Stephen Parker warns: universities serve privileged elites

 Plus the ANU textbook case for open access teaching resources 

And so it begins

The 2016 federal election campaign (sort of) started yesterday with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opening a building refurbed for allied health courses at CQU’s Rockhampton North campus. It’s in the seat of Capricornia, held for the government by Michelle Landry, but just. Her two party preferred vote in 2013 was 50.77 per cent.

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Multiskilled for multi media

Universities must expand their emphases in digital and social media courses to meet demand, Swinburne staffers Anthony McKosker, David Reid and Cathy Farrell warn in a new report. With all sorts of organisations now presenting their own messages to the world, the existing suite of marketing subjects is not enough. Universities now “need to expand and integrate social media oriented curriculum design from the undergraduate level, and position broad-based critical, creative and analytical learning within media and communications disciplines,” they warn.

What this means for graduates is that they need a bunch more than a collection of design and coding competencies. Based on conversations with industry the authors report;

“our participants asserted that the requirements for social media work went beyond marketing, advertising, PR, web design, and traditional media and communications. It seems that there is an increasing expectation that undergraduates combine degrees or majors to develop a broad set of knowledge, critical and analytical ability and technical skill to perform the kind of work needed in the new complex media environment. Most of the study participants indicated that this went well beyond their own qualifications and study, but that there was a strong need to develop new programs to match new roles and kinds of work.”

But while people acknowledge the need for “traditional media and communication skills,” CMM suspects nobody much cares about writing. For the head of any comms programme looking for growth McKosker, David Reid and Farrell’s paper is urgent reading.

You don’t say

“The best written app, or best designed gadget, will be a flop if there isn’t customer demand,” Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, speaking to tech entrepreneurs, Monday.

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Game on

If your idea of a fantasy is building a model university from the ground up you need to get out more – and while you’re there you should nick up to Penang for the L H Martin Institute’s strategy game day on April 5.

It’s an international exercise in the series of simulations created by the Institute, using, for past ones at least, the higher education modelling systems designed by data miners and refiners the Pilbara Group. In Australia previous exercises have modelled fee deregulation and the like and last year in Singapore players, sorry participants, had to steer a hypothetical comprehensive multi-campus university through funding changes occurring when the government decided to find research on the basis of ten priority fields and competitive grants won.

Which makes CMM wonder why LHM is mucking about in Malaysia when they could charge a bomb to run the research change game here. DVCs terrified of the National Innovation and Science Agenda would queue to play, sorry participate.

Not a word

The University of Adelaide media team generally reports on university staffers opening envelopee but the latest achievement of Chancellor Kevin Scarce has gone release-less. Um, could this be because Mr Scarce is conducting the state government’s inquiry into a role for South Australia in the nuclear fuel cycle, including storing waste. CMM suspects so, here’s VC Warren Bebbington from last year acknowledging, “there will be very divergent views,” and hoping “the university might offer a neutral platform for public debate of the issues.” (CMM February 11 2015)

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Three who lead

Two Australians make US site Best Masters Degrees list of “30 most innovative women professors alive today”. No CMM has no idea what the criteria are, or anything about the site either. But there’s no faulting BMD for taste. The University of Western Australia’s Fiona Stanley is 18th and Australian born Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn is 14th.

CMM also wants to mention (self-indulgence alert) economist and economic historian Deirdre McCloskey (Donald until the middle 90s) who is 25th. Professor McCloskey is the author of big books on how markets, innovation and individual initiative have created wealth around the world and CMM is a  big fan. You don’t have to like her ideas to admire her scholarship, but the latter make the former convincing.

What about the workers

Outgoing (you could never call him retiring) University of Canberra will upset the university establishment and much of the HASS community with the  text for his T J Ryan lecture. Professor Parker argues (in CMM’s words, not his) that the demand driven system is a fraud on the working class. The fraud bit will upset university managements, the focus on class will appal academics who have long since abandoned it to focus on dispossession by gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

But Professor Parker never seems to have much cared who he annoyed – and demonstrates it in this address.

