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Ziggy Switkowski: the corporatisation of Australian universities and Crown Casino

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/09/2021 - 4:56am in

After a stellar career at the pinnacle of several large corporate entities, Ziggy Switkowski seems to have fallen to Earth after resigning as chancellor of RMIT university.

This follows a petition presented by staff members outraged that their chancellor would also be chairman of Crown Casino. But is this the beginning of university staff campaigning more broadly against the corporatisation of the Australian higher education system?

Two prominent figures have now recently been replaced as chancellors of their respective universities under pressure from university staff and students, Mark Vaile at the University of Newcastle before he even took up his position and now Switkowski at RMIT, where he had been chancellor for more than 10 years, and had just been renewed for another five. His resignation is hardly coincidental, with the presentation by RMIT staff of a petition asserting the incompatibility of someone holding the position of chancellor of a university whilst heading a major Australian gambling company. He says he resigned because he was too overworked in other positions.

A letter from Megaphone (and the NTEU) has congratulated the RMIT staff for taking this action. It deprecates having someone who is chairman of Crown also being chancellor of a university, because “The Higher Education Act (2005) requires by law that University Council members have ‘an appreciation of the values of a University’. Given RMIT values include being ‘agents of positive change for our students, the community and beyond’, it is simply untenable that you continue in your role of RMIT chancellor or as a Council member whilst chair of Crown Resorts Board.”

Elizabeth Knight in The Age quoted Dr Melissa Slee as saying: “The chair of a casino is simply incompatible with (being) chancellor of a university … In fact, it’s quite disgusting. Universities are not corporations, and they are certainly not casinos.”

It is surely significant that the resignation of Switkowski, following pressure from staff members, was reported in the The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, the Herald Sun and The Australian. Normally the resignation of a university chancellor would not receive such attention. Yet in this case it is likely because of the conjunction of circumstances that produced the situation, especially that Switkowski has long been a very high profile businessman, chief executive officer of Telstra and Optus at different times, and chairman of the NBN.

Crown Casino has been under justified scrutiny by a number of inquiries over the past eighteen months and has been portrayed in an extremely negative light. Moreover, even without the problems the various commissions have exposed, the many problems associated with mass forms of gambling, mainly poker machines, have been publicized for years, yet have largely been ignored by the gambling regulator because it is a toothless tiger.

The position of chancellor, as chair of the university council, has traditionally been almost an honorary one, but has changed somewhat since universities have become corporatised. The top levels of university administration, with the tacit assistance of the university council, have come to stand against the academic and general staff who are the front line of the university in respect of teaching and research.

The council was also traditionally supposed to represent a kind of link between the university and the wider community. Though this is surely much better achieved by the students who attend the university communicating their experience of university life to those around them who are outside of the university.

In any case, a chancellor is usually somebody with a pre-existing public profile, usually an ex-politician, a businessman, a diplomat, and very occasionally a former academic. Presumably the assumption by the vice-chancellor of the university and the other senior administrative staff is that such figures will be able to assist the university in lobbying for more funds, outside of the normal avenues for obtaining such.

Their positions have arguably become more important as the university system has become more corporatized and funding sources, especially from the government, have diminished over the past three decades, at the same time as university administrations have taken an increasingly large portion of the university budget.

Academic staff opposition to the increasing corporatization of the system has in my experience been muted. I remember warning people about this at my own university in the early nineties when the vice-chancellor’s position became more presidential. This was accompanied by the first of many organisational restructures and strategic plans. None of these really improved the efficiency of the chief functions of the university, teaching and research. Rather they made employment of academic staff more precarious, massively increasing the number of sessional employees.

Vaile was prevented from becoming chancellor at the University of Newcastle because of his chairmanship of Whitehaven Coal. Switkowski resigned from RMIT following an outcry over his connection with Crown Casino. Does the pressure placed on both men represent a new radicalism of academic staff and a recognition of the damage the corporate mentality has done to the Australian higher education system? This remains to be seen. But that the staff were able to mobilize themselves shows a renewed attempt by university staff to take back some control of institutions that have been so damaged by corporatism and the constant restructuring accompanying this.

