Monday, 23 December 2013

Merit and equity and conferences on same

I have been all over the place, geographically speaking, since the last book-draft posting. Broken Hill, Melbourne, Brisbane, a few trips to Orange on a combination of social inclusion work, research (archives and interviews) getting advice on chapters of the book (whole swathes of the drafts posted here are now scheduled for major renovations), on some family business and going to a conference.

Just so I feel like less of a slacker (in terms of writing) when I look at Hannahland, here is the summary of the conference I attended. This summary I sent to my office colleagues, who all work in equity in higher education, which was the theme of ANZHES - 'Education for all? Access, equity and exclusivity in the history of education'. Since I am in the middle of writing a chapter on this aspect of the history of universities, it was incredibly useful.

Richard Teese spoke about the ways the Victorian state school system was envisaged as a tool for democracy but he used a great deal of longitudinal data to show the concentration of academic success in private schools and, in the public system, in high-SES students. Over time, the stratification of schooling - through streaming and establishing selective schools function to structurally give up on low-SES students while putting the best resources into the students most likely to succeed and privileging the curriculum areas that high-SES students are good at, ghettoing them away from students who are 'destined' (by SES) to succeed. This, he shows, in fact draws the whole national average down over time, so it is not only bad for the people the system fails to educate, it is also bad for the nation. Richard Teese's book is Academic Success and Social Power.

Kay Whitehead talked about the longstanding attitude of teachers to 'other peoples' children' (OPCs!) as opposed to 'people like us' (which teachers tend to be). People like us are white, good looking and the children of educated families. Using teacher diaries and school reports, she showed a consistency in teacher attitudes to OPCs and the ways these attitudes result in teaching techniques that 'sift, sort and marginalise' OPCs. On the other hand, teacher diaries of people like us talk about 'pretty children' who are 'well behaved' etc. rarely taking into account in their pedagogical strategies the circumstance that might lead some children to be empty handed and empty-headed (and perhaps empty-hearted) when they get to school. She too said that curriculum and technologies of power (including the diary, the school report, but also excel spreadsheets of student behaviour etc) helped structure disadvantage over the length of education's history.

Tanya Fitzgerald spoke about leadership myths and women in the university, describing the ways women are pushed into roles of 'compulsive institutional housekeeping'. Even at high levels, female DVCs are more likely to be in the fields considered to be humane, nurturing or 'soft' (HR etc) while 'gendered images of success' are embedded in 'hard' leadership skills owned by the VCs (who make up 82% of VCs - and there are no female VCs in Go8 universities - and in the others, women VCs all come from 'high status' disciplines). Leadership training reinforces this, teaching women to adopt masculine-like skills, perpetuating a feminine other etc. These inequalities, she argues, are clearly historically constituted, so we have to use history to show how they are made and point to ways we might undo them. Go history! Her book is Women leaders in higher education: Shattering the myths.

Kay Morris Matthews told the story of two religious institutions for children, one in Australia the other in NZ. This paper was mostly about the ethics and issues in doing research with the victims of abuse in educational settings and telling that story in a respectful way. It was pretty harrowing and, by the end as people met their school friends in a way that seemed quite healing, very touching.

Craig Campbell gave a paper on the ways schools and universities have created the middle class, consistently serving the interests of some, but not all. Sometimes this works well for some people by supporting social mobility, but not as much as the rhetoric implies. He thinks we need a really good social history of the scholarship in elite schools and in universities, for he suspects they have achieved very little in any systematic way. Craig and Helen Proctor have just published the much-awaited History of Australian Schooling.

I also heard papers on the way 19th century schools set standards that defined children, for the first time, as 'normal', setting 'abnormal' against those. And another that described the investment of elite, establishment Sydney and Melbourne in both those unis.

I had useful conversations about ways to work with my book. I love colleagues.

I gave a paper on my research in Broken Hill, which summarised the themes of what I have found so far. More on this another time.

I have been thinking, as a result of all this, about the ways universities have always sought SOME access for poor people of 'merit'. Under an ideal of merit, if the university only had rich people it would be too obvious that more than merit is going on, so they make sure there is always someone poor (or black or female) to point to to 'prove' they are about merit not white male supremacy. Cynical? I think in fact there are always people in schools and universities who would like more equity, but that privilege nevertheless uses this to its advantage.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Academic v general staff

The growing cost of administration caused another, really quite disturbing, tension. Sadly, a culture of mistrust unfolded between academic and general staff. I have been both. Since the 1990s I have had general staff positions at every level from two to eight (for those who are unfamiliar with this remnant of public service culture, this range is from very low to quite high on a scale of one to ten) and academic staff positions that include the full spectrum of casual teaching, part-time research-only work and permanent full-time teaching research combinations, based in academic Faculties (spanning science, social science and the humanities) and central university units.  What this means, though, is that I have not only seen, but I have also felt the tensions from both sides of the fence.

For academics, a great deal has changed quickly and it all seems to have resulted in more work for them, but more resources for administration. Many academic colleagues from a variety of institutions have pointed that their student numbers have increased significantly, administrative staff even more so, but the number of academics has not kept pace with student growth at all. Exact figures exist – between 2008 and 2012 at the Australian Catholic University, student numbers increased by 56 per cent, but academic staff by only 24 per cent. In that time frame, by contrast, administrative staff increased by 67 per cent.  This seems compelling, but numbers, as we know, can be complicated things. These figures for example do not really tell us what it was like before (whether administration was severely short-handed, for example) and do not indicate any shift of administrative tasks from academics to general staff that may have taken place.

But the sentiment it expresses is a trope in the ‘Jeremiad’ literature too. The university seems to have been taken over by administrators. A loss of esteem and power is associated with this, with a corresponding gain by managers, marketing professionals and accountants. Academics have not made this up, it has happened. One symbol, a senior and very esteemed professor told me, was that when searching vainly for a car parking spot on campus he passes many spaces reverently reserved for non-academic managers. Academics, according to the literature on ‘academic capitalism’ have become plug-and-play ‘content specialists’ now seemingly ancillary to the real purpose of the university, which is to run itself.  This is the ‘university of excellence’ that American scholar Bill Readings critiqued in the famous 1990s book The University in Ruins – a kind of non-university, where its purpose (in alignment to the postmodern condition) has disappeared from its core, and where it does not in fact do anything but be ‘excellent’.

