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OUR UNIVERSITIES IN TURMOIL

By Australian Newsletter

Editors comment: An article like this would not normally find a place in a newsletter put out by a prayer network. The COVID 19 crisis however has exposed many issues that has given Australia a unique opportunity to tackle problems within society that had been previously hidden. Many of these issues play a role in shaping the destiny of our nation and which therefore require much prayer. In coming weeks we will expand our coverage to expose some ingrained problems that have been brought into the light by the impact of the virus. We may not always agree with every sentiment expressed by the writers, but issues we cover we believe are in need of much prayer so that change can occur into the future.

These are tumultuous times for Australian universities.  At the University of Adelaide, the vice-chancellor has taken “indefinite leave” and the chancellor has resigned.  In unrelated moves, other Vice Chancellors (VCs) signalled their intent to move on even before the COVID-19 crisis hit.  Michael Spence is leaving the top job at the University of Sydney at the end of the year.  There are departures by other university leaders, including at the University of Queensland.  Is it foolish to hope for different, improved leadership at our major universities?  Certainly, if incoming VCs are smart, they will turn their attention to domestic students who have long been ignored in favour of cash cows in China.

To understand what prevents Australian students from obtaining an excellent university education, one needs to understand the entrenched problems at our biggest tertiary institutions.  This week I spoke to someone who knows first-hand how universities are run, what their motivations are and what has gone wrong in the past 15 years. This professor of media and communications, says Australia’s major universities are run essentially by the worst forms of authoritarianism and the pursuit of money.  Before unravelling that, first understand that this prominent professor says she would normally put her name to what she says. Except for one thing: “I would get sacked,” she says.

“My contract says that I cannot bring my university into disrepute so if I put my name to this, my job would be in jeopardy.  And I have a mortgage to pay.”  Put another way, these are escape clauses for poorly run universities to avoid scrutiny by people in the know.  The authoritarian fist was particularly evident in a tutorial room at the University of Technology Sydney for first-year communications students.  A few weeks ago, a young student, we will call him David, as he doesn’t want to get blackballed by university administrators, decided to quit his communications degree.

He sent a thoughtful and honest email to his lecturer explaining why.  He said he hoped the feedback would be used in a constructive way.  David wrote that he “found the course and tutor extremely prescriptive in opinion, presenting very niche ideological standpoints as absolute objective fact, and this was reinforced by a proactive effort to shut down any opposing point of view.  Anytime I suggested anything that went against the consensus, I was shut down and even laughed at.”  The young law student says he enrolled in communications expecting respectful, philosophical discussions about our political systems.  It didn’t turn out that way.

Going by David’s experience, tutorials should be renamed dictatorials about identity politics, victimhood and shame.  Instead of encouraging students to think, and discuss issues, the tutorial room in David’s communications degree became a place where his different views were mocked and ignored as “inherent ignorance from a white male”.  He said even putting aside the silly politics of the course, what are students going to do with guff about the world being a battleground where every smaller group is oppressed by a “dominant group”?  “Never did I expect to be alienated from class discussion because of my skin colour or my gender.

I cannot believe that in this day and age my identity was held paramount in deciding if I was correct, not what I had to say.  I wonder what the response would have been had I suggested a fellow student’s opinion was inherently invalid purely because she was female,” David wrote to his lecturer.  The lecturer wrote a cursory response, saying she was pleased that he was able to withdraw without incurring course costs. Monolithic thinking is dangerous, particularly at universities.  If tutorials cannot accommodate a genuine diversity of views, including those of David, then universities don’t deserve a dime from taxpayers.

Alas, it’s not just lecturers running dictatorials who are dumbing down a university education for Australian students.  As the professor of media and communications said, the greedy corporatist agenda of university administrators, relying on a gravy train of international students, mostly from mainland China, is also lowering standards at universities that crow about their rankings.  She says chasing fees from international students has been under way for 15 years, with foreign agents acting for our universities to arrange “huge parties and junkets” for potential overseas students and also the “doctoring” of English language tests.

The professor says she has seen hundreds of foreign students arrive with band 6 scores, meaning competent, on the standardised speech, reading and writing tests known as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).  She would give them no more than a band 3, which is “extremely limited” according to the International English Language Testing System.  These results have big ramifications for foreign students who are out of their depth, struggling in a foreign country away from families, without the skills to learn properly.  And the consequences for local students are equally poor.

“Masters and postgraduate students’ programs, which are the money-spinners to attract foreign students, have been dumbed down often to a point where the standards expected are below that of what we expect of undergraduate students,” she says.  While her heart goes out to struggling foreign students, she says students with insufficient English language skills mean “domestic students are frequently irritated, particularly with group assignments.  They are paying a lot of money for a postgraduate course and many definitely feel they are not challenged enough.”

