Friday, April 11, 2014

To Extend Student Loans We Must Reduce Student Debt

Student Loans Shackle
Student Loans Shackle (Saint Huck)
by Andrew Norton, Online Opinion:

A Grattan Institute report I co-authored highlights student debt costs, with the finding that the government could save $800 million a year by retrieving unpaid debts from deceased estates and students who have moved abroad.

The report Doubtful debt: the rising cost of student loans found that 17% of the A$6 billion a year lent through the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) is likely to be doubtful debt - loans that are not expected to be repaid. Total doubtful debt could reach $13 billion by 2017.

These debts have been building up since Australia pioneered income contingent loans for students with HECS in 1989.

Unless people with student debt earn more than a threshold amount - $51,309 for 2013-14 - they don't have to repay their loan. These loans aim to reduce students' financial risks while keeping government education expenditure under control.

The success of HECS led to new income contingent loans schemes for full-fee higher education students, student amenities fees, study abroad and some vocational education students. Ultimately it all ends up as Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt.

Extending income contingent loans to student income support has often been suggested. According to one survey, a majority of full-time undergraduates would be interested in taking out a HECS-like loan to increase their income. A loan could improve their living standards while studying, and perhaps help them work less and study more.

Although it is stalled in the Senate, there is already a proposal to convert Student Start-Up Scholarships to a HELP-like loan. While this change would not give students extra cash compared to now, it would create a scheme that could easily be adapted to do so.

During the 2013 election campaign, the Coalition promised a HELP-like 'Trade Support Loan' of up to $20,000 to finance "everyday costs" for apprentices in vocational education Certificate III and IV courses.

In principle, new uses for income contingent loans are welcome. They are a good policy option for people who are unlikely to have low lifetime incomes, and so do not require a subsidy, but do have a cash flow problem.

Despite the policy attractions of income contingent loans, HELP is turning into an expensive program. On the government's current estimates, 17% of new HELP lending will not be repaid. For 2013-14, that means $1.1 billion of the $6.3 billion in new HELP loans is likely to be doubtful debt. By 2016-17, as HELP lending increases, that figure will approach $1.5 billion.

These numbers suggest caution in new uses for income contingent loans.

With income support loans students would borrow more overall, decreasing their chances of paying back all their debt. The full-time workforce participation rate of female graduates starts declining in their late 20s and early 30s. As less than 20% of part-time jobs pay more than the HELP repayment threshold, any debt remaining by this time may not ever be repaid.

The extension of loans into the vocational education sector through VET FEE-HELP and the proposed Trade Support Loan could also increase HELP's costs. Although some tradespeople earn six-figure sums, generally vocational education qualification holders earn less than university graduates. That would translate into lower repayment rates.

In the Doubtful Debt report, we suggest ways of reducing HELP's costs while still protecting students from financial hardship.

The quickest way of reducing doubtful debt would be cutting the income threshold for repayment, but the report recommends caution on this idea. When the threshold was slashed in 1997-98, demand for university education from mature age people fell. Many of them work already and would have to repay while still studying. That conflicts with the goal of HELP encouraging people to study.

The threshold was increased in 2004, but the report suggests that it could be indexed to the consumer price index instead of increases in average weekly earnings. This would slow its rate of growth, and over time more people would make repayments.

Some HELP doubtful debt is caused by people living overseas. The report recommends a flat annual HELP repayment for people outside Australia, but on its own this would not make a major difference to doubtful debt. Most overseas HELP debtors eventually return and repay.

The change that would make the biggest financial difference is ending the current practice of writing off HELP debt in deceased estates. Almost all other debts, including those owed to the government, must be paid from the estate.

Most people who die without fully repaying their HELP debt will do so in their sixties, seventies or eighties. Although their personal incomes will not have been high enough to trigger repayment of all their student debt, this does not mean that they were poor.

Many of them will have been in high income households. About 40 per cent of partnered female graduates earning less than threshold have partners who earn $100,000 a year or more.

