Robert Phiddian reviews 'Speaking of Universities' by Stefan Collini

It stands to reason, apparently, that universities are inefficient creatures that need ever more market discipline and corporate responsiveness to fulfil their potential. After all, what is education but an industry, and British industry is plainly more successful than British universities. Or perhaps not. Stefan Collini points acerbically to the fact that British industry (with its mixed record) has for decades been held up as a template for the transformation of Britain’s world-leading universities. Why do we think like this? Why don’t we instead require banks to restructure along the lines of universities?

Collini’s is a very British book, yet the story he tells is eerily resonant in Australia. Often, we got there first. And ‘there’ is a collective loss of nerve in the value of education and research as something broader than a strict accounting of dollar value to individuals and the economy. I simply do not get up every morning singing the Flinders University song and burning with a desire to lift our place in global rankings. My commitments are to educating students in the richness of literature, to researching interesting and meaningful things in culture, and to participating in a collegial world of scholars. Were I properly motivated by profit and prestige, I would have stuck with that Law degree I abandoned in 1982. Education is full of pitiful victims of false-consciousness like me. It wouldn’t work without us.

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