I imagine many of you know what TL;DR means. The more up to date will know that it has now been replaced by the slightly shorter TLDR, which is trending.

I only discovered it this year – at the top of, of all things, a brief Twitter thread.

It stands for Too Long, Didn’t Read. Often it is followed by a short summary, so others are spared the agony.

Another great quote I heard was “the supply of information, has now outstripped demand”. Information is not worth much these days.

That’s why the business model of newspapers has been disrupted, and why Massive Open Online Courses, have not grown into an industry that replaces universities.

As Gillian Welch put it in her song – that I guess is about the internet or more specifically Spotify – “everything is free now.” Not quite free, as subscription profits flow to the big tech companies – but we all know that and can we rage against the machine?

These things will not change. The amount of information out there will continue to grow.

So, what does that mean for our universities?

People will feel increasingly lost amongst the noise. The role of guides or connoisseurs of information will become ever more important. The student’s question – will this be on the exam – that has always been important, will remain important.

That’s why Google is a giant company. They were among the first to recognise that finding information was the valuable thing – not necessarily producing it or even knowing it.

That’s why – as we head into the Australian summer – the Triple J Hot 100 will be a big event again, even though top 40 music charts are a thing of the past. That is why, Triple J Unearthed, where new talent can be identified and supported remains important. That’s actually why local radio that plays local music is important.

Local experts in universities will remain vitally important too. This year the world has learnt that every country needs respected public health officials, and will soon need people who can administer a vaccination. You can’t rely on far off virtual expertise in the real world.

There is a global market place for employment but Australia still needs to produce professionals who are world class in every field – health, engineering, law, business etc – as well as researchers and thinkers in the basic sciences and humanities.

But the role of teachers will increasing be that of respected and inspiring guides. People who can be inspirational – on the basis of a mix of their knowledge, achievements and their talent for teaching – but also people who can determine what is worth learning and what information can just be looked up later.

The idea that a global syllabus – a sort of 1000 facts you should know before you die – will not emerge in any discipline and the decisions about what is important will continue to be made locally, while being informed by accrediting bodies and world culture. As knowledge rapidly piles up, it is actually these decisions about the syllabus that will become the most important. They will have to be made quickly and annually by local academics.

The firehose spewing forth information will never tire and we will have a lot of work to do to curate our courses and set priorities. This will take great thought and some art. It will also remain exhausting to constantly update or generate electronic snippets or information snacks for future students to enjoy. The technologies will increasingly become ‘user friendly’ and intuitive  but fundamentally the quality of universities and their advantage will depend upon the quality of the staff and their dedication to and enjoyment of their disciplines. Unless, of course, Artificial Intelligence takes over and algorithms tell us what to learn next, in the same way as Netflix suggests shows and Spotify suggests songs.

Yes, that will happen too. But those algorithms are better at judging quantity than quality, and they aren’t particularly inspiring, and nor do they unite people into a community in shared place. So I’m confident that local universities will continue to play the vital role in selecting the right nuggets of information to nourish students and help young minds to grow stronger.

Professor Merlin Crossley

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic



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