These secrets about foreign cash cows and dumbed-down courses, previously whispered about among lecturers and students, deserve to be exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic as the tap of money from international students dries up.  “Without in anyway being xenophobic, reliance on international students is the wrong answer.  It’s an add-on, that’s all.  We should be really focusing on how we educate Australians, and thinking about what we need to build a strong economy and society,” says the professor.  Our best universities could start the post-COVID reform process by treating domestic students better.

One young man recently reapplied to enrol in a full-fee masters’ program at one of Australia’s grandest sandstone universities.  His marks were a tiny fraction away from the entry mark for the course.  Within minutes of sending a thoughtful and polite email seeking admission, explaining special circumstances that would have lifted his score over the threshold, he was effectively told to rack off.  Smart businesses wouldn’t be so brazenly rude and dismissive about new full-fee paying customers when they are running under capacity because of the economic lockdown.  Our small businesses are eagerly trying to attract customers in new ways, adapting wherever they can.

But our cashed-up major universities run by overpaid VCs have grown arrogant and complacent.  They would rather go cap in hand to the federal government pleading for more taxpayer money after they have raked in Chinese money to fund research papers to bump up their rankings to attract more foreign students.  All the while they have dumbed-down standards, leaving local students without a quality education.  It’s a disgrace.  Having worked in Australian universities for 20 years, at very senior levels, the professor says “the level of bureaucracy is insane, the systems are not serving the students.  It’s a plague on our house.”

Prayer points:

* Pray that our Universities would re-consider their current model which relies heavily on the enrolment of overseas students to fund them so as to open up more opportunities for Australian students to undertake tertiary education.

* Pray that our Universities will once again become places where many points of view are able to be discussed and not be limited by ideologies pushed or held by the academic elite.

* Pray that once again our Universities become the source of knowledge and academic enlightenment rather than the source of so much of the ideological pursuits that have invaded our society in recent years.

Source: An article written by Journalist Janet Albrechtsen

STOP THE MISUSE OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION TRIBUNALS

By Australian Newsletter

New South Wales Upper House member Mark Latham has introduced an Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Complaint Handling) Bill 2020 into the NSW parliament.  The Bill is directed at preventing abuses of the discrimination complaints process by vexatious or serial litigants.  These can be litigants with an activist or personal agenda making numerous complaints on flimsy grounds against another to effectively punish that other person for expressing a point of view which they do not agree with or find offensive.  The Bill proposes needed reform of a system that is being misused.

Mr Latham states: “The risk therefore with the Anti-Discrimination Act is one of misuse.  We must ensure that anti-discrimination provisions are not abused, that activists do not use them as an instrument for personal financial gain or vengeance, or to try to silence those who simply hold views with which they disagree.  Such activism would not only be morally wrong but also represent a misallocation of scarce resources in the New South Wales legal system.  The freedom to make a complaint of discrimination is a privilege we enjoy in a democratic society with a rule of law and is meant to be used for redress for discrimination suffered not for punishing those you disagree with.”

Source: Australian Family Association

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PRAYING FOR OUR NATION DURING THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC

By Australian Newsletter

We invite all of our members to continue to pray for our people as the Corona 19 pandemic continues to impact our nation and the nations of the world. As the impact of the Covid 19 virus diminishes across our nation and the recovery begins, we have decided that this will be the final week of prayer points related to the virus and its impact upon the nation. We thank all our members for their prayers over recent weeks which we believe has resulted in our nation being saved from a much more severe outbreak.

Please pray:

* that all Australians will continue to respect the call of our Governments to engage in behaviour that will protect us all from the spread of this virus.

* that Godly wisdom will be given to our State Governments as to how and when to lift restrictions on the various segments of society in a timely manner that will keep the virus under control, but also allow as many people as possible to return to work and play.

* that as many people as possible will be able to be re-employed in the work force and that as many businesses as possible will be able to re-open and remain financially viable as the restrictions are lifted.

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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EXPATS ARE FLOCKING BACK TO AUSTRALIA

By Australian Newsletter

For the first time in a generation Australia’s expat community is starting to come home.  And why wouldn’t they come home?  We are a country with low COVID-19 infection and death rates and hidden potential.  We have an opportunity, albeit one difficult to realise, that has not been available to Australia for a long time.  Our rivals in education and tourism such as the UK, Europe and the US are crippled.  Few overseas students would choose to go to those areas and study.  And although tourism is very restricted, our rival tourist destinations are also crippled.

As well, in commercial activities, a lot of enterprises are experiencing the high risks of operating in so many countries outside of Australia and New Zealand.  Many in our expat community, having bagged Australia for years, now recognise the potential and they are very willing to be quarantined for 14 days so that they can exercise their rights of Australian citizenship.  Home has never felt so good.  Right now our big state governments are concentrating trying to maintain low infection rates with very cautious easing.  Despite all the economic and market bravado, our Australian economy is unlikely to quickly snap back to where it was.