The casualization of academic labour seems a symptom of this and also contributes to the tension between academics and general staff. More scholars are employed as casuals in Australia than have part-time or permanent jobs. They look at the relative security of staff who have not had the additional strain, time and financial cost of completing a PhD and feel that the university system has betrayed them. Far from a community of scholars, collectively responsible for the quality and value of university knowledge, scholars (both casual and not) feel themselves to be treated as a highly trained proletariat fulfilling every (sometimes ill-informed) desire of a set of less-qualified administrators.

While many academics deserve more respect and understanding than they feel they are currently getting, in other regards it is an improvement on the past. The situation I saw, even in the 1990s, was one where demure secretaries called every academic by their full title, while they were ‘girls’ known only by their first name. As a young 20-something administrator, senior professors expected me not only to stop my work, no matter how urgent, to make them a coffee, but also to entertain them with (often slightly sexualised) chit-chat for as long as they wished. A more professional respect for administrative staff was a long time coming, I think.

Nevertheless, the literature recounting academics’ litany of complaints, as I’ve mentioned several times, is significant. I shall turn to the feelings of those on the other side, the now-highly professional and often substantially educated general staff. A somewhat caricatured version of their commonly-voiced view of academics is that scholars are arrogant divas, always claiming that some policy should not apply to them, never wanting to do anything that every other employee in the country is required to do (like undergo performance management or use company branding), is unprepared to participate in training that would make them better teachers or more sensitive to Aboriginal students, and unavailable whenever the university asks them to help with something. Then, these whining recalcitrants believe they should be running the place, even though their administrative skills prevent them even from filling in a basic form without assistance and they are often incapable of using equipment as simple as a photocopier. ‘Collegial’ management is chaotic, wasteful and often alarmingly self-interested. It is high time, some maintain, that universities clamped down on these arrogant academics and made them toe the line.

From the perspective of professional behaviour among academics they do, we must somewhat reflectively admit, have a point. Nevertheless, we should also acknowledge that there were benefits to the structural ideal of the community of scholars in protecting university knowledge. It may have caused patterns of behaviour that to outsiders appeared crazy, but to many academics they seem so obvious that they feel outraged at any alternative suggestion.

This is why the universities are in such a mess. The structures that academics have been trained to value completely contradict the structures in which they work. It is time to consider what these structures are.

[from here I talk about three fascinating interacting economies in the university that have emerged since the 1980s…but to read those bits you'll have to wait for the book. Hahahaha *evil laugh*]

--- This is a short segment of the first draft of Chapter 7: The DVC Epidemic in the book I'm writing, Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press ---

Friday, 8 November 2013

The DVC epidemic and the regulatory state

A major target for criticism by academics has been the cost of compliance with regulatory frameworks imposed by government. This is a result of longer historical developments than scholars often suppose. Back in the old days (from the 1957 Murray review onwards) the Universities Commission decided on everything. Salaries were fixed (so the unions only negotiated with one ‘boss’, the government) and so was everything else. The Universities Commission told universities which buildings they could build, how much equipment they could purchase, which courses they could run (calculated on ‘manpower’ projections) even the precise size of the offices allowed for professorial and sub-professorial academics. In their history of Monash University, Graeme Davison and Kate Murphy tell of staff attempts to get around the Universities Commission office size specifications, so that tutorial groups could fit into staff offices. They were so creative that there remain, in certain buildings, some otherwise-unexplainable architectural oddities, a result of compliance with bureaucracy at its maddest.

This type of regulation, which stories like this one at Monash show, must have often been irksome. But it was cheap. Deregulation of many aspects of running universities gave institutions the ability to be more flexible under a range of different circumstances, but it also meant that universities needed the people and information with which to make such decisions themselves. And with deregulation, the decisions and tasks only expanded.

While the flexibility to make decisions that made sense locally must have been freeing, it also meant that for government, monitoring universities became more important. With so much at stake, governments needed to know what universities were doing, constantly. This reflects the behaviour of what political scientists refer to as the ‘regulatory state’.  The regulatory state describes a shift in the character of governments as they responded to global economic change. Rather than using their discretion to govern broadly, like using taxation to control the economy and making decisions in an ongoing way, the regulatory state created rules and institutions within which everything (‘everything’ meaning the market) must act. In many states, a key example is the central independent bank.  Kanishka Jayasuriya argues that this marks a shift in the character of organisations like universities away from being welfare-like bodies, providing an educational service, to institutions that regulate an educational market for citizens. These citizens were then defined by their capacity to participate in the market. An upside to this market-citizenship is that it led to moves to include more citizens in universities, for excluding people was also to deny them citizenship. The effect (as will be discussed in chapter ten) was widening participation in higher education, extending its benefits to more members of society.

This transformation, however, came with lots of rules. While the Australian Reserve Bank became responsible for regulating many aspects of the economy that used to be the task of government, universities were now largely responsible for the health, safety, civility and prosperity of the nation. Rules and measures to assure that banks and universities fulfilled their hefty responsibilities were needed: and the creation and monitoring of those rules became the task of the state. Within universities, this led to changes in their structure. Someone in each institution needed to be held to account for maintaining the rules and for performing the tasks within them. These people were the DVCs. This is one of the main reasons for the DVC epidemic.

It began with DVCs (or PVCs) for research. Generic DVCs to support vice-chancellors had been in place at some of the larger institutions since the 1960s and 1970s, but now more specialised labour was needed. At Macquarie University, a PVC for research was created in 1987. The University newspaper argued that the position was now needed, in part because of the new imperative to commercialise research (more about that in the next chapter) and due to the new complexity of relations with Canberra in research funding – the ARC was on the offing.  But by bit, beginning with the research portfolios, the universities created a top layer of DVC-types to be the face of each issue.

