My nightmare (satirical) projection for the future of the university

‘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

To check out The True History of Jude and my other books click here.

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Edward Said’s ‘Out of Place’ – a window into the mind of one of the world’s great thinkers

orientalismIt would be no exaggeration to say that Edward Said has been one of the major influences on my intellectual life. I’ve waited sixteen years to read his 2000 memoir Out of Place, which deals with his early life in Cairo, Palestine and Lebanon, and his education in the US.  Said began the book around the time of his leukemia diagnosis, which he explained as the impetus for the writing of this extraordinarily intimate account of his lifelong sense of dislocation. For me, Out of Place provided a key to understanding the emotional foundation of Orientalism, his entirely unemotional and razor-sharp critique of Western conceptions of the East.

I completed my early degrees in Arabic and Linguistics  just before Said’s  Orientalism  turned on its head the very concept of Oriental Studies, and I’ve spent many years pondering the intellectual upheaval that the book triggered in me. Looking back at my research career and my academic writing,  it is now obvious to me how heavily I was influenced by Said’s work – even if that was not particularly clear to me at the time. His ideas have also never been far from my mind  in my later life move into writing fiction.

I’m especially fascinated by the Cairo chapters in Out of Place given that I lived in Cairo in 1973 and 1974 and have just finished my novel Cairo Mon Amour set in that era.

I’m also struck by Said’s ultra-dry irony. Here’s a delicious example from his description of the stuffy English school he attended in Cairo  in the early fifties (along with Michel Shalhoub, later known as Omar Sharif):

“The incarnation of declining colonial authority was the headmaster, Mr. J. G. E. Price, whose forest of initials symbolized an affectation of pedigree and self-importance I’ve always associated with the British.”


Learn more about Stuart’s books here.

Government arts funding: Slow-motion slaughterhouse

This week saw a wave of criticism of the Australian Government’s funding cuts for small to medium arts projects, although the real wash-up is a perhaps a little more nuanced than the disaster scenarios painted in some reports in the Sydney Morning Herald. But the defunding of entities like the literary magazine Meanjin and the Centre for Contemporary Photography was a shock. Eliza Sarlos argues in The Guardian that arts workers will bear the brunt of the cuts by having to do more unpaid work.

The implicit back-story in much of this discussion is that governments have a responsibility to support the arts for the benefit of society’s broader good. I think there might have been some truth in this decades ago, but the neoliberal project (I’m feeling really cynical this week) has weakened this back story to a fading myth. Understanding the falsity behind this ‘truth’ might provide some consolation to shocked administrators wondering how they will survive the loss of grants: Arts funding is a slow-motion slaughterhouse.

What arts supporters may have missed in the media is the final cut to the Office of Learning and Teaching. During my tenure as Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) between 2006 and 2011, my team at Western Sydney University leveraged small grants from the OLT and its predecessors to put our university in the top echelon for teaching. We proudly saw Associate Professor Roy Tasker awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year at the Sydney Opera House in 2011.

The 2016 budget cuts the last $20 million dollars of funding from the OLT, demolishing the naïve dream that government ‘cares’ about improving university teaching. To put that $20 million in perspective, a private sector college has been ordered to repay $44 million to the government because of its enrolment practices, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is pursuing $460 million of taxpayers’ money from a number of private colleges. Ironic?

The arts community aren’t the only ones in the slaughterhouse.


Stuart Campbell is nowadays a novelist and higher education consultant. You can read about his novels at .