Higher education needs to be accessible to all

My submission to the Senate….

Dear Senators,

I was the first of my family and the only one of 3 kids in the house to go to university; it was several years back now when it was almost free for anyone to maximise their academic potential.

I have an Electrical engineering degree and I hope that as a result I’ve made a positive difference to our society that more than repays the investment that it made in my education.

If fees were at the levels they are today I have a strong suspicion that I would not have bothered with university and potentially become a tradesman like my father; if fees rise to the level they are anticipated to then I definitely would not have been attending.

My view is that investing in education from schools through to tertiary is an investment in the country’s future that more than repays itself over time.

I think the reasons that countries like Germany continue to perform well is that they understand that a society that easily allows everyone to achieve what they are capable of helps all of society.

Recently Germany started down the path of fees and are in the process of rescinding that decision for the most part http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/germanys-great-tuition-fees-u-turn/2011168.article.

I believe that the proposed fee changes to higher education will stop many people gaining the knowledge and skills that could assist our society in adapting to a changing planet and changing global world.

Please ensure these changes do not occur and if possible look at ways of making education more accessible for all that wish to pursue it.

Brian Hobby

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My child asks why, Why, WHY? WHY!

By Brian Hobby

Do your offspring drive you batty with the “why?” question?

This was our approach with the boy of many, many, many, many questions……

As our boy got to the 3 to 4 year old inquisitive stage his thirst for knowledge sent him down the why,why,why,why,why path.

I think it is even worse than the “are we there yet?” question as that is confined to the car and was easily diverted with I spy at that age.

The nominal adults in the house were discussing the shift at length and my wife said “why don’t we try what my parents did to me?” I asked her to tell me more….

Well it turns out that it was no more than explaining to the lad that “why?” was not a valid question and that neither parent would be answering it from now on! If he wanted an answer then he needed to think about what it was that he “actually” wanted to know and ask exactly that. Starting with why was OK but there needed to be more words to follow it.

As with all things parenting, we both applied it consistently, when we got a why, we would go “that’s not a real question, what do you actually want to know?” In fairly short order we had interesting discussions on why the sky was blue, why there are so many different types of cars, what are clouds and where did the earth planet come from. The trick was to start with a simple explanation and see if that answered it, if not then get slightly more detailed and check again. Often once he knew the simple answer he was happy and went back to thinking up the next real question!

For us it worked a treat! Interestingly talking to his 1st year teacher at the parent teacher interview she commented that “your son asks such interesting and well thought out questions” we looked at each other, grinned, and told her why.

Payback is sweet, not long ago the lad was explaining something to us as we were traveling in the car and I asked why? He explained, I asked why again – to which he retorted, Dad “why isn’t a proper question” I think we taught him well!

 

The Blank Slate, scarier than public speaking?

by Brian Hobby

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The empty page, inviting the first words…….

I think I find it scarier and more difficult than public speaking.

We’ve all been there, “I’d like a report on……” that comes from your manager, in my role as an engineer “I need to design something that………” or in my spare time as a community theatre tech “We’ve found a really good play, bit technically challenging though, thought you might have some ideas……”

Where do you start?

I know where I usually go – is there some prior art I can steal shamelessly from, ah reuse appropriately with permission. Works well for reports in large companies, usually someone has done it before and it at least gives you an approach. There’s lots of report writing advice out there as well that you can benefit from. But something that no one has done before, a clean unblemished sheet of paper waiting for your thoughts and ideas to flow across it’s surface? That’s intimidating!

Engineers generally have standards to work to, but they are what I term “current best accepted practice” and they are continually updated (slowly and deliberately) as technology changes and new materials are created for us to fiddle with and understand – concrete and electricity were new fangled things once. Where do these ideas come from?

I think it is my theatre technical design that gives me the most insight into ideas and the generation of something new and unique.

For me it goes like this, I get handed a script, I read it – several times usually, with a notepad by my side to jot down what passages make me feel; if I get glimpses of what I think may work on stage, note those too. Then put it all aside, let the subconscious work on it. I’m a great believer in letting the subconscious do it’s work, it’s not for nothing that we say “let’s sleep on it”.

I then discuss with the director and creative team what they have in their head as a vision of what they would like to see on stage, and what glimpses and thoughts have fleetingly occurred to me; then I re-read the script and make copious notes about lighting and sound; all in pencil as they will change! I generally find at this point I have lots of ideas as my subconscious has been brewing on it for sometime.

The rest is as with many things the 99% perspiration that  goes into many of our endeavours, the sheer grunt work of making it happen.

I find a similar process works for me in the reports and engineering space, do the initial reading / research / background, ask your subconscious some questions and park it for a while. Sometimes that can be be over lunch while I get away from my desk (you do get away from your desk I hope?) and do something else; if time permits it may be a few days. I usually find when I come back to the blank sheet it is crying out for my thoughts and ideas.

So yes a blank sheet is a very scary proposition for me, partly because I often have no idea where to start; and partly because I have no idea what journey it may take me on…….

What to Eat?

by Brian Hobby

It’s an interesting question, and one that gets discussed a lot in our house. Our son has an intolerance to Azo dye food colourings which are allowed in Australia and New Zealand but not in many other places. As a result much of our food is prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients; it wasn’t unusual in our house anyway as we both enjoying our cooking.

But it begs the question what else is in our food that isn’t particularly good for us?

I heard a fascinating comment a while ago “if your Grandmother wouldn’t recognise it as food then it probably isn’t” and that cuts to the heart of it really.

I was in the greengrocer today topping up on fruit and vege and the owner commented that many customers don’t understand why there aren’t strawberries all year and get slightly peeved at her as a result. In a society that is divorced from the food chain by the agricultural industrial complex it is very easy to forget that what we put in our mouths came from somewhere beyond the shop. In some instances the product came from what is basically a chemical refinery and only has the vaguest hint of food about it.

There have been some pretty interesting things coming to the surface about sugar as well, and it seems that most manufacturers are in a race to see who can make the sweetest product to tempt us. Case in point, our usual tomato sauce brand changed it’s label. This caused me to check old against new – sure enough 2% more sugar. The next supermarket trip the boy and I had fun choosing the new brand that was as low sugar as we could find (and as little everything else as well!)

So my thoughts in no particular order:

  • Fresh first and foremost, we cook from scratch much of the time
  • When in the supermarket I’m not a label pedant but will always check a new item or do a comparison against similar occasionally
  • Pick the lowest sugar option, that often means the full fat better tasting option. If it’s  low fat it’s usually low taste due to how our taste-buds work so they add sugar to cover it up
  •  If we are out for dinner don’t worry too much as the occasional treat means you don’t binge. I find myself tending toward the salads though……
  • Try and eat a range of things, variety is good – convincing the 9 year old can take some doing though

So our approach tends to be everything in moderation; including the glasses of red!