Archives for posts with tag: universities

I’ve had a piece come out in Australian Studies, Vol 5 (2013) which examines the connections established by Australian universities with Britain in the era of “Victorian” globalisation.

JP Bainbridge (Registrar, University of Melbourne) UMA/I/1986

‘They do not go as strangers’: Academic connections between Australia and Britain, 1880-1939

At the end of July 1925, Alex Hill, the Secretary of the London based Universities’ Bureau of the British Empire, prepared a form letter that explained the organisation’s function:

The Bureau aims […] at doing all that might be done to promote the interests of university teachers who come to England. We are able, for example, to place them in touch with other visitors from overseas and with members of the Home Universities whom they would like to meet, to introduce them as readers in the Library of the British Museum, to secure their admission as temporary members of the Royal Colonial Institute which, with its library of 150,000 volumes and its generous supply of periodicals, offers also the amenities of a first-rate club. Visitors are asked to regard the Bureau as their Headquarters to which letters may be addressed, and at which enquiries may be made regarding travel-routes, hotels, etc.[1]

In advertising the Bureau’s services in this way, Hill was attempting to pursue the mission established for it by the First Congress of the Universities of the British Empire in 1912. This was ‘to collect University information from every part of the Empire and put it in a suitable form for easy distribution’; to act as a ‘clearing house’ for academic appointments and the interchange of staff and students, and to provide a forum for continued discussion of questions common to all universities in the Empire.[2]

Yet the reply Hill received in 1925 from the Registrar of the University of Melbourne, J.P. Bainbridge, suggests the limited extent to which—more than a decade after its inception—universities in Australia valued the Bureau’s services. Although Bainbridge thanked Hill for his ‘kind offer’ and hoped that in the future more members of the University might call into the London offices, he went on to explain that:

This country [Australia] and this University in particular is not yet (and I hope never will be) very rigidly cut off from the Old country.  Most of our Professors come from British Universities and have Home connections so that when they go to England they do not go as strangers in a strange country.[3]

Indeed, following a 1926 request from the Bureau for the University to increase its annual grant, Melbourne had responded by reducing it (to £20).[4] According to Bainbridge, in the mid-1920s the connections between universities in Britain and Australia were so strong that they did not require the mediating services of the Bureau.[5]

It is perhaps not surprising then, that the university histories produced in Australia before the Second World War all emphasise the importance of on-going academic connection with Britain. They saw the Australian universities as institutions founded as part of progressive expansion of the British people and their civilization; designed to cultivate both national and imperial citizens. Robert Dallen’s 1914 account of the University of Sydney provides a good example. It emphasised the University as both a sign and a disseminator of British civilisation in Australia and boasted of its continuing connections to old world academia.[6]

However, in the second half of the century, this portrayal of universities as part of a wider world of British scholarship shifted. University historians began to emphasise the distinctive qualities of colonial universities, to chart their departure from old world models, and to detail the achievements of their members as an important part of the story of the emergence of the independent nation. But, while they celebrated the unique qualities of local universities, many of these studies also exhibited the ‘conceptual confusion’ spoken of by Douglas Cole.[7] Emphasising the national dimension of their histories also entailed distancing these institutions from an earlier iteration of the national story – one that that had been not only Australian, but also British as well.[8] As a consequence, at the same time as they traced the successes of Australian universities and academics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these volumes also tended to portray them as derivative and lamented the dependence of their members on British scholarship.[9] They spoke of the progression of Australian graduates to British universities for further study as evidence of a ‘brain-drain’, and pointed to what they saw as the unidirectional migration of professors from Britain to Australia before the Second World War.[10] Eager to draw the boundaries of the new nation, the histories of the 1960s and 70s no longer described universities in Australia as functioning within a wider British academic system.

Yet this image of an at once dependent and distinctive Australian academic sector seems to stand at odds with the world Bainbridge described in 1925. In the context of the tightened global connections of our own age, and the emphasis universities across the world are placing on various forms of ‘internationalisation’, it is perhaps time to re-evaluate this earlier relationship between the universities of Britain and Australia.[11]

… read the rest of this piece in Australian Studies Vol 5 (2013) online

Notes

[1] Alex Hill to Bainbridge, 30 July 1925, Registrar’s Correspondence, UM312/1925/503, University of Melbourne Archives, (hereafter UMA).

[2] George Parkin (Canadian educationalist and Secretary of the Rhodes Trust) in Congress of the Universities of the Empire, 1912: Report of Proceedings, ed. Alex Hill (London, 1912), pp. 311, 323.

[3] Bainbridge to Hill, 9 Oct. 1925, UM312/1925/503, UMA.

[4]Bainbridge to the Bureau’s Treasurer, 29 Oct. 1926, UM312/1926/535, UMA.

