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A knowledge economy landscape: implications for tertiary education and research training in Australia

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This paper discusses the higher education sector’s role in a knowledge-based economy though research training, that is, doctoral education. It also examines how a Faculty of Education supports its doctoral candidates in their endeavours to become
  A knowledge-based economylandscape: Implications for tertiaryeducation and research training inAustralia Heather Davis*, Terry Evans and Christopher Hickey Deakin University, Geelong, Australia This paper discusses the higher education sector’s role in a knowledge-based economy thoughresearch training, that is, doctoral education. It also examines how a Faculty of Education supportsits doctoral candidates in their endeavours to become ‘knowledge producers’. Two themes areexplored: one is Australia’s limited investment in education by international standards; and theother is the research training needs and circumstances of doctoral candidates who are located inprofessional and workplace contexts. The paper discusses the role of online support and a DoctoralStudies in Education (DSE) online seminar program to support primarily off-campus, part-timemid-career professionals. These are typical of many of Australia’s doctoral candidates. E-learningis examined as part of a comprehensive support and research training strategy for doctoralcandidates studying at a distance. We discuss the sorts of opportunities and experiences ourcandidates receive and the extent to which they are readied to work effectively in a knowledge-based economy. Introduction A knowledge-based economy can be defined as: ‘an economy in which theproduction, distribution and use of knowledge is the main driver of growth, wealthcreation, and employment across all industries’ (Department of Industry, Trainingand Research, in Andrews, 2004, p.4). Accordingly, a knowledge-based economy isreliant on harnessing the human and social capital produced by knowledge workersfor growth and prosperity. Adapting to a knowledge-based economy requires asignificant shift in thinking—at government, academic, corporate and personallevels. It stands to reason that education broadly, and higher education in particular,has an important role to play in the development of new knowledge practices andprocesses. Amid the social transformation from physical to abstract forms of  *Corresponding author. Faculty of Education, Deakin University, Geelong, Australia. Email:heather.davis@deakin.edu.au  Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management Vol. 28, No. 3, November 2006, pp. 231–244  ISSN 1360-080X (print)/ISSN 1469-9508 (online)/06/030231-14 ß 2006 Association for Tertiary Education ManagementDOI: 10.1080/13600800600979983  production it is crucial that coherent and comprehensive educational processes areput in place. While it is widely accepted that highly developed ‘Western’ nations havea huge advantage in developing the social conditions to forge a knowledge economy,several recent reports suggest that some such countries are more committed to thisprocess than others.A recent report by the Australian Council of Deans of Education (Kalantzis &Harvey, 2004) claims that, ‘Commonwealth expenditure on education in Australiahas declined as a percentage of GDP over the last three decades … whereas in theUK, US and Singapore, substantial public investment increases are being made inthe education sector.’ (p.9). This observation was foreshadowed in a 2001 reportthat examined Australian knowledge-based economy indicators over time againstOECD benchmarks, wherein it was revealed that: Australia is undergoing an investment crisis in a range of factors of production in theknowledge economy. If this crisis continues unabated not only will Australia fail tobecome a leading producer of knowledge economy products and services; the nation willbecome increasingly dependant upon others for these things, leading to further adverseconsequences for the trade position, for the level and character of jobs and opportunities,and for the accumulation and distribution of wealth. (Considine et al., 2001, p.4) Despite rhetorical recognition of the increasingly important role that education willplay in helping societies to participate actively and robustly in the knowledgeeconomy (Kalantzis & Harvey, 2004), Australia, it seems, is less forthcoming withresource allocation. Wood (2003), for example, argues that when measured againstknowledge-based economy trend indicators, Australia is an ‘under-performingnation’, spending well under the OECD mean for investment in knowledge. Table1clearly positions Australia below the OECD mean in relation to commitment toknowledge production as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).In critiquing Australia’s lack of commitment to the advance of the