An Education Manifesto from the DVC(E)
Professor Derrick Armstrong outlines his vision for education at the University of Sydney.
In her inaugural address on becoming Vice Chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire Patricia Broadfoot challenged all universities when she argued that personal relationships are lost in the modern university ‘maelstrom’, that university teaching is ‘profoundly unsuitable’ for today’s world and that universities have been ‘backward’ in understanding how students learn and how best to teach them.
Has Broadfoot got it right? Too often academics are apologetic about their value to society but surely, universities have a responsibility, in Alfred North Whitehead’s words, to ‘make the future’. Just as our research tries to imagine the future, the goal of education is to imagine and embrace the future. Imagination and creativity are at the centre of learning in a university. We work and live in an environment in which the boundaries of human experience and understanding are continually expanding. Members of the university community commonly believe and invest in an educational project that binds teaching and research together in pursuit of a common purpose of learning.
At the beginning of the 21st century myriad expectations have been placed upon universities and their staff. It would hardly be surprising if individual academics were to lose a sense of what it is to be part of a university and instead focused their efforts upon what they perceive to be the best way of advancing short-term career goals.
Yet, despite the difficulties we face, academics continue to produce outstanding research and through their teaching make inspiring contributions to the life-long learning of their students.
In this spirit I want to suggest what a commitment by and to the university stands for as a learning community might entail – an ‘education manifesto’ which provides not only principles but the concrete actions to achieve a university for our future society.
First and foremost, an approach to learning and teaching that is fully integrated into the mission and practice of the university– a commitment to one learning community rather than to the discrete and fragmented activities of teaching and research.
From this follows the importance of institutional recognition of the centrality of learning and teaching to the professionalism of the academic role; a recognition made concrete in the university’s approach to appointments, promotions, rewards and professional development that matches or exceeds best practice internationally.
Arguably nothing impacts more negatively on the student learning experience than shabby, overcrowded and neglected teaching spaces and inadequate teaching resources. So, a third critical element of an education manifesto should be investment in teaching and learning facilities, as we hare doing with our new Learning Hubs, together with integrated planning to align the university’s mission for learning, teaching and research with the allocation, use and management of resources.
In a discussion about how we measure our performance at the very least a university should declare its targets in respect of infrastructure investment, staff:student ratios, and the quality and timing of assessment feedback. If a university truly aspires to educational excellence it should also be brave enough to set the standard for quality performance and outcomes in the sector and to defend its policies and practices on that basis.
The fifth element of my manifesto is a commitment to social inclusion with targets for low SES and Indigenous student participation for which the university is responsible and accountable together with financial support for students and an engagement with communities and schools that makes such a strategy meaningful. The idea of a university claims universality: the universality of thought, of knowledge, of understanding and of participation in learning. A commitment to inclusion therefore goes to the heart of what a university stands for.
Finally, an unequivocal commitment to the highest teaching standards and the broad educational mission of the institution.
To take seriously the challenge that Broadfoot presented, an education manifesto should demonstrate a commitment to the university as a learning community in which students and staff are together engaged in thinking critically about our futures. This might be seen as a cultural transformation but is it really so great a transformation? Perhaps the spirit and the strength of this manifesto lies in affirmation of the traditional educational values of a university in which students, teachers and researchers are all fundamentally engaged in the pursuit of learning.[close]
Professor Derrick Armstrong outlines his vision for education at the University of Sydney. He writes: In her inaugural address on becoming Vice Chancellor of the University o...[more]