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Weekend reflections

February 11th, 2005

This regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

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  1. harry clarke
    February 12th, 2005 at 02:09 | #1

    Yesterday I went to an interesting workshop at University of Melbourne on empirics of teaching business and economics. The bits that attracted me were the studies of student failure and ideas for improving effectiveness of online delivery.

    ‘Navel-gazing’ by university departments — but particularly larger universities & those with large distance education programs — is producing good work. Particularly struck by the quality PhDs being done by business/economics buffs with a specific education theory interest. It is something that should be encouraged.

    Why are students often not attending classes? How can program delivery be improved in first-year units with large enrollments? How can online delivery improve things such as developing cognitive depth rather than just doing things on the cheap?

    The Federal Government has been pouring research money into assessing/improving the effectiveness of teaching & good results are emerging.

    I detest many of the ‘managerial’ obsessions of the modern university that detract from scholarship and research. But we are thinking more creatively these days about teaching — one core university function.

  2. February 12th, 2005 at 09:14 | #2

    Some readers may be interested in a somewhat academic piece by Gerard Radnitzky that is now on line at Catallaxy.
    Radnitzky was one of the first people to embrace the synergy of Popper and Hayek, and the influence of both can be found here. The bottom line of this long and challenging paper is that the secret of the ‘European Miracle’ of relative peace, freedom and plenty, has been the evolution of limited government. This followed the evolution of freedom in the economic sphere from political influence as well as from religious restrictions. He poses the question, whether this is an episode or an enduring achievement. The question is open due to the rise of imperialistic thinking in both Europe and the US (that last is my comment, not his).

  3. Vee
    February 12th, 2005 at 10:36 | #3

    I’m curious to know whether the formerly proposed knowledge nation was a proposed shift to the knowledge industry model prevalent in the US?

    As I understand it, all it really is, is a network of contacts that may have the knowledge you seek.

    I can’t quite put the relationship into words but is this not a form of communism/socialism?

    Also isn’t this more or less what the Masons did when they were still a secret society (shared business secrets that made them successful)?

    Isn’t it just ultimately commonsense?

    I’m probably wrong on all of this, so feel free to correct me.

  4. February 12th, 2005 at 12:06 | #4

    Teaching is not a core university function. Indeed, that misunderstanding is what has led to much sterile debate over the kind of learning that should be provided, missing the point that universities are for something else.

    They are for learning in the old sense, which includes both transmission and renewal of old understanding and fresh research. That necessarily involves teaching of the new generation of academia, and led to a synergy with teaching in general that made that function a cheap way of bringing in resources.

    But universities that concentrate on teaching fail in their purpose by making teaching take priority over their purpose. Teaching is not “core”.

  5. paul2
    February 12th, 2005 at 12:31 | #5

    Gosh, I agree with PML (!)
    ‘…and gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche’
    To Chaucer’s Oxford scholar, the learning came first.

  6. observa
    February 12th, 2005 at 12:35 | #6

    PML, perhaps that was the real problem for Professor Sawyer. He got confused about what High Schools were for cf Unis. Rafe’s reference to the Radnitzky article throws some light on this broader issue.

  7. February 12th, 2005 at 12:56 | #7

    Interesting the way things are developing in the Independent Media area, here in Oz. As we all know by now Crikey.com.au was sold to the owners of TheReader.com, the Chaser guys are shutting down the hardcopy side to the operation (check their funny excuses for doing so at http://chaser.com.au/ )

    Please do add your contributions of other relevant and interesting new media outlets.

    If I may suggest a great bit of reading from Australian new independent media, check out ‘New Matilda’:

    I can’t live without my weekly fix! Lots of differing opinions and subject areas. You DO need to subscribe. It is quite accessible and definitely some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Even if I do dissagree with a lot of the stuff written there, but then again, it’s no different to the good Prof’s blog 😉
    That’s half the fun isn’t it?

    [I have no interest or business relationship with publishers, authors, etc.
    Only a personal interest in great thought-provoking Australian writing!
    I’m only a humble subscriber and frequent critic.]

    Here’s a tiny bit, to tease your interest:
    New Matilda
    This week’s Ed. – Wednesday 9 February 2005

    “The plight of Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill woman who for six months had been locked up in a Queensland prison and in Baxter Detention Centre for four months after that, was known to a number of people. Some of them tried hard to help her and bring her to the attention of authorities. Finally, this week, a journalist’s inquiry brought her case out into the open.”

    “The Queensland Premier apologized for the error, but his apology did not explain why if the Aboriginal people who found Ms Rau in outback North Queensland saw at once that she was ill, for ten months prison, immigration and health services did not.”

