Importance of Natural Resources

VC’s Lecture – Transforming the University: An Ecological Approach


Good evening and welcome everyone to the 2018
Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture, which will be presented by Professor Ron Barnett entitled
Transforming the University: An Ecological Approach. I think I know quite a lot of people
in the room, but for those who don’t know me, my name is Peter Dawkins. I am the Vice-Chancellor
and President of Victoria University and it’s a privilege and pleasure to have a lecture
in my name, and a particular privilege to have Ron Barnett as our Vice-Chancellor’s
Lecturer this year, a distinguished leading thinker about universities and about higher
education on the global stage. I will say a little bit about Ron and introduce
him, and I’ll also say something about the topic for this evening, Transforming the University:
An Ecological Approach, and also about the purpose of the Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture
series. But before I do all of that, I would like to begin by acknowledging the ancestors,
elders and families of the Boonwurrung and the Woiwurrung of the Kulin, who are the traditional
owners of University land. As we share our knowledge practices within the university
we may pay respect to the deep knowledge embedded within the Aboriginal community and their
ownership of country. We acknowledge that the land on which we meet is a place of age
old ceremony, so celebration, initiation and renewal, and that the Kulin peoples’ living
culture has a unique role in the life of this region. And I might add that you’re probably
aware that this week is NAIDOC Week and the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee Week. And actually, it’s got a particular connection with Footscray, which
is that William Cooper, a famous Aboriginal activist in the 1930s, was the person who
led to there being this annual observance day, so we have a special connection in Footscray
with NAIDOC Week and Aboriginal and Indigenous education as a key part of VU’s strategy
and VU’s ecosystem, which is an ecosystem is what Ron is going to be talking about tonight.
I want not only to welcome Ron but to welcome a number of other people here tonight, particularly
our Deputy Chancellor, who is Acting Chancellor, Gaye Hamilton. Welcome to you. Welcome to
other distinguished guests, colleagues and friends. The purpose of the annual Vice-Chancellor’s
Lecture is to have an internationally academic share their thoughts and expertise
in a field of strategic importance for Victoria University We’ve had a number of those
over the years. Professor Young Zhao, you may remember talking about entrepreneurial
education, Clyde Williams talking about sport, science and his contribution to Olympic success,
Ross Garnaut talking about the Australian economy. We had the Chief Scientist Ian Chubb
on science, technology, engineering and maths last year. We heard from Professor Sally Kift,
who’s actually one of Peter Noonan’s panel this year reviewing the AQF, Sally Kift who
is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow now, talking about making a success of first year, which
of course was particularly relevant at the time we were looking at transforming the
first-year experience at Victoria University. And this year, we decided to get our speaker
to talk about transformation, transforming university. And we thought what better person to do that than someone who influenced our White Paper.
Some of you will be aware, we produce a White Paper on our transformational agenda and we
were influenced in that paper by the work of Ron Barnett. And I’m not going to say
a great deal about Ron Barnett’s work because he’s going to speak for himself tonight.
But it was very influential in our White Paper and he talks about the ecological university,
and I can recommend his book, The Ecological University, to you. And he talks about ecosystems
and universities as part of a number of ecosystems and we found that that was very relevant to
our transformational agenda. And I’m actually going to share with you a diagram which you’ll
see at the bottom, it says based on Barnett R, The Coming of the Ecological University. And those of you who are seeing it for the first time might wonder what the hell it is,
because it’s got all sorts of dimensions and components. But I’m really pleased to
say that Ron likes it. I was very nervous before I met him, whether he actually liked
this diagram or not. But in it, you’ll see that we have a moral purpose, is one of the
driving forces, and these four things, so the four big ideas that underpin our transformation
agenda and the moral purpose is about transforming lives of students and transforming communities.
We’ve also got this concept of a university without boundaries, a university that’s
very engaged and connected with the world and part of a range of ecosystems, which is
a good fit with Ron’s view of the university. We’re focusing on 21st challenges and developing
21st skills and capabilities as well as knowledge. And we have got a particular focus on health,
sport and active living and sustainable industries and liveable cities but engaging the local
and global communities as we pursue that agenda. So, thanks to Ron for inspiring that diagram.
Lorraine Ling was an important part of that as well, who is very familiar with Ron’s
work. That probably is enough from me, other than to do a slightly more formal introduction
of Ron, as he has a very distinguished career behind him and I’m sure, continuing ahead
of him. But Ron Barnett is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at University College
London Institute of Education, where he was Dean of Professional Development and subsequently
Pro-Director responsible for the Institute’s longer-term strategy. He was also active in
the Federal University of London, being a member of it’s senate, and chairing for
several years it’s Research Degrees Committee, it’s members draw from all colleges and
institutes of the whole university. So he’s not only a big thinker about higher education
in universities but he’s been a practitioner and it’s being able to bring together that
practitioner and that theoretical view that is one of Ron’s great attributes. He’s
a past chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education, was awarded the inaugural
prize by the European Association for Education and Research for his outstanding contribution
to higher education research, policy and practice and is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences,
the SRHE and the Higher Education Academy, is a visiting Professor at several universities
in the UK and across the world and has been a guest speaker in 40 countries.
For over 30 years he’s been advancing a social philosophy of the university and more
widely, to establish the field of philosophy of higher education. He has characterised
his position as that of a social philosopher of the university, at once realist, critical,
imaginative, and practical, and in that work, he’s been attempting to identify creative
concepts and practical principals that might enhance universities and higher education.
