Do academics interfere in their children’s higher education?

Professor David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor and President, Chair of the Australian Technology Network of Universities INSIDE UNISA

This article was first published on on 11 January 2017.

I am resolved to constrain my input to advice requested. I’ll doubtless attend open days – but will fight the urge to engage, for fear of an outbreak of embarrassing dad syndrome

I often think about the pride of parents as I participate in graduation ceremonies. I imagine how it must feel to see your child, now an adult, crossing the stage in their gown, collecting their hard-won parchment, moving into a new stage of their lives.

My children, Emelia (13) and Hugo (10), have some ways to go on their academic journey. They’ve made the transition from the Irish education system to Australia’s pretty well, and they show every sign of wanting to go to university in the future. I’m uncertain how much of that is down to an expectation that their dad will still be in charge of their local option when they apply, and a sense that it might be useful to be related to the boss. But the prospect of their entering higher education does excite me.

All the clichés about university have foundations in truth. You learn to learn, you make new and lifelong friends, you forge a new path towards a career and future life. Higher education is a privilege – not many people think of it like that at the time, but with hindsight, you can see that it is – and I hope that my children can learn that in time.

Making the right choices in terms of study is the most difficult thing they will face. But I’ve no intention of chaperoning them down alleyways of vicarious ambition of my own. My perspective on subject choice is pretty straightforward. You should not study something that you feel compelled to study because of parental or peer pressure. Nor should you study something in pursuit of the pot of gold at the end of the career path of current demand. The rainbow is always moving and, besides, you can’t spend a lifetime in a job whose only reward is financial. My children will spend long enough working after graduation that I want them to find a path to pursuits they enjoy. Happiness is the primary measure of success.

The same applies to their choice of institution. Emelia was born in Cambridge, in the UK, and has stated plainly that she intends to return there to study. Hugo has his sights set on an as yet undefined 2+2 arrangement between my institution and the University of Oxford. Who knows? I’m sure my insight into the sector will inform these future conversations, but, even now, as my eldest begins what in Australia is known as her middle schooling, I am resolved to constrain my input only to advice requested. I’ll doubtless attend the open days – out of professional curiosity – but will fight the urge to actively engage, for fear of an outbreak of embarrassing dad syndrome.

It’s no easier now to imagine my two at university than it was to imagine their first day at primary school when they were babies. But I think it’s important to remember that university students are young adults, even if they’ll always be your children. Letting them find their own way while reminding them that if they do stray a little, I’ve been there, bought the T-shirt and can offer help at any stage: that’s how I hope it plays out.

As for the graduation – well, I’ve imagined it countless times as I’ve applauded our students across the stage. That’s one time when I might use my position for personal gain: I’d love to be on the stage when they cross it. Embarrassing dad syndrome be damned!

Professor David Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and President
Chair of the Australian Technology Network of Universities