No longer was a DVC in fact just a deputy to the vice-chancellor. Their responsibilities began to reflect a new specialisation of labour required at the interface between universities and society, especially government. Their task within the university was to implement, monitor and assure compliance with the myriad rules applied by the regulatory state. So, exorbitant salaries aside, they seemed to become the ‘enemy’ of rank and file university staff.

---- This is a first draft of a segment of Chapter 7: The DVC Epidemic for the book I am writing, called Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, with UNSW Press ----

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Is online education about democratising or commodifying?

In August 1991, British computer scientist Tim Berners Lee published details of the idea he had been developing for some time – the World Wide Web – and created the world’s first web pages. Networked forms of communication and data sharing (known as the internet) had been in use among specialised groups of scientists, government organisations and a small number of educators for some time. But the World Wide Web changed the ways we would access and use information, redefining many aspects of our social and working life.

The web revolutionised businesses and the global economy and, before the end of the 1990s, many people in universities worldwide were persuaded it would transform them, too. Some believed it might cause the end of the university; some thought it marked a new beginning. Yet others found such revolutionary language in either direction to be an overstatement of what was fundamentally just a continuity of past habits, especially among distance educators, to adapt new technologies to help facilitate the human interaction that was so central to the university’s educational mission.  For higher education, the web represented a possible democratisation of educational opportunity, literally giving access to segments of society who were never able to enter higher education in the past. In the very same moment, however, the web was also the universities’ latest get-rich-quick-scheme, representing, for some scholars, all that went wrong in universities at the end of the twentieth century.

Simultaneously expressing hope and despair, the debates around eLearning remind me of a classic essay by German scholar Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, published in 1936. Benjamin argued that when art could be endlessly reproduced, it would no longer be elite. To him, this was a good thing – art was more accessible, it could be owned and accessed by everyone. At the same time, though, art would also become commodified in a new way – it would become a consumer product for a mass market. This would change the value of the work of art in a really important way. The value of art would move away from its aesthetics, or its place in the history of artistic thinking – all of the reasons art was appreciated. Instead, value would be in art’s market value, in its price.

In exactly the same way, university engagement with digital technology has significant implications, but it is not clear yet just how positive they all are. Australian scholar, Gerard Goggin, author of a history of the Internet in Australia, argues:
We are in the grip of a powerful social imaginary of the university in which digital technology is a cardinal element. The history of technology and social relations, and their critiques, show us that this can be a very heady thing indeed.  
This chapter explores the development of digital technologies in Australian universities from the perspective of these two powerful ‘social imaginaries’. The first represents a kind of redemption for the university, undermining some of its old habits in producing and reinforcing elite Australia, just as the photographic reproduction of art did for Walter Benjamin. The second is in the ways eLearning also represented a commodification of higher education, knowledge and information. It may also, just as mass-produced art was valued (by its producers) for its price, represent a shift from an ideal for university knowledge to a crude online education market. Leaping from the ivory tower, so to speak, into the waiting arms of late capitalism.

--- This is a rather rough and totally unedited segment of my first draft of Chapter 9: Knowledge in the Age of Digital Reproduction, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Monday, 4 November 2013

Overcoming the tyranny of distance

The idea of studying anywhere had particular appeal for a nation so large, but sparsely populated, like Australia. Indeed, Australia and Canada had a particular advantage in eLearning: they each had strong traditions in distance education. The distance and isolation of many communities in made distance education a useful tool for economic and community development. As a result, while initially, distance education in Australia was more coordinated and targeted, with more substantial government oversight than in most other countries.

The School of the Air, based in Alice Springs, was established at the Royal Flying Doctors offices in Alice Springs as early as 1951, highlighting to the public the difficulty of offering even primary school education in remote areas of Australia. The University of New England (UNE) began teaching external students soon afterwards, in order to fulfil its mission to educate regional Australia.  The UK’s Open University inspired later developments so that in the 1970s ‘dual mode’ institutions like Deakin University enrolled students in the same courses face to face and by distance in order to offer the opportunity for higher education to students who might otherwise miss out.

As technologies changed, so did the modes of communication with distance students. Telephone calls and television broadcasts were added to written ‘correspondence’ courses, and teleconferences were conducted to allow collective student interaction. While email was used very quickly indeed, videoconferencing was less effective, for throughout the 1990s it was expensive to run and very difficult to access in any widespread way.

For distance education practitioners, eLearning was merely an extension of what they had always done: trying to find new and better was of communicating with students and fostering interaction between them. The discipline of educational design, which grew rapidly as technological and staff development was demanded within all universities, simultaneously drew upon and ignored existing pedagogic practices in distance education. Distance educators were often frustrated by the wheel reinvention that eLearning designers conducted and the language of innovation that they used to pronounce their discovery of things distance educators had been doing for many years. I must admit, for five years before beginning my history PhD, I was one of those upstart eLearning practitioners. I am grateful for the patience with which my colleagues in distance education nevertheless supported my development.  It was not only me: the long term thinking and design habits of distance educators gave Australian eLearning a critical and methodological edge, particularly in the early years.

Not all eLearning was for the purpose of distance education, however, and terms to describe the use of technologies for campus-based students included ‘blended learning’ or ‘technologically enhanced learning’ and so on. In light of how rapidly campus-based technologies were adopted, within a decade of the universal rollout of learning management systems, some were already declaring the ‘e’ in eLearning redundant. Technology imbued all that we did, learning and otherwise. Campus-based and distance education each required technology, for everything did.

While distance education was not the sole function of eLearning, Peter Goodyear pointed out that it nevertheless carried a utopia that learning could be completed ‘anytime, anywhere’. The democratising discourse of distance education and the World Wide Web both compel the addition, ‘anyone’. Anytime, anywhere, by anyone might be a little utopian, but for many members of society eLearning offered opportunities to participate in collaborative learning that they would not otherwise have. As well as those located in remote regions, the disabled, single parents, full-time workers and others have enjoyed the flexibility that eLearning offered. Of course traditional distance education could have done something similar, but – well, frankly, it didn’t. eLearning made these opportunities more commonplace. Nevertheless, as Goodyear argued, the optimistic ‘can-do’ quality of eLearning and its capacity to democratise education needs some closer analysis.

