Higher Education – a force for social good?

Year: 2019

Author: Manathunga, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the context of disinvestment in HE by the Australian government, yet tightening regulation and demands for accountability, we are witnessing a shift towards individual employability discourses as the primary outcome of university education (Clegg, 2010). Research metrics that value research grant income, Q1 journal publications and citation figures dominate discussions about the ‘impact’ of university research. Even the introduction of impact and engagement agendas in research assessment exercises tend to reward economic rather than social impacts (Watermeyer and Chubb, 2018; Wilkinson 2017). These trends have seen the triumph of discourses that construct higher education as a private good (Williams, 2012). This has displaced ideas of the university as a force for social or public good.

Building upon previous invited panel discussions from the last few years, this panel-and-audience dialogue, sponsored by the AARE’s Professional and Higher Education (PHE) SIG, seeks to explore whether higher education in the 21st century can be perceived as a force for social good. It draws upon arguments that we need to re-conceptualise research impact to focus on ‘the good that researchers can do in the world’ (Reed, 2017). Reed argues that this means that our research must be significant, that it must make a real difference to people’s lives and that it must have the capacity to reach large sections of the population (Reed, 2017). John Laws (2004) has also explored the significance of research methods in creating as well as studying social realities and suggests that it is time for research methods to deal with the messy realities of the social world if they are to work towards the social good.

If we are to ensure that higher education could be a force for social good, then we need to value and draw upon transcultural, queer and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge systems and engage with these communities. In this panel, speakers will present short arguments for the particular role universities can play in building the social good from transcultural, gender, sexualities, queer and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives. The session will then be opened up for dialogue with the audience about the ways in which the 21st century university can act as a force for social good. The session will be chaired by Professor Jill Blackmore whose research has investigated gender, social justice and leadership issues in higher education.