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Navigating Free Speech and Inclusivity in Higher Education

Navigating Free Speech and Inclusivity in Higher Education

Balancing inclusivity and free speech in Australian universities is no easy feat, requiring more than just policies and guidelines; it demands a cultural shift where everyone takes responsibility. Institutions like the University of Sydney are making strides by hosting forums and debates that champion diverse viewpoints (University of Sydney, n.d.). However, as seen with the controversial visit of a far-right speaker in 2018, these events can highlight the tension between free speech and community standards (ABC News, 2018). This incident underscores the need for universities to go beyond mere allowances and actively foster respectful dialogue.

One crucial step is embedding inclusivity and respectful behaviour into the fabric of campus life. The University of Melbourne’s Respect Week is a great start, promoting awareness and education around these values (University of Melbourne, n.d.). However, to truly make a difference, universities should integrate these principles into everyday interactions and curricula. Workshops on unconscious bias, inclusive teaching practices, and conflict resolution can be mandatory for staff and students alike (Staats, 2016).

Integrating these principles into teaching pedagogy is particularly effective. By providing examples and encouraging debates, universities can bring back a sense of discourse to the academic environment. This approach not only educates but also empowers students to engage respectfully with differing viewpoints, fostering a culture of open and inclusive dialogue aligning with the Australian Universities Accord Final Report.

Furthermore, Australian National University’s (ANU) clear guidelines on acceptable conduct, coupled with robust support services for those affected by offensive speech, set a strong foundation (Australian National University, n.d.). Yet, these guidelines must be actively enforced and regularly reviewed with input from the entire university community. Peer-led initiatives, where students and staff collaborate to uphold and promote community standards, can also be highly effective.

For example, Monash University’s Respectful Communities initiative involves both students and staff in promoting a safe and inclusive environment. This program includes bystander intervention training, which empowers community members to address and prevent disrespectful behaviour (Monash University, n.d.). Additionally, the University of Queensland has implemented an Ally Network that provides training and support to create a more inclusive campus for LGBTQ+ students and staff, showcasing the impact of community involvement in fostering inclusivity (University of Queensland, n.d.).

In addition to structural changes, fostering a culture of accountability is vital. This involves not only addressing incidents of harmful behaviour swiftly and fairly but also celebrating positive examples of respectful and inclusive conduct. Recognising and rewarding individuals and groups who contribute to a supportive campus environment can encourage others to follow suit.

Ultimately, creating an inclusive and respectful university culture requires a concerted effort from everyone involved. By making inclusivity and respect part of daily practice, and holding each other accountable, universities can ensure that diverse perspectives are valued and all members of the community feel safe and respected.


ABC News. (2018, July 12). University of Sydney protests over far-right speaker. ABC News.

Australian National University. (n.d.). Code of conduct. Australian National University.

Monash University. (n.d.). Respectful communities. Monash University.

Staats, C. (2016). Understanding implicit bias: What educators should know. American Educator, 39(4), 29-33.

University of Melbourne. (n.d.). Respect week. University of Melbourne.

University of Queensland. (n.d.). Ally network. University of Queensland.

University of Sydney. (n.d.). Differing views: Valuing disagreement. University of Sydney.

Reflection on “Neijuan” and Its Impact on International Students

Reflection on “Neijuan” and Its Impact on International Students

The Concept of “Neijiuan” or Involution

In a recent reflective assignment, one of my students highlighted the concept of “neijuan” (involution) in China, as described by Liu (2021). Involution refers to the phenomenon where increased competition and overqualification lead to stagnation in productivity and individual frustration.

This term captures the reality faced by many young Chinese who, despite higher education and qualifications, find themselves in jobs that do not match their skill levels. Involution originated in anthropology where Clifford Geertz used the term “agricultural involution” to describe how increasing labour in rice paddies did not result in proportional economic gains but rather led to intensified labour without significant improvement in living standards (Geertz, 1963). Young people in China are similarly trapped in a cycle of intense competition without corresponding economic advancement according to The New Yorker.  It describes these shorthand memes to describe work hours, “996” (nine in the morning to nine in the evening, six days a week), which was a badge of honour now mentioned in a more negative tone, particularly the way it has morphed into “007” to describe the online demands as 24 hours, 7 days / week .

