Topic Discovery

How do the professionals do it?

Hats off to every academic out there. You are incredible. How you sustain any mental health normality on the roller coaster that is publishing is beyond my understanding. Today it is official. Leo and I made it. From an initial chat in September 2015 we are now a paper in January 2017. I mean I thought the APS was slow, but this has been a mind blowing experience and a roller coaster of emotions.

First the research doesn’t do what you expect (took us three different approaches to the data to get it to work) then there is the writing, editing, clarification, editing, rewriting (and that’s just Leo and I). Then comes the rejection, then the acceptance with edits, then the extra edits and then the publication. I’m tired just writing this.

So, kudos to you academics. You are awe inspiring (awesome).

On a different note, I had a thought last night about my title. I know I get hung up on it (see here and here and here and here and others…..) but for some reason having a title is really important. Anyway, I realised yesterday while doing my literature review for what feels like the 100th time, accounting is about giving an account. An account is like a story, which is a narrative, which is a discourse. This led to a title of:

A critique using accounts of Australian university education from those involved in a Bachelor of Accounting

This won’t be my last title, but I like it. It has a simplicity I’ve been missing and basically says what I’m doing. I want to bring simplicity back, I lost it a bit last year, but it’s mine if I want it. Comments on the title more than welcome! Writing is a lonely business and I’m an extroverted thinker.


And a big thank you to the neoliberal Diane!

Today I went to an awesome presentation held by Prof. Raewyn Connell called “Intellectuals and Universities in Neoliberal Times”. I only went because the wonderful Diane said she couldn’t make it and would I mind given it’s in my field. Oh wow!

There are moments were things line up, become clear, the clouds part, it is so obvious why didn’t I see it before. This presentation was this moment.

She wasn’t saying anything I didn’t really already know but she did have a cool slant to take which is always nice. And her presentation style was really good. She used people images to tell the story and for me that was something I’d not seen before. A clever approach. However, it was at the end when she started to talk solutions. What can be done? That’s where I realised the point of my thesis is to provide information so people can seek change. Prof Connell said she’d tried economic rational discussions to attempt change but this doesn’t really work with university management, in her experience. This resonated as I had often tried to use logic in the face of university management only to be met with blank stares and power struggles. What Prof Connell suggested was activism. And what activism needs is a catalyst.

Now if Laclau and Mouffe have taught me anything, it’s that revolution is an organic process where a range of factors combine together in a way that can’t really be planned. What is needed though is antagonism and logics of equivalence and difference existing at the same time. My thesis will show the logics and will hopefully provide understanding for possible leverages to use to become active in changing the direction of university education in Australia, because quite frankly, the picture painted today was very grim indeed.

Thank you Diane – I owe you!

Excitement is weird

On 27 March 2016 I submitted my proposal for assessment. Since then I’ve supervisor meetings (two with each) and prepared my presentation speech and slides (and basically finished) and yet all these milestones I normally record here (so I can refer back and so I can prove I did have meetings with my supervisors) I haven’t.

Today, 8 April, I think I’ve worked it out. I’m ready to get going. I’m done with the preparation and I want to get into it. I’ve come to that conclusion because I’m reading Hansard in order to fix an error I’ve found in my proposal (yep already got it wrong!) and as I’m reading Hansard I’ve had to set up Scrivener properly to make sure I’ve got records and I’ve set up my folder for Hansard downloads and that’s made me excited. Not submitting my proposal, not awesome meetings with my supervisors (because they have been!) but the simple act of administration preparing for my real research. I literally have goosebumps. Of course that could because I like being organised and there’s nothing like setting up a new recording system to make me happy, but I also like to think it’s because I can see what I’m going to do.

It’s worth noting at this point two months ago I didn’t know what I was going to do and couldn’t see how to do it ( we all remember the pulling of the February date and my associated guilt – the blog was bad enough, imagine if you knew me in RL). But in a short time the support and care of my supervisors as well as some actual work on my part means I have clarity and can articulate that to others.

This process means I have a new title:

Understanding commodification in university education using the expectations of an undergraduate course in accounting as a case study

I like this title. For the first time I feel comfortable with it. That’s a feeling of excitement. So it’s not milestones like submitting my proposal, it’s little things like administration and titles. Beauty in the little things. Maybe I will make it through this journey!

PS Got knocked back on the journal article, but Leo says we rework a bit and go again! That’s exciting too!

Another day, another topic

Funny things are happening today. I have shifted gears in my head (again) but it feels right and more to the point it felt like somewhere I’d not been before and I was excited so I thought I’d post about it. In preparation, I re-read my previous topic posts to refresh myself of the journey I’m taking and discovered the post of 15 February actually foreshadows where I’ve got to today. This reminds me how knowledge builds on knowledge and while I feel like some days I’m drifting away from where I should be, it is all going to come together at some point in some amazing way. (well, I’ll keep telling myself)

The February post refers to how everyone has an expectation of HE and how would I reflect this in my topic. This morning I was in a complete hole over my literature review. I’d followed some rabbit holes and was going off track, getting confused about what goes in and what goes out. I went for a walk and did some thinking.