He’s written 31 books, including the most recently published, the one I showed you,
The Ecological University, and a range of others that I won’t read out. It is terrific
to have Ron with us, Professor Barnett here tonight. I’m truly delighted he’s agreed
to present the 2018 Victoria University Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture. I’m sure you’ll find this evening’s
lecture thought provoking and we will have a Q&A after Ron speaks for the next 30 minutes.
Welcome Ron Barnett. Prof Barnett: Well, hello everybody, good
evening. What a joy and privilege it is to be here giving the Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture.
I want to thank VC Professor Peter Dawkins for inviting me here. It is very special for
me to be here. One scribbles away, in my case for decades, you hope that some people will
read the work. You hope that some people might even be, dare I say, uplifted by it. But what
I’m trying to do is to help actually move things along a bit. And it’s just tremendous
to me to see just that happening here, if I can say so, a Vice-Chancellor on the ground
as it were in Victoria University. I really do thank you very much indeed.
This is a special occasion. And if I can say so, not only for you, for the university,
but very much for me as well. You’ve heard a little of my background. I’ve worn most
of the tee shirts. I’m interested not only thinking about higher education and the university,
but I’m also interested in finding through one’s thinking ways of helping institutions
actually develop. I’ve had various leadership roles and I’ve been particularly active
in relation to the student experience, teaching, learning
and so on and so forth. So that’s my background. And I must say that all of my administrative
roles, my leadership and managerial roles I think have been tremendously important to
me in my scholarly endeavours. They’ve really helped I think infuse my scholarly work with
a sense of the practical and the urgency of the need to get somewhere and find ideas which
just may work on the ground if we’re lucky. You’ve heard that I would describe myself
as a social philosopher of the university. My partner tells me I live in the moon, but
I’ve said in one of my books my head’s in the clouds, but my feet are on the ground
and that’s what I’ve tried to do, to think big as it were, think, as I would put it,
in utopian ways but to be also at the same time quite attuned to the way the world really
is. I think that’s absolutely vital. So I’m going to offer you what might seem to
you to be rather abstract, but I want you to come with me for the next 25 minutes and
just see where we might get to together. My lecture, what’s it all about? Why are
we here? And what might it be to transform a university? Why should we even bother? Is
it necessary? The university’s been around, the western university has been around now
for 900 years. It seems to do pretty well at tinkering around with itself to keep itself
going, various reincarnations over the centuries. Why do we need to transform it? And what would
transformation mean? What would it look like? Is it just a technical exercise? You tinker
around with the resources and you manoeuvre things a little bit and just go on achieving
old ends and aims and goals. Or are we trying to think completely afresh about where we
might be going and what we’re here for? Might our purposes be quite new for the 21st
century? What even might a moral purpose for the university look like? So those are some
of the background questions I think that are sparking off this talk this evening. The structure
of my talk, going through pretty rapidly, I’ve got Tara somewhere looking out, who
is going to wave at me and heckle after about 25 minutes, so I don’t witter on too much.
You haven’t got the PowerPoint with you. I always like to know if I’m sitting in
the audience how many PowerPoints have I got to last through and that the speaker is going
to witter on through. Well, I think it’s about 20. But I’m going to go through pretty
rapidly if I can. I’m going to look at the global situation very quickly. I’m going
to think of the way in which universities are responding. I’m going to reflect on
this situation, general situation universities are finding themselves in. I’m going to
chart some by sharing my idea of the ecological university with you and then I’m
going to wind up. I am going to tread on some toes. What’s the point of inviting me here
unless I’m going to tread on a few toes? By the way, I’m technological illiterate
so anything is likely to happen. Universities to date are on a cusp. Many say
that they’re in ruins, they’re in crisis. I don’t go with these Jerimiahs, but they
are in difficulty around the world for various reasons. They’re in danger of being, as
I put it, bewitched by the ideologies of the age, the kinds of nostrums the politicians
especially come up with. And we come all to easily I think to have a rather limited idea
of what we’re about and how we might understand ourselves. And I want to try and push things
open, open some windows and see what other images and what other perceptions we might
have for the university. And I want to suggest an ecological perspective might be helpful,
and I’ll try and explain what I mean by that. I want to even glimpse a utopian idea
of the university. But I want to suggest that my utopian university is actually feasible
and actually might be brought off in the best of all possible worlds. In other words, I
think we need to think seriously, think about the university. You probably may know that
Bertrand Russell, the famous English philosopher said that most of the English would sooner
die than think. And then he added, and most of them do. And Heidegger – am I allowed
to mention that infamous German philosopher here – wrote a book about What Is Called
Thinking? And in it, about page 10, he has one little sentence on the university, asking
the question do we think about thinking in the university? And to me, it’s a very real-life
question. Do we have the space to think in a university? And are we even encouraged or
allowed to think? It’s quite clear that that’s what you’re doing here, if I can
say so, in Victoria University but I think it’s still an important question to ask
these days, as to whether or not we think sufficiently in the university, especially
whether we think sufficiently about the university. A global world of higher education, 26,000
universities in the world all ducking and diving in their different ways. And all facing
tremendous challenge and change in their different nations and in their different situations.