The people on the front line of the financial crisis, the banks, have some $160 billion in loans that are falling behind, led by the employment powerhouse of small business.  If we are not careful, the insecure bank veneer holding up vast areas of the employment-generating small business sector will start to crumble.  In the US they expect considerable damage in the small and medium business sector to emerge next month and if the clamps remain until September vast areas of American small business will be destroyed.  And with that destruction will come an unemployment problem even greater than the current one.

Australia is obviously better off but we face the same dangers and the underlying employment situation is not that different because it is being masked by poor real unemployment statistics from the ABS.  Of course, there are many in the community who are still earning last year’s income so their basic lifestyles are being maintained.  That segment of the community is spearheaded by the public servants in Canberra.   That’s why it was horrific to see Treasury people apparently leaking the idea to the media that JobKeeper might be cut back before September 30.  There can be minor modifications and an obvious area of weakness handing lower paid people a big pay rise via JobKeeper.

But any basic change will bring down the bank-supported veneer that it is holding up so many of our businesses.  It is likely that in a reduced form, JobKeeper will be required after September 30.  Treasury people should be sent to Sydney and Melbourne to learn about the world outside Canberra.  In fairness Treasury people see first-hand the sea of monumental deficits.  If we are going to bring these deficits under control an important step is to devise a safe system to restore and lift the global overseas student market.  The university system not only generates strong export and domestic revenue but there is a huge army of small enterprises that support the campuses.

Obviously we need strong safety restrictions but we can use the current quarantine system or, perhaps, we can test arrivals for COVID-19 so the quarantine is much shorter.  And we can use masks at universities to make them safer.  It’s a small price to price to pay to restore this important part of our prosperity.  And on the subject of masks, at the moment working or living in high-rise towers is extremely inefficient and time-consuming because of the restrictions on the number of people who can use the lift.  Masks in that area will help, perhaps supported by regular temperature checks.

Obviously tourism is harder but again is it possible to test tourists as part of a total arrival testing service to restrict the quarantine period?  Again we must leave it to the experts but we have the chance of generating much needed wealth given these huge deficits.  Our prime minister is recognised internationally as one of the best in the world and we are fortunate to have him as our leader.  He is trying to snap the Australian economy back but too much damage has been done and the flower of confidence has been crushed.  We need to find a way to restore those great engine rooms of prosperity: education and tourism.

Given the states differing views, it is no easy task to establish a national policy.  But our country has been presented with an opportunity not seen for a generation.  For health reasons it’s not an easy opportunity to grasp and there are many genuine hazards in attempting to take advantage.  But it is there and it won’t be there for ever.

Please pray:

  • giving thanks that God is already preparing us for our recovery as a nation by causing to return home those talented Australians who left our shores because of limited opportunity here to use their talent.
  • that our Governments and business will recognise the skills and expertise of those returning home and find        places for them to excel in serving our nation in its recovery from the crippling effects of the Covid 19                  lockdowns.
  • that every Australian will play their role in contributing to the economic recovery that is now facing Australia.

Source: Financial Commentator Robert Gottliebsen

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NSW PREMIER DEFENDS CASES OF KIDS AT RISK

By Australian Newsletter

Fewer than one third of children at risk of severe harm in NSW were seen by a case worker, new figures have shown.  The statistics for the December 2019 quarter also reveal that in the month of September, 37.5 per cent of children at risk of severe harm re-reported abuse within 12 months of having their case closed.  The NSW government has set a target to reduce this figure by 5.2 percentage points by June 2021.  But the NSW premier said some of the quarterly figures released by the Department of Justice and Communities had increased because more children were investigated in the past year.

“Whilst the percentage of children who need that support and care keeps going up, the number of children we’re also checking up on has increased in the last 12 months,” Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.  “I’m not suggesting that’s enough, but it is an increase on the previous few.  “So actually more children are ensured of being safe in their environments but unfortunately the number of reports have gone up as well.”  Ms Berejiklian said for the first time in the past two decades, the trend of the number of children in out-of-home care was declining.  “We have the highest rates or what we call permanency and adoption now in NSW, the other states are actually looking at us,” she said.

Source: Australian Associated Press

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PRAYING FOR OUR NATION DURING THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC

By Australian Newsletter

We invite all of our members to continue to pray for our people as the Corona 19 pandemic continues to impact our nation and the nations of the world.  Please pray:

* For families with young children as Schools begin to re-open.  Pray that the children and their teachers will be kept protected against the virus.  For any that may not be able to resume for any reason ask God to help mothers and fathers to partner together creatively for the care and flourishing of their children.  For single mothers and fathers, grow their networks of support.

* For those in need of regular therapies and treatments that have had to be postponed:  Ask God to help them to stay patient and positive.

* For business leaders making difficult decisions that affect the lives of their employees:  God, give these women and men wisdom, and help them to lead self-sacrificially.

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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