David has been telling me my third aspect is not commodification for some time. Until today I wasn’t convinced. Today I mapped out the commodification influences and agree, it’s too big for one thesis. This is why my literature review was in a hole. I have to narrow my topic again. I have arrived at two options, and if you’ve got time, big wide world (well, my FB mates), I’d be keen for your input. I’ve come to these because I can see how they come from the literature I’ve read so far. I can also see a data set to go with these. Basically my plan is to see how policy intent has changed over time through policy white papers and committee reports, see how business expectations have changed over time by exploring how accounting came to be a university course and how the associations have engaged with universities over time, and lastly examine a handful of universities’ strategic educational plans over the last 20 years and see how they have changed over time. The contribution to knowledge I’d be making is the top down view. Much of the literature about policy relates to funding, not intent. Much of the literature about business expectations relates to the failure at the chalk face, rather than the input of associations. And the literature on commodification is broad with a focus on quality education (teaching to the lowest common denominator) and the management take over of universities. So, my contribution aims to show what is happening at the top level to see if it intersects with the literature and see if it intersect with each other. The question being, what happens if there is no intersection at all?

Anyway, onto the options. Option 1:

“What does the intersection of policy intent, business expectation and universities’ education direction reveal about higher education in Australia today?”

Option 2:

“What is the impact, if any, at the intersection of policy intent, business expectation and the education direction of universities in Australia today?”

I think option 1 has a level of judgement I’m not convinced I will have the capacity to make at the end. Option 2 is a lot more open and I think will work a bit better for me. Of course, we all know the topic will change again, but I need to have something for my introductory coming up!

Food for thought (and dinner)

Tomorrow I have dinner with my secondary supervisor and so I thought I’d provide some food for thought (and the wine!)

How congruent are commodification of HE, Federal policy intent and the accounting professions’ expectations of higher education in Australia today?

  1. What is commodification and its impacts?
  2. What is current Australia Federal policy intent for HE?
  3. What are current business expectations as seen by the Accounting profession in Australia?
  4. Are these congruent?
    1. If so, how?
    2. If not, how?
  5. What does this mean?

Through these questions I will explore the relationship between drivers of HE such as policy, funding and end user expectations. This exploration will compare and contrast the rhetoric with reality with the aim of providing a basis of future debate on the purpose of HE.

Yes, that’s right – it might just be my thesis question! Of course the next question is why would anyone care? Thoughts?

Edit: 14 April 2015 After conversations with Patrick congruence is not the right word. It lends itself to scientific theory and I’m not in the place. So thinking about ‘juxtaposition’ instead.

Every conversation brings me closer

I had a great week last week on the topic discovery front. I spoke to Patrick who gave me one set of ideas that I hadn’t considered. I attended a session on qualitative data where I started to think about other things and then I spoke to Jenny who made me think differently again. It’s like every time I talk to someone they help put some of my reading into context, or they trigger a thought I’d not had before, or they push me in a direction with the reading that I hadn’t considered and I think about it all in a different way again. As I said, last week was a good week!

The place all these conversations and thoughts and readings have brought me is this:

  • Commodification of HE has altered the educational outputs because it’s altered the inputs
  • Business has expectations of the outputs of HE
  • Individuals have expectations of the outputs of HE
  • Society has expectations
  • Policy has expectations
  • Universities have expectations.

My problem that I am going to examine, is “Does commodification of HE meet the expectations of policy and business?” the question of individuals, universities and society I think are out of scope. I might argue that the policy expectation is that of society as we have a representative government, but I’m not actually sure that’s the case. Maybe I’ll find out as I go. The beauty of this problem is that it’s taking me back to where all this started for me in 1997 where I was reliably informed in an innovation policy context that the skills gap for industry would be met by higher education. Seemed odd to me then and seems odd to me now.

I think I’m getting closer to my final topic (I know, I’ve said that before……)

Another circle, another idea

I met someone today called Frank. He is doing a professional doctorate. When he asked me what I was doing I did the usual waffle. He, in return, was succinct and clear. This was the trigger to make me get on the question round about once more. I need a question. In the same meeting, Craig said that the successful thesis is marked not on how earth shattering your question is, but on how well you answer the question you pose. This was a revelation. I have spent so long thinking about ‘contribution to the research body’ that I’d not considered that it’s actually just about answering a question. How cool.

So then I got to thinking about my question. Joelle’s words rang in my ears that the question can’t suppose an outcome. This led me to:

“Has HE changed over time in Australia to have a greater focus of providing credentialed employees to business?”

Because I can’t assume that HE has changed. But then I thought, well, the research body says it has. Everyone seems to agree. Then I had a chat with someone who mentioned business models, maybe I’m looking how business models in HE have changed. Combining this with the body of research led me to:

“How have the changes in the business models of HE impacted on the purpose of HE in Australia?”

So I got to reading about business models. Then I realised it’s not really business models, it’s simply funding models. It all comes back to the dollar. This got me to:

“How has HE changed in Australian in relation to funding models over time and has this impacted on the purpose of the educational aspects of HE?”

