Monday, 10 October 2011

There is a piece by Alexander Downer

in this morning's paper. He is a former Foreign Minister, now a visiting lecturer in politics at the University of Adelaide. He still does some foreign negotiating as well. He is an intelligent man with a wide range of experience and a remarkable capacity to be even-handed in an argument.
He is bemoaning the fact that the University of Adelaide is not in this year's "top 200" around the world. It is not, he says, good enough. I agree.
There are three universities in South Australia. The University of Adelaide is the oldest of these. There is Flinders' University, set up in the sixties, and the University of South Australia (UniSA) which is an amalgamation of various other tertiary institutions.
I have not been to any of them. I did my teacher training at one of the other institutions long before it became part of UniSA. Flinders' University was the "new" university back then. It was considered to be a hotbed of 60's left-wing radicalism.
When it came to the point where I realised I needed to know more, much more, I also realised that the University of Adelaide did not teach what I needed to know and Flinders' University taught even less. Note that I say what I needed to know, not just what I wanted to know.
South Australia is a small state. The universities are, relatively, small. There is a limit to what they can teach. I know that. Local and political interests demand that certain things be taught so we have courses in oenology and Pitjantjatara as well as the standard law, medicine and engineering. Overseas students are attracted with degrees in accounting and business and economics as well as the sciences.
It is all fine if you think you need to know these things. Standards will, inevitably, vary between universities and between departments. Standards will not be as high as they are where there is more competition for places. It does not mean you cannot get a good grounding in the knowledge you need.
What it does mean however is that you might not be educated. You might not learn the things you need to know as well as the things you want to know. You might not learn the little things that will get the university you attend into the top 200 or - better still - the top 100. The universities need to work on that.
One of the university staff sent a student to talk to me last week. She is getting ready to do her final exams. The question is whether she stays here and does some postgraduate work in an area which does not really interest her or whether she goes elsewhere and does what she is passionate about. Funding for the latter is, as always, a problem. I told her not to give up on the idea of the latter. We need more students like her, alive with enthusiasm for learning and not merely doing it because external interests have decided it needs to be done. The universities need to work on that too.


JO said...

I worry about lists like 'the top 100/200' What are they measuring? Is it really sensible to compare a university that has been established for centuries (Oxford, Cambridge) with one in Adelaide, or Kuala Lumpur, or Caracas?

Yes, we need measures of excellence. But the point, surely, is that each university is good at what it is trying to do. For instance, we have a great School of African Studies in London - I hope there is an even better one in Africa.

catdownunder said...

Hate to say it Jo but SOAS is far superior - I can get far more help in one place there than I can almost anywhere else in the world!