#teqsa2017 Glyn Davis’s Keynote Address: Universities, Hostility, Engagement

>>DEB VERHOEVEN: So TEQSA is one of those organisations
that takes its charter so seriously that this year you don’t just get one keynote,
they’re risk mitigating and you get two, and the second keynote will be someone who
requires very little introduction so I’m going to be very brief. It’s Glyn Davis
the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, or University of Melbourne, as I should say.>>GLYN DAVIS: Thank you and the tweet said that it was
very Hollywood up here which I now can see first-hand and that’s almost enough to
disguise that you have a second man with white hair in a suit about to talk to
you. But congratulations to TEQSA to get 850 people interested in higher
education and spending this time here it’s just wonderful. I’m here to to do a
bit of big-picture talking I’m going to scare the life out of you and then
hopefully show you there is some hope so I’m going to do what Midnight Oil call
taking the temper of the times. I want to talk for a bit about why we see such
hostility toward universities and a hostility you can you can wonder about
when it started, some people talk about Brexit, others the inauguration of Donald
Trump, some talk about what’s happened in Australia with Pauline Hanson and the
rise of angry independence as a word but unambiguously there’s hostility toward
government and elites and experts and educational institutions. James Dean, of
course, played a rebel without a cause and today a lot of this debate seems
about anger without focus it seems that people are angry without necessarily
having a particularly compelling reason why. But their anger is real and it’s
having an effect and here’s what the President of the United States says
about Berkeley, University of California Berkeley, that if it doesn’t do what he
thinks it should do he should cut off all federal funding which is a bit of a
hood because Berkeley gets only 7% of its budget from the federal government
but you get the idea, and we’ve seen this a lot both in the US and in
the UK, and here in Australia I think we’re going to cop, we have copped some of it and we’re going to cop a whole lot more. We don’t have the ferocity of Trumpism
or of anti-European sentiment as in Britain but we do have very equivocal attitudes
about the work of universities and about those charged with supporting the sector.
Think for a minute about these three ministers, our three most recent
ministers, each of them from different sides of politics tried to engineer
significant cuts to higher education and each of them justified those cuts at
least in part by attacking universities. And in doing so they fed the lack of
trust that we now see in some of our society here in Australia but even more
pointedly in the United States and in Britain universities are facing the
charge of being privileged and wealthy, of receiving too many favours from the
public purse. Now perhaps this is understandable given the long history of
universities and their expansion over the recent generation. I mean let me give
you an example – real estate – over many centuries through benefaction and
investment, universities have acquired significant cash and land holdings and
particularly older universities. In England it was rumoured at one time that
a pilgrim could walk between Oxford and Cambridge which is about a hundred
kilometres without ever leaving land owned by a college. It was never entirely
true but in 2015 the combined wealth of the Oxford colleges alone was estimated
at £4.1 billion and that included 37,000 acres of the best land in England.
The same year that published accounts for the University of the, University
College London UCL, which of course is an exempt charity so pays no taxes had to
declare for insurance value the value of their buildings just around Russell
Square and they valued at £3.1 billion. And if that sounds abstract and British, then here in the city of Melbourne, RMIT owns 6% of the Melbourne CBD some
seventy buildings scattered through the CBD, an ANU student accommodation portfolio was valued at over five hundred million
dollars when it was privatised in August 2016, the ANU in total was
valued at 1.4 billion dollars and the University of Melbourne’s current valuation is just a tad shy of 5 billion dollars. So here is wealth unambiguously
accumulated in a time of public austerity, bolstered in recent years by
philanthropic campaigns which are designed to free universities from
dependence on government. Now universities like to be seen as above
politics and of course we pledge allegiance to more than local concerns.
