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Colin Steele


Dear Prime Minister and Minister Dutton,

As writers committed to protecting and defending human rights, and as citizens of conscience, we the undersigned wish to express our deep abhorrence of the ongoing mistreatment of refugees in Australia's offshore detention centres.

A ...

British novelist, translator, and critic, Tim Parks, based in Italy since 1981, is well credentialled to examine the changing world of books. Parks says, however, that while he wanted to comment on ‘writing itself, and reading, and books’, he didn’t want to do it ‘in a precious way’.

In Where I’m Reading From, Parks is ...

Hannah Forsyth, a lecturer in history at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, begins her first chapter with the words: ‘In 1857 all of the Arts students at the University of Sydney could fit into a single photograph.’ Some neo-liberal critics of universities would argue that it has been downhill ever since. By World War II, Forsyth estimates that there were still only about 10,000 university students in Australia. Forsyth succinctly highlights the historical changes from a small élite higher education system, dominated by white male ‘god’ professors, to the current complex system, where more than one million students face major changes in higher education funding and settings.

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John Carey’s The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books has three intertwined components: autobiographical memories from Carey, a prolific author and book reviewer and former Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford; his six-decade interaction with that university; and ‘English literature and me, how we met, how we got on, what came of it’. The book is also a microcosm of twentieth- century Britain and its educational, intellectual, and class systems. Carey, born in 1934 into a far from wealthy family, benefited from the grammar school system that enabled him to win a scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford, where he gained a congratulatory first in English.

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Helen Small, Professor of English at Pembroke College, Oxford, adopts a pragmatic and non-polemical approach in addressing The Value of the Humanities. This topic has been much debated recently as political and economic pressures on universities and funding agencies have led to an alleged devaluation of the humanities.

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Dr Johnson wrote in his review of Soame Jenyns’s A Free Enquiry into the Nature of the Origin of Good and Evil: ‘The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.’ One could argue, in the context of contemporary scholarly writing, that increasingly the only end is to satisfy the evaluative demands of research councils and university administrators. The controversial use of quantitative publications figures, as in the 2012 Sydney University assessment of individual researchers, reflects the fact that scholarly behaviour, more than ever, is being shaped by the reward trail, one that is almost as dependent on where and how you publish as it is on the actual content.

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 There is, understandably, much umbrage and anxiety in Canberra following Fairfax’s decision to remove its literary editor at the Canberra Times and to rely exclusively on literary reviews and commentaries emanating from Fairfax’s two main broadsheets, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald – broadsheets that will themselves beco ...