Youth Unemployment in China: A Growing Concern

Youth unemployment in China is a pressing issue that has far-reaching social and economic implications. Recent data highlights significant challenges faced by young people in the job market. According to Kang, the 16 to 24 age group accounted for more than 60 per cent of China’s urban population, representing nearly 62 million people. Non-school students made up more than 30 per cent, or 34 million people. Louise Loo, lead economist at Oxford Economics, estimated that the jobless rate for the 16-24 age group could have been closer to 25 per cent in December based on the old methodology, which included school students. She noted, “And to the extent that students are [in school], doing advanced degrees, for instance, only because they have failed to find a job, then the new statistic grossly undermines the associated social and economic risk of youth unemployment”.

Graduates Entering the Job Market

In 2024, around 11.79 million people are expected to graduate from university in China, an increase of 210,000 from the previous year, according to the Ministry of Education. This surge in graduates entering the job market intensifies the competition for limited employment opportunities. China’s labour market is further stressed by its declining population and youth unemployment. The Third Child Policy of 2021 aims to address this, but urbanisation and a record-high youth jobless rate of 21.3% in June 2023 complicate the issue (Attané, 2022; Loo, 2023).

Supporting International Students

Are we doing enough to support our international students, particularly those from China? It’s crucial to address their needs and challenges as they navigate the job market. For instance, 38 percent of online car-hailing drivers have a college education or above. While intellectual discussions during rides are delightful, we must find more appropriate and sustainable solutions to address these employment challenges.

The issue of youth unemployment in China requires urgent attention and action. It’s not just about providing jobs but ensuring that young people have meaningful and fulfilling employment opportunities. Policymakers, educational institutions, and businesses must collaborate to create a robust support system for young job seekers.


  • Attané, I. (2022). China’s New Three-Child Policy: What Effects Can We Expect? Population and Societies, (596).
  • Geertz, C. (1963). Agricultural Involution: The Process of Ecological Change in Indonesia. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 10.1525/9780520349815
  • Islam, R. (2023). An employment and labour perspective. Fifty Years of Bangladesh: Economy, Politics, Society and Culture, 157.
  • Loo, L. (2023). Lead Economist at Oxford Economics.
  • Siddiqui, T. (2005). International labour migration from Bangladesh: A decent work perspective. Working Paper No. 66. Policy Integration Department, International Labour Organization. 10.4236/jss.2024.121007
  • SBS News. (2023). “From yoga instructors to dog trainers: The jobs the government says we need to fill”. Retrieved from SBS
  • The New Yorker. (2023). “China’s Involuted Generation”. Retrieved from The New Yorker

MetaCognition: a critical learning competency

How often do we stop to think about our thinking?

Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes, is a cornerstone of effective learning. It allows individuals to evaluate, regulate, and adapt their cognitive strategies, leading to improved problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Edward de Bono, in his Six Thinking Hats framework, refers to this as the ‘Blue Hat’ thinking, which involves managing the thinking process itself.

As the philosopher John Dewey once said, ‘We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.'”

In the context of higher education, metacognition plays a pivotal role in fostering self-awareness and lifelong learning habits. This blog post explores how metacognitive strategies can enhance learning in ethics, sustainability, reflection, and business communication, illustrating the transformative power of self-awareness in education.

Metacognition comprises two primary components:

  • Metacognitive Knowledge: Includes declarative knowledge (understanding oneself as a learner), procedural knowledge (knowing how to perform tasks), and conditional knowledge (knowing when and why to apply specific strategies) (Schraw & Dennison, 1994; Flavell, 1979).
  • Metacognitive Regulation: Involves planning (selecting strategies and resources), monitoring (awareness of comprehension and performance), and evaluating (appraising the task performance and strategy effectiveness).

“The significance of metacognition is connected to the very essence of how we live. ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ as Socrates wrote, underscores the importance of self-reflection and critical evaluation in personal and academic growth.”

Role of Metacognition

  • Enhancing Critical Thinking and Self-Reflection: (Declarative Knowledge), e.g. Students engage in case studies and reflective journals, promoting awareness of their thought processes and ethical considerations (Schön, 1983).
  • Understanding and Evaluating Personal Values and Biases: (Conditional Knowledge), e.g. In teaching ethics, we specifically incorporate reflective journals into the assessment process in order to facilitate students to examine their responses to ethical frameworks, encouraging them to consider different perspectives and refine their moral reasoning (Schön, 1983).

