Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nothing is Wrong With Our Universities

Richard Hil, author of Whackademia: An Insider's Account of the Troubled University, argued on ABC Radio  ("What's Wrong With Our Universities", Sunday 20 January 2013) that Australian universities are under-funded and its academics overloaded with administrative work and pressure to pass sub-standard students. He looks back to a golden age when academics where funded without any accountability and could sit around thinking great thoughts. However, I doubt such an age ever existed. Universities cost money and someone has to pay. If academics want to sit around and think great thoughts, then ether they will have to think up something very useful occasionally which justifies they salary, or do something else, such as teach, to subsidize their thinking time.

Hil expresses concern that there is are a countless number of part time university teachers who do not have the pay and conditions of permanent staff. This seems to contradict other parts of his argument where he calls for less administrative burden on academics and more flexibility. As an adjunct lecturer I like the relative freedom of not being included in university administrative processes. I don't have to go to administrative meetings, unless they concern my course. I don't have to fill out leave forms, because I don't get paid for leave, just for the courses I teach.

Hil claims there is pressure from administration, even from VCs, for academics to pass students who are not up to the required standard, particularly international students. I have never been under such pressure. Any academic who is, should report the matter to the appropriate internal review body, or if it appears to be a systemic problem to the independent commission against corruption (or equivalent).  There will always be legitimate debate about marks, but if inappropriate pressure is being applied for financial gain, then that is a crime which needs to be reported and investigated.

Universities have to balance the need to be financially viable with research and teaching. There is also the need to balance the need to turn out "work ready" graduates and to create new knowledge. There is never going to be enough money to do everything every academic wants and everything society expects.

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