What is a university today?
or this –
Hallowed halls or a corporation? Ivory towers or big business?
Yes, these days a university is both and I was part of that transformation of higher education from the 1980’s to 2007 and as a consultant in Asia and Europe until 2013.
Since I left full time university life, starting out as a lowly fixed term lecturer, later as a professor, Faculty Dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Director of various public and private companies linked with universities, I have wanted to write a novel about the massive challenges taking place in universities in the Anglo world and increasingly in Europe and Asia with the decline of government funding, the growth of ‘user pays’ and the treatment of education as a private rather than public good within a broader neo-liberal philosophy where the market rules.
Until now I remained too close to the subject to be able to write a fictional account of the challenges and dilemmas facing Australian universities in particular as governments reduced funding and universities were forced to become entrepreneurial, business oriented and market driven. I rode that wave for 20 years and think I left just in time with a sliver of my soul intact.
My story? A prestigious Australian university has failed to adapt and faces funding shortfalls and the loss of key academic staff and research areas unless it can access external funding fast and lots of it. A Chinese businessman needs to move assets overseas, fast and lots of it. A match made in heaven or is life never this simple?
5,000 words written and loving it – oh and if you’re reading this, you may be in it …
I’m so glad you’re writing about the dramatic change to ‘what is a university?’ Is it still a seat of learning — has it become, far more, a meal ticket? When I was an undergrad in the mid 1960s universities had changed little in purpose and conception from Chaucer’s time. I think my generation has witnessed immense changes in the purpose of universities and also the breadth of what is seen as the province of universities. I far prefer the Oxford/ Cambridge notion of scholars attached to colleges, learning at the feet of the wise. But I accept that this is nostalgic and we must move on. I very much look forward to reading your novel.