The main beneficiaries of the HELP deceased estate write-off are likely to be the adult children of HELP debtors. This makes the write-off very poorly targeted social policy. If HELP was repaid from all estates worth $100,000 or more it would focus expenditure on families that are more likely to be genuinely needy.

If HELP doubtful debt costs can be controlled, there would be more scope for new uses for income contingent loans. Under current repayment policies, the level of doubtful debt suggests that governments should be very cautious about lending students larger amounts of money.

This article was first published on The Conversation.

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Schools are Places of Indoctrination Rather than Learning

Image representing Al Gore as depicted in Crun...
Al Gore via CrunchBase

by Graham, Ambit Gambit:

A new British report pings the British education system for indoctrinating students on questions of climate change and sustainability. In this, Australia is no better.

Climate Control: Brainwashing in schools lays out in detail instances not just of bias, but active coercion, at a number of levels from core curriculum down to the choices that teachers make in the classroom.

For instance, despite a British court deciding that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was propaganda and had to be appropriately labelled before use in the classroom, it is still being recommended in the curriculum materials, without any counter recommendation to movies, such as the Great Global Warming Swindle, which could provide an alternative perspective.

To those of us who believe that educations’s function is to teach thinking and knowledge, this is deeply disturbing, but hardly surprising.

The current Australian Curriculum is full of references to “sustainability”, which is a concept without any intelligible meaning in most of the contexts in which it is used, apart from in the very short-term.

I’ve had personal experience of how the system works through the daughters of a friend who studied geography in a Queensland school.

Their teacher, Ms P, was not just a global warming warrior, but also imparted valuable information to them over the course of the years, such as that only the Greens care about education.

At one stage, in response to a perception imported from the classroom that rainfall had decreased in Australia I produced a Bureau of Meteorology graph demonstrating that rainfall had in fact increased. I was told they weren’t interested in the facts, they wanted to pass the subject.

The teachers I had at school, who were Socratic in approach, and never ever gave me a hint of who they might vote for, would have welcomed the intrusion into the classroom of an unruly fact and the discussion which would have ensued.

If this approach has survived in any discipline in school you would expect it to be in philosophy. Alas, you would be wrong.

Modern philosophy classes consist not of discussions of Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Hegel, Mill even Wittgenstein or Marx and what it means to be good or the nature of human rights, but pop-cultural tours of issues like abortion guided by bit players like radical utilitarian, vegetarian and eugenicist, Peter Singer.

They still teach them the logical concepts that underpin philosophy, but without seeing them applied by anyone with any skill, leading to lowest common denominator thinking.

There is hope.
A spokesman for Michael Gove [UK Secretary of State for Education], has said that teachers who do not offer a balanced view on issues like climate change are breaking the law.
Would be nice to think it could be the same here - teachers actually legally required to be balanced - but even better if there were no need in the first place.
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

1,300 Universities, One Shared Fear: The Commodification of Education

by , /f/d/c/globe.jpg The Times Higher Education:

IAU study identifies threats and opportunities of internationalisation

Universities across the world fear the “commodification and commercialisation of education”, according to a new survey.

The International Association of Universities has polled 1,336 institutions across 131 countries to gauge their views on the internationalisation of higher education - through placements abroad, research collaboration and overseas students.

“They express concern about equal access to international opportunities for all students and about the commodification and commercialisation of education,” the IAU’s report says.

Universities “are also preoccupied that more competition among higher education institutions will arise as a result of internationalization,” it adds. Concerns were also raised about “gaps in quality and/ or prestige among institutions in a given country.”

Just over half of the respondents said that their university had a policy or strategy for internationalisation, and another 22% said they were preparing one. Yet fewer than one in six universities said that internationalisation “forms part of the overall institutional strategy”.

The growth of international dual, double or joint degrees, “may be losing momentum”, according to the report Internationalization of Higher Education: Growing expectations, fundamental values.

The results also show that universities in different regions hope to gain different things from international engagement.

