Universities occupy paradoxical places in contemporary society. The demand for higher education seems to be ever growing, and yet universities are never not in some kind of crisis.
Covid-19 has accelerated a funding crisis in higher education that has been in the making for a long time. In few places has that been more evident than in Australia, where the breakdown of international travel exposed just how intensely universities had come to rely on international student revenue. Several universities have started laying off staff, and sector leaders openly worry about significant job losses over the coming years.
Yet, universities continue to occupy a pivotal place in the Australian economy: as large employers, as a major export industry, as educators of skilled workers and active citizens, as anchor institutions for many regions, as nodes for migration, as creators of new knowledge and solutions to problems, as battlegrounds for public debate. These diverse roles raise important questions about how universities are valued and what universities are for, questions that are critical for charting the future of the sector in a time of great uncertainty.
Our panel of experts will discuss the position of higher education in the broader social and economic configuration, exploring how universities fit within ‘market society’ in Australia and globally during Covid-19 and beyond. The speakers will each explore a different dimension of this relationship – workforce education and training, international student experiences, government funding changes, and the social contract between universities and the wider community – and chart some potential future pathways.
• A/Prof Gaby Ramia – expert in public and social policy and governance, particularly in relation to work, employment, education and welfare.
• A/Prof Julia Horne – expert in Australian cultural and social history, including the history of landscape, travel and tourism, and the history of higher education.
• Dr Gareth Bryant – political economist with focus on how public policy and public finance can create more sustainable, equal and democratic economies.
• Ms Alison Pennington – Senior Economist with the Centre for Future Work. Her research focuses on work in Australia today, and in the future.
• Dr Ainsley Elbra – researcher in the field of international political economy. Her work focuses on globalisation, private governance and business-state relations.