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By Claire Aitchison

Many of our readers will be familiar with the HERD Journal which has developed a strong reputation for its quality publications on higher education. All three editors of this blog, and many of our readers and guest bloggers, write and review for HERD journal, which regularly publishes on doctoral education and doctoral writing.

HERDSA (Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia) is the parent organisation for the journal and this year Cally and I attended the annual conference in Adelaide, South Australia, 2-5 July. The Conference attracts a range of higher education specialists including academic developers, management and those with a teaching focus.

Cally is on the organising committee conference, and both of us presented. Despite a long association with HERDSA, this was the first time I had attended the conference – and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

While there were very few sessions directly focused on doctoral education, and none on doctoral writing, the conference provided a lively three days covering many of the hot topics in higher education today. Of particular interest to me were the following themes:

  • Academic work. This strand of presentations explored the pressures and changes on continuing and casual teaching staff. While some papers focused on specific Australian instances, there were many universal themes concerning the way institutions are re-jigging employment arrangements to try and create teaching-focussed academic career pathways. New job categories such as the ‘teaching scholar’ – originally envisaged as a counter to rampant casualisation in the sector – have been shown to bring new sets of challenges for promotion, autonomy and continuity. The search for better arrangements continues.
  • Valuing Education. The impacts of managerialism and bureaucratisation of academic life were raised in a range of sessions. I particularly enjoyed a workshop discussion led by Janice Orrell: Re-valuing otherness and caring in universities with her provocation to find new ways of countering ‘privileged irresponsibility’ in favour of genuine support and care for others.
  • Teaching, Learning and the Student experience. This stream included presentations about institution-wide initiatives, such as academic peer review of teaching, teaching award programs, and supporting academics in the scholarship of learning and teaching (SoTL). Others shared experiences of developing and/ doing online teaching, showcasing a variety of technological innovations including audio podcasting, virtual coffee shops and other kinds of online peer-to-peer forums. As well, traditional concerns around feedback, student peer work, cheating, and assessment were addressed.

Of the few sessions that did focus on doctoral work, Alistair McCulloch (convenor of the Quality in Postgraduate Research – QPR – Conference) presented a concise and informative history of the doctorate, helping us understand how we got to where we are now. Another session run by Stephanie Eglinton-Warner and Mel Timpson provided an interesting counterpoint to Alistair’s presentation by exploring the motivations for current PhD candidates undertaking their research degrees (hint: there are lots of different reasons and expected outcomes apart from preparation for an academic career).

For many, myself included, the most memorable part of the conference was the keynote A thousand tiny universities by Barbara Grant from The University of Auckland. Barbara’s most eloquent unfolding of the moral, institutional and personal, challenges of working in the modern neoliberal university was riveting. In many ways deeply personal, but also very public and universal, she documented her changing relationship with the academy causing us all to reflect on the future of the institution and how we may live within it. We’d recommend Agnes Bosanquet’s account of the presentation.

Next year the HERDSA Conference is to be held in Auckland, New Zealand and the theme is Next Generation, Higher Education: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities. You may wish to consider attending.