By SALLY KIFT
Having recently contemplated the veritable frenzy of education-related reviews currently in play that have consequences for Australian higher education (HE), I now wonder if there is possibly a less transactional and more relational approach to advancing our nation’s educational future. In this spirit, I offer a vision for hyper-connectivity – Connectedness 2.0 for The Best Chance For All. If you stay with me, my thinking here is that Connectedness 2.0 might help diffuse some perennial binaries and smooth a number of HE’s hard edges.
What if we embraced connectedness unplugged, starting with HE’s positioning in a connected educational ecosystem from ‘high chair to higher ed’; an ecosystem where education was connected with opportunity for all?
What if our sector took responsibility for pursuing inescapable opportunities for connectedness – with and between all staff, students, students’ families and communities, curricula, learning environments, sectors, industries and professions – with good purpose and empathy?
This may sound a bit kumbaya, but if not now, when? In the face of a rising chorus of complaints about “arrogant” and “out of touch” universities, Glyn Davis urged in 2017 that we “build a strong base in society – among graduates as among those who never attend university.” The Coaldrake Review of Provider Category Standards has taken this a step further and recommended that “requirements related to industry engagement, civic leadership, and community engagement should be introduced or bolstered in the university categories of the [HE] Provider Category Standards …”.
So, what if we stepped-up our third mission engagement – for broad societal good – and deployed civic leadership for educational equity, at a time when lifelong learning for a productive, inclusive nation is the grandest of challenges. The Monash Commission and the Mitchell Institute have led on this, but AI and automation, and unknowable work futures, demand our full collective action. The OECD has nominated reducing inequality as central to social and economic progress. Education is one of the most efficient mechanisms we have for social mobility. How does a connected continuum for lifelong learning become a practical reality for all citizens? One where formal, informal, non-formal and short-form learning are credited and valued alike, and where educational attainment for national prosperity and well-being is much more evenly distributed.
The Australian Industry Group says employers want closer connections with all education sectors; in HE for research, placements, projects and curricular development. We now have better alignment between the respective roles of HE and professional accreditation bodies, with hopes for an associated reduction in regulatory burden. This new era of sector-industry cooperation should extend to dialogue on equitable future skills’ acquisition, post the initial-qualification stage of lifelong learning, for a much warmer handover to assured professional CPD. Our agentic students and graduates are obviously central to this, as critical connectors, partners and beneficiaries (with employers), of a connected continuum’s mediation.
But wait – there is more! There is an innately human(e) connectedness also ripe for educational exploitation. Obviously, learning is a profoundly social experience. But both students and staff are struggling with their mental wellbeing, exacerbated by many factors, including a perceived loss of agency. We know that autonomous motivation – doing things that are intrinsically interesting, satisfying or facilitate valued goals – is enhanced by experiences of belonging, positive relationships, autonomy and competence; what have been called the five ‘wellbeing essentials’. Is The Best Chance For All not an intrinsically valuable goal on which we could all agree? Pursued with generosity, inclusiveness and respect via connected curricula based on our connected humanity, better educational outcomes will follow and we may even deliver a circuit breaker to what many see as a neo-liberal contagion.
Kumbaya indeed, but if the OECD can call for economic policy reform based on the need to “properly to understand the sociality of human life”, then it’s good enough for HE to connect to the “sociality of higher education’ in the nation’s, and all of its peoples”, interest.
Sally Kift is a Visiting Professorial Fellow at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. She consults to universities and HE industry groups on teaching and learning.