Image for What has happened to University culture? Whither the Launceston campus?

The time when universities were called sheltered workshops for the intellectually abled has long since passed. Corporate thinking has utterly absorbed the culture, which essentially means it has become amoral.

That is a fact not a pejorative put down: corporations don’t promote moral outcomes, simply commercial consequences. Universities once they adopted the corporate ethos turned from education to the education business, from knowledge to selling information.

In this corporatist model students are strip-mined for revenue and staff loaded with ‘benchmarks’ of performance none of which are applied to corporate echelons who live by unknown ‘other’ standards. The corporate model is exploitative, drawing advantage into its managerial ranks, inspired by enlightened self-interest.

In this model you seek the most return for the least input: it is a quantitative not qualitative model. Quantitative is ruthlessly measurable; qualitative is messy and subjective, dealing with abstractions like ‘value’. 

The new on-line and videolinked technologies reinforce a model for disseminating information and chunks of ‘stuff’. They have their place, a real place, but knowledge is where you take information and turn in it into learning, which requires interpersonal dynamics and shared discourse. Universities increasingly cannot afford such ‘expensive’ media as they shift to the lowest cost system of information transfer.

However increasingly students crave the interpersonal: they are satiated with interactive technologies and information that is only a Google away. They want personal, they want ideas that create those wondrous ‘Aha’ moments of learning, those Damascene moments of realisation. They want to be inspired not stuffed like geese.

If UTAS was not so eager to emulate the worst fashions of American tertiary practice and looked rather at Scandinavian and more alternate models there are exciting possibilities for small campuses like Launceston based on it greatest strength: providing the personal in learning. Implicit is shared and cross-disciplinary learning; seminar and dynamic discussion where you learn to learn, not lectures from a podium.

The appeal should be to not only youth around Australia but local young people who want more than the vocational. There is a market for learning that goes beyond simple vocation to values of right living and affirmation of place. To attract those vast numbers of local people put off by elitist learning we need something that speaks to their needs. 

While personal is a strength few universities can offer Launceston (and Burnie) have other appeals: environmental contact, issues of sustainability in local intensive agriculture, including the vital issue of water and the list is multiple. No one should dictate at this time the model of a dynamic northern centre but one should be attempted.

There is a community of interest and academic expertise that could address a Launceston (and north west) campus that complements Hobart rather than acts as an outpost. Or branch office.  It just requires more imagination than a city campus with Associate degrees.

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