A crisis for institutions, opportunities for teachers

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Based on the blog post of the same name, this presentation is for the Course Convener's Meeting at the University of Canberra, 6 December 2010.

A crisis?[edit]

The Browne Report released on 12 October, and effectively rubber stamped in the savage public sector cuts announced yesterday, was simply the final nail in the coffin. Under the beguiling but misleading title Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education it effectively announced that university degrees are no longer considered a public good but a private investment.

—James Vernon. The end of the public university in England. Inside Higher Ed, October 2010


The Higher Education Base Funding Review will build on the Government’s higher education reforms by establishing the principles for public investment in Australian higher education, the funding levels required for Australia to remain internationally competitive and the appropriate level of public and private contribution.

—Stephen Parker relaying DEEWR's press release. Higher Education Base Funding Review. UC Vice-Chancellor's Blog, October 2010.


While a great deal of virtual ink has been spilled over the need to reform our schools and universities, I think we need to question how we manage education altogether. For it is manifest that the institution, the form in which we have managed education and society in general, has ultimately come to failure.

—Stephen Downes. Deinstitutionalizing Education. Huffington Post, November 2010


In the model of coercive capitalism proposed by Naomi Klein, the impact of crisis is used to justify a tightening and a quickening of the dominant neoliberal ideology. This ideology highlights the transfer control of the economy and state or public assets from public to the private sector under the belief that it will produce a more efficient [smaller, less regulatory] government and improve economic outputs.

—Richard Hall. Open education, cracks, and the crisis of higher education. DMU Learning Exchanges, October 2010


‘Unfreezing’ (Lewin, 1951) is an organizational term that has come to mean many things. First, it means that for change to take place members of the organization must see not only a need for change but also an urgent reason to change. Slaughter and Leslie have made the case for urgency by showing us that, out of financial necessity, higher education is already undergoing a quiet revolution that is having some unintended consequences. Second, Lewin’s concept of unfreezing warns us that attempts to change without addressing an organization’s cultures and values will fail in the long run.

—Susan Awbrey. Making the Invisible Hand Visible. The Case for Dialogue About Academic Capitalism. Oakland University Journal, Spring 2003 - Issue Number 5


An opportunity?[edit]

In particular we might now revisit the critical work on the neoliberal university, the student as consumer and the marketisation of HE, in order to critique and negate the path that we are pushed towards. This work identifies the types of controlled, economically-driven, anti-humanist organisations that will possibly emerge, and the ways in which oppositional, alternative, meaningful social change might be realised.

—Richard Hall. Open education, cracks, and the crisis of higher education. DMU Learning Exchanges, October 2010


I've been trying to think inside out from the institution for 4 or 5 years now. How might those who presently work inside the institutions, work in such a way that makes ready, or feeds opportunities that are developing outside the institutions? I reckon HE teachers ought to beat the policy makers and bosses at their own game, and start setting up for independent, contract work. This means taking full ownership of the units you teach, and start running then independently from the institution, contracted back into the institutions, while they remain.


  1. Start with your unit outline.
  2. Copy it to Wikiversity and chuck out all that guff, make it fun, engaging, and readable. Link to the guffy version if legal requires it. If your Institution has draconian IP policy, work to change it, or change the unit outline enough to qualify as original work.
  3. Start networking online around the subjects of your units, update the wiki as new resources and ideas come your way.
  4. Refine your Wikiversity entry and start editing all related Wikipedia articles so that links are prevalent from there to your Wikiversity course.
  5. Set up a blog/website for your units, or create a page on your existing blog/website for the units you are developing to teach and assess.
  6. Ditch the learning management system and any other platform the institution prescribes (such as email or lecture recording facilities), get it all out in the open, on commonly available and tried and true services, establish your own online identity, use the links, RSS and embed codes to quickly populate an institution's LMS if you must.
  7. Set up a Google docs spreadsheet with all the data the institution needs for auditing, such as attendance, contact details, demographics, participation and completion rates, feedback, etc.
  8. Work out how much it costs your target universities to run the unit, then work out how you can teach and assess that unit for less.
  9. Find other teachers going independent, try to build a network who together might be able to offer units for the better half of a degree, using this approach.
  10. Offer all the universities in the world your service, outlining the cost benefit analysis you've done for them (like Google Docs did). All you need from them is assurance they will give your graduates the rubber stamp on your assessed and moderated say so.
  11. Negotiate a 3-4 year contract with each university, to make sure you have time to refine and develop, and so that degree hunting students have consistency in you.
  12. Run your unit open access, inviting non enrolled students to participate, offering them post study assessment (Recognition of Prior Learning) should they ever be wealthy enough to pay for the paper.
  13. Author a textbook for the unit on Wikibooks, and desktop publish it to Lulu.com, charge a small royalty for the printed version.
  14. Create quirky merchandise for your unit, again charging small royalties.
  15. Set up a donation widget on your unit website to take donations from anyone who shows their love.
  16. Make sure your running costs include time for research and development. I reckon 5-10 hours for every hour of teaching and assessment as a rough guide.
  17. Get smart with your work, think about ways to use community projects like Wikipedia's Featured Article initiative and other ideas, or consider pay it forward assignments, to help with assessment and other workload challenges.


None of this necessarily preserves the work of teaching subjects that are in low demand unfortunately. In this regard, I would look to associations and other outside bodies to subsidise the running costs of your units with sponsorship. Whack a heritage order on ancient Greek studies etc. Try to find sustainable online markets for your niche service.


Examples[edit]

There is a chance that Wikiversity will become the Internet’s free university just as Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia on the Internet.

—Leinonen, Vadén, Suoranta. Learning in and with an open wiki project: Wikiversity’s potential in global capacity building. First Monday [Online], Volume 14 Number 2 (7 February 2009)



See also[edit]

If this idea is too brief for you, you can look back at my previous posts outlining this idea.