knowledge-based economy, extensive commentary has been assembled around the work of universities (see DETYA, 1998; Kemp, 1999; Singh & Knight, 2002).Underpinning this is a wide recognition that the higher education sector has animportant role to play in producing graduates with the sorts of skills, aptitudes andunderstandings that will allow them to contribute effectively to the development andpractice of a knowledge-based economy. With an increasing demand for flexible,autonomous, self-directed, collaborative, adaptable, resourceful and sensitivegraduates (Senge, 1990; Drucker, 1999; Salmi, 2002), universities are being forcedto review many of the core assumptions that have long underpinned their pedagogictheory and practice. Concern exists here that calls to change across the highereducation sector are being driven by tightening funding models, rather than byperceived social and educational need.It is in this context that we seek to explore the relationship between doctoraleducation and knowledge-based economy theory. In the context of this paper, wefocus our attention on the practices associated with doctoral education at a distance,232 H. Davis et al.  and the extent to which this work engages with the emerging demands of knowledgeeconomies. Specifically, we focus on our own practices associated with doctoraleducation and our involvement in the management and implementation of adoctoral education program. We reflect on the attributes our graduates developthrough their involvement in our doctoral program and the extent to which they arereadied to be effective workers within a knowledge-based economy. To achieve thiswe provide an overview of the principles and practices of a doctoral program offeredby the Faculty of Education at Deakin University and draw on the examples fromthis program to describe the ways that we seek to prepare our graduates for work in aknowledge-based economy. New knowledge and education As the 21st century opens, tertiary education is facing unprecedented challenges, arisingfrom the convergent impacts of globalization, the increasing importance of knowledge asa principal driver of growth, and the information and communications revolution. The Table 1. OECD comparisons, by percentage of GDP for investment in knowledge, 2002 HighereducationResearch &Development Software TotalChange in investment inknowledge to GDP ratio sincelast review (1999/2000) 1 Sweden 0.9 4.1 1.8 6.8 1.7USA 2.2 2.7 1.8 6.6 1.2Finland 1.1 3.4 1.5 6.1 1.3Korea 1.9 2.5 1.4 5.9 1.0Denmark 1.3 2.5 1.6 5.5 1.8OECD 2 1.4 2.5 1.3 5.2 0.9 Japan 0.7 3.1 1.3 5.0 1.2Canada 1.7 2.0 1.1 4.7 0.1Australia 1.1 1.6 1.4 4.1 0.3Germany 0.7 2.5 0.7 3.9 0.5Belgium 0.9 2.2 0.7 3.8 – EU 2 0.7 2.1 0.9 3.8 0.5TheNetherlands0.8 1.8 1.2 3.8 0.3France 0.6 2.3 0.8 3.7 0.3UK 0.7 1.9 1.1 3.7 0.2Austria 0.5 2.1 0.8 3.4 1.2Spain 0.9 1.0 0.8 2.8 0.7New Zealand 1.1 1.2 0.5 2.8 – Ireland 1.0 1.1 0.2 2.4 2 0.2Italy 3 0.6 1.1 0.7 2.4 0.3Greece 3 0.8 0.6 0.5 1.9 0.8Portugal 0.7 0.9 0.2 1.8 0.5 Source : OECD (2005). 1 1994–2001 for Greece and Italy. 1995–2002 for Korea. EU figure excludes Belgium,Greece and Italy. OECD figure excludes Belgium, Greece, Italy and New Zealand. 2 Exclude Greece and Italy. 3 2001 data. The knowledge economy and doctoral education 233  role of education in general, and of tertiary education in particular, is now moreinfluential than ever in the construction of knowledge economies and democraticsocieties. Tertiary education is indeed central to the creation of the intellectual capacityon which knowledge production and utilization depend and to the promotion of thelifelong-learning practices necessary for updating people’s knowledge and skills. (Salmi,2002, p.1) Salmi (2002) clearly believes that the tertiary education sector must play a centralrole in preparing societies for new times. Here, graduates of research-baseduniversity programs that have appropriate research training and preparation arepositioned to play a pivotal role in the progress of the knowledge-based economy.More specifically, Salmi argues that research and development activities, particularlyhigher-degree programs, are where the convergence of a knowledge-based economyand knowledge production and utilization will have a significant impact fororganizations and nations. It is clear to Salmi that a shift to knowledge-basedsocieties demands different ways of thinking about learning. Foremost here is theneed for tertiary programs to find new ways of reaching and teaching people acrossan array of globalizing economic, cultural and social circumstances.It is therefore a concern for higher education that people are identifying Australia’slack of strategic planning and commitment to education, including higher education,in addition to a general lack of investment in knowledge. The following commentsexemplify the level of concern: This view has been reinforced by many leading business people and entrepreneurs. Touse an example, media