    “Unlike Mr Beattie, the Prime Minister said that at this stage he would not apologise…”

    “In a fit of anxiety we allowed our governments to construct our own little matchbox gulag and a private inquiry into it is as much a joke as a private inquiry into a mistake in the real one would have been. The fact that government agencies reckoned a wandering, deluded person must be an illegal immigrant speaks with marvelous eloquence of the paranoid state in which the system was born… -by New Matilda”

    Plus I add a whole lot more from their webpage:

    Independent Voices Changing Australia

    NewMatilda.com offers a place for you to speak out about the Australia you want.

    NewMatilda.com will:
    – promote truth in public life
    – independent political commentary
    – policy development
    – community participation

    Issue 24

    In this issue New Matilda confronts the paranoid state of our government’s detention system. Kirk McKenzie argues that Beazley Labor must deal with the alleged economic mistakes of the Hawke/Keating years. Spencer Zifcak describes how a Charter of Human Rights can constrain the abuse of executive power. Our mounting socio-economic and ecological crisis must be faced argues Brendan Gleeson. Next Wednesday brings into force the Kyoto Protocol and last Wednesday’s record breaking rain and winter temperatures in Melbourne speak volumes says Martin Callinan. The attempt to revive the abortion debate causes Joanna Mendelsshon to remember her mother. There’s Robert Corr on the elections in WA and the great white hope for the Liberals. There’s Allison Henry and John Warshurst on young Australians’ political apathy and ignorance of constitutional matters; Nick Evers subjects the Greens to scrutiny. And ancient hatreds in reaction to centuries of religious wars are described by Tom Morton.

    Download the NewMatilda flyer here.

    Gift Subscriptions are available to subscribers at a discount rate of $44. Download the Gift Subscription Form here

    If you are a subscriber and having difficulty reading or receiving the current issue, contact us for technical assistance. Email New Matilda or phone 02 9211 1635.

    Issue 24 – Wednesday 9 February 2005

    This week   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘In a fit of anxiety we allowed our governments to construct our own little matchbox gulag and a private inquiry into it is as much a joke as a private inquiry into a mistake in the real one would have been. The fact that government agencies reckoned a wandering, deluded person must be an illegal immigrant speaks with marvelous eloquence of the paranoid state in which the system was born.’ more… by New Matilda

    Updates and links   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    20 amazing facts about voting in the USA/Will Beazley refloat the Labor ship?/Iraq elections update more… by New Matilda

    A Charter of Rights? Take the UK example for a start   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘It is not for the executive to decide who should be locked up for any length of time, let alone indefinitely. Only the courts can do that and …only after the grounds for detaining someone have been proved. Executive detention is the antithesis of the right to liberty and security of the person.’ more… by Spencer Zifcak

    Federal Labor – dealing with its economic mistakes   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘No budget deficit has ever exceeded that figure either before or since. The projected budget deficit left by Keating in 1996 was $9 billion but in real terms it was about half the deficit of 1983. As a percentage of GDP it was only 2 per cent. “Beazley’s black hole'” never existed.’ more… by Kirk McKenzie

    Hell to pay: cities in the age of default and revolt   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘What is interesting…is the looming coincidence of three moments of reconciliation – economic, human and natural – when growth will be halted, and order disrupted, by the claims of debt. The indications are that all three ‘accounting’ cycles in the developed world are on a path for convergence, some time in the next decade.’ more… by Brendan Gleeson

    Abortion in the suburbs, a memoir   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘The latest resurrections of the abortion debate, with their pompous affirmation of the ‘family values’ of the 1950s, inevitably take me back to that day in 1955 when my childhood ended.’ more… by Joanna Mendelssohn

    Weather events and other opportunities   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘Last Wednesday brought record breaking rain and winter temperatures to Melbourne. Next Wednesday brings into force the Kyoto Protocol. The two events may be unrelated but they speak volumes about the same issue. An issue the Howard Government sees no need to take seriously.’ more… by Martin Callinan

    A mess of unanswered questions   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘Barnett went from saviour to false prophet overnight: the West Australian reported on Thursday that the canal had “throw[n] him well in front in the leadership race”, by Friday the front-page headline was, “Why canal plan may sink Barnett”. Even his own side wouldn’t support him.’ more… by Robert Corr

    The Greens – a comment   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘It remains to be seen whether their weak performance in the 2004 election was a graze or a lethal wound. Bob Brown and his colleagues are at a crossroads. To move too far back to their roots would see them as little more than an institutionalised mass protest movement…’ more… by Nick Evers

    Improving constitutional awareness   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘The researchers found that only half of the young people they interviewed would vote if it was not compulsory, and among the reasons given by respondents for not voting was lack of knowledge.’ more… by Allison Henry and John Warhurst

    Manufacturing ancient hatreds   Wednesday 9 February 2005

    ‘It’s worth recalling that the European Enlightenment, and what would now be called its ‘core values’ – tolerance, respect for human autonomy and human flourishing – did not spring spontaneously and fully formed from the pens of Voltaire, Rousseau and Kant. It was a reaction to three centuries of religious wars in which the soil of northern Europe was soaked in blood.’ more… by Tom Morton

    Thank you for visiting New Matilda again.
    Your voice will change Australia.