In the final analysis, the pressured removals, driven by academic staff, of Switkowski and Vaile are certainly desirable in reasserting the values that should drive a university education. But whether they will stop the corporatisation process which has been so damaging for Australians universities is a moot point. This will be a much greater battle requiring a very clear understanding of what the underlying value of both a university education and a university should be. It will require academic staff to be pitted against certain of the administrative staff and some senior academics in a way that will not be pleasant, even if it is entirely necessary.

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Cartoon: Welcome back to school

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 7:50am in

Follow me on TwitterFacebookInstagram, or at my website.

This is, unbelievably, a member of our very own government – and is also a clip from the BBC….

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/09/2021 - 7:00am in

I find it difficult to believe that this man considers that he is in charge of education. He has had months – if not more than a year – to organise CO2 monitors – or even air filters in schools, but has singularly failed to do so. Just see: It seems that he is a... Read more

The Great Covid Panic: now out!

It’s here, the booklet I am sure you have all been waiting for. The one which Gigi Foster and Michael Baker slaved over for 10 months. It is also on Kindle. It is dedicated to all the victims of the Panic, in poor countries and rich countries. They include our children, the lonely, and the poor.

The short publisher blurb: How to make sense of the astonishing upheaval of Spring 2020 and following? Normal life – in which expected rights and freedoms were taken for granted – came to be replaced by a new society as managed by a medical/ruling elite that promised but failed to deliver virus mitigation, all in the name of public health. Meanwhile, we’ve lost so much of what we once had: travel freedoms, privacy, a democratic presumption of equality, commercial freedoms, and even the access to information portals. Something has gone very wrong.

The longer blurb that our publisher chose for it is over the fold! There is also a website that will tell you where book launches will take place, which bookstores sell it, and who has liked it sofar.

To make sense of it all, the Brownstone Institute is pleased to announce the publication of The Great Covid Panic: What Happened, Why, and What To Do Next, by Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker. Combining rigorous scholarship with evocative and accessible prose, the book covers all the issues central to the pandemic and the disastrous policy response, a narrative as comprehensive as it is intellectually devastating. In short, this is THE book the world needs right now.

In the Great Panic of early 2020, nearly every government in the world restricted the movement of its population, disrupted the education of its children, suspended normal individual liberties, hijacked its healthcare system, and in other ways increased its direct control of people’s lives. Attempts to control the new coronavirus in most countries made the number of deaths from both the virus and other health problems rise. Some countries and regions snapped out of the madness in early 2021 or even before. Yet other governments, still in 2021, were ever more fanatically obsessed with control.

Why did 2020 become, so suddenly and so forcefully, a year of global panic over a virus that for most people is barely more dangerous than a standard-issue flu virus? This book reveals how the madness started, what kept it going, and how it might end. This is also a book about stories and experiences, some real and some fictionalized to protect identities. Join Jane the complier, James the decider, and Jasmine the doubter, the three core protagonists of the narrative part of the book. Their experiences illustrate what happened to individuals and through them to whole societies, telling us — if we care to listen — how to avoid a repeat. This literary presentation is mixed with detailed reports of the actual data and deep research that has generally been obscured in the midst of media madness and obfuscation by public-health authority.

“A tour-de-force on how the pandemic response was driven by fear, crowd thinking, big business and a desire for control, rather than by sound public health principles. This is bound to be a classic.” ~ Professor Martin Kulldorff, Harvard Medical School

“When I received the manuscript, I was hooked from the first page and knew then that I would miss a full night’s sleep. I did indeed. My heart raced from beginning to end. As the publisher, I must say that this book is a dream for me, the book I never thought would exist, the book that I believe can change everything.” ~ Jeffrey Tucker, Founder Brownstone Institute.

Don’t forget the plight of Afghans in Australia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/08/2021 - 4:53am in

Further to Stuart Rees’ eloquent exposure of the Prime Minister’s cruelty toward those Afghans already in Australia on temporary visas, below is my letter to the Prime Minister arguing for a more humane and pragmatic asylum seeker policy. Pragmatic because times have changed – the boats are no longer coming – and because among those temporary protection visa holders are talented, resilient and determined young people.

