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
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
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.