Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Universities in 40s and 50s

This posting is from an email to my supervisor and is thus a little decontextualised and will possibly not make sense to anyone who isn't me (or perhaps someone not me who has been reading about Australian universities in and after wwii (<- that is WWII or the second world war, which in lower case looks weirdly like the wii gaming system, which is quite different to the war. Usually.)

I think two things from the 1940s-1950s stand out:

1. expansion of participation in higher education and the availability of scholarships in and after the war both (a) changes the sense of who is 'allowed' to possess university-derived knowledge, making it systemically more egalitarian-seeming, which also means that (b) there is an increased sense of mass-production of university education on the one hand, and graduates on the other. Of course both of these lead to some concerns over the purpose of universities and education and perhaps the sanctity of the elite (Anderson is a nice example) and
tensions between the instrumental functions that government needs universities to perform and the role and importance of traditional and 'pure' knowledge in a 'civilised' university system (Menzies' own tension).

2. the increasing sense of the importance of scientific knowledge to society after the second world war, the expanded role of the commonwealth government in higher education and the substantial amount of funding allocated to it after the Murray report intensifies the (probably inherent) tension between academic freedom and public accountability. Both Murray and Menzies, as academic-types themselves, have a very strong sense of the traditional importance of both institutional autonomy and freedom of individual academics to both free thinking/speech and choice of research and curricula. But this is balanced by language throughout the Murray report and Menzies' various speeches that shows that when society pays for a university system it can expect something - perhaps even something quite particular - in return. My feeling is that this creates a sense of a contract between government and universities - or, perhaps, universities and society, which starts to raise a 'who pays/who owns' type question and a heightened interrelationship between university activity and community needs (and an associated question of who is to determine those needs ... and so on). Of course a heightened nationalism during the war also contributed to universities' role as contributors to society, enhancing instrumentalism and causing Anderson to panic about both free speech and the position of the academic elite (that is, both the points are interrelated).

From those two points to a suspicion: heading into the 1960s with vexed questions of who determined which knowledge is valuable and on several levels who 'owns' it perhaps starts to resolve itself with the emergence of a knowledge economy where the value of knowledge is determined by market forces and a more economic role that universities take - which seems to have been characterised by authors in the early 60s by (what I found to be a quite annoying ) book by Clark Kerr on the 'multiversity'. But this is probably jumping ahead.

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