The University of Canberra’s Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker gave the Don Aitkin lecture last week and he’s now posted it on his blog.
It’s something I think you should all read in full, unless you are already very, very smart it will make you smarter.
But for mine the essence of it is this bit.
In educational terms, Assurance and Assessment are our competitive advantages. Our currency is our testamur. We in universities will need to move our focus more towards assessment, and the rock-solid accreditation this implies, and accept that students will find many different pathways towards earning it. We curate the content. We draw a routemap with many different routes. But we alone tell the world that the students have arrived there.
1. Although possibly changing, our approach to education systems is still based on a view of people and society appropriate to the industrial age.
2. Continued adherence to it will hold Australia back in global competition, based as it will be on innovation and services, and it will damage our people.
3. Conversely, moving beyond it will advantage Australia relatively.
4. We need a period of deliberate experimentation to design a post-industrial educational system: or, possibly, not a system at all, but “a genuine ecology of talent” (Robinson).
5. Australia has a perennial skills crisis (even in times of unemployment), seems always to be surprised by it, and presumably hopes that immigration will come to the rescue, as long as people arrive politely by plane. But :
• fundamentally, however good our institutions and teachers, our education system isn’t designed to maximise everyone’s talents and so it fails to enthuse all students (with an increasing problem in relation to Anglo-background males);
• unless we transform our approach to education, our population size might always be too small to deliver our desired standard of living.
6. Conceptual distinctions around which our education system has been structured for generations are outmoded, and in practice are violated for reasons explained more by social class than intellectual rigor:
• vocational institutions now offer generalist programs;
• higher education institutions now offer very narrow ones and are shifting to work-integrated learning, skills training and so on;
• numerous subjects now offered in universities, such as languages, performing arts and music could validly be described as “vocational”. And what about medicine?
All these labels such as academic, vocational, practical, higher and training have become problematic differentiators. All our comfortable distinctions are collapsing.
7. Institutional boundaries do matter, however: a strong sense of institutional mission is a powerful driver of success.
• Being the best at what you set out to do is a fine goal;
• There is no point in setting out to do anything, or staying in it, unless you can credibly strive to be good at it;
• The omniversity isn’t about dabbling in a bit of everything.
8. The notion of research-led education in universities, and the systems and arrangements built around it, is too expensive and inconvenient to apply across the board on the scale of system that a developed country like Australia is considering. Something will have to give.
THE UC GROUP
Imperfectly, no doubt, and with much more to be worked out and failures to confront, these experiences, ideas and propositions have led to the UC omniversity idea; an idea about education for life, where different members of the UC Group provide distinct forms of education, connected by a common series of values. If we get this right, students can be exposed to numerous styles of education. Teachers, too, can see the innovations of teachers in other institutions whom they might never otherwise even meet.
And one of the reasons this is so exciting is that each member of the group provides scale to all the others. UC can confer on UC Senior Secondary College discipline strengths that no school on its own could ever acquire: after all, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into us over four decades. UC Poly will experiment with new learning technologies, to benefit the whole Group. UC Schools can work with our Education Faculty so that our trainee teachers have the most practical experience of any in the country. And so on.
In part it’s the university trying to future proof itself against the distance education tsunami which is threatening to sweep away a great many educational edifices.
But in terms of the ludicrous and harmful nature of our current education system and the need to replace it with something much better I think he’s spot on.
As with all things the devil lies in the detail, and good ideas are worthless if they’re not executed well.