We speak to a scholarly community all those articles in obscure journals, all
that speaking to scholars in other places and feeds in a curious way the
resentment the sense that we’re not connected to community we’re not
connected, we’re not delivering back to Australia. And so you can hear a rising
chorus of complaints about arrogant universities that resist government
priorities, that value research over teaching, that don’t address community
ambitions, and this is the basis of the criticisms. And in Britain and in
Australia, higher education ministers have not held back. They’ve labeled
universities as inefficient with overpaid Vice Chancellors and overly
generous wages and conditions for staff in time of austerity. Institutions
in short that seemed right for “efficiency dividends”. And even the core
value of what we do – expert knowledge to be shared with students and the wider
community – is devalued. When, say in Britain, the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove,
declares that people in this country have had enough of experts but somehow
we don’t even value what it is we produce, isn’t it good to know that the
world is in the hands of those two men. And in case this sounds like just a
concern about sort of what’s on Twitter, the eminent British economist Alison
Wolf, or Baroness Wolf more accurately, urges very careful thought about
any further expansion of university places. She’s worried that courses are
expensive, that graduate outcomes are uncertain and
she’s saying it’s time to pull back from expanding the system. The first time
we’ve begun to hear voices saying this, we’ve gone too far it’s time to come
back. In Australia, Higher Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, has criticised
university surpluses and he’s described institutions as burgeoning bureaucracies
which benefit from the rivers of gold. I’m sure you even today are luxuriating
in those very same rivers. The rivers of gold as student enrolments have poured
in. And you have to wonder if this is what our champion in government thinks,
the Minister for Education, what do our critics say. In such a climate, asks the
higher education analyst Simon Marginson, what greater good would be lost if
universities closed tomorrow? That was once an unthinkable thought. How could you have a country without universities? These are institutions once praised for their
trustworthiness and standing. But universities can no longer assume
respect. A Pew Research poll from about July this year found that a majority of
Republican voters in the United States, a majority of 58%, view colleges and
universities as negative influences on their country. A majority of the people
who elected Donald Trump feel universities are negative influences in
their communities. And this is just another sign of the growing voter
resentment against the perceived privilege of university graduates in
their view of the world. The pollster, Nate Silver, argues that it
wasn’t economic disadvantage but education levels that explain the shift
of votes from Democrats to Republicans in 2016 and this is consistent with CNN polls which show that Donald Trump received
71% of the votes of non-college educated white males. And they’re expressing not
just their preference for a political campaign, they’re also expressing their
anger against a world that’s defined by graduates in which graduates are getting
employment and they are not. And of course in Britain, the divide is equally
sharp with three out of four non-graduates voting to leave the
European Union. Three out of four! I don’t think the reasons are mysterious. I think
that people with college degrees, university degrees, are, of course, are
creating jobs for other people with university degrees, are creating a world
in which those without graduate qualifications are feeling cut out, are
feeling disadvantaged, are feeling unwanted and that is the basis of the
resentment. It feeds into existing social divides. It’s fueled by the collapse of
vocational courses, by the eclipse of apprenticeships, by the destruction of
all our earlier certainties about hard work and fairness and opportunity. Which
would be fine if graduates were happy too but often they’re not. They have
accumulated unprecedented debt to take them into the world of employment only
to find that the jobs are not necessarily there and the housing is
unaffordable. And the good life we promised graduates – come and study with
us and we will give you the good life – can seem elusive and that’s why in
Australia as in Britain we’re seeing signs of growing political impatience
with the autonomy of universities in the unwillingness to bend to government
imperatives. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has criticized the priority of
universities particularly those with strong research records. Universities, he
said, pay too much attention to peer review and not enough to local industry.
Everyone I talked to, said the Prime Minister, believes that the problem is
academics. Their incentives are very much associated with publish or
perish so I guess it was no surprise that Malcolm Turnbull’s
2017 budget announced significant cuts to university funding. Now that measure is
now caught in the Senate, who knows, who knows who’s even still in the Senate, but
before the year is out I suspect those cuts will come through. Politicians,
and not just Malcolm Turnbull, have increasingly shown their hostility to
tertiary education. Why should everyone else pay for your expensive university
degree, asked one senator earlier this year, making the point that he wanted to
cut all public funding to universities. And as in Britain, politicians have used
vice-chancellorial salaries to create anger against the university sector.