From here I could get sub questions:

  • What is the history of the funding models for HE in Australia?
  • How have they changed over time?
  • Why have they changed?
  • Has this influenced the purpose of the educational aspects of HE?
  • Does the funding model influence the purpose or does the purpose influence the funding?

It’s this last question that I think is the key. University education used to be a private good in Australia. Then it became a public good. Now we are returning to private. But unlike the days of old private funding, we are still demanding HE on a massive, if not universal scale. It’s not just a bunch of rich kids going to school. Is it possible to have a private model with mass education? Hmmm…..finally I think I’m onto something. Although I do believe I’ve said that before.

On a different note, I’d like to thank Bruce for continually inspiring me to do something with my research. The dropping off of books, the posts on FB, the chats we have. All these are making me progress, albeit very slowly.

New year, new show…

There was a television show I watched as a child called “Rock Follies”. They had a song in it with a lyric, “New year, new show”. It kind of feels like that today. I have a new show where all the research I’m doing apparently aligns.

I’m back into the research for the first time in a while and have spent the last three days getting back into articles I had located but not found and reading through them. It’s wonderful. I’m finding all sorts of support for my concepts which is great. I’m also finding consistencies within the research and the perspectives are similar. I would expect this for when I follow the bread crumbs, but it’s also happening when I do random keyword searches and the like.

Of course, finding all this consistency is a new show! It’s wonderful. But it also increases the spectre of the old show. What the hell am I doing? Why will my thesis be different? And then I think. And think some more.

The further away I get from the unit I completed (just) the more I think I can see what I needed to do there. I actually started shaping ideas yesterday and realised I was writing the introduction to my research proposal. So now I have to have confidence that the more I think about why I’m writing the thesis and the more I read and the more I draft and redraft and jot ideas down, the more clear it will become.

What I’m actually doing here is holding onto the old shows and working out how to combine them with the new. Hmm I think it’s time to return to some theory to see if that can help shape some ideas.

Everyone’s been here and done this….so what have I got that’s new?

I understand now Joelle’s perspective about the literature review and how it will alter your thesis as you go. Intellectually I understood her words but now I feel her wisdom. I am finding the more I research the more people all over the world have already thought what I’ve thought. There is nothing original in what I’m doing. Even the library at Parliament House has done bits of my research (which is actually awesome and I totally wish I’d found it about four months ago!)

So why should I do it? Well, because I still think that most research is focussed on the inputs to higher education and not the outputs. There is interest (substantial) on the quality of graduates, in that they meet the requirements laid out in legislation and so on, but no one is asking what they should actually be. Should they have knowledge and skills and the apply those in the workplace relevant to the subject area they studied? Or should they be more than that? Is the role of a the graduate to be a quality input to production, or is it their role to challenge the status quo? To seek out new questions for how our society should be and query what it is today? Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. I want my thesis to provide the tools to the stakeholders of higher education to engage with discussion about what higher education should be. It might be that having inputs to production is the the best option for Australia today, but I’m yet to find a document that has even had the debate. Everyone agrees that commodification is occurring and everyone agrees that there are impacts to that, but we disagreeing on whether that’s good or bad. There is a debate, discussion, sharing of ideas and concepts. Everyone agrees there should be universities, and everyone seems to have implicitly agreed that graduates should be inputs to production. I want to have a chat about that premise. I want policy makers and stakeholders to understand that’s what has been agreed.

Of course first I have to see if that’s what is actually happening! Haven’t been focussing on that piece of research today – maybe tomorrow!

Oh, while I’m here, everyone agrees that Whitlam abolished university fees but there is a lack of clarity about the date. Most sources think 1 January 1974, but do you think I can find the bloody legislation change? Anyone able to help me out? I’m tired of fighting Comlaw…..we seem to be having a disagreement.

Is it bad if I’m quoting star wars?

Re-reading my last post which wasn’t that long ago, I am reminded how valuable reading is. It’s been another fantastic period of reading (thanks to my workplace for giving me study leave!). It’s also been a period of wishing I was doing this full time and didn’t have work stuff cluttering my mind. Still, can’t have everything.

Anyway, star wars. It’s happened. I’ve been reading and enjoying the thinking and have come up with:

This is not the higher education we are looking for: an examination of the commodification of business bachelor degrees in Australian universities today

As I mentioned in my last post, titles come last but they do help me frame things. And then from this working title came:

As Australia moves towards the commodification of higher education to support a credentialed workforce, it is worth asking if this is really what is good for the Australian economy and society.

Which is currently my working statement that I will explore. I then have research questions to support this:

  • How and why did higher education in Australia move towards commodification?
  • Is commodification what key stakeholders are looking for and why or why not?
  • Is it good for the economy and society for universities to support a credentialed workforce or should they play a different role?

I’m putting this content here because it’s going to be a long eight years and I want to start cataloguing my thinking and changes as they occur. I’m also putting this here to remind me that I thought star wars was cool enough to have in one of my drafts. I’m not sure it’s going to get through the editing process…..