From the Vice-Chancellor
Open Day is one of the best days in the University year, when we throw open our doors to thousands of prospective students, with their families and friends. Many are here for the first time, while most are considering the possibility of a university education as part of their future plans. The spirit of inquiry is in the air, and no doubt many of our future students, as much as our current students and staff, were tuned to the ABC for the recent Four Corners program "The Degree Factories" which looked at the challenges facing Australian universities. While there was little in the way of new information, it did contain an admission by our Federal Education Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, that he believes university education is not a right, but a privilege.
Now much can be made of this sort of claim - or indeed of the mere assumption that it has to be one or the other - and we need to be cautious. It's true that Dr Nelson's studies in medicine were fully subsidised at a time when Government policy held that education should be free. It's also true that times have changed, as well as funding priorities, and there has been an international shift towards a user-pays tertiary system that seeks to contain the cost to Government of higher education in a new policy environment. Then there's that troublesome word "privilege" which, both as a word and as a concept, is inimical to the concept of equal opportunity, and is charged with added societal meaning to do with elitism, wealth and social status. Having said that, I don't much like "right" either, which is too easily personalised, and can become exclusive in itself. I prefer to look at education as a responsibility.
The concept of responsibility immediately places us in a broader, better context. Attending university places a responsibility on the student: it is society's wish that everyone contribute to the best of their ability, and it is incumbent on the student to make the most of the opportunity that university education affords. In addition, society has a responsibility to ensure that those talents and abilities are not wasted, and are put to the best possible use. And as a vital community resource - owned, as I have said before, by the community - the University of Adelaide has a particular responsibility to provide its students with the best possible education.
The benefits of a university education are enormous. University graduates (especially from the leading universities, like Adelaide) have the best employment rates, the best salaries, and, I suspect, a better quality of life. The contribution and impact of our graduates on every facet of our society is simply enormous, and cannot be overstated.
Open Day is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the ways in which the University of Adelaide, through its graduates, students and staff, contributes to our society. We make this contribution because it is our responsibility to do so, and I like to think it's a responsibility we welcome, and one on which we thrive.
PROFESSOR JAMES A. McWHA