Really if you’re a vice-chancellor try not to be photographed with a Rolls
Royce because you may end up on the front page of the Financial Times. I feel
for this guy, he’s a car collector, it probably didn’t cost a lot, he probably
lovingly restored it himself but that photo will forever be used as a sign of
who vice-chancellors are. Given photos like this, given the public campaign, it’s
not hard to understand the frustration of elected politicians. I mean
universities pay no tax yet they’re remorseless in asking for more public
money. They champion themselves as innovators yet they resist political
pressures for applied research and immediate impact. They’re large and
wealthy institutions, they chase international students, they drive up
property prices, and hence the suspicion amongst politicians that universities
have lost sight of real life. So I think this is an important debate. I don’t
think this is a passing moment. I think there’s something profound going on here.
And for universities much is at stake. Could a future government impatient with
remote institutions dissolve the universities and replace them with
something better aligned to political imperatives? Now governments, for example, might require institutions to only teach. They might demand that they be
vocational. They might demand that they specialize in only a few areas but they
stay outside the rankings competition. That they serve local communities.
And all these would be attractive proposals for a government to bring
forward and the idea that the university might disappear entirely is not new.
The legendary Registrar of Warwick University, Michael Shattock, made a
similar observation in 1991 saying he could foresee universities being
overtaken by rival sources of education and one of those rival sources of course
is private providers and there are many of you in the room. Simon Marginson
offered a similar analysis in 2001 reminding us that it took Henry VIII just five years to close down the English monasteries that had flourished
for a thousand years and to claim all their accumulated capital for the state.
Stoke enough resentment about privilege and the same fate could await our world.
So we can think about a bleak history of the future. Why might governments want
to start thinking this way and where might this take us? Well, I’ve talked a
lot about governments but let me now talk about private providers. Certainty
for universities began to change in the 1990s before we had the web before we
had Internet. Peter Drucker in the early 1990s was
already predicting that long distance learning would end familiar tertiary
institutions. He was quoted in Forbes magazine as saying that universities
won’t survive, the future is outside the traditional campus, it’s outside the
traditional classroom. Distance learning is coming on fast, he said, and if you
were saying that in the early 90s, it’s now the ubiquitous, universal message
that we’re about to be wiped out. The Washington Post recently predicted a
profound structural and economic shift in favour of employers, students, and
parents, and economists likewise recently predicted the inevitable, the inevitable,
re-invention of the university. And all of them rely on this idea that we’re so
familiar from IT and Silicon Valley, the idea of creative destruction, the idea
that all these familiar industries will be wiped out by internet. Think about
book publishing, video rental stores, matchmaking, all of them have folded under new technologies. And you can buy whole iPads full of texts about the
imminent disruption of universities. A teaching model with a, with a millennium of history we hear is about to vanish. And it’s going to be replaced,
so we keep getting told, by the entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley who
become a symbol of sort of permanent undermining and reinvention of
everything we knew, we know. Now economists in the room will recognize
that this is is an old trope. It comes from Joseph Schumpeter who argued that
markets are never stationary, they evolve constantly with emerging and improving
technologies. The old is always overthrown as new inventions, new forms
of transport, new competitors demolish existing markets and create new ones. And
it might surprise you to know that Schumpeter developed this idea, not
thinking about IT, he was thinking about the railways and he was thinking about a
particular railway: the Illinois Central Railway. And the example he took was
really simple. Before the railway arrived, Chicago was a
thriving town, a growing town, and around it was market gardens, small market gardens, people making money. They were doing really well because they were close
enough that they could ship their produce into Chicago and sell it in the
markets but Chicago was far enough away from any other major centres that no one
else could afford to bring in food at a distance and so they did very nicely
thank you, until the 1850s when the railway arrived. The Illinois Central
Railway turned up. Suddenly, suddenly new tracks could open up whole bits of
land and they could ship in food at a fraction of the cost of putting it in a
cart and bringing it into the local market which is how it had been done
until then. The cost of freight fell to just a few cents a ton and that killed
the local turnpikes, the local canal trade, all of the old ways of transport.
