Impact agenda ‘at odds with future workplace needs’

Don’t let immediate employability focus undermine ‘blue sky teaching’, chancellor tells counterparts

十月 16, 2018

Australian National University chancellor Gareth Evans has drawn a parallel between blue sky research and teaching, saying that an obsession with measurement could leave students ill-prepared for a world “where the content and context of employment-relevant knowledge is changing all the time”.

In a call to arms to fellow chancellors, Professor Evans warned universities not to become pigeonholed, teaching only the skills “that are immediately useful for today’s world”.

“Those of us in leadership positions in the university sector have a particular responsibility to get out that message,” he said.

“If that sense of preparing for the future is to be consolidated in the minds of potential students – and industry, government, philanthropists, the community generally – it has to be articulated by all of us much more insistently and persistently.”

Professor Evans told Times Higher Education that universities faced the “competing imperatives” of demonstrating their impact, through measures such as graduate employment rates, while preparing people for an uncertain future where current jobs may have vanished.

“The main thing is not to lose track of the second in terms of being obsessed with the first,” he said.

“Maybe ‘blue sky teaching’ is an alternative way of making the point. Educators have a responsibility to educate in the broadest rather than the narrowest sense, and we shouldn’t get too spooked by the imperative to be seen to be delivering immediate employability.

“University environments should be designed to stimulate thinking and creativity, and not necessarily being on a vocationally oriented treadmill.”

Professor Evans said that much research, also, was “worth doing for its own sake as well as for the serendipitous results that sometimes arise from following your nose”.

This included research in the humanities, where “the potential for measurable real-world practical impact may be non-existent”, he said. “These are the areas finding external financial support ever more difficult to come by.”

He said that the “distinctive value-added of a university” included nurturing the capacity of individuals and society “to create and apply new knowledge, in ways that will be relevant for the world of the future”.

“Universities are not simply a sociable rite of passage before joining a graduate training programme,” he said, citing former Hong Kong governor and current University of Oxford chancellor Chris Patten. “Lifelong learning is going to have to become the norm for anyone who hopes to stay employed.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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