I have seen the future…

Long live our glorious friendship!

Long live our glorious friendship!

Last week the University of Sydney took a large delegation of academic thrill seekers to China for visits to a number of major Chinese universities. The Faculty of Arts, for once,  was very well represented, and many of us gave papers and held meetings with colleagues from a range of different disciplines. It was all quite interesting and I hope (eventually) productive. But also quite sobering. The scale of Chinese higher education – like just about anything in China, including the number of Manchester United supporters (deluded as they are) – is mind boggling. 11 million students applying for university places last year….plans to create up to 50 world class institutions either from scratch or by investing even more in already extremely strong universities…. etc.  One gets an acute sense of the world order of higher education beginning to shift in some interesting new directions….  But one also gets the sense that the Chinese are a bit tired of large delegations of well-meaning academics from the ‘West’ coming for a vist, as warm and as generous as their hospitality was. The sign that greeted us on entry to Fudan (the campus is on the outskirts of Shanghai) was a lovely surprise. But as we decamped from the bus for the ritual delegation picture and to take a closer look, you couldn’t help but notice the layers of paint and debris from previous welcomes to other delegations. It was almost, but not qute,  ‘The [Insert your University here] Day at Fudan University’.  Having said that, the students we encountered were marvellous; smart, open-minded, superb english and good fun. We need more of them here and we need to send more of our own to places like Fudan (which has an extremely strong tradition in the humanities and social sciences).

Meanwhile, global capitalism continues to roil. I wrote last time about the impact on the University and by now many of you will have attended Bob Kotic’s information sessions, or had a chance to hear the Dean address the Faculty meeting about the impact on the budget. Things could be much worse. But we are being asked to make some savings (6% worth) and that will affect us over the next couple of years. For 2009, at least, here is the upshot:

1. We’ll be able to make some savings by delaying some of our appointments by 6 months; most of the people we appoint rarely want to (or are able to) start on January 1st anyway;

2. Funding available for the School’s SDF scheme and Conference Travel Scheme will be reduced, in the order of 10-15%, perhaps slightly more. We will also have to reduce the amount of RIBG we return to grant holders, since we’ll need to use more of our RIBG for other pressing needs.

3. There will be less available for conference support, both from the School and the Faculty.

We are taking these measures in order to leave our part-time teaching budget pretty much intact. It might yet come under pressure, but my sense is that people would prefer to have slightly less available for conferences, travel and research support as opposed to seeing their workloads increase in terms of  beyond what is already a fairly heavy load. The situation is fluid, however, so I’ll continue to work with the Chairs on how best to handle these issues. If you have any comments or suggestions, don’t hesitate to get in touch (including via the comments link below).

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