‘At my first lecture this year, I had to ask all the ladies wearing tall wimples to sit at the back,’ writes Professor Susan Bridehead in my genre-defying novel The True History of Jude.
The book combines a coming-of-age-tale, a time-shifting love story, and a reimagining of a Thomas Hardy novel—all embedded in a dystopian setting.
And as a fantasy, it gave me the power to project a set of contemporary themes to their potential extremes: I predicted a climate-ravaged and depopulated Australia leased to the world community for uranium mining, a corporatised global authoritarian system controlled by an Australian royal dynasty, and the destruction of artistic creativity under the crushing conformity of an information monopoly.
Could it happen?
When I was studying Russian in the USSR in 1974, could I have imagined the fall of the Soviet empire? When we basked in the Australian summer of 2019, could we have imagined a pandemic that would upend the world?
Back to the wimples: The Australian monarchy is the world’s first virtual state, having excised itself from its own territory*. The Palace operates from leased premises at Oxford University. Across the city is the exiled campus of my alma mater The University of Sydney. It’s from here that the elderly Susan writes fawning hagiographies of the Australian royals and teaches history to their offspring and aristocratic cronies whose royal stipends make it unnecessary for them to get jobs. The students return year after year to take the same courses, some even passing away from old age during lectures. Cosplay is a campus obsession: This year’s theme is Medieval, thus the tall wimples blocking the lecture hall sightlines.
It’s satire of course, but I’m certain that many academics will identify the threads I’ve pulled to weave scenarios like these: The banning of paper and handwriting so that all student work is created and archived online; the obligatory use of AI text generators to write assignments that result in randomly generated grades; works of fiction proscribed; professionals trained not at the university but in online polytechnics run by a consortium of three global consulting companies.
I’ve spent decades of my professional life helping create Australia’s higher education system. What I observe today is a quantum leap away from the undergraduate degree I took in the UK in the seventies—no internet, no credit point system, no fees, no student support service, no assignment mills, no student surveys, no casual lecturers. My future scenario for the university in The True History of Jude may seem outlandish, but the threads are clear to see today.
*The Australian Parliament excised the mainland from Australia’s migration zone in 2013.
Copyright 2022 Stuart Campbell
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