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On Leaving Academic Life

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

The poet Shelley once observed that “Nought may endure but mutability”. He highlighted the fact that change is inevitable and need not be feared because it can lead to positive renewal.

After having worked in tertiary education for well over two decades, it’s time for me to focus on creative endeavours. It wasn’t something I’d envisaged at the start of last year, but when my alma mater, the University of Melbourne invited “senior” academics to apply for an early retirement package, it was an offer to good to refuse.

I’m now in the privileged position to be able to embrace change (thank you to the Keating government for introducing compulsory superannuation).

Many of my University colleagues are not in the same boat. According to Universities Australia, in response to the COVID19 pandemic, over 17,000 jobs were lost on University campuses across Australia during 2020. So many members of the academic precariat have faced or are facing redundancy.

As a beneficiary of student scholarships and a free undergraduate education, I was one of a cohort of first-generation Uni students. It’s been difficult to watch the erosion of public funding for universities over the decades and the resulting scramble towards fundraising from external sources.

Books by authors such as Richard Hil and Margaret Sims, among others, have been scathing about the rise of managerialism in and the corporatisation of Australian universities.

How can the situation improve? Raewyn Connell’s book, The Good University, is a call for radical change. Her final chapter provides examples of alternatives to the status quo and, in recent presentations such as this one, she’s spoken about Visva-Bharati University which aims to challenge colonial perspectives and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela which provides tertiary education for working-class students.

Many countries still offer a free education for tertiary students and protests such as FeesMustFall in South Africa highlight the need to rethink what is meant by a public university.

Despite the temptation to view the tertiary sector in Australia as heading in a downward spiral, it might be worth recalling Shelley’s words:

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