--- This is a rather rough and totally unedited segment of my first draft of Chapter 9: Knowledge in the Age of Digital Reproduction, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Hyper sexy e-fabulousness dot com dot edu

E-learning happened incredibly quickly. Nerdy types in universities – and one of the great things about universities is that they offer a generally supportive environment for technological experimentation – began to develop ways of using libraries and teaching online as soon as web technologies afforded it. Nevertheless, the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology shows that in the 1990s, most innovation was being poured into multimedia, with the web a more marginal issue for some years. Part of this was download speed: the ‘world wide wait’ was the web’s nickname in the mid-1990s, as cups of tea were made just waiting for basic pages to load over spaceship-looking modems that also inconveniently tied up the phone line. Delivering interactive course materials by CD or even floppy disk was often a better option – and there was no guarantee that students could access the web anyway.

While there were some frustrations as the technology emerged, the web came with some really sexy ideas. Hypertext was one. The idea that information could be organised in such a way that people could create their own pathway through it began to disrupt the idea of the author’s singular and linear authority. Roland Barthes’ 1968 declaration of ‘The Death of the Author’ now had a technology to assist with the author’s ongoing demise.  Putting power into the hands of the ‘user’, the ‘reader’ or even the ‘consumer’ became a key element of the fantasy of the World Wide Web. These had resonance with some of the pedagogies promoted by the likes of Paulo Freire in the 1960s and 1970s that sought a relocation of power and even knowledge, from teacher to student.  Use of technology to support student learning was therefore somehow intrinsically ‘student centred’, a phrase meant to describe a revolutionary pedagogy but which soon became a type of university dogma deployed for enhancing profit – we will get to that later.

In 1996, the landscape changed again when Canadian Murray Goldberg presented WebCT to fellow educational technologists.  In WebCT, Goldberg quickly proved there was a market for mass distribution of what became known as a ‘learning management system’. It was so successful that within four years of that presentation, WebCT was being used by 6 million students in 57 countries. Blackboard Inc. was established in 1997 and showed a similar rate of growth. Those two companies later displayed such predatory behaviour that they bought out nearly every competitor, eventually buying out each other to form a singular eLearning monolith.

It was truly a heady time for the World Wide Web, with investment in anything ending with .com or beginning with e- escalating at such a pace that companies could vastly increase their stock market value simply by adding a prefix or suffix. The total value of the stock market grew at such ridiculous rates that speculators soon identified it, not as the revolution in business that in fact it would eventually prove to be, but an empty bubble – which burst in 2000, just before the internet really came into its own. Several of the dot coms, like Amazon, returned as the slower process of embedded change proceeded, but a good deal was lost in the rush.

The idea that hypertext embodied - that authority over the route through knowledge could now be moved away from central authoritarian experts - extended at around this time beyond the reader’s agency. Now, it was hoped, the web would also be ‘user-generated’ – the reader would become the author. The ‘wiki’, a simple technology that allowed multiple users to produce content online, became increasingly popular. The format (and the idea of shared online authority) was immortalised in Wikipedia, established in 2001.

The soft-anarchist idea of redistributing authority over knowledge, news and information was also disrupting the notion that anyone ‘owned’ knowledge at all, a threat aimed in particular at media empires such as that owned by Rupert Murdoch, but also seen as a disruption to recent global moves in the ‘knowledge economy’ to commercialise education. Movements that opposed traditional constructions of intellectual property and copyright were attached to some sophisticated theoretical discussions. These included the suggestion that sharing knowledge, making it more open, would foster a new kind of wealth for the world: a position advocated by Yochai Benkler in a book published in 2006. An earlier version of this idea was expressed in Lawrenece Lessig’s business, Creative Commons, which in 2002 founded a legal structure by which knowledge and media could be shared. The ‘mashup’, creating something new from a range of work types was a politically subversive act in opposition to big media’s alliance with nation states to control copyright.  Though the mashup is arguably now common practice by nearly every university teacher in preparation for lectures.
The suggestion that the web offered a structure for knowledge that was fundamentally different to older forms of publishing encouraged software developers to think of ways of automating and facilitating user generation of material. Web 2.0 (where the point-zero was pronounced) was the trendy term of the moment, coined in 1999 but still in use a decade later. This form of interaction led to the development of social networking tools, such as Facebook, launched in 2004, which set a new standard for the purpose and nature of the web.

For university policy makers, it was a confusing set of issues to navigate. In the new environment where a growing proportion of university income was from course fees (so that some courses were in open competition with those offered at other universities) should universities go to extra lengths to protect their course material? Or did the new environment give universities a moral imperative to become more open and make their courseware available freely? While most universities initially took the first route, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) very publicly took the second. From 2002, MIT progressively made their courses available. They started with 50 courses and by 2012 uploaded more than two thousand.

The consequences were a little like the avalanche that was caused when universities began to advertise to attract students. An online presence was no longer sufficient for the rapidly growing number of universities. Many found that they now needed to be able to profile themselves through what they made available online. In 2007, apple’s online music store, iTunes, began iTunes U, inviting universities to make use of their popular platform to showcase what they do. Carefully designed widely available mass courses were experimented with by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier in 2008; in 2011, Stanford University offer introductory Artificial Intelligence to more than one hundred thousand registered participants for free, twenty thousand of them completing the course. In 2012, Coursera was established, franchising this concept: Massive Open Online Courses, or in acronym-loving nerd speak, MOOCS. In MOOCS, thousands of students were able to choose (so advocates claimed) the best material by the world’s experts, from anywhere in the world.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 9: Knowledge in the Age of Digital Reproduction, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Crisis in the universities a crisis for liberalism

This is a quote from JM Coetzee: Universities head for extinction at
"[There is an] ideological force driving the assault on the independence of universities in the (broadly conceived) West. This assault commenced in the 1980s as a reaction to what universities were doing in the 1960s and 1970s, namely, encouraging masses of young people in the view that there was something badly wrong with the way the world was being run and supplying them with the intellectual fodder for a critique of Western civilisation as a whole.
The campaign to rid the academy of what was variously diagnosed as a leftist or anarchist or anti-rational or anti-civilisational malaise has continued without let-up for decades, and has succeeded to such an extent that to conceive of universities any more as seedbeds of agitation and dissent would be laughable. 
The response of the political class to the university's claim to a special status in relation to the polity has been crude but effectual: if the university, which, when the chips are down, is simply one among many players competing for public funds, really believes in the lofty ideals it proclaims, then it must show it is prepared to starve for its beliefs. I know of no case in which a university has taken up the challenge. 
The fact is that the record of universities, over the past 30 years, in defending themselves against pressure from the state has not been a proud one. Resistance was weak and ill organised; routed, the professors beat a retreat to their dugouts, from where they have done little besides launching the intermittent satirical barb against the managerial newspeak they are perforce having to acquire."

