Precarious

Truth is forever twinned as having an incidence and carrying an import.  Even sciences like medicine and chemistry so physically concrete carry significance for the soul. … Microscopes become tragic in what they may reveal. (Kenneth Cragg, The Order of the Wounded Hands, 2006) Well, here’s something concrete that has import for the soul.  Higher education systems around the world have become dependent on the availability of a large pool of cheap labour who are prepared to teach students for…

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The robot and the muse

It’s that time of year. Predictions and lists everywhere, like the snow currently falling over Google, WordPress, bitly … (memo to northern hemisphere: look down very carefully and like Gulliver you will see the tiny little people from the other half of the world running around doing their Christmas shopping in shorts). It happens like this every year, but higher education has a particularly worried tone at the moment, which is no wonder considering the lack of restraint in the…

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Is it time?

A few weeks ago, Professor Frank Larkin reported for the L H Martin institute that staff-student ratios in Australian higher education are a bit worse than are commonly claimed. What makes this sensitive is the government’s ambitious target of 40% of 25-34 year olds being degree qualified by 2020. There’s some debate about the viability of this target, and the details are vague on exactly how this will raise national productivity unless we’re really prescriptive on what those undergraduates study, and what…

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Trust wipeout

From Cap and Gown yesterday, this question: Can someone in universities please start thinking about cultures of trust and what creates them?? The urgency of the double question mark won’t seem out of place to anyone working in universities at the moment. Across the academic-professional staff divide, or in the ways that academics and students talk about each other, or in the tense and often bitter exchanges between management and unions, there’s a tone that’s ungenerous at best, and openly suspicious…

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Blank slate thinking

It seems we’ve made the decision to standardise our first year teaching mode to two hours of content delivery, with one hour weekly for class discussion.  At the moment, more than half teach in this way, but some disciplines offer shorter lectures and longer discussion.  It’s a classic bit of historical untidiness, like an uneven streetscape in an area destined for gentrification. Straightening this out will make our individual workloads easier to calibrate, and in turn this will make everything…

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Letting ourselves go?

A Canadian study of health issues affecting early career academics suggests that they may be sacrificing physical exercise in order to try to secure an inside lane position on the cinder track that leads to tenure. The study hints that if they’re doing this, they’re “letting themselves go”, and the point is touchingly made with an illustration of a bulging (male) waistline. Remedies include taking part in a charity fun run or “park[ing] your car far away to get a little…

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Bursting point

There’s a conversation building about whether we’re wise to look at higher education through the lens of the economy, given that nothing much looks good through the bottom of that dirty glass. Markets achieve extraordinary results using the levers and pulleys of scarcity, rivalry and desire, but this volatility doesn’t always help the big public institutions that deliver other kinds of social and cultural benefits, like education. So we half-protect these familiar institutions of public life from the market in…

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