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17 Group: The other side of excellence – some ugly realities of neoliberal university education

The next meeting of the 17 Group will be held on Wednesday the 6th of May at 7 pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End. The topic will be:

The other side of excellence – some ugly realities of neoliberal university education”.

The speaker will be Richard Hil, author of the recently published book Selling Students Short, which explores these themes.

Here is Richard’s summary of his talk:
More students than ever before go to university, and what they experience there is vastly different from even a decade ago. The hi-tech libraries, designer lecture theatres, funky cafes and elaborate sporting facilities hide a reality very different to all the marketing hype.

Class sizes have blown out, facilities are often inadequate, technology has increasingly replaced face-to-face teaching, and staff are weighed down by impossible workloads. Students struggle with ‘work-life balance’, work long hours in often low paid, casual jobs, feel lonely and isolated, and their education leaves them in debt for years.

In this talk, Richard will lift the lid on today’s university experience, drawing on numerous studies as well as interviews with 150 students around the country. Far from producing rounded citizens, better partners and neighbours or flexible, job-ready graduates, Richard argues universities are turning out individuals often unable to obtain relevant work and lacking in some of the most basic professional requirements, and without the analytical and critical skills that once were the hallmark of a university education.

Dr Richard Hil is Associate Professor, School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University, co-founder of the Ngara Institute, and author of Whackademia: An Insider’s Account of the Troubled University. His new book is Selling Students Short: Why you won’t get the university education you deserve.

Before calling on Leon in our usual hopefully persuasive way, we researched his own educational history to aid our case for his attendance. It amounted more or less to this:

At the age of eight, he was sent to school in Odessa, where he spent eight years with the family of his mother’s nephew, a liberal intellectual. When he moved to Nikolayev in 1896 to complete his schooling, he was drawn into an underground socialist circle and introduced to Marxism. After briefly attending the University of Odessa, he returned to Nikolayev to help organize the underground South Russian Workers’ Union.

We told him how important the current issues seemed to us, not only for this country but worldwide, but apart from making his usual jokes about ‘that mincing poodle’ and his role in the last budget, all we could get out of him were some rather narcissistic questions about the popular British TV show “University Challenge”.

“I heard”, said he, “that in 1975 the University of Manchester’s team apparently felt the need to protest against what they saw as the over-representation of Oxford and Cambridge in the competition. They did this by answering “Trotsky”, “Lenin”, “Marx” etc. to all the questions, hoping to make the programme unbroadcastable.”

With what seemed genuine scholarly interest in his perfect but heavily accented English he asked us, “Does anyone know if this really happened, or is it an urban myth ? Did the team really keep up the ‘revolutionary’ answers for the whole half-hour ? Was the programme ever broadcast ? And does it still exist in the archive ?”

Leave Leon to ask these questions in his probable absence. Come to the meeting yourself with your much less narcissistic ones. It will do you good.

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