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Women the exception for universities Australia

It seems that Universities Australia is on side in ensuring Universities are run by men.

Check out the Higher Education conference 2013:

Here is the text from the website - now.
"The conference features an exceptional line up of speakers including:
Professor Anant Agarwal, President, edX
Mr Simon Nelson, Chief Executive Officer, FutureLearn (UK)
Professor Sandra Harding, Chair, Universities Australia
Mr John Warren, Manager, Australia & New Zealand Research Programs, Microsoft
Ms Alison Johns, Head of Leadership, Governance and Management, HEFCE (UK)
Mr Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC
Professor Ian Chubb AC, Chief Scientist
Dr Robert W Conn, President, The Kavli Foundation
Professor Brian Schmidt, Nobel Laureate"
The 'exceptional line up' in the original email they sent out did not include a single woman. Here is that list:
"Conference highlights include:
The Hon Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia (invited)
Professor Anant Agarwal, President, edX
Mr Simon Nelson, Chief Executive Officer, FutureLearn (UK)
The Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Education (invited)
Mr Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC
The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition (invited)
Professor Ian Chubb AC, Chief Scientist
Sir Richard Lambert, Chancellor, University of Warwick, UK
Dr Robert W Conn, President, The Kavli Foundation
Mr Ian Frazer, CEO & Director of Research TRI Pty Ltd, The University of Queensland
Professor Brian Schmidt, Nobel Laureate"

At least now there is one woman considered to be an exceptional highlight.

Next we need a line-up and a theme that will do more than speak to the fantasies of a handful of politicians and vice-chancellors and actually confront the really significant challenges higher education has, perhaps with a view to lobbying on its behalf instead of telling politicians just how much higher education supports them. I am not currently hopeful.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Admitting women

I think I'll save the material about the impact of the Great War for the book itself, but thought today I'd post a little bit about women in universities. There is more to say about this in later chapters, but for now:

Women were excluded from the oldest universities, though not for as long as might be expected. Melbourne and Sydney changed their rules to admit women from 1881. Adelaide sought to do so in 1874, but did not receive formal permission for some years, so it could not enrol women until 1881 either. The first university ever to admit women was the University of London, whose rules had changed just three years earlier, in 1878: Australia’s universities were not resistant to this change, which was based on the inability of many members of the local ‘aristocracy’ to support their daughters financially.

Indeed, the University of Tasmania, the next to be established, never excluded women. This university evolved out of a very small system of qualification run by the Tasmanian Council of Education, which sometimes struggled to make its quorum of five people. The ‘Associate of Arts’ (AA) was awarded as something in between high school matriculation and a tertiary qualification. From its instatement in 1859 it was intended to convert to a university system when possible. In the meantime, the colony established two scholarships for two outstanding graduates of the AA to study at a university in Britain. While nearly one quarter of the AAs ever awarded went to women, who were included from 1872, they were not eligible for the scholarship. Men who did not achieve the grades of some women in the AA went on, not only to receive degrees from Oxford, but also to hold esteemed positions in the history of Tasmania. For young women, outstanding AA grades marked the pinnacle of their academic careers. This pattern continues. Women were admitted to Australian universities more than 130 years ago and yet they still cluster at the bottom of the system’s pay, rank and esteem scales. While there have been some women at the top levels of universities, the further up one looks, the more men there are. This distribution is discussed further…[later in the book].

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Monday, 28 October 2013

New universities for a modern nation

Many local politicians considered the University of Tasmania an unaffordable luxury when it was established in 1890. It was a tough time to start a university, with an economic depression hitting Australia so hard that, even when universities were increasingly practical, so few studied there that their effect on economic development and the public good was not as noticeable as the cost of the place. Tasmania’s university in fact struggled financially for several decades, so that even in 1957 official visitors reviewing Australian higher education declared their situation extremely urgent.

Queensland debated and dithered over their university for twenty years before the University of Queensland opened in 1909. The new institution reflected the more practical aims of the university in Australia, commencing with courses in mining, engineering and education.

It is not just that the new universities were only aimed at instrumental ends; the new focus was reflective of a wider shift in ideas. No longer were universities to be such elitist institutions, educating a handful of wealthy youth in manners and ‘useless’ knowledge – knowledge that was only valuable because its holders could lord it over others while gaining privileged access to positions of social, economic and political leadership. The new modern nation needed something quite different. Both Queensland and the latest of the oldest six universities, the University of Western Australia, saw themselves as ‘modern’ institutions, though still with the links to older traditions that would boost their authority. Being modern meant expanding the benefits of higher education to the wider public, enabling ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, which British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham praised as ‘the foundation of morals and legislation’.

Implementing such modern ideas meant that universities needed to focus on practical aims. Obviously, these included mining and agriculture as well as the professions. Within this new set of ideas it was also possible, however, for practical goals to include moral aims, such as civilisation, giving universities a reason to keep some focus on the liberal arts and humanities as well as the newer and trendier ‘applied’ fields of knowledge.

