We’re really delighted to introduce a new CASA contributor, Agnes Bosanquet, who has been researching the changing values Australian universities have promoted in their institutional Graduate Attribute statements. Do universities hold to these values in their own hiring practices?
If wizards are responsible for making house elves what they are, who (or what) are our universities making? What are the qualities, characteristics and capabilities of the people universities create?
For one answer to this question, take a look at graduate attributes statements. These statements articulate an institution’s idealised vision of the students they seek to develop, and the knowledge, values and dispositions they wish to impart. With colleagues, I have analysed 20 years worth at 39 Australian universities, a task more interesting than it sounds!
Take these three (anonymous) examples:
[Our graduates] appraise and critique the potentially powerful social and economic effects of enterprise and business activities on particular groups and individuals.
The University seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.
Our graduates should be aware of disadvantage and social justice, and be willing to participate to help create a wiser and better society.
For a different answer to the question about the people universities create, look no further than how institutions treats their casual staff. As previously posted on CASA, the hollow rhetoric of graduate qualities rankles. There is a great disjuncture between the values espoused in graduate attributes statements and the treatment of casuals. And the bottom line is that graduate attributes are predominantly taught by casual academics.
So what can we learn from this? For all their rhetorical flourishes, university graduate attributes do genuinely exhort university graduates to action. This starts in the classroom. Together, teachers and students need to question the role of higher education in the development of capabilities such as ethical practice or moral standards; to interrogate the principles and values that underpin institutional graduate attributes; and to challenge to what extent attributes are universal, inclusive and achievable.
The contradiction between graduate attribute statements and university staffing practices is somewhere to start—to hold institutions accountable for the values that they promote to their students, and to ask that these are expressed clearly in the way in the institution itself behaves.