Huge dynamic systems going on, interchanging, unfolding in different ways, institutions
collaborating with each other and so on and so forth, forming all sorts of networks right
across the world. And each university of course is differently positioned in all of this,
with its own national and global networks. So tremendous amount of change ferment and
so on and so forth. And in all of this, each university is trying to identify it’s USPs,
you know that acronym, unique selling points. What’s each university got to offer? And
that’s a challenge, and you’re clearly doing that here in Victoria University, working
out what you especially have to offer both Australia and the wider world. Each university
engages in an effort to try and identify what it might be offering the world. And in all
of this, a kind of language has developed across the world amongst universities. You
may be familiar with the kind of, dare I say, management speak. And I remind you, I’ve
worn the tee shirts, I’ve used the words myself. I’ve shared them with colleagues.
Environmental scanning; we’re supposed to listen to the world and find out how the world
is speaking to us and imposing itself on us. We’re supposed to engage in risk assessment
for any kind of activity we have in mind. We’re supposed to estimate very precisely
the risks involved in actually conducting any action. Scenario planning; we invent different
scenarios to work out their possibilities and their implications. Civic engagement.
And then we have terms like world-class and excellence and so on and so forth. And some
of these I’m afraid tend in ultimately to become rather empty. We simply use this kind
of management speak without really getting under the surface of what might be involved.
There are some considerations that immediately arise out of these first reflections. This
is a world inevitably, nothing new here at all, that’s characterised by complexity.
It’s a complex world in which entities are so complex and so numerous and bumping into
each other that the world is literally unpredictable. We don’t know what tomorrow’s going to
be like, let alone what it might be like in five years’ time. And if you’re a follower
of English football or a follower of the news in Great Britain, I’m trying to keep up
to date but it’s changing so rapidly. We simply don’t know what the world is going
to be like tomorrow. So, out of this comes, we’re told, the need to innovate and to
innovate in sustainable ways and to transform ourselves. There’s a jargon here that develops.
And, as I say, we slip and slide across the world using this jargon quite comfortably
without perhaps stopping and getting underneath it all. There’s a sense that universities
worldwide need to reinvent themselves, transform themselves. But where? We hope that the corporate
plan at least will tell us where we’re going and answer all of our questions. I’ve written
a corporate strategy. It’s perhaps not quite as straight forward. Questions arise. What,
under these conditions, is a corporate strategy? If the world is influx so much, what is the
point? And some universities now have a 30-year corporate strategy and we don’t know what
the world’s going to be like tomorrow. What does that mean? I wrote in one of my books
– I believe in corporate strategy, as I say, I drafted one, but what are they under
these circumstances? Corporate strategy for me is what I term a set of hopeful fictions.
They just sort of open up a few windows, open up spaces for us to glimpse possibilities
for us, for our university. But we know the world being so turbulent and uncertain, it’s
most unlikely they’re going to be brought off. But it’s still worthwhile doing because
it encourages just to think about possibilities for these extraordinary institutions we call
the university. So it’s highly worthwhile but we need to recognise it can’t be, as
it were, a straight forward technical process, identifying your goals, identifying your means,
your resources and away you go. It’s simply the world won’t let us do that. But it’s
still worthwhile. It gives us, for example, a space in which we can come together to have
conversations of the kind some of us have been having today in this university and indeed,
therefore, those away days for the senior management team may take on a new kind of
emphasis as we dream, as it were, think ourselves into the future, thinking of the possibilities
for the university. And that’s tricky stuff. It’s difficult stuff.
So what is it then to guide the compilation of the corporate strategy which is looking
to transform the university? Each university working things out by itself, peering into
the ether, thinking about possibilities, perhaps mounting its own foresight strategies and
exercises as they’re called or projecting scenarios for itself into the future. If we
go this way, what happens? If we go that way, what happens? When I was drafting the corporate
strategy for the Institute of Education I, as it were, drafted a White Paper and I actually
put four or five different scenarios in front of the Institute of Education. There is was,
number one in the world, number one in the world for education, world famous. But we
still had the challenge, it seemed to me, of thinking about where we might go. Were
we going to become like the London Business School, very entrepreneurial, very hard-nosed,
very income driven? Were we going to be more like Baeck College next to us, caring about
part time students? Were we going to be more like Goldsmith College, civic, locally minded?