I know this from reading the applications of young refugees, many from Afghanistan but also Syria, South Sudan, Iran and elsewhere, for tertiary transition scholarships made available by the Public Education Foundation. Over the last five years the PEF has awarded almost 300 refugee scholarships (both for secondary school students and those going into full-time tertiary study). More than 100 scholars have gone on to university, studying in courses as diverse as engineering, pharmacy and construction management. They’ve been school captains and student council representatives. Many are young women who have spent years away from schooling because they have lived under regimes which do not permit girls’ education. Others have spent years in limbo in UN refugee camps. They face a myriad of difficulties on arrival in Australia, from the legacy of trauma to adjusting to a new language and school system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties as students struggle with access to laptops, broadband and even physical spaces to study. Despite this, they remain driven to attain educational success, while also helping their families, for example with English translation and, until lockdown, by working part-time. They even find time to demonstrate their commitment to the broader community by volunteering.

It is not enough to say, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have, there are no plans at the moment to return Afghan TPV holders to Australia – what an absurdity. It is time instead urgently to set in train processes to allow them, and other asylum seekers, to apply to become Australian citizens.

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If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You Teach At An Elite College?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/08/2021 - 8:30pm in

The title of this post, a riff on G.A. Cohen’s If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?is one way Jonny Thakkar (Swarthmore) described to me the question at the heart of his recent essay, “Elite Education,” in The Point.


An outdoor “classroom” at Swarthmore

In it, he writes:

In an ideal society, I have suggested, there would be no elite colleges, or at least not in their current form. There might well be highly selective institutions devoted to fostering intellectual excellence, just as there might well be highly selective institutions devoted to fostering musical or sporting excellence. But an ideal society would be a just society, and a just society would manifest equal concern for each of its young adults; and although equal concern would not require an exactly equal distribution of resources, departures from equal distribution would have to be justified. If a college like Swarthmore wanted to bring this about, it could in principle work toward self-abolition, perhaps via intermediary steps like tripling the number of students or founding a sister college in nearby Chester. But America will not be just any time soon; even its public education system devotes vastly greater resources to well-off children than to those from poorer backgrounds. There would therefore be reasonable conservative grounds for Swarthmore’s officers and trustees to refuse to kill off the exquisitely rare fish of its rigorous liberal arts education just in order to sprinkle a little water on America’s arid turf. As an individual faculty member you have no power over such matters in any case: you either play the hand you’re dealt or you quit. If you do stay, then you have to acknowledge that the sociological function of elite colleges in non-ideal America will always be to produce an unfairly privileged elite. The only question is what it means to do this well.

One characteristic of a desirable elite, it seems to me, is that its members be self-aware. Each needs to recognize that they are the recipient of a golden ticket, not so they can engage in pointless rituals of self-denunciation but so they can reckon with the question of which responsibilities follow from the privilege that has been unfairly bestowed upon them. What is needed, as conservatives such as Helen Andrews and Ross Douthat have rightly argued, is something like the old ethos of noblesse oblige, according to which a golden ticket comes with the unavoidable obligation to make what Christopher Lasch called “a direct and personal contribution to the public good.” The difficulty is knowing how to teach with this in mind, given that career decisions are generally considered private…

If one function of a college like Swarthmore should be to create a good elite, another should be to give young people a taste for the life of the mind understood as an end in itself. Oxford remains for me an open wound, yet it was through one-on-one tutorials on Wittgenstein and Heidegger with a Socratic professor who never told me exactly what he thought that I came to see who I was and what I cared about. In a better world such opportunities would be distributed more widely, so leftist faculty like myself might be tempted to see today’s elite colleges as prefiguring the emancipation that such a world would bring. The problem, though, is that intellectual activity is like music and sport, in that excellence and enjoyment are at least partly correlated and excellence is fostered by the emulation and competition that arises when talented people are thrown together in close quarters. Because today’s elite colleges attract and concentrate talent from across the globe, spending vast amounts of money to ensure low faculty-student ratios, they are almost certainly better able to provide this service than the large state colleges that would exist if resources were distributed more fairly. They make possible a form of human achievement, in other words, that could probably never be replicated on a universal scale.

The political conscience of egalitarians who teach at elite colleges will therefore always be troubled. 

