The nation’s top universities are “not interested in promoting the study of things Australian” and are “failing in their responsibilities as national institutions”, leading academics and historians have warned.  Greg Melleuish, a professor at the University of Wollongong, has told a parliamentary inquiry that universities are “primarily international in their loyalties” and are becoming “highly authoritarian”.  Dr Melleuish’s view was supported by one of Australia’s leading historians, Stuart Macintyre, a former dean of the Faculty of Arts at Melbourne University, who said that universities should “pay some regard to their national responsibilities”.

Flinders University English professor Robert Phiddian said international scholarship was ranked more highly than local scholarship.  The role played by the higher education sector in framing Australian identity and democracy is being examined by a Senate inquiry.  The committee’s deputy chair, Amanda Stoker, warned that identity politics and postmodernism had “shamed” ordinary people into abandoning the political centre ground.  She said that “academic disdain” for Australian culture and identity had contributed to minimising the study of Australian history and resulted in a diminished sense of national pride within the university sector.

In his submission to the legal and constitutional affairs references committee, Dr Melleuish said:  “It is positively disadvantageous to have an Australian focus to one’s research, especially in the humanities and social sciences.  “Articles on Australian topics rarely make it into ‘top-level international journals’ and Australian journals are generally not highly ranked.  There is little incentive for academics, especially in the humanities and social sciences, to pursue Australian research projects.  “There is a strong argument to be made that Australian universities, funded by Australians, are failing in their responsibilities as national institutions.”

Professor Macintyre said some fields of Australian research were being disadvantaged because of “silly” university policies.  “Universities, partly because they are competing for international students, need to score well in international research rankings. And they are based primarily on journal citations on an international basis,” he said.  “That has disadvantaged various fields of Australian research.  It arises from the competitive nature of the system with deans who issue lists of journals you can and cannot publish in, which are starving these fields.  And it’s particularly silly because most of the deans haven’t done research in decades.

Professor Macintyre said it was a “form of competition” that was disadvantaging the national interest.  “We put an enormous amount of money into enabling Australians to go to university and a smaller amount into supporting research at universities,” he said.  “We should expect them to pay some regard to their national responsibilities.”  Professor Phiddian agreed that universities’ focus on doing well in international rankings had resulted in Australian and also New Zealand studies, being downgraded.  “International scholarship is more highly ranked than local scholarship,” said Professor Phiddian of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres.

Professor Phiddian went on “It probably makes perfectly good sense in chemistry and mathematics.  But in the arts and humanities, it generates a bias against Australian and New Zealand research.”  He said Australia had university leaders “who think universities are machines for generating university rankings”.  Maurice Newman, a former chancellor of Macquarie University, said opposition to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation exemplified a major problem in Australian universities.  “Western civilisation is something which is impossible to defend in a modern university,” Mr Newman said.  “What is inferred to us is that we are part of an inferior culture.”

“It goes to the whole issue of how we came here and questions the legitimacy of our civilisation and our society and that’s what seems to be pretty much the broad view in universities these days” Newman said.  He said universities and the corporate world were “looking more to the global view than to national interests” and adopting theories on climate change and identity politics without critical assessment.  Professor Melleuish, a political conservative who has specialised in political ideologies and systems, used his submission to sound the alarm on universities being increasingly motivated by rising in international rankings and attracting as many foreign students as possible.

He said universities had shifted from being institutions with a “strong democratic flavour to ones that are run top down by individuals who see themselves as absolute rulers”.  “Australian universities have increasingly become highly authoritarian institutions,” Professor Melleuish said.  “There is clearly a connection between their desire to become international institutions and their increasing authoritarianism.  They have moved away from being national institutions, devoted to the national interest and imbued with the Australian democratic spirit to being something quite different that is inimical to the democratic culture of Australia.”

Senator Stoker said universities played a “key role in shaping identity and culture”.  “There is some force in Professor Melleuish’s submission that academic disdain for Australian culture, combined with measures of performance that align incentives with international rather than Australian interests, have expunged our history and national pride from the curriculum,” she said.  “They have been replaced with cultural cringe, embarrassment about our history and aspiration to a globalist outlook.  As a consequence, students can fail to appreciate the freedoms that made our nation rise so swiftly, or the history that shows our democracy is worth valuing and protecting.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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