Integrating MetaCognition

  • Importance of Reflection in Learning: (Procedural Knowledge), e.g. Reflective practices, such as journals and self-assessment, allow students to consolidate their learning and understand concepts more profoundly (Azevedo & Cromley, 2004).
  • Developing Self-Regulation and Goal-Setting Skills: (Conditional Knowledge), e.g. In sustainability courses, students may be assigned projects that require them to reflect on their personal carbon footprint and sustainability practices, promoting a deeper understanding of their environmental impact and fostering sustainable thinking (Boud & Molloy, 2013).
  • Self-Monitoring and Evaluating Communication Effectiveness: (Procedural Knowledge), e.g. Students learn to monitor their communication skills and evaluate their effectiveness, leading to improved interactions (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).
  • Adapting Communication Styles Based on Audience Feedback: (Conditional Knowledge), e.g. In business communication courses, role-playing exercises and presentations can be used to help students reflect on their communication strategies, allowing them to adapt and improve their approach based on audience feedback (Roll & Wylie, 2016).

Importance of Teacher Feedback and Feedback Literacy

Teacher feedback plays a crucial role in the development of metacognitive skills. Effective feedback helps students understand their strengths and areas for improvement, guiding them in refining their cognitive strategies and enhancing their learning outcomes. Feedback literacy, the ability to understand and use feedback effectively, empowers students to take an active role in their learning process, making them more reflective and self-regulated learners (Boud & Molloy, 2013).

Feedback is a shared responsibility between teachers and students. For feedback to be effective, both parties must engage actively in the process. Teachers provide constructive insights and evaluations, while students must learn to interpret, internalize, and apply this feedback to their learning strategies. This collaborative approach ensures that feedback serves its intended purpose of fostering continuous improvement and self-awareness.

Feedback literacy comprises several competencies that collectively contribute to the metacognitive learning process. These competencies include:

  • Understanding Feedback: Students must comprehend the feedback they receive, including its purpose and how it relates to their work.
  • Seeking Clarification: Students should feel empowered to ask questions and seek further explanation when feedback is unclear.
  • Reflecting on Feedback: This involves critically analyzing feedback to understand what changes are necessary and why they are important.
  • Applying Feedback: Students must develop the ability to implement feedback into their future work effectively.
  • Engaging in Dialogue: An ongoing conversation between teachers and students helps clarify expectations, address misunderstandings, and support the continuous refinement of learning strategies.

By developing these competencies, students become better equipped to engage in the metacognitive processes of planning, monitoring, and evaluating their learning. This holistic approach to feedback and feedback literacy significantly enhances students’ ability to self-regulate and adapt their learning strategies, ultimately leading to improved academic performance and personal growth.

Metacognitive Teaching Tools and Templates

  • Reflective Journals: Templates for reflective journals can guide students in structuring their thoughts and reflections systematically. One such template is the “Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle,” which prompts students to describe, analyse, and evaluate their experiences (Boud & Molloy, 2013).
  • Self-Assessment Checklists: Tools like Zimmerman’s (2002) self-regulation checklist help students monitor their learning strategies and progress.
  • AI-driven Feedback Platforms: As students engage in a dialogical conversation with AI, such as intelligent tutoring systems, their curiosity and interaction can enhance metacognitive awareness. These platforms provide personalized feedback and recommendations, helping students to better understand their learning processes and improve outcomes (Aburayya et al., 2023; Lim et al., 2023).


By integrating metacognitive practices across disciplines such as ethics, sustainability, reflection, and business communication, higher education can significantly enhance students’ critical thinking, self-awareness, and adaptability. Educators are encouraged to embed metacognitive strategies in their teaching methods, fostering a reflective and self-regulated learning environment for students.

Students can also leverage AI tools to assist their metacognitive practices. Tools such as intelligent tutoring systems and AI-driven feedback platforms can provide personalised insights and recommendations, helping students to better understand their learning processes and improve their outcomes (Roll & Wylie, 2016).

“In the words of Confucius, ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.’ Embracing metacognition not only reveals the depths of our understanding but also lights the path toward continuous intellectual and personal growth.”



Learning from another culture often awakens more than cultural understanding

Learning from another culture often awakens more than cultural understanding

OpenAI. (2023). Serene Japanese Garden [Digital image]. DALL·E Image Generator.

The transition from high school to university can be both exhilarating and challenging for students as they adapt to heightened academic expectations and responsibilities.

