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Speculative Diction

Higher education news round-up: September 2011


This month saw a number of articles and blog posts on the theme of academic publishing, or rather, the failure and corruption of academic publishing as an industry and the need for its reform. This issue was raised critically by UK journalist George Monbiot in a column last month.

Because academics rely on journals for career advancement, this is a crucial issue. Young academics are particularly dependent on the publishing system for career advancement (I’ve written about this in the past). If bigger “players” in the postsecondary world begin to take up the cause, we may see implementation of (some of) the radical changes that are being proposed. Already academic librarians have taken up the cause, citing among other issues the egregious costs of journals and shrinking budgets for library materials. Now, Princeton University has adopted a policy of Open Access that “will prevent researchers from giving the copyright of scholarly articles to journal publishers (PDF), except in certain cases where a waiver may be granted.”

Another theme of critique in the news has been that of the economic value of higher education, one of the ongoing public debates in an era of rising tuition, increased government spending on PSE, and economic instability. While the question of what universities add to the economy is hotly debated, critiques of student debt are clearly necessary, given the relationship between debt and larger economic crises and the ways in which postsecondary systems are being expanded often through reliance on (increasingly complex) student loan programs. I would argue that the assessment of educational value primarily in terms of individual benefits such as jobs and lifetime earnings brings its own theoretical and practical problems.

Canadian tidbits: University enrollment in Canada has reached an all-time high in 2011. Statistics Canada released the salary data for full-time academic staff in 2010-2011. University campuses have experienced beginning-of-year “copyright chaos” after opting out of the new Access Copyright tariff. And lastly, Canadians are heading for political overload with multiple provincial elections coming up in October, including PEI, Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and Ontario (my summary of the Ontario election platforms is here).

International Tidbits: The elite Sciences Po university in France has an accessibility initiative for lower-income students that’s succeeding, and they’re matching their peers academically. In the UK, a (male) ex-student of the LSE Gender Institute at the London School of Economics is using anti-discrimination law to sue for…discrimination, based on his claim that gender studies is biased against men. An Australian report released this month indicates that many young academics would like to leave the country due to unsatisfactory working conditions in the universities. UK mathematicians have responded to ongoing policy changes in higher education with a letter to the Prime Minister. In New Zealand the “Voluntary Student Membership bill” or VSM has passed, which expected to have a serious effect on the funding and autonomy of student associations.

Melonie Fullick
Melonie Fullick is a PhD candidate at York University. The topic of her dissertation is Canadian post-secondary education policy and its effects on the institutional environment in universities.
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