    © 2004 Copyright New Matilda Pty Ltd. All rights reserved | Contact | Privacy Policy

  8. Nabakov
    February 12th, 2005 at 13:42 | #8

    Sorry Carlos, I was listening to someone else. Could you repeat that?

    I agree with PML too. Universities evolved as R&D establishments (across all disciplines) and it’s what they should do best. Churning out diplomas is now a revenue raising exercise and the tail that wags the dog.

    In terms of teaching the next generation, I think the most appropriate functions of unis now is to give students a basic grounding in study and research methods and an opportunity to explore stuff (academic, social and cultural) beyond their chosen career paths and backgrounds.

    Then pack ’em off to teaching hospitals, as articled clerks, as interns, into call centres and crappy inner-city bands or whatever puts ’em in the frontline of what they think they want to do.

  9. February 12th, 2005 at 13:57 | #9

    Um, then my theory that Universities were once a bunch of religious maniacs training a new generation of footsolders in the ideological service of oppressive feudalism is wrong, is it?

  10. Nabakov
    February 12th, 2005 at 14:50 | #10

    Well David, that’s how they pitched it to the funding bodies at the time. But, as we know, once you’ve got yer grant, anything can happen.

  11. February 12th, 2005 at 15:20 | #11

    I just raffled off a subscription to New Matilda on my blog. There might be another one in future.

  12. James Farrell
    February 12th, 2005 at 20:13 | #12

    So what do you propose, PML? A return to the pre-Dawkins setup, with all undergraduate teaching shifted to CAEs?

    By the way, I agree that resaerch should be funded properly and that a university department’s survival shouldn’t be dependent on its ability to compete for EFTSU dollars. But if you want undergraduate courses that are a bit more academic than TAFE courses, someone has to provide them.

  13. February 12th, 2005 at 23:10 | #13

    Teaching has always been a core function of Australian universities, with scholarship and research an optional extra if the staff had the energy and inclination for them.
    More recently of course research was added as a core function, though not for all staff.
    The situation in the 1960s was a good base for development but the contributions of Whitlam and Dawkins have produced a crisis of funding, purpose and confidence.
    There are still people who understand the purpose of the traditional university, more strength to their arms, but they do not help their cause by lambasting economic rationalists. It was never part of a rational economic rationalist agenda to take the Dawkins route, although he was an economic rationalist of a kind, he clearly had no notion of the proper function of higher education.

  14. February 12th, 2005 at 23:24 | #14

    Western society now crucially requires knowledge workers for it to function — ie, people able to absorb, manipulate, generate and reify abstract concepts. You don’t acquire these abilities from a TAFE education.

    You also don’t acquire these abilities from an education where the lecturers are themselves not engaged in producing new concepts. If a university Chemistry department, for example, does not have the latest equipment and is not actively engaged in research, then its teaching is not going to be worth anything either. In particular, its graduates won’t be of any use to an employer who does have the latest equipment or is using the latest thinking. In a competitive market environment, that would be just about every employer of chemistry graduates.

    The real problem for a knowledge-based economy is not in deciding the mix between teaching and research at universities, but rather in ensuring that all university teaching is research-led. This can only happen if the teaching staff are the same people as the research staff, and this, in turn, requires adequate funding (and hence time) for both activities for the vast majority of staff. It may also require that teaching not use a mass production model, with classes so large that students never get to know the lecturer (or each other).

    I’ve not encountered any Western politician who understands this, with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich (who used to be an academic). It is possible that Robert Menzies also understood it (why else would he have been awarded an FRS, I ask innocently), although I suspect that his university-friendly policies were probably due to elitism rather than to a sophisticated appreciation of the drivers of economic growth in late capitalism.

  15. February 13th, 2005 at 00:19 | #15

    Well said peter. A university that is not research based and led is not a university by whatever name. But i really popped in here to do a reprise on Rafe’s lingo:

    It was never part of a rational economic rationalist agenda to take the Dawkins route, although he was an economic rationalist of a kind…

    Go Rafe.

