Richard Johnson (previously Professor of Classics
at ANU and Secretary of the Department of Education in the Hawke Government)
have completed a series of higher education analyses for the Australian
Government. The most recent report (co-authored with Richard Johnson
and Larry Saha) is: Changes in Academic Work: Implications for Universities
of the Changing Age Distribution and Work Roles of Academic Staff.
The Anderson-Western longitudinal study of the professions produced
some unexpected findings, including observations that type of school
(public or private) and religion influence student progress into higher
education and subsequent performance, choice of occupation, and social
attitudes. These findings inevitably led Don and his colleagues into
further research in the sociology of the public-private school divide
in Australia and other countries.
In 1979, as part of a review of units in RSSS, the ERU was dissolved
and most of its staff left for other universities, much to Don's chagrin.
He moved to RSSS Sociology (headed by Frank Jones, an erstwhile supporter
of Don and his work), but with declining resources now evident in all
parts of ANU, research became increasingly difficult, particularly for
expensive survey-based research of the sort that underlay Don's observational
methods. Nevertheless, external contracts and grants helped fill the
gaps and Don was able, often in collaboration with others in other parts
of ANU or beyond, to continue his work.
Among those who helped sustain and mentor Don in his years at ANU,
Don counts as important Perce Partridge, Mick Borrie, and George Zubrzycki
in RSSS, John Crawford (VC at ANU at the time Don arrived), then in
the early 1980s VC Peter Karmel, Dick Johnson (Classics, Faculty of
Arts), Cath Blakers (Youth Studies Centre), and Fred Emery (Centre for
Don served on the Australian Government Schools Commission, and chaired
the government's Enquiry into Public/Private Schooling in the 1970s
(The Radford Report). He was also a member of the Research Committee
of the national Education Research and Development Committee, and a
member of the Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching (1991-
Away from the federal government centre, Don played a central role
in the development of the ACT education system as Chairman of the ACT
Schools Authority in the 1980s, applying many of the ideas explored
by the ERU in the previous decade. He was chair of the ACT Human Rights
Education Committee in 2000, and chaired inquiries into higher education
for South Australia (1976-78) and Victoria (1986-87).
Don Anderson has also worked extensively with international government
and non-government organizations. He was Secretary to an OECD review
of education in Denmark, contributed to a UNESCO review of education
law and private schooling in Bulgaria, and was a member of the New Zealand
Universities Quality Agency.
Don is a Fellow of the Australian College of Education, and former
President of the Australian Association for Education Research. He is
a founding member of the Australian Psychological Society, the Sociological
Association of Australia and New Zealand, and the Higher Education Research
and Development Society of Australia.
Don and his wife Joan developed a lifetime interest in Indonesia. In
the 1950s they helped found the Australia Indonesia Association and
for 10 years he was chairman of the Volunteer Graduate Association for
Apart from his continuing research and writing in education policy
and development, Don is now a member of the committee of the ANU Emeritus
Faculty. He intends soon to assemble and collate his many documents
and records, published and otherwise, to map a paper trail of the past
half century of change and development in Australian educational philosophy
and policy. He intends to lodge these, probably with ANU Archives, and
thus provide access for a wider audience.
Don's chief recreations these days are tennis, table tennis, gardening,
bush walking and reading.