Once the train line arrived everything changed. Suddenly efficient enterprises from the south could ship food up to Chicago and sell
it at premium prices. In creating this new market they destroyed all of these
communities around Chicago. That’s the idea of creative destruction. It’s not
all one way. It’s not that everything is killed, it’s just that new markets kill
old markets. And let me give you a more university example of that: the town of
Oxford, which you may have heard of, slightly north of London. The professors
of Oxford, the dons of Oxford opposed the railway coming to their town and they
opposed it, and I quote, “because easy access to London might tempt improper
marriages”. All those undergraduates getting on a train on Friday night
and so they opposed the railway but they lost the fight and in 1844 Oxford got
its first railway and just as in Chicago there were winners and there were losers.
And I’m going to show you the group that lost because you’ve never heard of them.
These are the fisher fisher folk of Oxford. For a thousand years they’d
caught fish in the rivers around Oxford, the Isis and elsewhere, and they had sold
them to the colleges. Not very good fish, sold at inflated prices, they had
had a very good life here’s a lovely photograph of them about the time the
railway arrived. Suddenly you could bring fish in from major centres at a fraction
of the cost that these people in Oxford could develop it and this trade vanished
along with the canal traffic and everything else that until then had fed
Oxford and instead a whole lot of new industries moved into the town and what
had been a medieval town, isolated by distance, suddenly became connected to
the world and very different. This was captured in one of the great paintings
of the 19th century, just exhibited for the first time the year that the railway
reached Oxford: 1844. It’s JMW Turner’s brilliant ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway’ and it’s a stunning picture if you ever see it. It was put up
at the Royal Academy, it sort of shocked London and what you can’t see from a
distance but is enormous fun is there’s a tiny hare that’s standing on the track,
on the tracks, and you have to assume is about to get obliterated by the train.
Because this is the great Victorian image of unstoppable progress through driving
rain, a train is rushing across a bridge. It’s powerful, it’s irresistible, and it’s
going to be fatal I suspect to that hare and to anyone else who wants to stand in
its tracks. The new machines rip open the settled world, a blur of steam and mist
hurtling into the future. Now I tell you all this to say we’re living this again
because here’s Silicon Valley and it has the same view of creative destruction.
That it is about to make public, large public universities redundant. No more
campuses everywhere, no need to fund academics to do research, and all those
other expensive and boring things, instead the web can fund the university
of the future. And let me put a face to this, this is Sebastian Thrun, he was a
professor of computer science at Stanford University, he offered the first
MOOC in the world, it was unbelievably successful and he saw a good thing, he
knew a good thing when he saw it, and he left Stanford University to found a
company he called Udacity. And Udacity would sell degrees online and he was
very upfront: I will do this at a fraction of the cost of going to
universities and in 50 years time, he said, there’ll only be 10 universities
left in the world. Presumably his would be one of them. And he offered what he called nanodegrees. Nanodegrees were, you know, why study 4 years studying something, which
is the American standard, why not just come and spend six weeks and study
programming of, for Android for Google and then get a job with Google which is
what he offers: come to Silicon Valley do my short courses and then we’ll get you
straight into employment and when you want to get promoted you come back and do another one and we’ll upgrade your skills and in time we’ll give you a
degree that reflects the stackable bunch of qualifications you’ve got. So what he
did is took apart the traditional degree not just that he’s gonna deliver online,
he wasn’t anymore going to expect you to turn up year after year. So America already had big online universities of which Phoenix is the
largest in the world and he took it one step further. Now Phoenix is a great
example, it’s been around for a very long time, 1976 in fact, but it really only
came into its own in the 2000s when the when the web enabled it to reach out
quickly. Phoenix offers practical degrees. You can’t study theology or philosophy
with Phoenix but you sure can do medical administration, accounting and so on, and
that’s their business model. They have 600,000 people enrolled. There are also small startups. This is one from San Francisco, it’s called
Minerva and it’s trying to take on the Ivy League. It offers high-end
qualifications and it offers them using a standardized curriculum that you can
take anywhere in the world which means it doesn’t need professors or classrooms or
libraries or anything expensive like that and yet it claims it can offer a
qualification as good as any you would get anywhere else. And so there are a
whole range of these companies now. They are challenging higher education in a way
we’ve never seen before. The head of Kaplan, his name is Andrew Rosen, predicts that in 25 years time no one will care where you go to university because
you’ll pick up bits of your degree from all sorts of places and you’ll put them
together in a sort of blended qualification and that will be the
future. But you can never go too far, well you can actually. The founder of PayPal,
one of the founders, a man called Peter Thiel, decided to take this logic just a
one step further. He said why are you going to university at all? If you can
get into Stanford, you’ve already made your point. You don’t need to turn up.