[5]Bainbridge to the Registrar of the University of Tasmania, 19 Feb. 1932, UM312/1932/413, UMA. ‘I am afraid that we do not look upon our membership of the Bureau as being of very much practical use’, wrote Bainbridge to the Registrar to the University of Tasmania in 1932.

[6]Robert Ambrose Dallen, The University of Sydney, Its History and Progress (Sydney, 1914).

[7]Douglas Cole, ‘The Problem of ‘Nationalism’ and ‘Imperialism’ in British Settlement Colonies,’ Journal of British Studies, vol. 10 (1971), pp. 160-82; Douglas Cole, “‘the Crimson Thread of Kinship”: Ethnic Ideas in Australia, 1870-1914,’ Historical Studies, vol. 14 (1971), pp. 511-25.

[8] See James Curran and Stuart Ward, The Unknown Nation: Australia after Empire (Melbourne,, 2010).

[9]James Johnston Auchmuty, The Idea of the University in Its Australian Setting: A Historical Survey (Melbourne, 1963), p. 147; W.H. Morris-Jones and T.J. Johnson, ‘A Commonwealth of Learning,’ The Round Table, vol. 60, (1970), p. 387; R. J. W. Selleck, The Shop : The University of Melbourne, 1850-1939 (Melbourne,, 2003), p. 26; W. J. Gardner, Colonial Cap and Gown: Studies in the Mid-Victorian Universities of Australasia (Christchurch,, 1979).

[10]Geoffrey Blainey, The University of Melbourne: A Centerary Portrait (Melbourne, 1956), p. 34; Richard Symonds, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (London, 1986), pp. 274-76; Donald Fleming, ‘Science in Australia, Canada and the United States: Some Comparative Remarks,’ Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of the History of Science, (Ithaca, 1964), p. x; E.T. Williams, ‘The Rhodes Scholars’ in ed. M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys, The History of the University of Oxford: Vol. 7, Part 2, the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 2000), pp. 717-26; Auchmuty, The Idea of the University in Its Australian Setting: A Historical Survey, p. 146; Gardner, Colonial Cap and Gown: Studies in the Mid-Victorian Universities of Australasia, p. 10. Stuart Macintyre, however, points to the high degree of movement, both between Australian universities and between Australia and the United Kingdom, among historians in the first half of the twentieth century. Stuart Macintyre, History, the University and the Nation (London, 1992), p. 8.

[11] Among others Antoinette Burton has called for a re-examination of the concept of the nation altogether and has contested the notion of home and empire as segregated domains. Antoinette Burton, ‘Introduction: On the Inadequacy and the Indispensability of the Nation’ in ed. Antoinette Burton, After the Imperial Turn: Thinking with and through the Nation (Durham, N.C, 2003), pp. 5-6.

Enumeration, a Farmer Supplies Answers to the 232 Questions on the Farm Schedule, 1940 - 1941

A Q&A on my research has been published on the blog of  the European Research Area Collaborative Research Network (ERA-CRN), where you can read me waxing lyrical on such heady subjects as universities, networks, history and academic mobility.

Q1: What is the Empire of Scholars about?

At the start of the twenty-first century we are acutely conscious that universities operate within an entangled world of international scholarly connection. Empire of Scholars examines the networks that linked academics in Britain and the settler world in the age of ‘Victorian globalisation’. It argues that in the 1880s universities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa began to look for new ways to connect with ‘universal’ scholarship, instituting travelling scholarship schemes, leave of absence programmes, and appointment practices that enabled academics working in the colonies to forge and maintain close personal and informal ties with their colleagues in Britain. These networks became crucial to the way that universities in Britain and the settler world operated, and to the making of knowledge in them, helping to map a ‘British academic world’ that extended far beyond the borders of the British Isles. But although it was expansive, this was a world that was also highly raced and gendered – excluding women, scholars of colour, and according only a minor place to Europeans and Americans. When we think about the global world of universities in the twenty-first century, we need to pay close attention to these informal, expansive, and exclusionary networks, for they helped shape the uneven geographies that condition higher education today.

Q2: What got you started on this line of research?

In retrospect the germ of this book was sown when I was an undergraduate at the University of Adelaide. In the seminar room there, fading photographs of past history professors adorned the walls and written after all their names were the letters M.A. (Oxon). I cannot have been anything but dimly aware of this at the time, however, when some years later their path to Oxford was one that I too followed, I began to wonder.  Beginning my doctoral studies, I had wanted to write about ideas. I wanted to know what they meant to people, where they came from, and how they got made, particularly in the context of the British Empire. But aware of my own passage to Oxford, and with the Adelaide professors still staring down at me, it seemed impossible to do this without thinking about the people who made knowledge, and the institutional structures and contexts that made them. I realised that before I could write about ideas I needed to know a lot more about the worlds that produced them – and academia seemed an obvious place to begin. So Empire of Scholars is in many ways about the unequal social and material conditions that underpin the making of ideas. It is my attempt to understand the system of which I am part, the traces it has left upon me, and the disparities that continue to characterise it.

