In 2001 a week in the life of a dean of humanities, social sciences and the creative arts is radically different from that of only a few years ago. Of course we still meet daily with staff and students, liaise with heads of schools and work with budgets and finances. But diary entries tell the tale of a more complex web of activities. A few days from one weekly diary, for example, might feature meetings with a leading urban developer and accompany a letter to the Minister for Planning to negotiate a Chair in urban design; a lunch with the executive director of the West Coast Eagles Football Club to discuss the prospects of a scholarship for indigenous students named after a great footballer; morning tea with an eminent epidemiologist about the prospective national partnership for human development; meetings with the Minister of Community Development about partners and projects; or with the Minister for Culture and the Arts regarding the future of a major festival; and, believe it or not, a meeting with a major bank to negotiate plans for a joint Chair and Research Centre for something other than finance and banking. And the week is barely half over.

There is not a dean within the humanities and social sciences in Australia whose diary does not look like that sketched above. Partnerships with the community, industry and other universities are the only way forward in the environment in which higher education now finds itself. The vision of the current deans in Australia has increased their determination to pursue relationships with outside partners, as has the dynamism of the Academies of Humanities and Social Sciences. The imperatives are visible enough. The level of real government funding to Faculties and Divisions of Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts has dropped in recent years from well over 80 percent to below 60 percent in some instances. Yet there is no doubt that the humanities and social sciences must play a pivotal role in the future of our nation’s education and economy. Last year Robin Batterham (2000) acknowledged this in his report ‘The Chance to Change’, and the concept of the knowledge economy has since been supported by the Prime Minister’s ‘Backing Australia’s Ability’ statement and by Kim Beazley’s ‘Knowledge Nation’.


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Papers from the National Humanities and Social Sciences Summit may be accessed here