In the Asia Pacific region and North America the top ranked benefit was increasing students’ international awareness, while in Europe and the Middle East, institutions hoped to improve the quality of their teaching and learning.

Philosophy: Free Courses Online

Aristotle (Photo credit: maha-online)
by Open Culture:

Get free Philosophy courses from the world’s leading universities.

You can download these audio and video courses straight to your computer or mp3 player.

For more online courses, visit our complete collection of Free Online Courses.

Philosophy Courses
Bookmark our collection of free online courses in Philosophy.

For a full lineup of online courses, please visit our complete collection of Free Courses Online.
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Philosophy’s Power Couple, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Featured in 1967 TV Interview

by , Open Culture:

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were twentieth-century philosophy’s power couple, in a time and place when public intellectuals were true celebrities.

In the mid-sixties, they were not only fascinating writers in their own right, but also activists engaged in international struggle against what they defined as the globally injurious forces of capitalist imperialism and patriarchal oppression.

In 1967, Sartre, along with Bertrand Russell and a handful of other influential thinkers, convened what became known as the “Russell Tribunal,” a private body investigating war crimes in Vietnam.

De Beauvoir meanwhile had published a suite of memoirs and prize-winning novels, and her groundbreaking feminist study The Second Sex had been in publication a full twenty years.

In the interviews above with Sartre and de Beauvoir, the “free and intimate couple,” a model of existentialist free love, receives reverential treatment from the CBC.

The journalists describe Sartre as “the most famous and controversial writer of his time ... an ally of students and international revolutionaries [and] a very public figure.”

Sartre’s Paris apartment, an “austere room,” represents “a kind of universal conscience.” There are long, lingering shots of the writer at work, presumably on his Flaubert study, ten years in the making at this point. Sartre becomes passionate when the interviewers ask him about the dangers of the Vietnam War. He responds:

There is nothing glorious about a superpower attacking a small nation which cannot fight on even terms, and yet resists fiercely, refusing to yield … my perspective is sociopolitical as well as moral. The Vietnam war is the very symbol of imperialism, the fruit of today’s monopolistic capitalism.

For Sartre, philosophy and politics are inseparable. “The war in Vietnam,” he says, ”disputes my work, and my work disputes the war.”

When the scene shifts to the separate home of de Beauvoir, nicknamed “Castor” (the beaver), the camera lingers over her collection of knick-knacks. Her home is “like a museum of her own life … filled with reminiscences of Cuba, Africa, Japan, Spain, China, Mexico.”

She discusses her time spent with Fidel Castro at his country home (“He fishes with his gun, shooting at trout”), and talks about her memoirs. “I am attached to my past,” she says, “but I don’t shun the present and future. Artifacts and souvenirs are meant to preserve the present. To buy a souvenir is therefore an investment in the future.”

Sartre and de Beauvoir’s relationship is storied and complex. In his lengthy 2005 expose for The New Yorker, Louis Menand describes it thus:

Their liaison was part of the mystique of existentialism, and it was extensively documented and coolly defended in Beauvoir’s four volumes of memoirs, all of them extremely popular in France … Beauvoir and Sartre had no interest in varnishing the facts out of respect for bourgeois notions of decency. Disrespect for bourgeois notions of decency was precisely the point.

Their sexual rebellion seems novel for the times, but the way they construed their open relationship also relied on Romantic clichés and the medieval formula of courtly love.

As Sartre would say of their romantic “pact”: “What we have is an essential love; but it is a good idea for us also to experience contingent love affairs.” His Aristotelian argument, Menand writes, “worked as well on her as a diamond ring.”

The couple’s egalitarian sexual politics often seem at odds with their practice, in Menard’s estimation, in which Sartre seemed to gain the upper hand and both wielded power over their conquests.

While speculations on their arrangement may seem prurient, the two documented their own dalliances obsessively in their work - both fictional and non - referring to their entourage of admirers and lovers as “the family.”