  16. Anne Magarey
    February 13th, 2005 at 10:26 | #16

    The link is to Evan Jones’ blog about a particular small business and the NAB. This needs to get out, please read. http://alertandalarmed.blogspot.com/2005/02/nab-and-small-business-i.html

  17. Ros
    February 13th, 2005 at 10:47 | #17

    Anecdotal stories are limited in value, however I lost hope in Australia’s universities when a couple of years back I was part of a tut group that was informed by the tutor,â€? that that science thing is dead now’ This was a feminist research theory proponent in a research subject. It appeared that she had come across something about quantum mechanics though she didn’t know what to call it. Her point, that therefore within social systems the cause can follow the effect. Thus today’s policy can be the CAUSE not the effect of an event in the past. The 18 year olds were taking it all in. Dissent from some older students was closed down in a very hostile manner. She maintained that view during the rest of her time with us. She was in the end stages of a doctorate.
    This was a sandstone and the subject was geography not massage. I hasten to add that she was in Womens studies not Geography.

  18. February 13th, 2005 at 12:58 | #18

    Just to demonstrate that no good deed goes unpunished I will interpret the comment by cs as encouragement and proceed to punish everyone with some more of my thoughts on the universities. First a plug for Jacques Barzun who I have found the most helpful commentator on these matters by a wide margin, combining as he does the roles of teacher, scholar and administrator.
    Or just click the signature below.
    He made a close study of the decline of the universities in the US under the massive postwar expansion, a process that we repeated a couple of decades later. Menzies started the ball rolling, I think for entirely honourable reasons to do with the emancipation by learning and his own experience of escaping from the bush to high office by way of educational opportunity. I don’t know how much he appreciated the economic imperative of training but he did sponsor the first public support of science in the private schools which I well remember because my school was the first or second to benefit and one of the happiest mornings in my school life was spent with a sledge hammer in hand demolishing the benches from the old science lab.
    To clarify my opaque remarks on economic rationalism and the academies. Economic rationalism is about free trade under the rule of law, and also about tracing the downstream effects of interventions in the voluntary exchange of goods and services. It does not mean providing something like university education free of charge to all comers (Whitlam) nor does it mean centralizing the whole process, converting colleges into universities at a stroke, and placing layer on layer of bureaucratic interference over the teaching and research functions of university staff.
    The rational economic rationalist will apply the Quiggin principle of conservative reformism (I forget the name) to the universities, first of all understanding their proper function and building on the strengths of the system, with reforms that inflict the minimum of damage to things that are not broken. For example, HECS could have been introduced to rationalise the funding without any of other more or less radical and disastrous changes.

  19. Rex
    February 13th, 2005 at 13:05 | #19

    So where do the RWDBs stand on this blatant piece of Howard Opportunism?

    One US official is quoted “We are talking about the Europeans making it easier for the Chinese to kill Americans.”

    Howard’s response? “Well we understand your point, and we sympathise completely, but this is business you know. You just can’t go and let things get in the way of a good trading relationship. Wasn’t it you that taught us that anyway?”

  20. February 13th, 2005 at 15:02 | #20

    Thanks for clearing that up Rafe.

  21. harry clarke
    February 13th, 2005 at 16:06 | #21

    Indonesia’s Minister for ‘National Planning’, Dr Mulyani, made it clear in The Age this morning (13/2/05) that Indonesians not Australians will determine where their $1 billion official donations will be spent. She has assured us that anti-corruption measures will be put in place so we have no worries. I have my doubts.

    I am also troubled by her remarks about the damaging role of market forces in the current situation. Price hikes in the property sector will damage the prospects of recovery in Aceh, she said, as people seek to profit from the situation.

    The price hikes should indicate market shortages and will naturally encourage the redirection of private resources to such sectors. It is these private sector moves that will ultimately do most of the rebuilding. The price signals can also be used by aid agencies to help them determine candidates for official assistance and for financing. Ignoring such signals, and taking actions based on a view that transactions in such areas are illegitimate attempts to profit from the situation, is a predictable stance for a National Planning minister, but will make things worse.

    The issues arose during the recent tsunami appeal and deserve to be raised again. How should aid be best used by a country such as Indonesia given a crisis and given the risk of internal corruption, limited local economic perspectives and the adverse price effects that aid spent locally may have in further raising prices?

    Australia would seem to be able to usefully contribute to determining the direction as well as quantity of the aid effort — a point made by John Howard. Providing lots of imported capital goods will minimise the adverse price effects locally and also leave aid agencies themselves in a position to limit corruption in contracting by insisting on reasonably open competitive tendering for large rebuilding projects. Australian firms should be involved in the tendering and the rebuilding.

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