Find out about museums and what's happening in the museum world, about leadership, management and governance of museums, including the management of change, the contribution of museums to learning, contribution to public issues such as the natural environment, cultural diversity and relations with indigenous peoples.
More recent posts and pages take up the education debate with essays on every aspect of education including economics and community and inequality. These are derived from a set of essays which hopefully will be commercially published shortly dealing with education.
October 9th, 2014
Universities, Academe and Managerialism
Universities contribute substantially to the community through research and teaching and to economic gains as well as to the individuals who graduate. University reforms in developed countries over the last thirty or so years has brought managerialism and corporatisation without matching gains in quality of undergraduate teaching, now often assigned to graduate students. Market economics has reduced the overall spread of courses offered and commercial sponsorship and partnerships have sometimes severely compromised independence.
The contribution of universities to significant innovation through multilateral relationships with government and business, enhanced by geographic location and funding from philanthropic organisations and alumni attracting high quality staff is not always understood, not least in Australia.
As in all other areas of public policy there is much nonsense written about alleged threats that are not really the major issue: those are ignored. In a well argued opinion, one-time journalism student and now business commentator Rob Burgess wrote in early October 2014, in Business Spectator, “The brainwashing of students, I would suggest, is far less dangerous than the mis-selling educational products to young Australians. It keeps them out of other kinds of work-based learning for three years, lumbers them with a HECS debt and releases them into a jobs market that doesn’t want them.”
Burgess was responding to a report that “university lecturers were ‘indoctrinating’ journalism students to hate some media and gravitate toward some others”. As Burgess points out, “Young journalists often argue with their jaded bosses over idealistic views of society, but each, with time, finds their own map of reality.”
One of the theoretical requirements for the operation of a free market is perfect information. Students making a choice about which university to attend or which course to enrol in, like everyone else, lacks such perfect information. Indeed Nobel Prizes are awarded for studies into this asymmetry. So large numbers of students enrol in journalism courses for which there are few jobs and few enrol in actuarial studies where there are many jobs.
This all has relevance to recent proposed reforms.
Australia’s Universities: recent proposals for reform
The first Abbott/Hockey budget proposed major changes for Australia’s universities. Whilst there has been very substantial opposition, the larger universities have promoted the changes. (So has the Business Council of Australia.) Prominent commentators have accused Minister Pyne and the larger universities’ Vice Chancellors of not understanding the actual situation or the recent history of the microeconomic reforms proposed.
Deregulation of higher education fees is proposed with interest on the debt incurred through HECS funding of the fees being adjusted to the government bond rate and private providers allowed to offer courses. Significant cuts will be made to funding including to the Research Grants scheme. The argument is that the outcome will be enhancement of diversity and choice and lead to the older established universities being able to increase their revenue and attract the best students.
The assertions are considered on analysis to be wrong by comparison with the experience in the US and the recent history in Australia.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (Dem, MA) was interviewed recently on the website Salon.com. Several paragraphs refer to the college and university situation in the U.S. They make chilling reading:
Three of four kids in college are in public universities. A generation ago three of four dollars of the cost came from government: it is now one in four and the family or student has to make up the rest. “The state universities are the backbones of access to higher education for the middle class ..”
One in 10 kids in college is in a for-profit university: “those universities are sucking down 25 per cent of federal loan dollars and they are responsible for 50 percent of all student loan defaults. So the federal government is subsidizing a for-profit industry that is ripping off young people. Those young people are graduating-many of them are never graduating-and of those that are graduating, many of them have certificates that won’t get them jobs, that don’t produce the benefits of a state college education.”
It is far from certain that the changes will pass the Senate. They most certainly should not! The Labor Opposition is running a major campaign against them.
Read more on universities generally and more on recent developments in Australia.
July 8th, 2014
‘Are we all here, Do we really count?’ references a statement Australian sociologist and writer Hugh Mackay made some years ago. In his most recent non-fiction book he points out that The Good Life is not one “lived in isolation or in the pursuit of independent goals; a good life is lived at the heart of a thriving community, among people we trust … It is one in which we treat people the way we would like to be treated… A good life is not measured by security, wealth, status, achievement or levels of happiness. A good life is determined by our capacity for selflessness and our willingness to connect with those around us in a meaningful and useful way.” Mackay has written 14 books including novels, his latest being Infidelity.