They adopted young women, frequently students, as protégées, and seduced both women and men in what their former lover Bianca Bienenfeld, in her memoir A Disgraceful Affair, would call “acting out a commonplace version of ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’”

Author Hazel Rowley, who also wrote on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, documented their 51-year partnership in her book Tete-a-Tete, a biography written in cooperation with de Beauvoir’s adopted daughter (and possible lover) Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir and contested by Sartre’s adoptee, Arlette Elkaim-Sartre.

Like all radical figures, Sartre and de Beauvoir need to be accepted as warts-and-all human beings. Their influential work is not negated by their contradictory lives, but the personal and political do make for a strange blend in the case of these intellectual revolutionaries.

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Martin Heidegger Talks About Language, Being, Marx & Religion in Vintage 1960s Interviews

by , Open Culture:

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

German philosopher Martin Heidegger, whom readers of post-structuralist theory have to thank for popularizing the ubiquitous phrase “always already,” was a very labored writer who coined much of his own terminology and gave many a translator migraines.

His prose betrays an obsession with the power of language that many of his students and successors, such as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, inherited in the construction of their own elaborate theories.

While Heidegger’s first book Being and Time (1927) had enormous influence on Existentialist and Phenomenological thought, he also wrote extensively on technology, theology, and art and poetics, engaging with the ideas of Edmund Husserl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and the romantic German poet Friedrich Hӧlderlin.

In the short film above, see the man himself in excerpts from a lecture and three different interviews. The footage comes from a 1975 documentary called Heidegger’s Speeches.

Heidegger first discusses some theory of language, quoting Goethe, then, in an interview, talks about how he came to the central preoccupation of his philosophical career: the “question of being,” or Dasein.

The third interview concerns Heidegger’s thoughts on Karl Marx. He quotes Marx’s radical dictum, “philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it,” and offers a critical perspective based in hermeneutics. In the fourth and final interview segment, Heidegger proffers some thoughts on religion and communism.

For a much fuller picture of Heidegger’s life and work, watch the BBC documentary above, from their Existentialist series “Human All Too Human” that begins with Nietzsche and ends with Sartre.

And this page also has video of a number of philosophers discussing Heidegger’s work, which left such a lasting impression on the character of late modern and postmodern thought that it’s hard to find a contemporary philosopher who doesn’t owe some sort of debt to him.

It may be impossible to overstate Heidegger’s importance to twentieth century European philosophy in general, and upon several prominent Jewish thinkers in particular like his former student and lover Hannah Arendt and ethicist Emmanuel Levinas.

But it also must be said that Heidegger’s legacy is tainted with controversy. While it’s typically good form to separate a thinker’s work from his or her personal lapses, Heidegger’s lapses of judgment, if that’s what they were, are not so easy to ignore.

As the documentary above informs us, Heidegger was a Nazi. A reviewer of a recent biography colorfully sums up the case this way:

Let’s be clear about this: Martin Heidegger, a thinker many regard as the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, was indeed a bona-fide, arm-aloft, palm-outstretched Nazi. Zealously renewing his party membership every year between 1933 and 1945, his commitment to the National Socialist cause was unstinting. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in his public role as rector of Freiburg University, where he praised ‘the inner truth and greatness’ of Nazism in his 1933 rectoral address, and later penned a paean to murdered Nazi thug Leo Schlageter. Heidegger was no token fascist; he was jack-booted and ready. Wearing a swastika on his lapel at all times he, alongside his proud, virulently anti-Semitic wife, also practised private discrimination against Jews, from fellow existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers to his one-time mentor Edmund Husserl. Not that he was without friends. In fact his friendship with Eugene Fischer, director of Berlin Institute for Racial Hygiene, lasted years.

Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies are hardly evident in his philosophical work, yet it is still difficult for many readers to reconcile these facts about his life. Some refer to a 1966 Der Spiegel interview in which the philosopher explained away his Nazism as exigent circumstances. Sort of what we call today a non-apology apology.

