In August 1943, John Dedman, Minister for War Organisation of Industry, addressed the brand new Universities Commission in conference with student representatives of Australia’s six universities. The Second World War was still dominating the nation, but the Allies were making such progress that Australians were starting to plan for the work to be done when the war was over. Universities were high on the list, for the war had changed them. Dedman praised them, saying:
The magnitude and complexity of the demands made by the war on educational and scientific and technical resources have given a most effective answer to those who regarded higher education as a luxury commodity in war time … panicking in a moment of crisis, they lost their faith in the underlying value of education in a democracy.
Managing the level and quantity of knowledge needed for the Second World War was a complex task indeed. The importance of universities to democracy, however, was a more problematic proposition than faith would allow. The war provoked anxiety about the necessity and character of democratic knowledge – and indeed the nature of the civilised democracy the war itself had been intended to protect. The challenge for politicians like Dedman and later, Prime Minister Robert Menzies, as well as for intellectual leaders in the universities was to navigate the space between knowledge before and after the war and renegotiate its role in society.
This is introduction to the recently revised draft chapter one.