If Thakkar is mostly interested in the relationship between elite institutions and justice in the broader society, Agnes Callard (Chicago), in her essay in the same issue, focuses on the goods of higher education and the point of universities and colleges:

First, they are not for perpetuating the ruling or elite class. Second, they are not for achieving social justice. Doubtless they do perpetuate the ruling class; many institutions do this. And probably they could do more to bring about social justice. But those things are not what they are for. Third, universities are not for making money—though they do call for careful financial stewardship. Fourth, they are not for producing better citizens. Fifth, they are not for producing happier human beings… A university is a place where people help each other access the highest intellectual goods…

There’s nothing in your DNA that makes you a philosopher, nor is there some regimen you can run through to transform yourself into one. The closest we have come to devising a system for attuning a person to the intellectual life is to surround her with others aiming at the same thing for as long as the relevant parties can continue to afford it, and hope for the best.

Discussion welcome.

Sierra Leone Is Turning Roadway Vibrations into Electricity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/08/2021 - 12:13am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Good vibrations

“Access to energy is a human right. We cannot function in an energy-less society.”

Those were Jeremiah Thoronka’s thoughts as he looked back on his childhood in war-torn Sierra Leone. Even today, only six percent of rural residents in Sierra Leone have access to electricity, relying instead on expensive batteries or kerosene. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Jeremiah Thoronka (@jeremiah_thoronka)

So, when he was 17, Thoronka founded Optim Energy, a startup that harnesses the kinetic energy of objects in motion and converts it into emissions-free electricity. The device he developed can be installed underneath busy roads, where it generates electrical currents from the vibrations of cars and even pedestrians. So far, Optim’s pilot programs have proven to be successful. In Kuntoluh, the area where Thoronka lives, the startup has provided free, clean energy to 150 households and 15 schools with over 9,000 students.

“The Sun is not always shining, water is drying up, fossil fuels are not always going to be used,”  Thoronka told the BBC, “but people are always moving.”

Read more at the BBC

Talk it out

Tenants facing eviction in U.S. housing courts often don’t have an attorney. In Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, only two percent had representation when they went before a judge — until recently.

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In July 2020, Cleveland implemented its Right to Counsel (RTC) program, which gives tenants free access to a housing attorney during eviction proceedings. This assistance can be pivotal: studies show that judges are less likely to evict tenants when they have representation, and stopping an eviction can prevent a cascade of health, financial and other problems. What’s more, giving tenants an attorney just makes the whole system run more smoothly. In one instance, a landlord was evicting a tenant because he thought the tenant was receiving rental assistance but still not paying his rent. The tenant’s RTC attorney discovered that, in fact, the tenant hadn’t actually received the subsidies, and the eviction was avoided.

RTC has led to a tenfold increase in the number of tenants with representation in Cleveland’s housing courts. It has also been paired with a rental assistance program, which means that when eviction cases do end up before a judge, the system is oriented toward getting the renter the aid they need to keep them in their home. The result? About 93 percent of RTC clients have avoided being displaced. 

Read more at Fresh Water

The old college try

As U.S. lawmakers prepare to debate a budget bill that could make community college free, some of these schools are getting ahead of the game already. 

Community colleges received a deluge of aid from the government’s pandemic relief packages, and many of them are using this money to wipe out student debt. Last month, for instance, El Paso Community College in Texas cleared $3 million in student debt for 3,700 students using CARES Act funding. And Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, a network of 17 campuses, announced it will forgive $17 million in loans for students whose ability to pay was affected by the pandemic. Many four-year colleges have also used relief money to cancel student debt, including Delaware State University, South Carolina State University, and all Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Enrollment at community colleges fell during Covid, and administrators hope the debt forgiveness schemes will encourage more students to enroll. “By erasing past-due tuition,” said the president of Bergen Community College in New Jersey, “students can return…to continue their path to a degree without debt hanging over their heads.” 

Read more at Route Fifty

The post Sierra Leone Is Turning Roadway Vibrations into Electricity appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Another Gavin Williamson performance to forget | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/08/2021 - 7:00pm in

The education secretary has done his best, which isn’t exactly saying much

Continue reading...

ASPI’s proposal to further militarise and securitise the University. Part 2

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/08/2021 - 4:57am in

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s recent proposal to enrol the science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas of the research universities as part of a national security establishment along the lines overseen by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency is a regrettable initiative.

First because of the contempt it displays for the University as a place of learning. Secondly for the inevitable and considerable danger for the university system should the proposal be implemented.

https://johnmenadue.com/aspis-proposal-to-further-militarise-and-securit...