Others, like onetime admirer Levinas, don’t find the task so easy. In a commentary on forgiveness, Levinas once wrote, “One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger.”

You can find more resources on Heidegger in our archive of free online philosophy courses.

VIDEO: Human, All Too Human: 3-Part Documentary Profiles Nietzsche, Heidegger & Sartre

by , Open Culture:

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Certainly three of the most radical thinkers of the last 150 years, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre were also three of the most controversial, and at times politically toxic, for their perceived links to totalitarian regimes.

In Nietzsche’s case, the connection to Nazism was wholly spurious, concocted after his death by his anti-Semitic sister. Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s philosophy is far from sympathetic to equality, his politics, such as they are, highly undemocratic.

The case of Heidegger is much more disturbing - a member of the Nazi party, the author of Being and Time notoriously held fascist views, made all the more clear by the recent publication of his infamous “black notebooks.”

And Sartre, author of Being and Nothingness, has long been accused of supporting Stalinism - a charge that may be oversimplified, but is not without some merit.

Despite these troubling associations, all three philosophers are often held up as representatives - along with Søren Kierkegaard and Albert Camus - of Existentialism, broadly a philosophy of freedom against oppressive religious and political systems that seek to define and order human life according to predetermined values.

Whether all three thinkers deserve the label (Heidegger, like Camus, flatly rejected it) is a matter of some dispute, and yet, the BBC documentary series Human, All Too Human, named for Nietzsche’s 1878 collection of aphorisms, loosely uses the term to tie them together, acknowledging that it had yet to be coined in Nietzsche’s time.

The first episode, at the top, introduces the great 19th century German atheist by way of interviews with Nietzsche scholars and biographers. Episode two, above, covers Heidegger, with frank discussions of his Nazi party affiliation and its implications for his thought.

The third episode focuses on Sartre, the only thinker of the three to call himself an existentialist. Both Sartre and his partner Simone de Beauvoir wrote on the subject, defending the philosophical outlook in essays and interviews.

In one of Sartre’s most famous defenses, “Existentialism and Human Emotion,” he emphatically defines his philosophical stance as anti-essentialist and atheistic - unlike the Christian Kierkegaard before him.

Atheistic existentialism, which I represent, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing [...] thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence.

Existentialism has become a wide net, used to capture similarities in the work of otherwise widely divergent thinkers.

However, the use of the term historically belongs to the 1940s and 50s, to a movement as much literary as philosophical, and Sartre was its greatest champion and, some would say, the only true Existentialist philosopher.

Nevertheless, the label captures something of the daring and the danger of radical philosophy that redefines, or outright rejects, traditional norms.

For all their flaws and contradictions, all three of the thinkers profiled above made significant contributions to our understanding of what it means to be human - and to be an individual - in an increasingly mechanized, homogenized, and dehumanizing civilization.

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Serial Entrepreneur Damon Horowitz Says “Quit Your Tech Job and Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities”

by Josh Jones, Open Culture:

 Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Damon Horowitz, a philosophy professor and “serial entrepreneur,” recently joined Google as an In-House Philosopher/ Director of Engineering. Prior to his work at Google, Horowitz co-founded Aardvark, Perspecta, and a number of other tech companies.

In this talk at Stanford University’s 2011 BiblioTech conference on “Human Experience,”  Horowitz explains why he left a highly-paid tech career, in which he sought the keys to artificial intelligence, to pursue a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Stanford (the text of the talk is available here).

Horowitz offers fellow techies a formidable challenge, but a worthwhile one.

In saying so, I must confess a bias: as a student and teacher of the humanities, I have watched with some dismay as the culture becomes increasingly dominated by technicians who often ignore or dismiss pressing philosophical and ethical problems in their quest to build a better world.

It is gratifying to hear from someone who recognized this issue by (temporarily) giving up what he admits was a great deal of power and societal privilege and headed back to the classroom.

