In an endeavour to get a teenage son interested in what he might do in tertiary education and future employment, my wife and I dragged him along to two recent University open days in Brisbane: last Sunday, it was QUT (Gardens Point), and today it was the University of Queensland.
We sat in on a few talks at each, and wandered around marvelling (well, I did anyway) at the astounding amount of student friendly services (by way of food and other facilities) that are available at Universities like these today.
I am old enough that I actually went to QUT before it was officially a university - back in the late seventies, early eighties. Facilities then included one cafeteria (of dodgy quality - I rarely ate there), a licensed club that I didn't actually join (I was pretty much only a weekend drinker, and I wasn't in the clique of students who immediately took up membership), and a cinema which I recall going to once, and having to leave before the movie finished to catch a train. It was pretty basic.
The QUT campus is now dramatically different, and to my mind, extremely attractive. Old Government House (which I seem to recall being under near continuous restoration back in my day) is still at its heart, and is now always open as a heritage site and a very attractive one at that.
It now has some great looking buildings and student facilities around it (I should have taken photos,) and the entire campus, though small in area, is full of trees and green spaces to a much greater degree than it did 35 (gosh) years ago.
The University of Queensland is, by contrast, not as different from those days, by my reckoning. Sure, it also has much better student facilities, but the look of the campus, which still has very large amounts of open space around it, has not changed to the same extent.
But apart from appearances, I have to say that the impression gained from each talk we attended was a very positive one of the tertiary sector. Sure, I guess Universities don't care for their worst lecturers or academics to be talking to the public and potential students at these events, but I still came away with the feeling that there is a much greater degree of professionalism in how universities teach and manage themselves these days.
I also have continually had that feeling when interacting with my kids' State high school. I went to a pretty ordinary one in a working class area, but I doubt it was all that unusual for the way it seemed some pretty disinterested teachers could still make a living putting in what seemed the bare minimum effort.
That's really not the impression I get now - nearly all teachers in the State school system do genuinely seem much more professional and more enthusiastic than in my youth.
I won't say that I don't have some misgivings about modern education: I'm sure I posted before about how it seems to me that maths education is too heavily "verbal" in primary school these days; and I also think that there is a tendency for high schools to chose too many "young adult" novels that don't have lasting qualities in english.
But by and large, I think the education system has improved a great deal over my life time, and all the kvetching about it from the Right (and sometimes the Left) seems very undeserved.