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?


Wadi Rumbler said...

Hi Hannah, this topic interests me. Since my involvement in Australian businesses dating from the late 1990's I have continually self-funded my attendance at conferences and also my own post graduate education, this has been to the direct benefit of the institution(s) for which I worked. I think the costs of CPD and membership of Professional bodies that are borne by individuals are quite significant. I would estimate that on average, over the past 12 years, I have spent well in excess of $5000 annually from my own funds. All in the name of networking and upskilling for the benefit of my employers or the organisations for which I work in a voluntary capacity. I dont know what the answer is, but would have appreciated some form of subsidy for my efforts, especially as they frequently turned into marketing successes for these institutions.
I dont resent this, dont get me wrong, but it is symptomatic of Australias dependence on volunteerism, perhaps its another branch of it. I would like to see the institutions themselves provide some subsidisation that is outside grant monies etc that is already targetted for research etc.

M-H said...

There have been a raft of invitations on my desk lately - many of them on paper as well as emails - to seminars, conferences and workshops on elearning and mobile learning, costing $2,000 and even more than $3,000 - often for 1.5 or 2 days. I get a generous budget for PD every year, but these are just ridiculous. Who goes to them? Who are they aimed at? You can claim some of the cost from your tax, but why would you bother? There is better content online than you'll hear, if the speakers are anything to go by.

Like you, Hannah, I go to discipline-based conferences. typically up to $700 for full registration, and often giving generous discounts to students.

Hannah Forsyth said...

Below I am pasting a segment of a comment left on my facebook link, noting that this for-profit conference is indeed offset by more modest versions for social inclusion.

"the social inclusion conference run by the equity practictioners in higher education group (so the professional group for staff in universities working on student and staff equity in higher education) was a three day conference with a similar price tag as the history one you mention. It is run every two years in Australia and the last one in Sydney I helped organise (http://www.iceaustralia.com/eophea2009/). "