Horowitz describes his intellectual journey from “technologist” to philosopher with passion and candor, and concludes that as a result of his academic inquiry, he “no longer looks for machines to solve all of our problems for us,” and no longer assumes that he knows what’s best for his users.

This kind of humility and intellectual flexibility is, ideally, the outcome of a higher degree in the humanities, and Horowitz uses his own trials to make a case for better critical thinking, for a “humanistic perspective,” in the tech sector and elsewhere.

For examples, see Horowitz’s TED talks on a “moral operating system” and “philosophy in prison.” Complicating Google’s well-known, unofficial slogan “don’t be evil,” Horowitz, drawing on Hannah Arendt, believes that most of the evil in the world comes not from bad intentions but from “not thinking.”

In a related Stanford talk (above) from the same seminar, Marissa Mayer, former Vice President of Consumer Products at Google, discusses how she incorporated the humanities into product innovation at Google. The first female engineer at Google (and its youngest executive at the time of this talk), she has made headlines recently, becoming the new CEO of Yahoo.

Aid Education with Historic Newspapers

by Historic

This year, Britain is commemorating the centenary of the start of World War One. That's 100 years since the start of the First World War.

Starting in 2014 and lasting until 2018, the First World War Centenary is the birthday of WW1.

From exhibitions and concerts to a movie and football match, a whole gamut of events will take place to celebrate the anniversary.

World War One is remembered, primarily because it was the first war fought on a continent wide scale, from 1914 to 1918, and resulted in the League of Nations.

If you’re looking to teach students about the significance of the First World War, why not do so with an educational pack?

To explain further, the UK’s largest private archive of old newspapers, Historic Newspapers, stock more than seven million genuine original newspapers in their ever-growing collection.

Looking after the world’s biggest private archive of original newspapers means Historic Newspapers are exceptionally passionate about history.

It’s for this reason they decided to select interesting and important coverage from significant historical dates - all in the name of learning - with a view to teach others about the past, as it was reported at the time.

Best of all, they’re offering these teaching packs completely free of charge - all of which are available to schools, universities, libraries and accredited education establishments - to help students discover the cause and consequence of historical events.

A newspaper book is a wonderful way to teach children about World War One, as each newspaper is filled with stories from eyewitnesses who were present at the time, making it a pleasurable way to aid learning and engage a pupil’s interest and imagination.

The World War One newspaper book can be used to discuss the changing nature of conflict, the cooperation between countries, the shift of alliances and the lasting impact of the war on national, ethnic, cultural and religious issues.

A newspaper offers teachers the chance to encourage chronological understanding, evoke a sense of period and provides a framework to discuss today’s events in a historical context.

The World War I Pack contains a book of compiled newspaper coverage, including Battle of Loos, Gallipoli Withdrawal, London Air Raid and War is Over. The other two education packs available contain complete newspaper reprints on World War II and Major Events.
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Online Students and "On-Campus Students Learning Online" - Is There a Difference?

On-campus students online
by David Glance, University of Western Australia

In a recent interview with the University of New England’s (UNE) ex Vice-Chancellor Jim Barber, he talked about the disruptive threat of MOOCs to the Australian higher education system.

The threat was largely being ignored by what he perceived to be blinkered and risk-averse educational leaders and governance boards.

It was not clear from the interview what he saw as the solution but part of the issue was around the dilemma posed between cheap online education epitomised by MOOCs, and the increasingly expensive and traditional on-campus version.

Even without confounding the issue with the idea of MOOCs, Barber observed that: “(In theory) you really could jettison UNE’s entire on-campus operation, get rid of enormous cost and run a fairly lucrative (on-line) operation. But the sort of damage that does to the (Armidale) region for the foreseeable future is unconscionable”

The interesting part of this is that even Barber makes a distinction between students who are online and those that are enrolled in on-campus courses.

We all believe to a greater or lesser extent that students who come onto a campus are engaging in activities largely different from those who access the university only through their computers.

The problem is, the difference between online and on-campus is becoming increasingly blurred. On-campus students spend an increasing amount of time using their computers and accessing content through the Internet.

