SAM Seminar: The Idea of a Public University System: arguments and concepts for defibrillation

When:14 Oct 2014, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Robert Webster building, lecture theatre 327
Who:Ben Etherington (UWS)
SAM Seminar - Etherington

Under the reforms currently being considered by the Senate, Australia’s public universities face extinction as public institutions. It does not follow that just because the current thirty-nine public universities will continue to draw funds from the state through student loans and will continue to exist, that we will continue to have public universities. For these reforms clinch and fully institutionalise the worldview that understands education entirely as a private good.

Defibrillation is required – not of the ‘idea of a university’ merely, but of the idea of a public university system and university education as a vital social need. This presentation will contribute to this in three ways. Firstly, it will argue that a rights-based response to this attack on public universities falls back on the same underlying liberal framework that has made this attack so successful. We need to articulate the role and purpose of public universities in terms of needs and true interests. Towards this, and secondly, the paper will present alternative concepts to those which underpin marketisation: ‘rivalry’ instead of ‘competition’, ‘diversity’ instead of ‘choice’, ‘equality’ instead of ‘fairness’ (I am indebted to Simon Szreter for these alternatives). Finally, and a little tangentially, I want to think about the role of literary thinking in providing an anchor for commitments to needs and true interests. Particularly, the capacity to interpret needs, rather merely to define and evaluate them. That is, to be able to contend with ideology.

Ben Etherington was an organising member of the Cambridge Academic Campaign for Higher Education (CACHE), in 2010-2011, and is currently part of establishing a National Alliance for Public Universities. An essay outlining lessons learnt moving from one to the next can be found here.

SAM Seminar Series 2014
Convenor, Collin Chua –

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