How are we going to go forward? There to be all sorts of possibilities when you
really started to think about it. So I think these are important exercises. But how are
we going to think about those exercises? Is it just that we make it up for ourselves as
we go along? Or are there some general considerations that we should be attending to in virtue of
the fact that we call ourselves a university? And that to me is a serious matter. And each
university will come at this exercise in its own way, have its resources, it’s staff,
it’s disciplines, it’s networks, it’s position in the culture, in the economy with
a political sphere. So it will be attending to its own position. We’re doing all of
this in background and hinterland. And it may even, as I’ve seen, if I can say so,
Victoria University doing so remarkably nicely. It might even pick up some ideas in the scholarly
literature, and that may help to fuel it a little bit more. So I don’t agree with those
who say the university is in ruins or is in crisis. There are real challenges in front
of us, but being hopefully intelligent people, we can make some ground in dealing with these
issues. And those who have attended to the literature will become aware that far from
ideas of the university being at an end, as many suggest, on the contrary, there are all
sorts of ideas of the university scudding about these days. The entrepreneurial university,
the digital university, the research university, the civic university, the comprehensive university
and so on and so forth. So lots of ideas out there. Is it just a matter of plucking one
of those and away we go? Plucking this strange notion, the ecological university, and away
we go? No. We’ve got to work it out for ourselves. So it’s not just a matter of
having more ideas of the university. It’s a matter of having better ideas of the university
and then working it through in a very hard-nosed way as to how that might play out in our own
circumstances. But there are, as I say, quite a lot of ideas
of the university scudding about. How might we understand them? Here is a quick way of
understanding the ideas of the university with two axes; superficiality and depth on
the one hand and endorsement and criticality on the other. What do I mean by that? Well,
top left-hand corner, ideas that are superficial and really are endorsing the way things are
going. And here, we find these empty terms of our age, the world-class university, the
university of excellence. I’m sure you haven’t got those phrases in your website here. Every
university puts them into their website and they become, as a result, quite meaningless
and empty. How are we going to fill them out? What do they mean? They’re the kinds of
phrases actually that politicians use when they speak about universities. They’re superficial
and they simply endorse the way the world is going anyway. They don’t really tell
us very much. Bottom left hand corner, ideas that are a bit critical of the way things
are going but are still superficial. And here, I would put ideas like the digital university,
the edgeless university, particularly this is where we get the digital proselytisers,
people who think modern technology, dare I say, learning analytics are going to solve
all of our problems. We just need to – a few fancy techniques and technologies and
all our problems will be solved. They’re critical of this old-fashioned entity called
the university. They tell us we’re dinosaurs, we’re not moving fast enough, we’re moribund
and we ought to get with the program and get with all the fancy worlds that the new technologies
are going to offer us. Critical but still superficial. Top right-hand corner is where
it becomes to get a bit more interesting. We have ideas that have some depth to them
but are still endorsing the way the world is going. And here’s where I’ve put one
of the big contenders of ideas of the university, the entrepreneurial university. It was first
launched by a very famous American scholar Burton Clark back in 1998 and it took off
around the world. And many universities want to proclaim that they are entrepreneurial. It has a depth to it. Many of my sociological colleagues, I tread on toes, are rather sniffy
about this term, the entrepreneurial university. They say it’s very shallow. Actually, it
has a certain amount of depth to it because it does try to tell us that the world is a
certain complexity and the world is changing. There are real forces at work which can’t
be ducked, and the university needs to attend to these forces. And with all of that, I agree.
But then it goes further and says well, the world is changing in the direction of markets
and the university ought to understand that it ought to become a player in those markets
and ought to become entrepreneurial. It has a depth to it because it’s attending to
the way the world is. But it’s still rather simply endorsing the general flow of forces
in the world. It’s got a depth to it but it’s just endorsing the way things are going.
So that leaves us where I want to really focus my intellectual efforts with the bottom right
hand quadrant, with ideas that might be deep and also critical, but ideas too that might
offer us some kind of prospect of moving forward in a worthwhile way. And here’s where I
will place feasible utopias of the university, if we can find any, is where I would put the
ecological university. And I’ll try and explain and justify that. But the question
is can we find ideas that might just help us move forward in a positive way, that are
going to do justice to the very nature and idea of the university, yet which have a realism
to it, recognise the way the world is with all of it’s formidable forces that are at
work. So we come to the idea at last of the ecological.
My language skills being English and being a man are useless. But I understand that the
term ecological comes from the Greek oikos, meaning house. What is our home? Where are
we to live? How are we to live? This is about the only slide I do this, but I just wanted
to refer to another scholar in the literature, a continental philosopher no longer with us,
Felix Guattari. He had a little book, when you strip out the introduction and the footnotes
and the translation and all the rest of it, it only amounts to about 30 pages, but it’s
incredibly compressed and worthwhile. He talks about three ecological registers, the environment,
social relations and human subjectivity. And he sees the ecological as speaking to the
interconnectedness of things. Isn’t that exactly where we are with the university?
But he wants to say this ecosophical perspective allows for difference and diversity. And I
just offer you this quotation – I won’t do this beyond this slide – everything has
to be continually reinvented, started again from scratch, otherwise the processes become
trapped in a cycle of deathly repetition. Isn’t that a nice kind of insight into the
way the university is? We need to start afresh I think, at least in our ideas, and then perhaps
to institutional processes. And I sense, dare I say, that is something that you’re already
doing here in Victoria University, starting from scratch. And ecology of the imagery,
we have to imagine things quite differently, be prepared to move according to different
criteria than those of profit and yield. I sense that again is what you’re doing here,
you’re wanting to have a sense of the way the world is and for your responsibilities
in the world. And new ecosophy, at one applied and theoretical, ethico-political and aesthetic.
Lots of fancy words but it seems to me, if I can say so, it actually says a lot about
what you’re doing here in Victoria University. Ecological perspective, what do I mean by
that? What do I mean by it? For me, the ecological perspective is a very rich perspective, the
very term ecology is moving in all sorts of directions, it’s a very rich concept. It’s
fact and value all jumbled in together. It tells us something about the way the world
is, but it also invites us to think about our values in relation to the world. It tells
us that there are systems in the world acting upon us which are interconnected internally
with each other and externally. And I think that is very much the way the university is,
dynamic and even, dare I say, antagonistic. And we have to live with antagonisms and even
conflict. Ecosystems are characteristically impaired in some way and then issues arise
about our responsibilities. Humanity in relation to ecosystems. The ecologists have this phrase,
deep ecology. I don’t know if you’ve come across that. It talks about the world not
only acting upon us but being entangled with us. It’s in us. And I want to suggest that
ecosystems of the world are here right now, even here in this auditorium. Entanglements
with the world. Ecosystems are not just out there but already here with us in the university.
