Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Money and Old Tropes

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Money and Old Tropes

Article excerpt

The academy is paying too much, not too little, heed to calls for adaptability to the market, says Hannah Forsyth.

A report recently splashed across the pages of Australia's media claimed that universities were "a thousand year old industry on the cusp of profound change".

It is an old trope. Universities are often seen as "ossified", as an Australian federal minister once put it, and slow to adapt. Ernst & Young's report, University of the Future, uses pictures to underline the point. Page one features two children with an iPad (the future); page two contrasts this with a cloister, no doubt intended to represent an Australian university.

To some extent, this is an image universities bring on themselves when they rely on a sense of antiquity to claim authority - but the accusation that they are unresponsive is unwarranted. Universities do adapt; indeed, most were created in response to particular needs. And Ernst & Young itself, it is worth pointing out, is older than most universities in Australia.

University of the Future highlights some obvious problems in Australian higher education, such as the fact that all sources of income are precarious and that it seems to cost more to administer our institutions than to teach and conduct research. It recommends that universities partner with industry, focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, adapt to a globally mobile market and develop teaching techniques that use and add value to online sources of information.

What do they think universities have been doing? Since the 1980s, the sector has sought partnerships with industry, rewarded entrepreneurship, commercialised research and traded in intellectual property. It has also drawn on the potential of the World Wide Web - and while there has been some success, it has been offset by the realisation that e-learning, while necessary, is not a cash cow.

Universities, the report argues, come with two "critical assets": credibility and expertise. "Credibility is king," it tells us; "universities are uniquely positioned to bring credibility and to act as curators of content". But its authors seem to have no idea about the source of that credibility. Nor do universities seem to be giving it much thought, either.

A university's credibility is grounded in its separateness from other "interests". …

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