The Australian National University
Emeritus Faculty Member

Don Anderson

Personal History

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 army.

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 years later.

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 Continuing Education).

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- 95).

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 Indonesia.

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.