Mackay’s lesson is the basis for contrasting statements about humanity with observations of the horrors which ordinary human beings have perpetrated or simply allowed. That humanity has made progress is an arguable statement which is too seldom not seriously thought about or realistically discussed. It is also a view which contrasts with the dominant economic view, one that as Professor Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey and one time Sustainability Commissioner for the UK, has pointed out shows we have evolved as social rather than economic beings.
Two books, Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room and Bernard Schlinck’s The Reader are among many scores of books and films which draw out the horrors and the conflicts faced by ordinary human beings, not politicians or generals or soldiers. Do these books and films make any difference to how we run out lives and influence the future of our society? Though there is greater international peace, the horrors continue within national boundaries, sometimes boundaries artificially drawn by colonising powers.
Conflicts continue to generate millions of refugees, deny a future to men, women and children, destroy towns and cities, economies and futures. Yet countries with influence seem unable to agree to stop them. Aid becomes another just another business, another opportunity for colonisation in another guise.
Faced with the need to help those fleeing persecution, arguments are advanced about queue jumping, about illegal asylum seekers, about population growth at the same time as skilled people from poorer countries are recruited to jobs in rich countries so corporations can avoid the costs of training people already resident in that country. Inequality increases as fewer people gain greater wealth and what should be self evident truths remain denied. And discrimination on the basis of race and more continues, as it has for centuries.
A Prime Minister apologises, people weep, then what?
Continue to essay, “Are we really all here. do we all really count?“
July 7th, 2014
A new series of articles commences with a polemic about the value of thinking outside the domain in which our own organisation is situated and how that can contribute to greater understanding than another seminar from people we already know.
Australia faces perhaps more challenges than at any time in its history. Many commentators and experts point to failure to confront climate change and the carbon emissions contributing to that, to the decline in attention to many aspects of humanity including immigration and asylum-seekers, to the continuing challenge for ‘White Australia’ of Indigenous peoples gaining genuine standing in their own country, to the continuing less than independent stance in foreign policy despite the evidence that simply forming an alliance with the nation currently most powerful carries severe dangers, to the risk averse nature of the political systems in investing in communications and transport infrastructure and much else.
Economically, inequality in Australia, increasingly an issue gaining serious attention not least because of the publication of Capital in the 21st Century by French economist Thomas Piketty, has been brought to the fore in discussions about the first Commonwealth government budget of Treasurer Joe Hockey. Amongst the many features of very great importance characterising the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the failure to appoint a Minister for Science and the abrogation of agreements with the states entered into by the Rudd and Gillard governments in respect of health and education. Education policies have already featured on this site.
The consistent assertions by Abbott government ministers of a budget emergency and a debt crisis requiring a budget featuring significant reductions in government outlays in many areas, the resulting pain to be “shared” across the board, have been comprehensively denied by many economists and commentators supported by numerous detailed studies.
It is intended that these issues will form the background to the essays in this section, In Australia.
February 25th, 2014
The Minister for Education in the Abbott Government, the Hon Christopher Pyne, continued his destruction of the former government’s education policies in early January of this year when he announced a review of the National Curriculum developed over the last five or so years and about to be implemented in all states. The announcement is a further step in the dismantling of the entire education policies of the former Labor Government.
The latest decision is the undermining of the Gonski reforms by allowing that the states need not contribute any increased funding to implement the National Plan for School Improvement. As Trevor Cobbold points out that is fundamentally destructive of the basis of the National Plan. In other words the Coalition by supporting states’ rights has sabotaged the Plan. This is a breach of the commitment given by Mr Abbott before the election and also goes against the policies of the Howard Government.
As Cobbold points out not only did the Howard Government subject state and territory government to conditions for federal funding, but it went so far as to circumvent state and territory government control over their own schools by funding schools directly, subject to conditions.
Predictably, in announcing the curriculum review, Pyne claimed the government had a mandate for the review, justified it by claiming it would be robust and that it should not be a partisan issue. His two reviewers, consultant Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland Ken Wiltshire were immediately identified as well-known opponents of the new curriculum.
There are particular reasons why all this fuss by the Minister about the curriculum is a waste of people’s time and based on no understanding whatsoever of education, learning and schooling.
The curriculum is useful when it forms a strong basis for discussion in the classroom and encourages understanding and further inquiry. And more importantly, if our aim is to have young people emerge from school able to reach their potential and be productive members of the community in the brad sense of that word and able to understand the world around them and interested in the future and in humanity, then we have to recognise that the education process doesn’t start at school but in the earliest years, in the home with parents, carers, other children and amongst a physical and emotional environment which has profound and long lasting influence.
