Archives for category: purpose

Back in April, the Times Higher Education magazine asked me what I missed about the physical campus. This is what I told them:

I even miss the library’s gigglings, munchings and canoodlings’

Now that they are gone, the value to me of whole tranches of everyday work life have come into view. These include lunch with colleagues in the sunshine on my urban university’s one patch of grass; a commute perfectly calibrated to the length of a half-hour podcast; and that wonderful feeling of the “after work” moment, when I would close my computer and open the door to the possibilities of the evening.

But, most of all, I think I miss the library. I miss the smell of its books, stored for years and brought briefly into the light by my retrieval. I miss the sounds of its muffled diligence and, yes, I even miss its less muted gigglings, munchings and canoodlings.

The library stands as a kind of physical embodiment of the shared enterprise of the university community. It is a community constituted collectively, not only by the students from near and far, the academics trawling the stacks, the countless authors who wrote the books and the librarians who catalogued and digitised them, but also by the security guards at the door, the barista making the coffee, and the porters ferrying books in the stacks. How often, pre-Covid-19, did I think of it this way? And what does my newly acquired sepia filter mask?

Higher education systems in Australia and elsewhere have for some time now relied on rising student debt, precarious work and financial dependence on overseas students and market investments. This is not a system for which to be nostalgic and, when this pandemic is over, I’d love to be able to say goodbye to this system’s reliance on casual contracts and investments in fossil fuels.

Then again, higher education is by no means the only sector whose increasing reliance on such practices has been exposed by the plight of its disenfranchised workers during the pandemic. Indeed, the entire contract between society and the state – between the past, present and the future – will be reshaped by this crisis, and universities will be reshaped with it.

So, as I look back to the things I once took for granted, I am also looking forward and thinking hard about how, in the months and years to come, higher education institutions might also be part of building a more just and sustainable society.

The New Social Contract podcast

Since April, I’ve been working hard to give that hard thinking form. Thanks to the wonderful people from UTS Impact Studios the result is The New Social Contract podcast. Listen online or search for it in any of the podcast platforms.

The New Social Contract_Logo_FINAL

Ok Covid-19.

It’s a thing.

A big thing.

And its consequences for universities are going to be enormous.

Like really.

That’s why now is the time to start a conversation about how the relationship between universities, society and the state might be remade.

Because, let’s face it, the virus has pulled on the threads of the already worn fabric of higher education policy.

What comes next is a question the sector has been asking for some time. Now it’s a question that has a great deal of urgency.

What kind of universities does our society need?

As someone who has long been interested in universities and their relationship to society, I figured I’d better have a go at talking about these questions.

So with UTS Impact Studios, I’ve been making a podcast — recording from under a ladder with a duvet on top of it, in my spare room.

The trailer is out now and the first episode will release 4 May so SUBSCRIBE on all the usual podcast platforms (just search for “The New Social Contract”). Here are a few handy links:

Apple Podcasts  //  Spotify  //  Stitcher // Whooshkaa

Purpose and Future of the University recording at NLA, March 2020Back in the far off land of The Time Before, in an empty lecture theatre at the National Library of Australia, I was part of a socially-distanced discussion about the purpose and future of the university.  Planned as part of the ANU College of Law’s 60th anniversary celebrations, it was recorded on 17 March 2020 for ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas programme and has recently been broadcast in two parts.

Part 1: Focuses on the value and purpose of the university, and the form it has taken in Australia. How have universities changed in the twentieth century, and what might they become, under the pressure of this present moment? >> Listen now

Part 2: Takes up the question of the university in the post-COVID19 world, focusing on possible reforms as well as wider questions of climate, technology and what we want and need from our universities? >> Listen now

Speakers:

  • Professor Brian Schmidt – Vice Chancellor, ANU; 2011 Nobel laureate for Physics
  • George Megalogenis – author and journalist
  • Associate Professor Tamson Pietsch – Director, Australian Centre for Public History, UTS.
  • Dr Rebecca Huntley – social researcher
  • Professor Des Manderson, interdisciplinary scholar, law and the humanities, ANU.
  • (moderator) Dr Natasha Cica – founding director, Kapacity.org; author; honorary professor, ANU College of Law.

The question of how COVID-19 is reconfiguring the relationship between universities and their societies is one I’ve been thinking about *a lot* in the wake of this discussion. It’s something I’ll be coming back to in the next few weeks, but for now here’s my definition of a university from Part 1 of the above discussion, and why I think it matters so much, both in our current moment and more broadly:

The university has changed a lot over the course of the last one thousand years and it will continue to do so if it will survive. But … a university remains an orienting institution. It is one of the great institutions for how we make sense of the world as humans and also how we have ruled the world, so it’s connected to power. But if we think of it as an orienting institution, the university sits between the past and the future, between the dead and the living and the yet to be born, between the here and the elsewhere, and also between the known and the unknown, and research sits in that space. As a consequence, it is an incredibly important institution to hold us through uncertainty and in times of certainty. And that’s a useful definition to hang on to in this moment.