While there are existing support structures, students can benefit from supplementary viewpoints and practices to facilitate this transition.
Learning to interact and understand other cultures can be integrated with the provision of invaluable insights that align with aspects of the high school to university transition in Australia.

Key Japanese Philosophies and their Core Concepts

Several Japanese philosophies underscore self-improvement, the quest for purpose, societal contribution, and resilience:

  • Zen Buddhism advocates for an empty mind, ego detachment, and self-overcoming through meditation (Suzuki, 1959).
  • Ikigai emphasizes finding one’s purpose by harmonizing passion, mission, vocation, and profession (García & Miralles, 2018).
  • Neo-Confucianism champions the utilization of education for the betterment of others and the broader society (Huang, 1997).
  • Concepts such as mushin (no-mind) and shoshin (beginner’s mind) inspire a present-focused mindset and a fresh perspective on things.


OpenAI. (2023). Traditional Japanese scrolls illustrating philosophies [Digital image]. DALL·E Image Generator

Transition from High School to Australian Tertiary Experience

The fundamental values of these philosophies resonate profoundly with the transition from high school to university in Australia. This shift demands heightened independence and self-direction, correlating with the self-improvement philosophy. Students’ pursuit of purpose in their academic endeavours mirrors ikigai. The motivation to make a positive societal impact aligns with neo-Confucianism. Moreover, fostering resilience by maintaining a clear mind and sustaining curiosity facilitates better adaptability (Tinto, 1993; Kift, 2009).

5 Practical Applications for a Smoother Transition

Here are some actionable recommendations for high school students transitioning to university, grounded in these Japanese philosophies:

1. Allocate time for meditation and introspection for enhanced concentration and mental clarity (Kabat-Zinn, 1994).







OpenAI. (2023). Zen Buddhist monk meditating in a tranquil Japanese garden [Digital image]. DALL·E Image Generator.

 2. Recognize your passions and strengths to pinpoint studies or activities that resonate with your purpose.

  • Ikigai BBC – Ikigai: A Japanese concept to improve work and life
  • Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” It encompasses the intersection of what you love (passion), what you are good at (vocation), what the world needs (mission), and what you can be paid for (profession).







OpenAI. (2023). Illustration of Ikigai concept with intersecting circles and Japanese village backdrop [Digital image]. DALL·E Image Generator.


3. Contemplate how your academic pursuits can address societal or community challenges.

  • Neo-Confucianism Encyclopedia Britannica – Neo-Confucianism
  • This philosophy emphasizes the importance of education and knowledge for the betterment of society. The well-being of the community and society is paramount in Neo-Confucian thought.







OpenAI. (2023). Artistic rendering of a Neo-Confucian scholar reading ancient texts [Digital image]

4. Approach the unfamiliar academic landscape with a curious mindset and a readiness to learn.

  • Shoshin (Beginner’s Mind) Tricycle – The Beginner’s Mind
  • Translated as “beginner’s mind,” shoshin refers to having an open and eager attitude when starting something new or studying a subject.






OpenAI. (2023).
Watercolor painting of a student practicing shoshin by observing cherry blossoms [Digital image].

5.  Abandon ego, remain resilient amid obstacles, and grow through introspection (Deci & Ryan, 2008)

  • Mushin (No-Mind) Karate by Jesse – Mushin: The Zen of No Mind
  • Often translated as “no-mind,” mushin is a state where the mind is clear of thoughts and is fully present in the moment, allowing one to act without being hindered by ego or emotional attachment.

OpenAI. (2023). Ink drawing of a martial artist demonstrating the concept of mushin [Digital image]. DALL·E Image Generator.

By weaving in elements from Zen Buddhism, ikigai, neo-Confucianism, and other Japanese philosophies, students can amplify their personal growth and transition experiences. Using the wisdom from these philosophies empowers students to remain anchored, resolute, and socially aware on their academic voyage as they navigate this significant life transition.



  • García, H., & Miralles, F. (2018). Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Penguin Books.
  • Huang, C. (1997). Neo-Confucianism: New Ideas on Old Thought. Asian Philosophy, 7(1), 17-31.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion.
  • Kift, S. (2009). Articulating a transition pedagogy to scaffold and to enhance the first year student learning experience in Australian higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(3), 319-330.
  • Suzuki, D. T. (1959). Zen and Japanese Culture. Princeton University Press.
  • Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. University of Chicago Press.