Friday, November 18, 2016

Are today's universities failing society?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where a panel is discussing "Are today's universities failing society?". This is topical as the federal government, having sorted out vocational education is turning its attention now to universities. Next week I will be starting my contribution to the policy discussions with "Learning to Teach On-line with an E80 Blend".

In the case of the ANU, is is to be much more specific in deciding if the unviersity is failing society. The Australian National University Act 1991, Section 5, sets out the Functions of the University to include:
(a)  advancing and transmitting knowledge, by undertaking research and teaching of the highest quality;
(b)  encouraging, and providing facilities for, research and postgraduate study, both generally and in relation to subjects of national importance to Australia;
(c)  providing facilities and courses for higher education generally, including education appropriate to professional and other occupations, for students from within Australia and overseas;
(d)  providing facilities and courses at higher education level and other levels in the visual and performing arts, and, in so doing, promoting the highest standards of practice in those fields;
(e)  awarding and conferring degrees, diplomas and certificates in its own right or jointly with other institutions, as determined by the Council;
(f)  providing opportunities for persons, including those who already have post-secondary qualifications, to obtain higher education qualifications;
(g)  engaging in extension activities.

(2)  In the performance of its functions, the University must pay attention to its national and international roles and to the needs of the Australian Capital Territory and the surrounding regions.
This can be summarized as research and teaching for Australia. The interesting part is "extension activities", which is normally taken to be a form of cut down university education for the general public (a moder example being the MOOC).

ANU, and other universities, also act as a reserve of independent expertise for the community, government and industry. This latter role only becomes controversial when someone in the community, government or industry does not like the independent advice provided (such as with climate change).

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