Archives for posts with tag: higher education
tardis2

The TARDIS can transport its occupants to any point in time and space.

Historians too often get a bad rap for being out of touch. Stuck in the ivory tower, so the story goes, neck deep in dusty archives and lost in their contemplation of dead white men and forgotten pasts. Where’s the relevance? is frequently the refrain.

Yet my Facebook feed tells a different story. The number of articles I see written by colleagues for public audiences seems to increase all the time.

Thinking temporally in public has got to be one of the most important things we can do as historians in a period of uncertainty and change. This means going beyond the ‘Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What’s Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions’ version of public commentary (although let’s be frank, sometimes the temptation to do that is just overwhelming) and instead thinking in public about time, its politics and its effects.

The uneven and unequal legacies of empire and capitalism are all around us, but so too – if we know how to look – are the tangible reminders that as a society we once thought social change possible and were prepared to back up our dreams with money and action. I can’t help thinking that the destruction of these reminders, as Oliver Watts points out in in his piece listed below, is part of a larger project of alienating us both from our history and the possibility of a different kind of future.

Because although not a template, history can be a inspiration, showing us that, through collective action, inherited structures can be changed. Institutionalised slavery can be abolisheduniversal public health free at the point of delivery can be establishedthe Franklin River can be saved. The long-term ramifications of our own society’s policies and actions are, therefore, also a matter for critical temporal thinking.

Time is not just an axis on which processes play out, it is political in itself. In this world of distributed digital processes and the marketisation of our everyday life we increasingly ‘spend’ our leisure time shopping for essential services – deciding which financial, educational or health ‘product’ to buy, and ferrying ourselves and family members across town to access them. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people work on low-paid ‘zero hours’ contracts that leave them desperately insecure.

Universities are repositories of time in all of these senses. Produced by uneven structural processes (have you every wondered where the wealth that funded the bequests of Australia’s early universities came from?) they increasingly rely on casualised labour and the mortgaged futures of their debt-laden students.

But for all their faults, universities do still work with an understanding of time and human capacity that stretches beyond the frames of annual reports, funding cycles, government elections or even of individual careers. They draw the future into them with each new intake of students; they mix up the generations, and bring the living into contact with those long dead. They are places where deep and slow thinking is still possible. Not everyone wants or needs to live like this, but now, more than ever, as a society we need people who do.

If historians don’t think temporally, who will?

So Yay! to temporal thinking in the public domain. Yay! to the dexterity of the historical mind (cough). Yay! to a critical eye and longer view on questions that would otherwise appear to be of this moment only.

Here is this week’s haul of recent #PublicHist pieces by people wot I know, writing about stuff not always entirely within their field. If you can, give them the time (and the retweet) they deserve.

PS. I foresee a regular series on this #PublicHist friend-puff business, so please alert me to anything you have published that is directed at a public audience and I’ll add it to the next instalment.

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University-aged students in Australia are missing from the electoral roll in large numbers.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has recently released data that suggests that 18% of 18-24 year olds are not registered to vote. The largest non-enrolled group is the youngest, with a staggering 48% of 18 year olds and nearly 24% of 19 year olds not enrolled.

This data on enrolment rates needs to be set alongside population data.

Young people are under-represented

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2015 there were 140,000 more people aged over 70 than there were aged 24 and under. But AEC statistics from March 2016 reveal there are 725,340 more grey-haired voters over 70 than there are youthful voters under 24.

What these statistics show is that young people in Australia are disproportionally under-represented on the electoral roll. They are not engaging in the most fundamental of all democratic rights: voting. In doing so they are reducing their electoral leverage at a time when generational issues should be high on the political agenda.

Why this matters

This matters for two reasons.

First, young people have a lot at stake when it comes to current political decisions.

In her recent book, Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young, Jennifer Rayner points out that today’s young Australians are the first generation since the Great Depression to be worse off than their parents.

When it comes to work, young people find it harder to get a foot in the door and harder to advance when they do. Rayner quotes ABS figures which reveal that the number of young people working in casualised employment has risen from 34% in 1992 to 50% in 2013. Over the same period wage growth for young people has dropped well behind that of older workers.

As Rayner shows, average incomes for people in their 20s have grown at less than half the rate of those people in their mid-50s. And with these older workers staying on in their jobs longer, the prospects of advancement are significantly curtailed as well. While this can mean flexibility for some, it more often means vulnerability, exploitation, and uncertainty.

Poorer work prospects make it doubly hard for young people to enter an increasingly unaffordable housing market. Especially given they are carrying another kind of debt, from which previous generations were exempt, and that is higher education loans.

Waiting longer to buy a first home, or not being able to afford one at all, has life long consequences. It makes harder the kind of risk taking necessary for entrepreneurship or starting a small business. And it either means being saddled with debt well into your 60s, or entering them without the financial investment that for many people home ownership represents.

This magnifies the problem fashioned by insecure work, of the generational disparity in the relative size of superannuation savings.

And then there is environmental policy – an issue in which young people have a real and long-term stake.

“Lopsided” society

Jessica Rayner talks about the emergence of a “lopsided Australia where young and old live differently”.

In part this generational inequality is a consequence of global demographic, technological and economic forces that have come together at the start of the 21st century.

But these are forces that too often are exacerbated rather than mitigated by policy measures. If young people are going to build a fairer future for themselves and coming generations, argues Rayner, they are going to have to get involved.

And this leads to the second reason that the under-representation of young people on the electoral roll is a problem.