Expanding the benefits of higher education beyond the elite also required an adjustment in the idea of who should attend university. High course fees ordinarily meant only fairly wealthy people could afford to go. There was also the lost income of the extra years of study both at high school and at tertiary level: for many, it did not even occur to them that this loss was worthwhile, even if it was possible. Despite this clear barrier to social inclusion, the colonies promoted a higher degree of social mobility than is often imagined. In a close study of the first 123 students at the University of Sydney, Julia Horne and Geoffrey Sherington found that, while the largest body of students were from upper middle-class families, around 39 per cent had fathers who worked in a combination of lower middle class jobs and unskilled trades.

An ideal that Australia’s universities would prioritise merit over family status existed from the beginning, but really came to fruition in the University of Western Australia (UWA). UWA sought to find a way to reduce the financial barrier to higher education. The new university was not to charge fees to its students, funded instead by the state. This was new and contentious and in fact, was barely passed by UWA’s Senate in 1912.  The idea that the university was for the public good became embedded in the idea of the university, even legally. The Act of the University of Western Australia specifies, in fact, that the purpose of university knowledge is for the public good, a clause that disturbed some of the university’s commercial aims in recent years (an issue considered in Chapter 8).

But while these new philosophies built higher education institutions to serve the new nation, they were not really national institutions. State-funded and with allegiance to their home state, Australia's first six universities  (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia) seemed a remnant of the colonial past, operating independently from one another. Ironically, at this time, their ties to Britain tightened. New technologies brought scholars within the universities closer to the networks of the British Empire. The effect was to lead university leaders to look even more to British institutions for inspiration, legitimacy and academic staff, so that for many academics, the ways that particular British universities approached curriculum, examination and scholarship set the benchmark for what Australian universities should do – even towards the end of the twentieth century, this attitude could still be detected, particularly in the humanities.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Authority for Australian professionals

From the time that the first Australian universities were established, the structure of the economy and the nature of work were changing. The industrial revolution was in full swing when British colonists invaded Eora country. As the colony grew, ideas themselves industrialised, so that the new economic structures made some people rich and many people workers. The effect of this division between capital and labour shaped Australian history and is well known. But as the nineteenth century marched onwards, something else was happening too. A new role was developing for a group of people who did not produce anything but who nevertheless persuaded the public that their labour was of sufficient value to be given significant money to perform it. These people were the professionals.

Medical doctors and lawyers were the first to successfully make their case – and the new universities helped them to do so. Early on, medical practice in Australia was haphazard and unregulated so that consulting someone claiming to have medical expertise could be as risky as not doing so at all. Claims to knowledge in the field of human health were not always trusted (or trustworthy), so the establishment of formal courses at university offered a way of creating medical practitioners that the public could trust, thus also elevating the place of doctors from the ‘quacks’ they had been to a more privileged and dependable position in society. Similarly, lawyers found that a university degree not only gave a competitive advantage but also a respectability to their work, which in turn meant people would be prepared (if not exactly happy) to pay lawyers considerable sums for their services.
The value to the university of this ‘professionalisation’ of medicine and law was obvious and immediate. As Stuart Macintyre and Dick Selleck argue:
University education gave medical practitioners and lawyers…a magisterial and conveniently expensive preparation to mark their superiority over their jostling competitors. 
But as well as fee income, universities also gained a special foothold in the shifting labour market. Over the next century, nearly every occupation would require increased levels of education. Universities, often in an alliance with the professional associations (which were also created as occupations professionalised) appropriated the knowledge of many professions. Since the addition of medicine and law, engineering, veterinary science, architecture and accounting were added; later pharmacy, psychology and dentistry; more recently, teaching, nursing and journalism, with more occupations entering universities all the time. Such professionalisation is key theme throughout this book and in chapter two I discuss it at length. The place of the university in professionalisation is important, because it is what gave universities much of their power, authority and perceived value over the twentieth century.

It was not always easy for universities to gain authority in particular fields. Engineering, for example, was an extremely important profession to colonial Australia since roads, trains, bridges, buildings and machines that were the precondition to established settlement and ran the industrial economy.

Universities established engineering Faculties very early on. This profession, however, did not embrace the type of education or prestige that universities, until the 1950s. Most engineers preferred the workshop culture of the old pupillage system, which was translated better in technical colleges than in universities. From the mid-twentieth century, universities gained dominance over the technical colleges and university-educated engineers then literally built the technological society of the second half of the twentieth century. Even in the 1950s, however, the university’s ascendance was only achieved by a fairly sneaky move on the part of the Institute of Engineers, who changed their examination to prompt a new form of accreditation, formalising the alliance between the professional association and the universities in a way that is now common across many professions.

The development of professional education within the mission of higher education is a marker of the modern university. The process began in the 1870s and continued to the present. In the nineteenth century, professional education also demonstrated to all the colonies that a university was needed for more than self-government. As Federation loomed, those colonies that had not yet seen a university as a priority found that modern society needed higher education for practical reasons, not just to promote a luxury like ‘civilisation’.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Knowledge for Australian primary industries

The key sources of Australia’s wealth were agriculture and mining. Wool was Australia’s primary export for around one hundred years. When the price of wool fell temporarily in some decades, sheep also provided meat or tallow from which to derive income.  Other forms of agriculture also developed rapidly. While Australia’s land and weather could be harsh, there was plenty of space, rapidly appropriated from Aboriginal nations, whose dispossession enabled wheat and other agricultural commodities to become an important source of wealth for the colonists. Moreover, agriculture literally fed the changing Australian economy as settlers populated the cities and built the towns, and local animal and agrarian industries developed rapidly.

Of all the animals relied upon for Australia’s economy, none mattered more than horses. Horses were the source of transport, labour and power for all industries and yet it was not until 1908 that the first courses in veterinary science were introduced to universities. When they were introduced, horses were naturally their primary focus, with far less attention paid to dogs and cats than is the case in the present. As the motor car replaced horses, the need for knowledge shifted again and so did the university. This is a pattern throughout the history of universities: any claim that universities are or have ever been ‘ossified’ institutions that prefer to avoid change is a gross misreading of their history. Those old-looking buildings and medieval outfits are just a disguise. Universities use the trappings of an unchanging tradition to maintain their gravitas, but in fact Australian universities adapted and changed remarkably quickly, throughout their history.

