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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Higher education: another perspective « Previous | |Next »
October 4, 2003

I found these remarks by Observa in the comment box to this post on education. They are too good to be left there. So I'm bringing them forward as a post by Observa.
This is what Observa says:

"By the early 70s with the advent of 'free' university entry the Left had seemingly broken the stranglehold, the sons and daughters of the privileged had previously enjoyed in higher education. To what extent this was the true case, I have my doubts. It may well have been the case, that the inexorable demographic blip of post-war baby boomers, was the real impetus for the plethora of new CAEs and Universities. Simply an idea whose demographic time had come.

This same demographic was to produce the rapid urban sprawl to the north and south of my city Adelaide, as they wed and formed new households. By the time a State govt. was prepared to address the problem with the new city of Monarto, the demographic problem had passed and Monarto became a costly zoo and woodland.

What of the expanded tertiary education sector? Well it suffered some inevitable amalgamations, but with a vocal supplier lobby group, jealously guarding its expanded role, it fared much better. These new polo-necked defenders of the faith, fought tooth and nail any attack on their empire. They happily enlisted the new converts entering their portals, to the idea that tertiary education was the answer to all societies ills, or at the very least, a bulwark against the chill winds of globalisation. Mind you it didn't mind opening its doors to globalisation, with international students, when it began to grow a bit short of local demographics. Never let it be said that the polo-necked left and their converts, were not against a bit of good old market pragmatism, when their tenure was on the line.

It could also create a few new courses in basket-weaving to drum up more business, or lower the academic bar if the numbers were getting a bit thin. If the market woke up to the increased number of lower grade graduates, you could always satisfy them with the increasingly necessary Honours or Phd grads. It would even acquiesce quietly with its favourite Labor govt.on a usually, morally repugnant HECS scheme, if financing the punters through the doors, was getting to be a bit of a problem. Overall, a very flexible and pragmatic sniffer of the winds of change.

When you create empires, you must ensure every sandstone foundation is in place. The Secondary schools are your feedstock, unless of course they consist of Technical schools which are of no use to you. You will inculcate a whole generation of educationalists that 'education is for life' and to stream some children away from academia and into physical skills training is heresy. You will happily condemn a generation of working-class kids to the unemployment scrap-heap for a rounded education and the greater good of society.

When Goodwood Tech, the last technical high school in Adelaide closed its doors some 12 years ago, I was told by the staff that every final year student had a job to go to. I personally apprenticed one such work experience lad, who was previously failing at Westminster private school and now topped his class at Goodwood. Can you imagine the crass troglodytes who ran that school? They used to get the students to clock on and off school each day and mark them down for absenteeism or lateness.

You could see the same occurring in the nursing profession as in-hospital trainig was commandeered by one of Adelaide's burgeoning new universities, Flinders. A new breed of tertiary educated nurses was put through the halls of academia, many of them to give up their profession soon after graduation, because it all got a bit mucky and demanding in the wards. The result, like the demise of the Technical schools, a serious shortage of nurses, plumbers, electricians, fitters and mechanics and the list goes on.

Where are we now? Well we have a large glut of academic graduates in many fields and a serious shortage of skilled technicians. The universities are on borrowed time with only the demographic echo effect of the baby-boomers to sustain their large claim on the community's scarce resources. Their time in the sun is up and is it any wonder the barbarians are at the portals with their talk of accountability, vouchers and life grants for consumers. Still, it is an articulate empire, even if it has fiddled too long. It remains to be seen, if an educated community will still dance to its tune, when there are not enough plumbers or nurses to attend to its drips."

This is a different perspective on the higher education to my own which adopts a writing from within the liberal university.

In response to Observa's comments to would add that the concern of many participants at the Senate Inquiry was that SA was in a very vulnerable position. A slow growing economy meant a declining university sector and a lack of income to pay for the increased fees. SA's universities were vulnerable because the SA economy was equivalent to a depressed region.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:53 PM | | Comments (4)


Polo-shirt wearing! I would think more chambray, or linen shirt myself, but maybe 'they' have moved on.