If we want a strong and representative democracy we need young people to participate in it. We need them to believe their voice matters in the future of this country and we need that voice to be heard.

Our political institutions work better when we all care about them: their health is in the hands of those who will inherit them.

Crucial role of universities

Universities have a crucial role in building a participatory democracy. One of the ways they do this is by teaching students to engage in robust and thoughtful discussion.

Every day in the classroom, be it mathematics or anthropology, university lecturers foster respectful cultures of disagreement and impart tools of argument and evidence, that teach students to be informed participants in public debate.

Beyond the classroom, students put these skills into action. On the sports field, in the university bar, and in the myriad array of clubs and societies on campus, universities provide opportunities for student participation and leadership that they will carry throughout their lives.

This civic role is one of the reasons universities have long been valued as public institutions that encourage students to be active and engaged citizens.

There are, of course, a wide variety of ways that students enact this citizenship, and many views they express in the process. But one of the ways they participate needs to be via the most fundamental of democratic processes and that is our voting system.

We need our young people to have a voice in our formal democratic processes. Not only will current political decisions have long-term consequences for their lives, but our political institutions and our society will be stronger for their participation in it.

Must enrol by 23 May

Australians have until 23 May 2016 to enrol to vote in the 2016 election.

The AEC has made this process really easy with a simple online enrolment form. All that is needed is evidence of identity, such as a driver’s licence or Australian passport number, and a residential address.

University lecturers can help to ensure this happens.

Attending university is one of the factors causing young people drop off the electoral roll. When they move out of the family home for study or work, the AEC loses track of them, and without a shared culture of participation, it can be hard to get them back.

Appeal to lecturers

Ask your students if they are enrolled to vote. Tell them about the statistics at the start of this article, and get them to check their enrolment in class. Download the infographic to show at the start of your lectures.

In doing so you will be acting in the long tradition of the academic as public intellectual: a scholar who not only contributes their expertise to public debate, but also a scholar who fosters that debate through a commitment to encouraging active participation in its processes and institutions.

This article was published in The Conversation, 13 May, 2016

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I spoke recently with the Times Higher Education Magazine about reading. It is commonplace now to observe that our digital age entails attentional effects that play out in all aspects of lives, including the university classroom. The philosopher and bike mechanic, Matthew Crawford, is particularly astute on the subject of attention deficit, though in The World Beyond Your Head he locates its source not in the iphone, but rather in the idea articulated by Immanuel Kant that experience must not guide reason. Crawford recommends a re-engagement with material reality and with skills (this is where the bike-repair comes in) that bring us into contact with the physical world, requiring persistence, entailing difficulty and resulting in the production of an object that contains the results of our labour. He sees these as a way to reclaim the “attentional commons”.

I suppose long form reading is a bit like that. It requires time to be poured into it. There is a kind of physicality to it, as the bookmark moves slowly through the thumbed pages, and the experience is just as important as the content.  In the world of 500-800 word blog posts, an idea or set of arguments elaborated in a book of 500 pages can feel heavy, complicated and difficult. Yet as anyone who has worked at the coal face of knowledge knows, scholarship is difficult and frustrating and laboured and slow. But it is in this difficulty that the rewards not just of scholarship, but also of life, so often lie. One of the things universities do is facilitate (in the face of student reluctance) forms of engagement with ideas and arguments that are deeper and slower than those usually available online.

The THE wanted to know what books university lecturers thought secondary school students should read before coming to university. The recommendations were diverse, but my suggestion was Susan Sontag’s Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963 (edited by David Rieff, 2008). They show Sontag uncertain, sometimes scared and yet intoxicated by ideas and the possibilities of life and sexuality. I love them for the permission they give to take risks, chase passion and, most of all, not to know. All students starting out at university should remember that not having answers is at the heart of scholarship and learning – as long as you keep asking questions.

This has reminded me it is high time for another:

Occasional dispatch from my big green reading chair #2

  • Richard Dennis, Econobabble: How to decode political spin and economic nonsense (Redback Quarterly 8, 2015). This is fantastic no-nonsense piece on the work of economics talk, how it is used to forestall and obfuscate, and how you can blow it apart. It should be required reading for everyone remotely interested in political debate. This is such a brilliant series from Black Inc – longer than a Quarterly Essay but not too long that you can’t finish it in a couple of days. I’m now onto Jessica Rayner’s Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young.
  • Andrew Pettegree, Brand Luther (Penguin, 2016). This book has a subtitle worthy of the 16th century and indicative of its slightly breathless (!) style: ‘How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe – and Star the Protestant Reformation’. There will be books aplenty coming out in 2017 for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but Pettegree’s focus is Luther’s adept use of the new-tech of the day: printing as a mass medium. This attention to the intersections between technology and ideas has, of course, many resonances with the present, but thankfully these are not drawn too explicitly by Pettegree, who instead allows the reader to think about disruption and change, politics and power through the lens of a period at once familiar and very different to our own.
  • Rahul Rao, On StatuesThe Disorder of Things blog (April 2 2016). Beginning at the University of Cape Town with a (successful) campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes that dominated the entrance to the university, Rhodes Must Fall has grown into much broader movement which seeks, as its Oxford website outlines, ‘to decolonise the institutional structures  and physical space in Oxford and beyond’ including the ‘structures of knowledge production that continue to mould a colonial mindset that dominates our present’. In this thoughtful piece Rahul Rao (Senior Lecturer in Politics at SOAS) writes about statues, who needs them, and the politics of their removal, not just in Oxford and Cape Town, but also in Iraq and India.
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