Pyne’s curriculum review has been heavily criticised by academics and education researchers, media commentators and parents and citizens groups as premature at best and unnecessary at worst.
Maralyn Parker in her Daily Telegraph blog branded the exercise a shambles. She quoted reviewer Dr Kevin Donnelly as complaining that every subject had to be taught through a perspective “where new age, 21st century generic skills and competencies undermine academic content”, “the draft civics and citizenship curriculum air brushes Christianity from the nation’s civic life and institutions and adopts a postmodern, subjective definition of citizenship”.
Dr Donnelly has also asserted that, “The history curriculum, in addition to uncritically promoting diversity and difference instead of what binds as a community and a nation, undervalues Western civilisation and the significance of Judeo-Christian values to our institutions and way of life” and the English national curriculum as adopting “an exploded definition of literature, one where classic works from the literary canon jostle for attention along side SMS messages, film posters, graffiti and multi-modal texts”.
Maralyn Parker also made this prescient comment:
“Next will be an attempt to change how teachers teach.
“Kevin claims “One reason why the cultural-left has been so successful in controlling the education system is because the majority of Australia’s professional bodies, subject associations and teacher training academics are hostile to a conservative view of education epitomised by choice and diversity, an academic curriculum, meritocracy and traditional styles of teaching.”
Indeed Mr Pyne has announced a review of teacher education! That is for another time.
Commentator Mungo MacCallum (“History repeats in curriculum war”) writing in The Drum, the ABC’s comments site, on 21 January observed that Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s review of the national curriculum will not be left solely to his two hand-picked cultural warriors of the extreme right. “They now say they will co-opt experts in every field, as well as call for submissions from all the state and territory curriculum authorities, the independent and Catholic schools, principals, teachers and parents – just about everyone, in fact, except the students themselves. In effect they will be starting again from scratch, and since the process of evolving the original curriculum took several years, Pyne’s ambition to see the results of his review incorporated in the curriculum for the 2015 teaching year seem unlikely to be realised. Indeed, state authorities in New South Wales, to name but one state, have dismissed the idea as fanciful.”
MacCallum also observed, “Wiltshire, whose expertise has been in the broad field of public administration, has some experience in curriculum reform; he headed a similar exercise for Queensland’s Labor premier Wayne Goss, a job which brought him into open conflict with Goss’s chief of staff, one Kevin Rudd. But once again, he has no known acquaintance with maths and science. It is hard to see this ideologically driven review coming up with big improvements in the teaching of either discipline.”
Associate Professor Tony Taylor at Monash University has been intimately associated with the review and formulation of history curricula. In 1999 he was appointed Director of the Australian Government’s National Inquiry into the Teaching and Learning of History and, from 2001-2007, he was Director of the Australian Government’s National Centre for History Education. He has researched and published extensively on history and education. He was a senior consultant with successive Coalition and ALP federal governments in formulating three drafts of a national history curriculum and also developed national professional standards for the teaching and learning of history.
Professor Taylor wrote in The Conversation 10 January, “These appointments come as no surprise. They are entirely in line with the government’s brazen approach to appointing close supporters to positions of authority and influence. The justificatory rhetoric that surrounds the current nominations is familiar, stale and inaccurate.”
Taylor commented in the Fairfax Press on January 16 that “Since federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s launch last week of a two-man curriculum review panel, of conservative educationist Kevin Donnelly and conservatively inclined business academic Kenneth Wiltshire, levels of incredulity, derision and cynicism among educators and political commentators (outside News Corp media) have gone off the Richter scale.” He continued, “Pyne might as well have announced he was rearranging the communal henhouse by shoving two foxes through its front door. The curriculum history wars, part of the bigger culture wars that have been blighting the Australian cultural and political landscape for more than a decade, were on again.”
Professor Taylor also observed, “Finally, any criticism of this world view is to be regarded as subversive and is based on godless Marxism or is just plain atheist in origin. Occasionally ill-informed mentions of bogyman postmodernism are thrown into the mix. These complaints form the basis of the current curriculum review.”
Reporters Josephine Tovey and Judith Ireland (“Education: Christopher Pyne’s move to review curriculum dubbed a political stunt”, January 11) reported
the lead writer of the new history curriculum, Professor Stuart Macintyre of the University of Melbourne, as pointing out that the curriculum had been developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), over three years, involving consultation, submissions and contributions from a huge number of people – more than 4000 submissions and surveys were received in relation to English, maths, science and history alone. ”Whereas this is to be conducted by two people who have particular backgrounds. How they’re expected to apply expertise is beyond me, both in the subject areas and in curriculum”.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s board chairman, Barry McGaw, said he welcomed the review. But he also said the authority had used a ”rigorous, national process” that had produced a high-quality curriculum. ”The Australian curriculum is setting higher standards across the country, perhaps most notably in mathematics and science at the primary school level”.