And that raises profound questions about our responsibilities to the wider world. The ecological
university, therefore, I want to say takes its embeddedness in the world very, very seriously.
It concerns itself with these interconnections. It not only is aware of them but actually
concerns itself with these interconnections and cares about it’s total environment in
every way, material, human, societal, economic and so on and so forth. All universities are
global. These ecosystems are global, all universities are global, whether they realise it or not.
I have another quotation there, but I won’t burden you with that. Universities are global,
as I say, whether they like it or not, they’re involved with global conversations. So we
need, as well as syncing ourselves locally and regionally to understand how we are in
the world and our possibilities in the world. And there I am in my home in South West London
and the Times Higher Education magazine drops from my letterbox each week and what do I
see when I open it? I see a nice article all about Victoria University just before I’m
due to come here. We are all global universities, no matter how we see ourselves. We are actors
in the world and therefore, the world concerns itself with us and we concern ourselves with
the university. I want to suggest that there are no less than
7 major ecosystems bearing in upon the university. And here they are; knowledge, course knowledge,
course learning, social institutions or society, persons, we have to care about persons. We
forget sometimes, not here but I’m afraid in some universities we forget that students
are persons. Culture, the economy, and the natural environment. Economy and the natural
environment are there, but I’ve put them at the end because we sometimes over-privilege
them in some ways, certainly the economy. I want to suggest, as I say, these ecosystems
are here in the university. We’re ducking and diving with them all the time. And so
we have this kind of configuration of the university today. This is my sense of the
university. Whether we realise it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, each university
is configured in some way like this. Seven ecosystems, and the university is entangled
with each of them. And you noticed that each ecosystem is hazy, is fuzzy, just as well
I can’t draw straight, nice circles because that’s not the way they are. And each university
therefore, will have its own – another phrase for you, a Ron Barnett phrase – its own
ecological footprint, it will have its own configuration across those 7 ecosystems, given
its resources, its disciplines, it’s personnel, its position in society and so on and so forth.
So each university will have its own ecological possibilities in relation to those 7 ecosystems.
Remember I said I wanted to suggest that my approach to my scholarly work, my head might
be in the clouds but hopefully my feet are on the ground? Why might we think that any
of this could come about? Well, I want to suggest that even though the world has been
pressing in the economic agenda onto universities, that I think it may well yet come to demand
of us a much bigger range of responsibilities and actions on our part. Why? Because there
are all sorts of global and national issues and agendas arising in the modern world. And
there’s nothing new here and you’re familiar with all of them. The ecological challenge,
global terrorism, the movement of global diseases and all that kind of thing. And at the national
level, each nation will have its own particular issues. Some of them again will be trans-national,
intergenerational difficulties and poverty and so on and so forth. And so I think the
world and society is going to ask of its universities much more than it’s been asking up to now.
I think for every university there are going to be therefore, in relation to those ecosystems,
all sorts of possibilities. And these are only examples. And each university, if they
find any merit in my general thinking, will have to work it out for itself its own possibilities.
These are only some that one’s become aware of. And they will be picked up in different
ways, different disciplines will pick them up in different ways, different opportunities
open up in teaching, in research, in outreach to the wider society. Teaching, towards the
bottom of the list, putting each class in contact with a light class in another country.
Suppose you’re running a civil engineering class. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if through
modern technology you link it up with a civil engineering course, say in South Africa? And
get the students to look at the role of the engineer in modern society across different
continents and cultures. The Public Philosopher, have you come across Michael Sandel, an American
political philosopher? You can see him on the television. You can see his videos. He’s
extraordinary. He stands in a studio with about 50 or 100 screens in front of him. Each
screen has a single student, and the student could be anywhere in the world, and he raises
profound questions and issues about, sayeuthanasia or whether we should legalise drugs in society.
And you get to see students engaging with a complex issue from all over the world. And
he pits them against each other and he pushes them, leads them on. It’s fantastic. The
global philosopher. The things we can do now with modern technology – I’m not against
modern technology. I might be a dinosaur but actually I don’t think we are imaginative
enough about modern technology, what it can do for us in the way it can bring cultures
together and spark off profound issues and debates. So I think there’s all sorts of
things we can do. I was in South America. One university in South America produces little
booklets about health and public issues, which it leaves lying around in bus stations and
so forth, informing the wider society. We’ve got to work it out for ourselves what are
our possibilities. And this is hard work imagining the possibilities for ourselves.
