I wrote this post some years ago but never published it. I'm not quite sure why. It was a tale of attending two conferences in 2010 and I've now added in my experience of three more conferences to compare and contrast thinking about the future for the university. And some thoughts of my own about how to shift these conferences to a more futures facing stance.
Here I am, in the middle of Chapter 3 of my PhD thesis, excited to be writing and challenged by just how hard this is. I write a lot for my work, and I’ve written a lot during my career and study. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to synthesise, to make sense of disparate concepts and to write about them in ways that will make sense to others. The last thing I thought would challenge me in this PhD was the writing.
So ... this morning I read this short article in a daily newsletter I get about things happening in Australian higher education: The limits of crowdfunding. It was the last sentence that spurred me to write this post:
Which raises a question, will people crowdfund research if a share of their money goes to pay administrators?
I've written a lot about the relationship between academics and administrators and the role of managers in universities today, including whether or not there is really a 'divide' between the two groups.
I started to write a social media post about this but realised I couldn't fit in what I needed to say in that format, even with Twitter's 280 characters.
The Times Higher Education allows partner emails and a few days ago I got one about The University of Sydney's new campaign on 'unlearning'. Nice word, I use that a lot in the context of we need to unlearn our assumptions about the past to be able to engage with the future with an open mind.
I'm doing my PhD on the future of the university as a social institution. I've spent the past little while lining everything up, connecting all the dots in terms of theoretical framework, methods etc. The stuff that holds the PhD together. Somewhere in my brain has been a series of random thoughts about the story I'll be telling. It's yet to fully emerge of course, but there are signals of it here with me today. This post relates one of these thoughts.
Universities as a social institution are fragile - not in the tangible sense. Their buildings aren't going to fall down anytime soon, and unless governments have a radical change of mind about their value they will be with us for a while yet. But the intangible side of universities - the idea of the university - that is embedded in the people who work in them is fragile and always has been.
I've spent the past few weeks connecting all the dots in terms of research design. Words like paradigm, ontology, epistemology that I've read about for years took on a new meaning when I had to identify exactly what my stance was. First, of course, was quantitative or qualitative. One thing I have always known since I started my undergraduate degree was that a quantitative, realist stance wasn't for me. I don't get numbers, statistics or all those formulas. While I understand the value and necessity of data I also know it's only part of the equation when it comes to problem-solving and sense-making. And, while working in universities, I saw too many flawed forecasts because of an implicit faith in the truth of the data in the misguided search for certainty.