magnate Rupert Murdoch noted the significance of expenditureon education and the future growth of a knowledge-based economy [and] dramaticallyemphasized that, because of the relatively low level of expenditure on higher education inAustralia, its economy was threatened with something far worse than globaldisadvantage, namely global irrelevance. (Murdoch, in Wood, 2003, pp.144–5)Despite ‘Backing Australia’s Future II’, the overall level of Australian research isprojected to remain steady at 1.6% of GDP. Indeed, public investment in research isactually projected to decline over the next decade. This is disappointing given the clearlinks between research and economic growth. If for no other reason, the pragmatic caseto invest in research is strong. For the discipline of Education, however, the problem isgreater still. Education remains almost alone as a discipline of national importancewithout a dedicated research funding body. Indeed, there is less research funded in thefield of Education than in nearly any other field. Redressing this imbalance is a keypriority if Australia is to thrive in the knowledge economy. (Kalantzis & Harvey, 2004,p.31) While Kalantzis and Harvey are clearly concerned about the overall lack of resourcethat is being allocated to research and development in Australia, it is the discipline of education that they single out as being acutely under-resourced. Underpinning theirconcern is recognition that the shift to creative or knowledge-based society demands234 H. Davis et al.  different ways of thinking about learning and knowledge transfer. As a discipline,education has the potential to play a pivotal role in developing new learningframeworks. For example, existing pedagogic theory and practice around ‘commun-ities of practice’, ‘collaborative learning’, ‘reflective practice’, ‘experiential learning’,‘workplace learning’, ‘lifelong learning’ and ‘e-learning’, all provide educationalframeworks for reaching and engaging people amid the increasing globalisation andmassification of work and learning.Accordingly, it is interesting to contemplate Breckenridge’s (2002) forecast of the‘university of 2015’. Here, Breckenridge identifies an increasing demand fortransformation around the conditions that are emerging amid the rise of theknowledge-based economy. He rehearses the wider emphasis being placed on theneed for lifelong learning skills that already permeate the educational sector. This,Breckenridge explains, emanates from the need to create a flexible and continuallydeveloping workforce to both produce and cope with change. In more specific terms,he foregrounds the changing practices of ‘community’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘e-learning’ as important areas for the tertiary education sector to negotiate if it is toproduce learners capable of an active and sustained engagement with a knowledge-based economy.Many contemporary organizations are already moving towards knowledgeorganization models to better position themselves within a knowledge-basedeconomy. Knowledge organization literature has itself evolved from the ‘learningorganization’ ideas of Senge (among others) in the 1990s and is based on the notionthat ‘to excel in the future organizations [must] discover how to tap people’scommitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization’ (Senge, 1990, p.4)and master the five disciplines of the learning organization—personal mastery;mental models; shared vision; team learning; and systems thinking. Knowledgeorganization theory further extends learning organization theory and emphasizes theimportance of harnessing the human and social capital of an organization. However,there are more recent theories that take into account a broader and more diverseunderstanding of the process and significance of knowledge production not only tothe wealth of an organization, but also to the social, cultural and economic wealthand attractiveness of nations.Florida (2003) draws on Drucker’s (1993) notion of the knowledge economy topropose that the engine of modern societies will be driven by a ‘creative class’comprising of people who are not only well educated, but who can create new ideas,knowledge and products within and for the ‘creative economy’. In his terms, it is notjust knowledge that is being traded, although this is important, but also styles,fashion, artefacts, imaginings, ideas, etc. Membership of the creative class, especiallywhat Florida called the ‘super creative core’, comprises people in occupations withinsciences, arts, computing and education. A society that is open to creative knowledgeproduction is one that values ideas, difference, and even eccentricity andidiosyncrasy. More recently, Florida (2005) has noted that changes in governmentpolicy in the USA in response to the to the September 11 tragedy, such as the The knowledge economy and doctoral education 235
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