Q3: What has been the most surprising finding for you in researching Empire of Scholars?

I was surprised by just how connected colonial scholars of the 19th and early 20th century were to British academia. I had grown up with the idea of the ‘tyranny of distance’ combined with a form of cultural cringe which saw academics who migrated as second class scholars who couldn’t make it in Britain. But this was not the story I found in the archives. Many of the academics who took up posts in settler universities were prize-winning students who were attracted by the opportunities and conditions of professorial posts in a range of disciplines that had not yet established themselves in British institutions. Moreover, utilising their personal networks, they stayed in close touch with academia in Britain, sending their students back, visiting frequently, publishing in British journals, and also in many cases being later appointed to senior posts. I realised we need to think in new ways about the way distance worked in the past.

Q4: How has this research contributed to your knowledge about the role of academics, higher education and universities in society and politics?

My research on universities in the late 19th and 20th centuries – a period of increasing global connection, in which universities struggled to adapt themselves to new kinds of knowledge and technology – has influenced the way I understand today’s higher education sector. It’s helped me realise that the knowledge economy is not just a product of twenty-first century globalisation. Its origins lie in the cross-border intellectual alignments that developed along the routes of global empire and trade in this earlier period. The questions they asked (about legitimacy, internationalization, the purpose of a university, and access to name a few) remain equally pertinent in the rapidly shifting world of higher education today. Thinking historically about universities has also shown me that universities have always been in the process of change. They have always been engaged in a dynamic relationship with the local and the global. Thinking historically, therefore, might both help us think deeply about the role institutions such as universities play in societies, while at the same time guarding us against nostalgic appeals to a non-existent golden age. I have brought these perspectives to my writing about higher education policy for the Guardian Higher Education Network, the Times Higher Education magazine, The Conversation UK, and on my blog: Cap and Gown.

Q5: Does this relate to your current research interests and how?

I am developing my research in two new directions, both of which examine the relationship between mobility, knowledge and higher education that I first considered in Empire of Scholars. First, as part of my ARC DECRA project at the University of Sydney (‘Global Republics: universities and the origins of the knowledge economy’) I will explore the ways digital technologies might be used to map the global spaces of intellectual production and exchange forged by the transnational connections of scholars in the twentieth century. Second, I am also working on a project that examines ‘global education’ in the interwar period. It focuses on the 1926 ‘Floating University’ – a ‘round the world educational cruise’ that saw the moving space of the ship as one in which students could be educated to be citizens of the world.

Q6: What advice do you have for those interested in researching higher education (the role of academics and universities) in modern times and also in different parts of the world?

I have found it useful to pay attention not just to what higher education practitioners and institutions say about themselves, but also to what they do – to their practices. Academics are often strangely reluctant to turn their critical eye upon themselves, and yet it seems to me extremely important that they do so. Thinking historically about universities is powerful in this regard – it shows us that they are institutions that have always changed, it points to the social and political roles they have filled and tells us a lot about from where their legitimacy has come.

About Tamson Pietsch: ‘I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Adelaide in Australia, before working in academic publishing and then as an Aide and speech-writer for the Governor of Victoria. Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 2003, I travelled to the University of Oxford where I completed my DPhil and went on to hold the Sir Christopher Cox Junior Fellowship at New College and teach as Lecturer in Modern History at Corpus Christi College. I joined Brunel University in 2011 as Lecturer in Imperial and Colonial History. From July 2013 until September 2016 I will be on research leave, as ARC DECRA Fellow at the University of Sydney.’

… read the Q&A on the ERA-CRN blog.

LSE Geography Dept 1986Recently we heard again of the North-South divide that dominates educational opportunities in England. Data obtained by the Guardian via a freedom of information request suggests that 30% of the candidates admitted to Oxford and Cambridge in 2012 came from just ten Local Education Authorities (LEAs) – all of which are in the country’s south-east. Geography, concludes the newspaper’s Richard Adams, needs to be added to “complex mix of race, sex, social background and school that have dogged admissions to the UK’s elite institutions.”

These figures point to the unequal structures that shape and condition access to higher education in Britain. Good schools, clustered near the global metropolis of London, and attended by members of the urban middle classes with their financial and cultural capital, offer students significantly better chances of admission to the nation’s elite universities.

But the data obtained by The Guardian is misleading in that it excludes another group of students who constitute an important source of Oxbridge admissions – those from abroad. Indeed, the figures used by the newspaper do not even include applications from students in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Putting overseas applicants into the mix casts a slightly different light on what Alex Niven has called Britain’s “geographical apartheid”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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