On the other hand, Professor Judith Sloan, writing in The Australian (October 12, 2013), described the national curriculum as mired in half-baked fads. “I HAVE never been a fan of the idea of a national school curriculum. I can understand why some people find it attractive. What happens to the 80,000 odd school-aged children whose families move interstate every year? How confusing it must be for them to deal with differences in curriculum. Actually, this is a very weak argument. In point of fact, the differences in the content of school courses have never been vast across the states.”
Professor Sloan trashed the economics curriculum: “The bottom line is that the national curriculum on economics and business for years 5 to 10 is tosh. It is page after page of earnest, largely worthless, drivel. I pity the poor teachers who have to use this guide as a basis for preparing teaching materials and lessons.”
The Australian Council of State School Organisations, a peak national group affiliated with most state and territory parents and citizens associations, was reported by Daniel Hurst in The Guardian of 13 January (‘National curriculum review premature, say parents and teachers’) as questioning the review’s timing and motivation.
“The council’s chief executive officer, Dianne Giblin, said parents were “a bit bemused” by the review because the national curriculum was yet to be completely rolled out. She said parents and parent groups had been heavily involved in developing the national curriculum, with the process attracting thousands of submissions.”
Minister Pyne has said, as reported by Hurst in The Guardian, the aim of the review “was to turn out a robust curriculum, a good curriculum that improves the results of our students” and he said he was confident Donnelly and Wiltshire would produce an objective and fair report. He said the national curriculum should not be a static document and should always be questioned, tested and argued about. “I haven’t appointed a committee that tries to please everybody and therefore does not produce a robust result,” Pyne said.
Neither Donnelly or the other reviewer Professor Ken Wiltshire at the University of Queensland are curriculum experts. The study of curricula is a discipline in itself and one of Australia’s education researchers, Professor Lynn Yates of Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education is a leading expert in the field. A major conference on the curriculum held at the University of Melbourne in late February 2010 involved distinguished experts in many disciplines. It was hardly reported in the media.
The reasons why the review of the curriculum is a waste of time is at Moving deckchairs on the wrong ship!
November 17th, 2013
Museums, Gardens and their Future with Government
A short essay on departures of senior executives from New South Wales museums and botanic gardens in 2013 and what they say about government policies is added to the essays about effective museums. Earlier it had been posted on my blog, commenced in October 2013. The essay questions whether governments and boards appointed by governments to manage and oversight museums and similar enterprises actually show themselves capable of effectively fulfilling their obligations. In the study of effective museums the first distinction, the most important one, of effective organisations was that they are independent of, or at least maintain a distinct arms length from, government.
Governments are often obsessed with centralised control, which usually ends up achieving very little, and boards appointed by them seldom comprise persons with genuine understanding of the organisation and its principal aims. Newly appointed members are seldom properly briefed at the time of their appointment; the chair is often not appointed because they possess the most important characteristic of an effective chair, the ability to bring people together to envision a shared purpose and ensure meaningful participation of the members of the board, but because they are a friend of the Minister or have achieved prominence in business or some other field. The fact is that often people rise to positions of prominence for reasons related mainly to who they know and where they went to school. For all these reasons boards of cultural organisations very often fail to achieve effective governance and in particular may not even make appropriate appointments to the most important position, that of executive director.
If the truth of the assertions of the above paragraph seems doubtful, consider the fact that the vast majority of the people in the UK in the professions of the law and finance are from a few “public” schools. A review of the composition of boards of Australian cultural institutions would show that even if the members are scientists or artists they seldom have any experience of leadership or governance. However, their expertise would be valuable were the majority of the decisions made by the board related to considered judgements about the principal purposes and business of the organisation. Instead they often concern financial matters and issues of an administrative nature.
New Essays on Other Issues
In October 2013, a new blog site was commenced. It will contain articles on subjects other than museums, leadership, organisational development and similar subjects with which this site has been concerned for the last 11 years and education, essays on which have been posted in the last two years.
The first essays deal with climate change; other articles which appear on this main website have been cross posted on the blog site.
A full list of articles on the blog is posted on its own page.
Articles on other sites
Articles published on other online sites are listed on the Publications page of this website. They cover education, economics and climate change.