The discovery of gold by the 1850s and 1860s marked the beginning of what Geoffrey Blainey described as ‘the rush that never ended’. Nevertheless, although the University of Melbourne attempted to instate mining-related courses from the 1850s, it was not until 1891 that University of Sydney scientist Edgeworth David argued:
In a country like this where mining is of such importance it would appear almost obligatory on the part of the University to have students in the highest branches of Mining, as is the practice at the leading German and American Universities. 
David needed to point to the German and American universities in order to derive some sort of tradition for university knowledge in the field of mining. Universities struggled, in fact, to gain much a foothold in these industries responsible for Australian prosperity. Mining needed knowledge and in fact needed quite a lot of it. Gold was pretty readily identifiable, but metallurgical experts were needed to verify other kinds of minerals, such as the copper, silver and tin that were also significant exports. More complex applied science was often needed to extract minerals from other kinds of minerals and to refine them to the point of being useful. Mining techniques that improved the efficiency or safety of mining were also sought-after and yet universities, for their first hundred years, could barely compete with the Schools of Mines established in every major centre for mining. Institutions for tertiary education still stand where they were built, in mining towns like Ballarat and Broken Hill.

But by what authority did universities exist in colonial Australia? Old ideas about civilisation and self-government only carried them so far; universities needed to hook into the values and structures of the colonies. They needed to do this, not only to prove their usefulness, but also to retain and improve their links into colonial power. Mining and agriculture were important industries to become connected to. What value was the university’s authority over knowledge if it was not also the knowledge that was of value to society?

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Friday, 25 October 2013

Colonial Ambition: the first universities

No two cities in the world bicker so competitively as the residents of Melbourne and Sydney, so it is no surprise that Sydney proudly boasts that it hosts Australia’s first university, founded in 1852. It was barely ahead of Melbourne, however, which opened its doors only three years after Sydney’s first enrolment of 24 students. There was, apparently, no opposition at all to the idea of a university in Melbourne. The same could not be said in Sydney, but that was not because anyone disputed the suggestion that a university was an essential step toward self-government of the colony, rather they were just not sure that it was the colony’s most pressing priority.

The University of Sydney was the pet project of NSW politician, William Charles Wentworth. Wentworth explicitly linked the idea of the university to self-government, which he said ‘would be a useless boon’ without the university, for ‘ the native youth of the country could not now obtain the education which would fit them for high offices in the state.’  Wentworth pointed to a future colony that would be ‘enlightened and refined’, a state only achievable, he argued, with a university.  It was controversial, for there were many who feared that such an elitist institution would give some of their fellow colonists aristocratic pretensions. Moreover, schooling in NSW was in such a sad state that investing in the education of so few with such little immediate benefit to the colony seemed inappropriate at the time.

Fear of snobbishness was something that those who knew Wentworth would have once expected him to share, but Wentworth’s views were shifting. For him the university was a way of facilitating the development of a local aristocratic class. The university would shape the men who would lead NSW when self-government was achieved. The university’s links to Sydney’s high culture, from its opening recital in the Great Hall, affirm that from its beginning it was looked upon as the educational birth right of Sydney’s best breeched. It still is.

Around twenty years later, a group of clerics decided to form a secular university in Adelaide. In the 1870s, that town held only around 30,000 people. The insistence on secularity, in all three universities, reflects in part how avante garde they were: establishing secular universities was still novel and somewhat contentious in Britain. Secularity was seen as progressive and modern, for better and worse. ‘Modern’ in universities, is often not a compliment, since they rely heavily on their connection to tradition for their authority: it is no accident that the oldest universities are also the most elite. Secularity was also an attempt to get around the sectarian divisions that would threaten universities’ existence and equilibrium, for divisions between Catholic and protestant plagued Australia for more than a century, as did theological disputes between protestant denominations. Theological education, each university’s founders agreed, should stay in colleges linked to the university, so the religious denominations need not battle over theological slants or exclude one another’s members, as universities sometimes did in Britain and elsewhere.

Historian Tamson Pietsch argues that, at this point, when steamships were yet to begin a 200-year sprint towards an increasingly connected world, each university was largely in its own hands. They carried with them ideas about links between knowledge and civilisation, but they were locally run for local purposes, informed by local controversies and built with local wealth.

These early Australian universities in fact had access to more substantial local resources than institutions being established in other parts of the world, for the colonies were extraordinarily prosperous. Australian wages in the mid-1850s were the highest in the world (138% higher than in Britain and more than 50% higher than in the United States) and by 1860, no nation exceeded the colonies’ collective Gross Domestic Product measured on a per capita basis.  Tapping into the sources of this wealth, however, required institutions to adapt their idea of the university still further.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Whose idea of the university?

Many people think that the first Australian universities were just replicas of old British institutions: ‘Sydney University’, argued public intellectual Clive James, ‘is really Oxford or Cambridge laterally displaced approximately 12,000 miles’.  Certainly the architecture at Australia’s three oldest universities – the Universities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – supports this assumption. Sydney University’s old Latin motto does too: translated it reads ‘though the constellations change, the mind is the same’ – or, ‘new latitude, same attitude’ as one student reportedly quipped.

But not everything in higher education in Australia is in direct imitation of Tudor Britain, despite their building design. Australian university planners were in fact happy to shop around for ideas about universities that best suited their needs, though it is true they also liked to connect to British traditions in order to boost their standing in the sometimes-sceptical minds of their fellow colonists.

Worldwide there were lots of ideas that university founders could choose from. European universities carried around eight centuries of tradition – and not all traditions were the same. In the ‘new world’ American universities had been around for 200 years, as had the first Canadian institution (though in English only since 1785), whereas when discussions about the university commenced in Sydney, the first university in South Africa was only twenty years old and India’s only university was just over thirty. Spanish settlers had moved faster: Latin American universities date from the mid-16th and 17th centuries. Other British colonies were slower: universities were yet to established in New Zealand, Hong Kong or other parts of Africa. Nevertheless, a university was a sign of civilisation, albeit a fairly luxurious one that could wait for a more prosperous season if need be.

