A degree of concern

Christian Mauri

CHRISTIAN MAURI is one of the organisers of Politics in the Pub, the Fremantle Network’s thought-provoking gathering over a pint where the audience mixes it with experts on issues from business during Covid to electric vehicles. This Tuesday (August 31) they’re doing it again, looking at the somewhat depressing changes foisted on Australian universities. It’s at The Local Hotel from 7pm.

OUR universities are undergoing dramatic reductions in faculty numbers. 

Courses are being restructured and majors in social sciences and STEM disciplines are being made unavailable.

Why is this happening and what does it mean for our university staff, students, and graduates?

These are the questions that The Fremantle Network and five amazing speakers will be tackling with the Politics in the Pub audience at The Local Hotel on Tuesday night.

While my role is usually to organise the events and then let the speakers and audience bring the magic, this month’s topic is close to home.

I spent my twenties pursuing an academic career while working on my thesis, “The Precariat, Ph.D.: On Disposable Academics and the University System”. 

The first in my family to go to university, the desire to become an academic was sparked on contact with the Longeragan lecture theatre at Murdoch University, where Dr Ian Cook blew my mind with his weekly lectures for the intro unit Structure, Thought and Reality (STAR). 

Five years later I gave my own lecture on the fathers of sociology in the same packed theatre. It was a major personal milestone: I wasn’t paid much, but I put all my time and passion into it and my best mates came to support me on the day. 

Lectures

I’m told that the recording of the lecture was used for a few years after, though I never heard anything about this from the university. 

From there I swung from unit to unit, across the non-teaching periods of unemployment, working for free on publications and on presentations for conferences that I had to pay to attend. 

To my mind it was all worth it. When there was work, I loved it, and everything else served to make me that little bit more competitive for the real goal: continuing employment – a career. Even my PhD thesis was initially intended to improve my knowledge of the higher education system and the world of academics – the title came later. 

In 2020, following years of research into the state of play, and having seen firsthand how the academics that inspired me and the values that I admired were being treated by our universities, I decided that my future would be more lovingly spent outside of the higher education sector.

This is fine, for life is long: exploration, changing paths, and all that jazz are part of the deal. 

What is important is that we recognise and discuss the changes that are taking place before us, be they at UWA, Murdoch, or in the projections awaiting high school leavers in years to come.

For many, the restructuring of our institutions, reimagining of our workforces, and recalibration of our values around education are all cause for serious concern and sincerest commiserations. 

For others, they are difficult responses to a changing world that presents exciting opportunities.

Having spent years looking into the topic, first with my heart as an undergraduate with stars in my eyes, and then with my head as a PhD with aspirations for a relatively secure family life, I’ve come to appreciate that there are always more edges, planes, and angles to the discussion.    

Tuesday’s event is an opportunity to hear from a professor, a student rep, a journalist, a union man, and even a former vice-provost from over east who recently made Fremantle her home. 

But the speakers are only half of the story: Politics in the Pub is about audience input and warm conversation over a good meal at the lovely Local – no prior experience or credentials required. We kick off at 7pm and encourage you to get in early to secure a comfortable spot with friends.   

Featuring

Mark Beeson: The UWA Professor of International Politics, Mark has written extensively on the changing role and responsibilities of higher education in Australia 

Sue Willis: Formerly the Vice-Provost of Education Programs and Professor of Mathematics at Monash University, a Dean at Murdoch University, and Ombuds at RMIT, Sue recently moved to Fremantle.

Aja Styles: Senior Writer at WA Today, Aja has covered the changes to our universities with passion and insight. If you’ve been reading about higher ed in the news, you’ve certainly read her work. 

Richard Hamilton: Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Notre Dame University, Richard has dedicated his energies to standing up for higher education staff as the Branch President for the National Tertiary Education Union.

Eleanor White: Currently undertaking a Master of Biomedical Science at UWA, Eleanor brings insight on the student experience as President of the Societies Council at the UWA Student Guild.

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