Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Brain Drain?

In case you missed it, Southern Cross (the Sydney Anglican mag) ran a two page feature this month on higher education and the Wesley Institute. Bryan Cowling argued that the newly envisioned Wesley Institute might help fill the gap of "well-informed Christian educators in the university". What Cowling imagines for the university is very similar to what I've come to see this year as I've served alongside Christian academics at Sydney University:
"We need lots of intelligent, mature articulate Christian philosophers of education who are equally skilled and knowledgeable in their academic discipline as in applied biblical doctrine and theology. We need hundreds of these academics in our public universities and colleges to nurture the next generation of visionary educational leaders (you could say the same about about each of the gatekeeping, public-policy shaping professions)." - Bryan Cowling, The Hole in Higher Education, Southern Cross: November 2010, pp 28-29.
As I've argued elsewhere, the university offers a unique opportunity to affect the world. I do have some misgivings about Cowling's conclusion (which you might like to ask me about in the comments), but I'm genuinely glad that I'm not alone in praying that the hearts and minds of academics would be shaped by Christ.

However, there is one sentiment in particular that I do find concerning. After calling for a hundred of thought-out academics in the university, Cowling goes on to argue:
"There needs to be career paths in public universities and colleges in this country if we are to avoid losing our best Christian minds to leadership positions in other countries."
Lose our best Christian minds to other countries? I find this to be unbelievably short-sighted and parochial. Instead of worrying about a brain drain, we should be encouraging our best Christian minds to use their opportunity in the academy to leave. For eu postgrads and staff, our vision is that when Christian academics finish at Sydney University, they'll go to other universities in less reached and less resourced parts of Australia in the world. Our vision is that they'll be people who - with all the energy that God powerfully works within them (Col 1.29) - will be shaping peoples lives in Christ. They'll be academics who can engage and speak the gospel into public policy and discourse. They'll be academics who know how to support campus ministry. And if they find themselves in a university where there is none, then they'll know how to start it.

Hording our academic minds is not the right response to the "marginalising of respectable Christian thinking in Australian society."* Taking every thought captive to obey Christ can't stop at the Australian coastline.

__*Is marginalisation the problem? For more thoughts on marginalisation see this from Chris.


Chris said...

Brilliant, Matt!

I'm not really sure how to feel about Cowling's talk of 'gate-keepers'.

I know I'm probably in danger of suffering the evangelical 'power allergy' that James Davison Hunter diagnoses. But I guess I feel it's a question of why we want to put Christian educators in universities (or Christian professionals anywhere, for that matter):

Is it to 'change the world' -- recapturing something of Christendom perhaps?

Or is it because we're convinced that we're called to be 'faithfully present' wherever we are (and some people have the gifts/personality/opportunity to work in universities)?

I don't know. Maybe I'm driving a wedge between things that belong together?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Hi Chris,

I feel a bit uneasy about some of the gate keepers language myself.

I think because so much of discussion regarding the university comes out of the States (which have Christian unis and the major public unis were started by the church) the shadow of Christendom looms very large over those discussions.

Anonymous said...


Great response. Can you email this as a letter to the editor?

Jeremy Halcrow