The ecological curriculum. Tara’s already waving at me, I’m probably already overstepping
my limit. So I must rush on. I try to do what I’m told these days, it’s the easiest
way. But the ecological curriculum, how could it move across all of those 7 ecosystems that
I’ve been talking about? Getting the students not only active in the community in projects,
real live projects in the community, but moving across disciplines. And as I say, working
with students even in other countries. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing students
as to what they do outside of university. And it’s magic. You ought to try doing it
if you haven’t done it. They’re doing so many incredible things in their – quote
– their spare time. They might be training for a marathon, but they also might be running
a society for other students, raising money, as I remember one example, raising money to
support students who wanted to go off and do voluntary work in other countries. So students
are amazing these days, the way they are doing so many different things. Are we bringing
that learning, that experience into the curriculum? Imagine that. Knowledges in all their varieties
and so on and so forth. Promoting wellbeing of the students as persons. I’m sure not
in Australia but it’s just become a big political matter in the UK, the level of suicides
amongst students. It turns out when you look at the data it’s no higher than in the population
more generally, but it does still raise issues as to our responsibilities towards our students
as persons. Are we really supporting them and nurturing them? One major and very famous,
world famous university in England has had several, several student suicides in a short
space of time. What are we doing? Are we helping students or not? Vibrant pedagogies, all sorts
of issues, dimensions come into play when we start to think of the ecological curriculum,
how it can help students, help the wider society in all sorts of ways. Imagine – do you have
geology here, Vice-Chancellor, geology as a discipline? Imagine a field like that or
a field where you’re getting students out regularly, it might be in some technical area
where you’re getting them out into the community. geology students very often find themselves
going out – I’ve not taught a geology student, but we can just imagine going out
into the field in a distant land. They find themselves literally rubbing shoulders with
and having to communicate with an indigenous community. Think of all the learning and human
developmental possibilities that go with that. Bringing that out, making full use of all
of that, bringing that into the student experience, the ecological curriculum is there in front
of us, waiting to be prised open and realised in all sorts of ways.
I don’t want to incur Tara’s wrath, so I’d better bring my thoughts to a conclusion.
The university worldwide, perhaps not here in Victoria but worldwide is beset I think
with real challenges and problems with powerful forces, and even, I’m afraid, malign forces
acting upon the university. But all is not lost. I’m not one of these Jeremiahs that
proclaim the end of the university. On the contrary, I want to suggest that new possibilities
and therefore new responsibilities are actually opening for the university in the world today.
The problem is we are partly limited by our imaginations and that requires, as I said
right at the start, hard thought, tremendous, imaginative effort. I think we can think in
the utopian ways and should do so, but still think through the real practical possibilities
that are in front of us. So I want to suggest that the ecological university, as I’ve
been calling it, reaching out to the world in every way but also caring about students,
staff, the university itself is necessary, feasible and it’s desirable. The question
is, are we going to reach out for it? I think it’s here, it’s just in front of us, let’s
go for it. Thanks very much for listening to me. Thank you.
Well, thanks very much, Ron. That was terrific and its now time for a Q&A and a bit of a
discussion with the assembled audience. Please, if you would like to ask a question, make
a comment, raise your hand and we have a roving mic.
Or you can just argue or contend or conflict. Thanks Ron. I really enjoyed the talk. My
question really is around, you have this notion of utopia, so your presentation is kind of
infused with the sense of what that might be, and I know with the utopian projects,
you can never define what the outcome is because you need to go through the process, if you
like, in order to get there. I was also reminded by the talk around social democracy, what
it kind of looks like. And I get a sense from listening to you talk that that’s where
you come from in a way and you’re trying to articulate a vision that is both utopian
but draws on a tradition around participation and democracy and what have you.
Yes. Question: This university has a really important
commitment to reducing inequality, if you like.
Yes, yes. And I don’t really get a sense from you
how you might see the utopian university contributing to betterment conceived that way, because
it doesn’t necessarily have to go that way in order to—–
Well, thank you for the question. I hesitate almost to respond in any detail precisely
because, as I’ve said, the hard work has to be done. And in a multi-faculty university
it’s going to differ from one discipline to another. And that’s absolutely legitimate.
You’re absolutely right, that I see my conception of the university, the ecological university
as a university that’s reaching out and caring about social democracy in every sense.
I’ll just come back to that if I might. But quickly, on the matter of life chances,
of the expanding life chances, a favourite phrase of those who are, as it were, on my
side of the fence, is that of social justice. And these are important considerations. Each
university is going to have to work out what is possible for itself. Are there new ways
in which the university can reach out into the schools, into the communities, work with
the schools and communities and encouraging people forward? I know, Vice-Chancellor and
colleagues, you have a we call it a dual sector university. You have a vocation
or education stream or college linked in very tightly with the Victoria University. And
you have therefore, an opportunity I think to really build that up and see if it can
be built up and offer a mainstream into disciplinary and degree studies. So you will have your
own possibilities, and that all has to be worked through. But it’s a matter too, not
just of the top brass doing the hard work but of encouraging colleagues in the disciplines,
colleagues who see themselves as Professors and would-be Professors in their own disciplines
having a sense that this matters so that it’s really picked up into the bloodstream of the
university. I’ll just say quickly, if I can, a little
bit more on social democracy. Am I allowed to mention somebody called Trump and post-truth,
which was the Oxford University word of the year two years ago? I was talking about new
opportunities, new responsibilities. And it does seem to me – why did we have Brexit?
Why did we have the referendum that went that way and all that kind of thing? It does seem
to me that all of this ferment and this political context is raising profound new questions
for the university about how it can enliven and advance the public’s fear in all sorts
of ways. And this is why I mentioned the philosopher working with the students and all that. I
think we haven’t done enough. I haven’t done enough as a public intellectual and going
out into the wider world to help advance understanding of complex issues. I think this is a new challenge
which is opening for universities today. We’ve got several questions now.
Thanks Ron, for your talk. I was drawn by one of the quotes that was there and a statement
that you made that we need to start from scratch. And it made me think what happens to history,
which is probably a good question to be thinking about in NAIDOC Week, when Indigenous people
remind us that we need to know our past to inform our future, so I was also then wondering,
is history an eighth ecology or is it something that permeates the seven others?
Thank you. History is important to me, and you might have sensed certainly in my work
that I am sensitive to the fact that we do have a history behind us in the western tradition.
