Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A place worth going to?

"Suppose we manage a real equality of opportunity in Australian education. We still have to make the university a place worth coming to."

-- Eric Ashby, 1946

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Exclusive social inclusion

Some of my current work is in social inclusion in higher education - and history in particular. This is a big thing at the moment, as the government is taking active measures to ensure universities pay attention to their long-standing tendency to perpetuate social and economic hierarchies. I'm a believer in the aims of inclusion.

As a person working on three separate projects at the University of Sydney that relate to social inclusion, I was pleased when my university was offering five scholarships of $1,000 each to assist people wanting to attend a conference on social inclusion in tertiary education. I didn't apply, however, because the conference itself costs $2308.90 if you register early. There are no discounts for students or other less wealthy participants. I don't have a spare $1,300 and I wouldn't want our important project money to go to such a thing either.

But it got me thinking about the cost of conferences and the use of money in higher education.   Compare this social inclusion conference to our annual Australian Historical Association (AHA) conference - a worthy organisation to be sure, but not one that carries the ideals of 'inclusion' in its very title. Full registration is $350 if you're early, $435 if you're late and $150 if you're a student. That is around $2,000 less than the conference on social inclusion.

What does each conference assume?

The AHA:

1. Encourages junior scholars by lowering the price (they also offer bursaries).
2. Assumes scholars will pay for themselves. Even if from project funds, the expectation is modest. That is, it assumes money is for research, not for conference attendance.

The Social inclusion conference:

1. Discourages junior scholars or 'less important' participants, presumably to ensure only the 'important' attend. Not exactly an inclusive approach.
2. Assumes universities, organisations, research grants etc will pay for scholars to attend. We know this because $2,300 is not exactly the sort of fee individual academics will happily take out of their family budgets for a work thing.

Being exclusive about social inclusion seems more than a bit silly. But the assumption that higher education as a system has a spare $2,300 for - how many participants do they think will attend? 500? More? - is really wrong.

Scholars talking together about crucial issues like social inclusion is very important and conferences are not just holidays. But the AHA shows they can be run modestly and to the purpose, not exploiting one of the most significant contemporary issues faced by tertiary education for private gain. 

I wonder how much money, intended for research and teaching, ends up profiting other sectors through this sort of thing?

Monday, 12 March 2012

A technological elite dictating policy?

"The present writer will conclude with the observation that while a receptive climate of public opinion, in the formation of which the university has much direct and indirect influence, is essential to the development of a socially adequate technology, public opinion must also be allowed to be the final arbiter of the uses to which such technology is put. The existence of a technological elite dictating policy to a lay population so illiterate technologically as to be incapable of critical appraisal of such policy would spell the end of democracy. It is not difficult to see the seeds of such a situation in many communities, including Australia, today"

- submission to the Murray Committee on Australian Universities, 1957 (NAA, A10663/CAU/SCI/12)

Knowledge, Nation, Democracy: their Connections in Post-War Australia

Draft abstract for AHA conference (theme: Connections). Do let me know if you have comments or suggestions.

In the 1940s and 1950s, when nation building was a key priority and democracy seemed a precious and fragile ideal, the Australian government supported several mechanisms that would nurture knowledge.

As Tim Rowse and others have demonstrated, experts and the knowledge they wielded began to inform parliamentary decision-making in new ways in this post-war era, giving Australian democracy a new set of tools and interests.

The connection between knowledge and democracy, however, went still further. In addition to the value now granted to mastery over existing knowledge, the Commonwealth government sought to create and support organisations that would pursue research, forging the new knowledge needed in the complex social, diplomatic, medical, industrial and economic environment that emerged after the war.

Organisations that were established, transformed or funded in new ways in this period to facilitate research include the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Council for Education Research, the Australian National Research Council, the Australian Pacific Territories Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Australian National University and then, after the 1957 Murray Review, universities.

While each of these initiatives represents a distinct mission, considered together they constitute a significant project on the part of the Federal government, to pursue knowledge at a national level.

How are they connected? This paper considers this knowledge-producing project as a whole endeavour, exploring the type of nation and national priorities that it represents.

For many political and civic leaders, a central priority was the protection of democracy. While often discussed from a Cold War perspective, the connections between knowledge, nation and democracy were also considered on a different scale, tacitly invoking, I argue, an older republican ideal: Plato’s ‘philosopher kings’.

This project has been conducted with the support of the National Archives of Australia’s Margaret George Award.

Monday, 5 March 2012

What is Hannah doing now?

'What now?' is the question I've been asked over and over the past two weeks. The answer is a bit complicated: fragmented, even, perhaps.

1. Historical Research project: ‘Knowledge, Nation and Democracy in Post-War Australia’. National Archives of Australia. Margaret George Award.

2. Historical Research Project: 'Taking a longer view of widening participation: toward a history of social inclusion in higher education in Sydney, c.1945-1975.'
The University of Sydney. Widening Participation Grant.

3. Educational Research and Development Project: Diversity and Difference: History Students and Social Inclusion.
The University of Sydney. STEP Grant. With Mike McDonnell (CI) and Tim Allender

4. Part-time work, University of Sydney: social inclusion in history and the humanities. Developing and maintaining partnerships with disadvantaged schools to encourage diverse students to study history. Help extend this work into English and Cultural Studies. With Mike McDonnell.

5. Casual work, New Cambridge History of Australia. Project management.

6. Honorary Fellowship, NSW State Library. Starts in May.