At the time the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney were established, some of the ideas about both civilisation and the university were being re-thought. New ideas about personal economic power and responsibility, the structure of political organisation, separations of church and state and about humane society led to changes in thinking about universities as they also led to shifts in the styles of prisons, hospitals and parliaments.

While shopping around as needed, Australians did tend to look to Britain, as much for legitimacy as for inspiration. Melbourne’s vice-chancellor sought recognition from the British universities for their graduates well before they had any.  That being said, sorting through ideas about the university in Britain was a surprisingly fraught process: there were schisms between English and Scottish modes of education, religious and secular structures, and between Protestant and Catholic intellectual traditions.
Not all of Australia’s colonial founders had equal input, however. Although from the 1850s many Chinese colonists were joining migrants from England, Ireland, Europe and America in the search for Australian gold, early university founders did not look to long and esteemed Chinese scholarly traditions in building Australian universities. In fact, scholarly links to Asia, now a marked characteristic of Australian universities, did not develop until around 100 years later with the Federal government’s Colombo Plan, established in 1949.

Each of the early universities was founded on its own mix of foreign ideas with local innovation thrown in. In gold-rush Victoria, so many basic questions about minerals could only be answered by long-awaited letters from London that at the University of Melbourne traditional subjects in Latin, classics and mathematics were supplemented by mineralogy, chemistry and geology.  What they all had in common was an ambition for what such a seat of learning would offer their colony.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Knowledge in Early Australia

Aboriginal Australian communities, all the evidence shows, placed a high value on knowledge – in fact, they still do. Complex systems to regulate knowledge and assure it is passed on appropriately not only infuse traditional Aboriginal educational systems, but also structure kinship and relational obligations throughout the Indigenous Australian nations.

The same knowledge of land, medicine, fauna and economy was also highly valued by the Europeans who, in the late seventeenth century, began to explore, invade, colonise and settle the Australian continent. Europeans brought with them ideas gleaned from the era known as the ‘enlightenment’. These encouraged them to ‘discover’ and catalogue knowledge – knowledge that was often acquired from Aborigines.

Other ideas that Europeans carried prevented them from seeing that stealing knowledge and claiming it as their own was an act of intellectual violence. Ideas moulded British behaviour, often in destructive ways. Pre-conceptions about what farming looked like prevented settlers from seeing the ways that Aboriginal fire-stick farming shaped the landscape and, by mixing Aboriginal labour with the land, asserted their rights of ownership in just the way British philosopher John Locke had defined. For colonists, this misunderstanding led to the terrible doctrine later known as terra nullius, the belief that Australian land had no owner, an idea that inflicted considerable harm on the Aboriginal nations in subsequent centuries. In the same way as they dismissed their farming practices, Europeans also dismissed Indigenous knowledge: when they learned something from Aborigines, they treated it as if they had ‘discovered’ it through mere observation, a kind of intellectual terra nullius, as if the Aboriginal knower was not really there.

Ideas had power, for both Europeans and Aborigines. Aboriginal knowledge was among the substance that would dwell in the first Australian universities, protected and nurtured by European scholars, as if it was their own. This knowledge helped ‘enlightened’ nations, as the Australian colonies aspired to be, reach the levels of civilisation that made them proud. In pursuit of this civilised ideal, less than seventy years after the first British fleet landed in Aboriginal Eora country and began to settle it as Sydney, the colonists began to plan their first universities.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Monday, 7 October 2013

Cost of university executive in NSW

Today I have been doing some more sums. In NSW in 2012, vice-chancellors cost $7.6M. But the vice-chancellors, when we look closely, are not the biggest cost - it is what I have a little cheekily been calling the 'DVC Epidemic'. DVCs (and PVCs) in NSW cost more than $21M.

In 2012, the total cost of the executive level of the university system for NSW alone was $35,307,536.

UniversityDVC (or PVC) Salaries (inc bonuses)VC Salaries(inc bonuses)VC/DVC TotalNon-DVC ExecutivesExecutive Total
Charles Sturt University$917878$492397$1410275$496403$1906678
Macquarie University$1888975$1449101$3338076$1544706$4882782
Southern Cross University$1250576$601414$1851990$1047621$2899611
The University of Newcastle$3827845$597364$4425209$559469$4984678
The University of New England$1507820$584751$2092571$831845$2924416
The University of New South Wales$1415040$525380$1940420$947732$2888152
The University of Sydney$3167365$899143$4066508$0$4066508
University of Technology Sydney$2547290$849293$3396583$0$3396583
University of Western Sydney$2143613$861000$3004613$342000$3346613
University of Wollongong$2506731$739762$3246493$765022$4011515

Total NSW

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cost of universities

In 2013, the twenty most expensive vice-chancellors in Australia earned nearly $18 million in salaries between them. This does not take into account the army of DVCs and PVCs that support their work. At Sydney University, six DVCs together earned more than $3.1M, almost $4.1M if you also include the vice-chancellor’s salary. Across 39 Australian universities, they are an expensive group.

When we look at the purpose of higher education (teaching and research) and its problems (audit culture, high administrative costs and so on) it seems that if we were to just shave off this whole layer of the university, everything would be fine. To see why we don't just do that, we need to see what caused it - that is the chapter that I am working on now for the book which we think will be called Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university (UNSW Press).

The growth of this costly executive also reflects some wider changes in the university. The key one is the general cost of running the place. A 2012 report by Ernst & Young on Australian universities said that the overall cost of running universities now exceeds the cost of teaching and research. Ernst & Young were in fact trying to make a case that organisations like theirs, which they claimed could be lighter on their feet, should enter the higher education ‘market’. But it is nevertheless true that administration and other costs have escalated. The ‘economies of scale’ that Dawkins sought seem to have had the opposite effect. 

Not all of the decisions made in universities are irrational, however, and thinking about the rising costs since the 1980s is to simultaneously make mind-numbingly boring lists of things like IT infrastructure, student support etc etc and also to consider how whole areas of work have professionalised in the past 30 years - and professionalisation itself is something I am also interested in.