Lecturer of the Year to discuss future of Universities
The rise of online courses as well as the financial restructuring of Australia’s tertiary sector have seen new pressures on the university community, which must respond by strengthening their engagement with local communities, according to the Prime Minister’s Lecturer of the Year, Professor James Arvanitakis.
He says universities are increasingly being called to account in the modern world.
“With so many online courses available for potential students nowadays, with many promising all the content without the costs or time commitment, many people are questioning what traditional universities have to offer,” he says.
Professor Arvanitakis is currently looking at youth and citizenship as part of an Australian Research Council grant, and has found young people are isolated from government programs because the initiatives focus on what is expected of them, rather than what they can contribute.
“In much the same way, many university students can go through uni only knowing when to hand in their assignments and sit their exams, rather than being exposed to the whole range of programs that let them contribute their unique skills and passions,” he says.
Professor Arvanitakis also found that the broader public often sees universities as disconnected from the community. This has been driven in part by ‘shock jocks’ who often describe universities as ‘ivory towers’ and have undertaken a systematic undermining of science, especially around climate change debates.
“Unfortunately ‘shock jocks’ have become the new public intellectuals, often spreading unsupported rumours around issues such as climate change, refugees and economics, twisting the facts to grab attention,” he says.
“It is time that the university community better connected with the broader public and confronted untruths.”
The role for universities is to strive for a more just society and promote a sense of active citizenship both within the student body and beyond, according to Professor Arvanitakis.
“What I believe universities provide young Australians is a place where they can work to change our society by joining social movements, learning more about the way the world works, and engaging with the community to be a positive force for change,” he says.
“This means that academics and universities in turn need to work hard to engage with their students to help them experience more than just exams and assignments, by linking them with community organisations that promote questioning minds, democratic values and an engaged and active citizenry.”
4 April 2013