There is an internal stratification in the Australian university system he says which works against students from less-privileged backgrounds and the expansion of access assists the interests of the upper class.

“When technological and economic change accelerates, governments expand higher education to upskill the workforce. It seems that only when demand from the upper and middle classes has been satisfied does access by lower class people expand. … And then when the next phase of the cycle occurs and higher education expansion runs ahead of technology (which is arguably the case at present, with declining graduate employment rates and starting salaries) the premium on a degree declines and competition for prestigious places intensifies as privileged elites seek to consolidate their position in a toughening market.  They pay for the most expensive schooling, secure access to the most prestigious universities and if necessary invest in graduate study.”

So what is to be done about “negating the effects of birth and class to someone’s life chance through higher education”?

For, a start, he says, can the ATAR, “a bitcoin that is manipulated by those who already have the most bitcoins. And he proposes reinstating caps and using the money saved on equity initiatives and pathway programmes.

Professor Parker also proposes polytechniques (he worked hard trying to establish one for UoC), “institutions which devote themselves to practical learning at the highest level, making graduates truly work-ready.” And he wants student outcomes, rather than just courses completed, to be built into higher education funding.

There are more ideas, familiar to the many admirers of Professor Parker’s thinking on flatter and more flexible post school education, which do not depend on his horror of the iron chains of class. But it is class that shapes his thinking. As he appeals to philanthropists inclined to set up scholarships. “A conversation about the transformative effect on their lives of helping low SES students go through university without having to do paid work is needed.  There is no point in going off to Davos, bemoaning inequality, and then coming back to support elites.”

Growing ORCIDs

Australian Research Council chair Aidan Byrne spoke at the inaugural Australian ORCID conference yesterday, reiterating the agency’s support for Open Researcher and Contributor ID, which provides unique identification for all an individuals work. The ARC started collecting ORCIDs for Discovery grants in December, and they “hope to get to a point where ORCID IDs are required for all applications.”

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Textbook case for open access education

Commercial publishers aren’t the only impediment to open access teaching materials. Academics with a sense of shame don’t help, Marnie Hughes Warrington explains in her essay on the anthropology of the university for February.

According to the ANU DVC, sometimes the shame is because working on teaching takes time away from research. “This is the valley of myth, where it is assumed that any time spent on education comes at the cost of research, and thus promotion,” she writes.

Another excuse is that even though course material is consumed on campus and off in digital form academics are embarrassed about letting just anybody read it in the ether. ‘I can’t put work out there that isn’t finished, or that I am not proud of’, is how Professor Hughes Warrington has heard it. (Anybody who says that was wise not to became a journalist.)

But study material students everywhere can afford is essential, “If this were a discussion on access to affordable medical treatment, there would be public outrage,” she writes. And because it cannot happen without academics she insists they step up. ANU is, starting to publish open education through its marvellous e-press (CMM February 8). It’s an exercise that “is helping us to rethink the stuffed, static and unkempt pages of our learning management system,” Hughes Warrington writes. It is also one that will discomfit the big commercial textbook publishers.

In the 2012 US election Barack Obama had Joe Biden make the cost of college textbooks a third order campaign issue. While CMM can’t see Donald Trump doing the same this year open access to teaching materials is a slow burn, which sooner or later will generate much more heat and lots of light.

Sounds just like home

So that’s fabled UC Berkeley off the list of “what Australian universities should be like.” Across the pond Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks has just announced a “strategic planning process” (he means budget cuts) due to a “new normal” of reduced public support and the immediate problem of a “substantial and growing structural deficit, one that we cannot long sustain.”

With warnings of hard times and commitments to core missions it reads like a better written version of a speech made by any of half a dozen Australian VCs. Thus Mr Dirks outlines initiatives including a workforce function and strength review, improving work practises, developing new sources of revenue, redesign of academic structures, more online programmes that make money and looking at the cost of sports teams.

This ticks just about all the boxes that people at plenty of Australian universities have endured, sorry engaged with. Since the drought started there California water officials have been here looking at the way we manage water, maybe a VC should invite Mr Dirks to come and have a look at how costs are cut.

 

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au