The amount of time a student might directly interact with lecturers and other teaching staff is usually defined as contact time and this averages around 3 to 4 hours a week. This means that the majority of their time that they are spending studying even as on-campus students is actually online.

At UWA, like other universities, our libraries are now being converted into studying spaces that are constantly full of students plugged into their computers. Even during the so-called contact hours, students are multitasking with their laptops open taking notes and checking other sources of information.

Proponents of on-campus university education will argue that students will also be engaging with each other on team work and projects and socialising. This is true, but they will like all young people, be simultaneously interacting with each other via social media and messaging.

Again, what was once limited by being physically co-located has now shifted to making where you are, far less important. Add to this the fact that a large number of students don’t now bother to actually come onto campus because they are working or find the effort of travel too much, the difference between online and on-campus narrows.

There are obviously things like laboratory work that can only currently happen in a physical setting on-campus. But even these are now being challenged as large class sizes and consolidation of teaching make them impractical to run anymore.

We usually do not acknowledge the fact that our students who are enrolled for on-campus courses will actually spend only a fraction of their time in that physical space and even then, the significance of it being a university campus will be simply the place they happened to be when they were online.

We usually care about how our physical spaces look and what amenities are available but never notice poor wireless networks frustrating students trying to work online or worry about the less than professional online content provided to them for use in their studies.

Jim Barber is right to worry about the threat that MOOCs pose. For our students, the online world is now second nature even if they themselves are not fully aware of it. Most would not readily admit to the relative amounts of time they spend learning online versus non-online.

The move to an education system that was driven by the use of MOOCs would not be that great a leap for them.

On the other hand, when academics assess the threat they compare the quality of online with what they falsely perceive to be a largely mythical on-campus experience.

That is not to say that being on-campus to do online courses is a bad thing. UWA for example has a beautiful campus with increasingly attractive learning spaces for students to do exactly that.
The Conversation

David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Lack of Reward Mechanisms for Public Scholarship Severely Limits the Future of Public Engagement in the Academy

Anthony Giddens interview
Prof A Giddens interview (Policy Network)
by Christopher Meyers, Impact of Social Sciences:

Scholars are increasingly expected to consider the wider public in their teaching and research activities, but with little to negative promotion incentive. 

In fact, finds Christopher Meyers, much of what academics do does not fit into the standard boxes of teaching, scholarship and service.  

Perhaps it’s time to replace these categories with a single holistic and qualitative standard: high quality teacher-scholars, wherein all of one’s professional activities are judged per their contribution to the academy’s mission of educating, advancing ideas, creating an intellectual environment, and bettering the lives of others.

Writing this essay is a luxury that an untenured colleague likely could not afford. Unless a positive review is already a lock, she would be far better served by devoting her scarce research time to landing a peer-reviewed essay, grant, or book contract.

And that’s a real shame: if circulation estimates are even reasonably accurate, this blog entry will be read by a good 100 times more people than will the original peer-reviewed article that motivated its invitation.

Circulation is not, by any means, the only or even most important way to judge a work’s academic value; peer review, prestige of the publication site, and future citations are all at least as significant.

Peer review historically has been, with good reason, the gold standard; it is the most objective mechanism we have for judging quality.

Lacking such, blog entries are among the many faculty activities that fall into a kind of tenure void - they are generally not recognized as scholarship, but neither do they qualify as teaching or align with typical service duties.

Thus they are frequently ignored come review time, even though many play a major role in fulfilling the academy’s mission of educating, advancing ideas, creating an intellectual environment, and bettering the lives of others.

In fact, many do a far better job of fulfilling that mission than, say, publishing a minimally read essay in an obscure but nonetheless peer-reviewed journal, or serving, often in name only, on yet another campus committee.

I must stress, though, that I am not arguing for a reduction in research and scholarship; without it, universities are little better than trade schools.

