Blank slate thinking

It seems we’ve made the decision to standardise our first year teaching mode to two hours of content delivery, with one hour weekly for class discussion.  At the moment, more than half teach in this way, but some disciplines offer shorter lectures and longer discussion.  It’s a classic bit of historical untidiness, like an uneven streetscape in an area destined for gentrification. Straightening this out will make our individual workloads easier to calibrate, and in turn this will make everything fairer.

Supporters of this plan have rallied to the flag of workload equity, which is a very reasonable standard. Critics have pointed out that the real incentive is to manage the casual teaching budget, which is also spot on. Bored bystanders are struck, as usual, by the fact that one of the least engaging conversations in any university is this tired showdown between resource management and fair treatment. Continue reading

Bursting point

There’s a conversation building about whether we’re wise to look at higher education through the lens of the economy, given that nothing much looks good through the bottom of that dirty glass. Markets achieve extraordinary results using the levers and pulleys of scarcity, rivalry and desire, but this volatility doesn’t always help the big public institutions that deliver other kinds of social and cultural benefits, like education.

So we half-protect these familiar institutions of public life from the market in order to keep them in a steady state of development, managed as national resources by people who can plan responsibly for their futures with some certainty of employment and infrastructure. They’re also very expensive to dismantle and resurrect, so even if their value isn’t entirely economic, there’s an economic argument that it’s better to subsidise them through drought and flood, than to have to keep rebuilding them from scratch. Continue reading