I can see that the school system does not cater at all well for those who don't learn in a particular style. I can also agree that academic knowlege without practical exposure can not only limit someone's perspective, but also prove to be counterproductive in training someone for a particular job or occupation.

Yet this is as true of 'Right' disciplines as it is of 'Left' disciplines. It's a major failing of Economics as taught at most Universities.

However, that position can easily be a 'left' or at least not a 'right' or pro-capitalist position - Francisco Ferrer, Freire, John Holt would have argued the same well before the closure of Goodwood Tech. Indeed, there is a major body of education writing that challenges the state school system from a socialist/communist/radical democratic viewpoint.

The emphasis upon Year 12 retention rates, without reference to anything else, is embraced by both the Liberal *and* Labor (if that is your definition of 'Left') Parties. I always groan when i hear this, because i fully realise how many kids are being made to sit through school when they do not wish to be there. Of course their presence does slightly deflate the unemployment statistics and keep youths off the street.

There is also the phenomenon of working class parents to embrace the attitude - whether 'Left' or 'Right' or 'Centre' - that to succeed, one must become a white collar worker.

Manual labour isn't valued as much as the manipulation of symbols, or mental work. Sure, a plumber or a painter (which my dad is amongst his other skills) can sometimes earn good hourly rates, but they are still not presented as models to follow for most students.

This model is reinforced to parents in their own workplaces.

There is a prevailing attitude in our society which suggests that you can't be an intellectual and good with your hands. You must be one or the other. We're also told that we need experts to explain everything to us. The cult of intellectual superstar is not restricted to the University.

The notion that someone is middle class if they work in an office is quite widespread. This suits various elites quite handily. Thus a feeling of superiority can supposedly compensate for the fact that you still earn less than a builder's labourer does.

As for Nursing, i would suggest that going back to Hospital training is not the solution. The UniSA course seems to do ok with a mix of practical and theoretical training. Even with this, there are still many Nurses who fail to keep up with the current knowledge.

From my exposure to Nurses, it would seem that the long hours (which go unpaid thanks to the Nursing managers) carried out on shifts with inadequate resources are just as big a reason for Nurses leaving the profession. Inadequate staffing and vindicative management can leave someone working some very unpleasant shift rotations.

I would also question the notion that the people who run the Universities are on the 'Left'. On salaries of 150 000+ surely, they would be as likely to vote Liberal as Labor, Democrat or Green? Given that they occupy managerial positions, they fully believe in the division of labour and that hierarchy is an unquestionably good thing to have in the workplace.

The only political tradition that challenges this notion is that of libertarian socialism/communism, or the individualist, non-capitalist anarchists. Most other political traditions have always found a space for a particular group to be in charge of the rest of us.

So, yes, of course the Universities involve Empire building, but i don't think this is a "Left" thing. This is what humans do in systems that reward obsequiosness, the exercise of authority and the creation of intricate hierarchies with their own social and other rules.

dj posted a reply to this thread, writing "So, yes, of course the Universities involve Empire building, but i don't think this is a "Left" thing. This is what humans do in systems that reward obsequiosness, the exercise of authority and the creation of intricate hierarchies with their own social and other rules."

Bravo, dj! Universities are about self-interest and profiteering by tenured professors from the left and the right. This left-right debate is merely a distraction. The more students they can get literally "buying" into the system, the more people they have authority over and the more money they get flowing into their own pockets -- from tuition, from the public purse, from private donors, from grants etc., etc.

Like I always say, if you think universities about about educating youth, then, really, how could you be so naive?

Academy Girl

many of our universities in Australia have become corporations and they act as corporations in the marketplace in terms of economic rationality.

The left right thing is more about culture.

All ideology goes out the window when one's own interests are at stake.