Giles Pickford

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Creating the Australian Civilisation: a higher purpose
By Giles Pickford , 15 April 2012

This essay is all about value and how one judges it.  Therefore postmodernists can choose to read no further as value judgements appear to them to be a waste of time.

I will press on in spite of this flaw in my case.  My view is that all through life we make choices which are essentially determined by what we value and what we don’t.  So we endeavour to acquire things that we value the most.

Our education is the only thing we acquire which cannot be taken away from us.  Therefore to me it is the most valuable thing we gain in life.  Your house can be burnt down, your car can be stolen and your partner can run off with someone else.

There is only one thing you have which cannot be lost and that is your mind and what is in it.  You can of course die and lose your mind, but that is outside the scope of this discussion.

Desire drives us to become educated.  The desire to know and understand life is the purest form of the force that moves us.  Of a lower order is the desire to get an interesting and well paid job with a mortgage and a family.  Education provides the key to unlocking both these spiritual and material worlds.

Until recently governments were relaxed about letting universities govern themselves.  But this changed when governments began to understand the enormous economic value of unlocking the spiritual and material world.  An industry sprang up around the idea of the university.  Governments poured money into the industry.

And then everything changed.

Governments began to see universities as an arm of government and began to treat them as such. Various commissions and departments were created and universities were reviewed repeatedly, probably more than any other aspect of the economy.  The question was repeatedly asked whether universities are good value for money.  As the amounts of money needed are huge, many doubted.  The cost of supporting universities was gradually shifted to the students and their long suffering parents and governments reduced their support, but increased their controls.

Which brings us to the present unsatisfactory state of affairs.

University leaders must make a choice between futures.  They must decide if universities are an arm of government.  If they decide in favour of that concept, then the idea of the university as an autonomous self governing institution is dead: but it is the easier of the two choices.

The other choice is harder to make.  It means insisting on the government giving full rein to the higher purpose of the universities.  That higher purpose is the continuing creation of the Australian civilisation, part of which is economic growth, but not all of it.

 My view is that the academy has survived many attempts to destroy it altogether or to subvert it from its true mission.  It has survived for 2,400 years.  It will survive having the hard conversation with government that we need to have. 

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