It goes back 900 years. But I’m reminded when I speak in that way that actually, Egypt,
Persia, China and other cultures had universities or something like it that went back even further.
So the historical dimension is crucial, and we cannot become an ecological university
without having a sense of our history, of where we’ve come from. So that’s not to
be downplayed, but what I think Guattari is saying and what I would want to say is that
we need to rethink our fundamental principles. Historically, I would say that the university
has been rather internal, rather looked inwards. Look at the architecture of the medieval university,
the quadrangles and the buildings looked inwards and the gates were shut at night time and
all that kind of thing. And I think by and large academics and the academic culture has
been concerned with itself. And I’m afraid – don’t get me started on the nature of
academic writing, but I’m afraid that academics largely write only for other academics and
write for a small number of academics. And it doesn’t matter in humanities and social
sciences if it’s only a small number of people that can understand their work. This
is important to me because, certainly in humanities and social science, it seems to me we should
be writing in a way that is accessible. So in that sense, I think we need to start from
scratch. We need to rethink some of our fundamental concepts and principles, as to what it is
to be an academic and what it is to be a university. Thank you very much for your talk, it was
very inspiring and interesting. I just wanted to go back to your idea of the ecological
curriculum, where you talked about humanities including languages being accorded proper
value and giving more attention to the imaginative level, and I think as a sociologist by training
myself and someone also with a literary background, I totally endorse those ideas and I think
there’s a lot of support for those ideas. But I think the reality is that there are
strong forces around us that encourage us to think of the university as an employment
factory and we are kind of constantly under pressure of the forces of economic rationalism
and I just wondered if you had any ideas of how as universities we can make inroads against
those very strong forces that seem to be pitted against the idea of humanities and the imaginative
and everything has to be measurable and rationalised and so on.
I’m very much in sympathy with I think what lies under your questions. But what I was
trying to say towards the end of my talk, we shouldn’t be too gloomy and miserable
and feel that we’re totally bound in. I think there are, as it were, signs in the
ether already to be seen that the world wants more of us than the economic agenda would
seem to imply, and even than some of the performance indicators by which we have to understand
and measure ourselves would seem to imply. One is inspired, if I can say so, by a university
like Victoria University. It suggests that there are spaces for us to think new things,
and indeed there is a certain amount of encouragement I think to do so. Universities are extraordinary
institutions. The wider world speaks with forked tongue in relation to universities.
On the one hand, it tries to impose upon us, constrain us, direct us in certain ways, steer
us in certain ways. But on the other hand, it knows deep in its heart that it better
give us some freedom because we won’t be able to fulfil the roles that the wider world
wants from us. So we do have I think a little bit more freedom than we sometimes give ourselves
credit for. We have room for what the sociologists call agency in this structure. And I think
we burden ourselves with a sense of too much structure sometimes and don’t quite realise
the degree to which we may have agency. I’m very struck by a book in political philosophy
that came out three or four years ago by American authors Liston Pettitt called The Organisation
as a Corporate. And I don’t buy all of their argument but I very much like the idea that
university has corporate agency. And I think this is, dare I say, what we’re seeing here
in a place like Victoria University. We’re running out of time, but I know there
are a few other questions, so what I’m going to do is get all of those questions raised
before we ask Ron to answer them. So, Tara, if you could race the mic around between all
the questioners. Thank you, Professor Barnett. As someone working
in VU’s marketing, last year was very exciting for us to promote how VU is going to transform
tertiary education in regards particularly to our first-year model. However, this within
the market was sometimes met with hesitance and trepidation from our audience and our
market. How best would you recommend to promote a transformative university?
We’re changing our ecosystem at VU quite substantially with our first-year model, which
you’ve heard of, so we’ve abolished lectures, replaced them with workshops. We’re reducing
the class size. But one thing that we haven’t formally introduced is team-teaching. And
I just wanted to know what your thoughts were with team-teaching as being perhaps an eighth
ecosystem, changing that ratio, instead of that one academic to 30 students, two academics,
given that studies have shown that team-teaching is perhaps the greatest tool that we can have
to improve student engagement and learning. And they’ve shown that perhaps it’s more
effective than all other methods that have been suggested combined. So I just wanted
to know what your thoughts were on that and if you have any advice on how to implement
that given how costly it is. We have a group of visiting Thai scholars
with us at the moment. And last week, they were telling me that one of the attributes
that their universities promote is compassion. And we were looking at VUs strategic plan,
we were looking at our graduate capabilities and it’s implicit. But I wondered if you
could help me convince our visiting Thais that we are actually, or the ecological university
can be compassionate. I think we all agree that universities are
pervasive institutions. And we all probably agree with you that we can’t imagine a world
without universities. But I can imagine a world without many universities. So I think
what you’re saying is the university has got a future but there’s also a saying;
the future isn’t what it used to be. So I put it to you that while some universities,
perhaps those with the history, the pedigree, the cache and the brand will survive. I think
many won’t. I’ll leave that with you. Prof Dawkins: Firstly, how would you market
our first-year model. Secondly, do you think team-teaching is important? Third, how about
compassion? Fourth, are we going to have fewer universities in the future?
I’ll take it more or less in reverse order. I’ll ask you quickly just to rehearse your
question for me, because it was a bit technical for me. I’m a very simple song.
Basically like marketing the transformative university and transformation is something
that audiences have never seen before and marketing haven’t seen before. That’s
the conversation. What a thought, what a question. You’ve
got brilliant marketing people here, that’s evident. But you need to think it through.