You’ve already shown you’re bright enough. It’s just a credential and so he offers
Thiel Fellowships, $100,000 to not go to university, that is
you turn up with your certificate showing that you got into Harvard or
Stanford or somewhere and then he pays you not to go on the grounds that you’d
be much better using your time starting a company. And this means that thousands
and probably tens of thousands of young people across America every year
now apply to not go to university. So we’re in a very different place. I’m
going, I’m going to skip the whole next section because it’s not going to work in time which is to say well what are we going to do in response. And what we’re going
to do in response is engage. We actually have to now talk to our communities in
ways we haven’t before. We’re actually going to have to change the
relationships we have with students with communities. We’re going to have to be
seen to be deeply embedded in the community if we are going to win back
the trust that’s been lost. But I do not in the slightest despair. It seems to me
that the patterns in Australia as in America show that despite all these
other offerings, most students still want the full experience of study, they want
to be in a place where there are other students like them, they want to be in a
place where they can rub up against great minds, they actually want a chance
to engage. And as long as we can get that part of it right and TEQSA is a big part of
doing that right, we can I think fight back as a public sector. We can find a
place. There is a rationale for what we do. It’s about the next generation, it’s
about the importance of education. It isn’t about to go away even if it’s
going to change form. We are all busy reinventing our institutions taking on
all of this technology that’s emerged and giving it a new place and we’ve got
a way to go and doing that. But actually that’s our future. It’s what we do, mended
augmented, supplemented and improved by all of the inventiveness of Silicon
Valley. We don’t have to stand in front of that train we can actually be on it.
Thank you. [applause]>>DEB VERHOEVEN: Glyn’s derailed my timings did you get
that? Thank you. But that’s good because it’s very interesting and I expect lots
of engagement now so we’re gonna go run straight to the questions, if you don’t
mind Glyn. How many global standard research
intensive universities can or should Australia sustain? Does your view impact
how we define a university in Australia?>>GLYN DAVIS: Okay so that’s a fantastically loaded
question you know to really dump on colleagues. We’re very fortunate in Australia. We have one of the great university systems and it shows in the global rankings and
people talk about top 100, top 200, top 500, given that there’s seven thousand or
more accredited universities around the world to have anyone in the top 500 is I
think a fabulous achievement and most Australian universities are there so I
think we start from a great place. The big issue for Australia is that we lack
diversity. The institutions are so similar that we have so few alternatives
for institutions and that’s I think the future battle. It isn’t about how many of
them are global is significant, it’s about why are they all so similar. Why do
we have 41 law schools in this country?>>DEB VERHOEVEN: If you thought that was a loaded
question there’s this one: Too much university wealth is localized at the
top with the few and bias to those doing research and not delivering teaching
outcomes. Should we redistribute?>>GLYN DAVIS: OK, so a complicated question and not a simple
answer often possible. Too much university wealth is accumulated at the
top it says. Well it’s true that of older, the older university, your university is,
the more likely it is to have wealth, that’s true in every other aspect of life
and it’s true in the university sector and it is. And I’m someone who’s had the privilege of leading Griffith University, one of the
youngest universities in the country, and you can feel the difference. I remember
arriving at Melbourne and they showed me the law school and I realised the law
school building had cost more than the entire new campus that we just opened for
Griffith University and that’s, that’s the reality of our system. And it does go
to the question of if everyone has the same aspirations then by definition, it’s
going to be unfair because someone, some can do better than others. The question is should we all have the same aspirations or in fact
would specialization give us a better way of equalizing the effort across
institutions than saying that everyone’s going to be comprehensive, everyone’s
going to offer the full range of disciplines, and then we’re going to be
disappointed that a number of institutions struggle to do that as
effectively as they would like.

Michael Martin

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