Further, the corporatizing pressures are wholly in the other direction, pushing faculty toward heavier teaching loads, burgeoning student/faculty ratios, and demands for accountability and evidence of added-value.

Thinking, though, about examples like this essay and hearing stories like the one out of Columbia University from a few weeks ago should motivate reconsideration of the ways academic work has traditionally been classified and valued.

It turns out, in fact, that much of what we do does not neatly fit into the standard boxes of teaching, scholarship and service.

Some examples: Is a lower-division textbook better deemed teaching or scholarship? Where should a well-reviewed but unfunded grant proposal get placed? What about working closely with a colleague - cleaning up arguments, assisting with writing, challenging data sets - to help them land an eventual publication? Doing the same so a student’s paper gets accepted at a conference? Acting as a campus grievance officer to mediate disputes between faculty and administration?

All of these are vital to a university’s mission but even a cursory consideration of the abilities and intellectual work involved reveal how each could be included in at least two of the three standard categories, or none of them.

And yet, come review time, candidates are told to arbitrarily pick one of those boxes, or include it as some kind of tacked-on ‘other’.

These categorization problems apply all the more to public scholarship. Despite increasing awareness of its importance, the academy has not determined how to count it.

Per reports from colleagues all across the United States, it is most often placed under “service,” where, given that category’s relatively lower tenure weight, it is at best marginalized.

And yet such work is often incredibly demanding and deeply mission fulfilling: consider, as but one example, the intellectual rigor, multi-disciplinary knowledge and communication skills needed for clinical ethics consulting.

Despite this, such work likely won’t be counted toward tenure (unless, of course, it is one’s primary job assignment), and thus junior colleagues are (wisely) encouraged to minimize their involvement until they receive tenure and promotion.

Again, while public scholarship is the exemplar, the argument here is that the traditional categories are in fact arbitrary, with artificially delineated distinctions that do not rationally align with much, maybe even most, of what faculty do day after day.

Given this, people are increasingly calling for a scrapping of those categories, replacing them with a single holistic and qualitative standard: high quality teacher-scholars, wherein all of one’s professional activities are judged per their contribution to the academy’s mission of educating, advancing ideas, creating an intellectual environment, and bettering the lives of others.

Hurdles assuredly abound in making such a change, not the least of which is that faculty are deeply conservative, loathe to tinkering with tradition.

Conservatism, though, is of course not a good reason to resist change, especially not if, per the argument above, the existing system cannot effectively account for the range of important faculty work.

Better reasons for resisting include that much of public scholarship and other non-traditional faculty work is tough to quantify and even harder to externally review.

While quantification can become a crutch for avoiding the challenging - intellectually and emotionally challenging - task of qualitatively evaluating a colleague’s work, it also serves as a guidepost for candidates and it discourages vindictive or resource-driven reviews.

But such quantification is wholly possible: How many consults did one perform? How many op-eds or other popular works did one get into press? How many students were placed in good graduate or professional programs or landed high quality jobs? Were one’s efforts successful in changing corrupt or outdated policies?

External review is tougher, especially when one the public scholarship occurs in an environment in which such review is not a cultural norm.

But, again, it could be managed: decades of effort committed to standardizing the faculty evaluation process have produced procedures and practices that could be easily enough tweaked to acquire valid (e.g., confidential, even anonymous) external reviews.

See also the range of excellent suggestions produced by the Imagining America coalition in Ellison and Eatman, 2008, “Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University”.

I would close by noting that one of my academic mentors, many years ago, suffered by the lack of a clear mechanism for valuing his non-traditional work.

Hired by one dean on the (verbal) understanding that he would do extensive public philosophy, he was nonetheless released when a new dean deemed he did not have enough publications. Surely we are smart and creative enough to come up with procedures to make sure future public scholars do not experience the same fate.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Christopher Meyers, PhD, is a tenured full-professor of Philosophy and Director of the Kegley Institute of Ethics at California State University, Bakersfield (USA). He thus has the luxury of status to be able to devote time to this kind of public intellectualism.
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