And I was being rather jaundiced in the first part of my talk about the language that universities
just slip into. The great thing is to find your own language which is going to do justice
to where you are. We were talking this morning about what it means to be an authentic university.
And that for me is pretty crucial, to do the hard thinking and hard work about where you
want to go and to find a terminology or vocabulary that’s going to do justice to how you see
yourselves and just start working with it. And then it will get around as to how you
see yourselves. We were even coming up with one or two new ideas this morning about possibilities
for the language through which Victoria University might understand itself.
On the matter of the diminishing number of universities, the possibility diminishing
number of universities, certainly, as I was saying earlier today, it’s a nice seminar
question as to whether in five years’ time we will see fewer or more universities. And
you can read the tea leaves in different directions. You see all sorts of amalgamations going on.
You see, particularly in the States, certain kinds of university just falling by the wayside,
becoming insolvent or whatnot. So there’s all of that. But we also see the birth of
new universities in all sorts of ways. So it’s a nice question as to whether we are
seeing a falling away, a lessening of the number of universities. The general trend
frankly still tended to drift up. What is I think absolutely clear is that the number
of students I higher education is going to continue to increase for some time to come.
It might differ – it will differ again from nation to nation, some nations seem to more
or less have hit a plateau. But overall, we’re going to see a continuous rise in the number
of students. It’s now about 200 million students in the world and it’s continuing
I think to grow. So I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to see universities continuing
to be a major institutional force in society and for all sorts of reasons that I’ve touched
upon, becoming even more central. I’ll just go to the question at the back
on team-teaching. I’ve only had that experience of team-teaching, of working with others,
both in the design of a course, running of a course and examining of a course, and certainly
I used to run my own course, an MA course, but I was also – and that I did with other
people – but I also was a humdrum member of a course team, an MBA course in Higher
Education Management. I recommend, Vice-Chancellor, that you might even want to send one or two
of your senior colleagues to be a participant on it. It takes in participants from all over
the world. But there, we not only talked alongside each other, we were evaluated by the students
alongside each other. It was a kind of beauty contest. And we had, and the students would
give us scores and we would put all the scores up for all the members of the course team.
And everybody knew exactly where they were, how they were rated by all the students. And
the students saw it all. So it was all transparent, it was all out in the open. So you jolly well
had to come up to snuff. If the students thought you weren’t up to it, they made it absolutely
clear. So that was a nice little challenge. And it made you reflect on your approach to teaching and how you were faring alongside other colleagues. I think nothing but good
can come out of that. We need to open the doors. We need to open the windows. And teaching should be much more transparent in so many ways So it just seems to be a natural evolution,
if you’re not quite there already. And I’ve left the last one to last because
for me, this idea of the compassionate university, if I can say so again, is a logical follow
through of what I’ve been saying about the ecological university. You remember the person
is – or sociologists like to talk about subjectivities – form one of my ecosystems.
And we shouldn’t have to remind universities that students are actually human beings but
I’m afraid we sometimes forget about that. And that’s why I was gently mentioning the
kinds of anxiety that students have and that universities are afraid sometimes to provoke,
unnecessarily provoke anxiety. By the way, I think we should be provoking a little bit
of anxiety in our students because that’s what partly higher education is all about,
taking students from one place into another strange and difficult place, and that is going
to be a little anxiety provoking. But we need to do it carefully and gently and the safety
net always needs to be there. We need to – to use an old-fashioned but Heideggerian word
– we need to have a care or a concern towards our students. So I have no difficulty in saying
that. The trouble is that in a mass higher education system, universities, 30,000, 50,000
go to South America, 200,000 students in a single university. Students get lost. And
the question is how do we offer them a home? Do you remember where I started the notion
of ecology? What kind of home are we offering our students? So these are profound matters
that we need to go on thinking about. Thank you very much.
Thanks very much, Ron. It just remains for me to pass a vote of thanks for Vice-Chancellor’s
Lecturer for this year. In doing so, I’d just like to say two or three things. One
is, one of the objectives of the Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture is not only to present the lecture
but also to foster discussion across the university during your visit. And we’ve had a number
of meetings during the day today with Ron and various parts of the university, and it’s
been a fantastic set of conversations that we’ve had with you. I want to thank you,
not only for tonight’s lecture but for the role you’ve played across the university
during the day. That’s the first point. The second one is that I think this discussion
tonight around the compassionate university, and earlier today you talked about the conversational
university, there are various characterisations of the university you’ve come up with, which
I think are a good fit with Victoria University. I think what we’re doing in our transformation
of pedagogy to this smaller group, high touch, interactive, collaborative learning and teaching
in a world of mass higher education is a remarkable change but one that fits very well with the ecological university. I think i probably, as a Professor of Economics, should put in
a little bit of a defence for economics in my closing remarks, because it got a little
bit of bad press during the course of the evening. But I’m pleased to say I had a
very good discussion with Ron about economics earlier today and that is one of the 7 ecosystems.
But I think it can quite happily co-exist and thrive with all of these other ecosystems. And I think that is what Victoria University is on about. And really great to have time with you today. And on behalf of everyone here, thank you very much for your lecture
tonight, which I think was inspirational. And thanks everybody else for attending and
please join me in thanking Ron in the normal way.


Reader Comments

  1. what you say professor Ronald Barnett about those who do not enough money just to finance their studies?????????????

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