Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dr James Kierstead: The future of our universities

The Future of Our Universities is now in the past. The long-awaited symposium, hosted by the Initiative, took place on Wednesday at the Royal Society Apārangi in Wellington. It brought together senior academics, politicians, and policy wonks for a day-long discussion of university reform.

The ongoing cuts at several universities loomed large. One speaker with experience in banking regulation argued that our universities’ finances are basically sound, with adequate liquidity and very low debt. Others warned that university balance sheets can create a false sense of security. Property assets, for example, are not easily realisable.

Many attendees argued that the university funding model is fundamentally broken. Government funding increases continually lag behind inflation and universities are unable to set their own prices in the form of fees. Meanwhile, New Zealand lags behind most of its OECD peers in research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Another topic that loomed large was mātauranga Māori (Māori traditional lore) and its place in university education. One speaker argued forcefully that what she called the ‘indigenisation’ of our universities undermines their fundamental purpose as truth-seeking institutions. Another insisted that indigenous traditions can preserve local knowledge, which can often be sensibly integrated into mainstream science.

A teacher of mātauranga Māori at primary schools shared that though he loved his ancestral culture, he also valued science, which he saw as a distinct endeavour.

The final topic that came up again and again was free speech. Several academics shared their experiences of feeling unable to express their views, or even of being disciplined for them by university managers.

For one speaker, it is a mistake to conflate free speech with academic freedom. She sees the latter as more specialised and believes that it applies only in academics’ areas of expertise. Others insisted that academic freedom and free speech have considerable overlap, with academic freedom best understood as an enhancement of the universal right to free speech.

Three politicians – Labour’s Deborah Russell, ACT leader David Seymour, and Minister for Tertiary Education Penny Simmonds – addressed the symposium. The day ended with a barnstorming run-through of the current state of American universities by the writer Jonathan Rauch, whose visit was sponsored by the Free Speech Union.

Universities are among New Zealand’s oldest institutions. Their present situation is not great. But though our symposium on The Future of Our Universities is now past, it engendered optimism that, with careful reform, the future of our universities can still be bright.

Dr James Kierstead is Senior Lecturer in Classics at Victoria University of Wellington.This article was first published HERE


CXH said...

I am surprised the various student bodies allowed such hurtful speech to take place. Perhaps they were still cowering in their wardrobes, recovering from the meeting that almost was at Victoria Uni.

Anonymous said...

James although I didn't attend the meeting in question I totally disagree with your view.

I sort of feel your piece is along the lines, of, move along thanks, nothing to see here, no issues here at all....

Please advise if you are a leftie, ( I've got about an 83% chance of being correct) as our learning institutions are stacked with radical lefties, idealogical theorists, who are pretty much useless in the real world. Ditto our msm. I'm guessing you are, as you appear imo to be glossing over the disgraceful state our learning institutions are in ( the left view) .

I'm really hoping that, after the media and the public service, your institutions are next in line for a long overdue massive overhaul. They are a disgrace and I pretty much refuse to fund them in their current state. I would guess I'm not alone in those sentiments.

Anonymous said...

They have no future - dominated by wokeism and CRT.

Objective VCs are needed to clean out the rot. But this is too far gone now to correct. e.g. Robertson at Otago - a sad joke.

Defund and start again.

Anonymous said...

What is fundamentally broken is not the funding model, but the professors and the "education" provided. Time to defund anything that doesn't materially contribute to the economic wellbeing of New Zealand, like Engineering.