For those who have paid attention to the evolution of the Australian universities under neoliberalism (and before for that matter),  ASPI’s proposal is but another offensive against the traditional and reasonable concept of the university – a concept frequently declared on feast days of the university to placate those who, worried about the evidence, envisage it as more than a tool shop for the established political, social, and economic order 

Operationally, however, the universities revert to the standard operating procedures demanded by that order. Their status is pathetic: secular monasteries inhabited by various types of mendicant orders in the land of infidels, apostates and barbarians in relation to the best traditions of the Enlightenment.  

For the most part – Ramsay Centres for Western Civilisation being one notable exception – they are generally indiscriminate as to who they accept funds from on the grounds that they cannot afford to be sensitive to their provenance. They are, therefore, suitable places to be plundered, hamlets to be colonised by the security agencies of the state.

For all of that, to anyone who has been paying attention to press releases and announcements from the main research universities, the ASPI proposal is but a call for the  intensification of existing practices: Defence already funds university research and teaching in several areas and not just in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which are the focus of the ASPI’s Australian DARPA proposal. 

By way of two examples, it might be recalled that early work on certain Star Wars (rail gun) technology was conducted at the ANU, and opportunities to participate in the Minerva Project, an initiative with a strong preference for anthropologists, but generally “designed to mobilise social scientists for open research related to the war on terror” . . by “researching the relationship between Islam, violence, and terror, and proposing new experimental fields which . . . might be as useful . .  as game theory proved to be during the Cold War”(sic). On close examination, it was found to be  subversive of sound research funding, and sound intellectual practice.  

When parsed for not only greater detail, but also for what it leaves out, an implemented proposal would have Australian universities follow their US counterparts down a track which leads to serving the objectives of the Military-Industrial-Complex  MIC) through satisfying their technophilia by providing the bases for for more efficient instruments of death, destruction, and population control.  

This will, of course, be justified in the name of deterrence. The problem here is that this over-used benediction has been seen to be intellectually and empirically wanting – which probably accounts for the fact that it is studiously avoided by those who most deeply know it.

For the university-as-institution the current dystopia will be exacerbated, in the first instance, to  cloaks of secrecy and a faculty divided by access to knowledge and radically different modes of performance evaluation.  What is made quite explicit in the ASPI proposal is the need for appropriately security-cleared academics. Equally, it is clear that those so cleared will be assessed by other so cleared against criteria that are determined by satisfying the objectives of the MIC and not peer-review.  Mutatis mutandis, this will apply to the postgraduate students who will be involved. It cannot be otherwise given the classified nature of the research in the first place.

Nevertheless, on the basis of attracting significant revenue streams a new national security-relevant clerisy will be ushered in and they will enjoy the status and privies of an exalted caste.  Implicit in the ASPI proposal is that, on the completion of their respective projects they will return to their previous academic  lives.But how credible is this? 

Once joined, life within the clerisy will become habit forming and addictive. The numerous studies and analyses on British, but especially American academics indicate that a “return home” is not to be contemplated with equanimity.  For their Australian counterparts the thought of being immersed in lecturing, tutoring, examining, and the overburden of administrative dross would be a carceral sentence.  

And some students might justifiably ask whether they want to be taught or supervised by an academics who have spent several years of their lives perfecting or advancing instruments of death, destruction, and political control.

These objections, and others of a similar character, are unlikely to receive serious  consideration in the chancellories of the universities. Indeed, there is an ongoing proliferation of things labelled “centre” and “institute” across the campuses of Australia, all representing exceptions, special interests, privileged funding sources.  

If anything, and with regard to very recent developments, the resistance might for the present, be futile.  Last month ANU, with no sense of irony, let alone shame, announced that former Army Major-General, and Director-General of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, had been appointed a “professor in the practice of national security” in the  university’s National Security College (NSC) with a brief to strengthen the links between the NSC and government.

What more is to be said except, perhaps, Kurt Vonnegut’s memorable phrase,” and so it goes” To be sure, the NSC could never be accused of identifying with an open university and academic freedom in the Enlightenment tradition – its advertisements for suitably security-cleared academic staff when it was first established puts paid to any such suggestion. But celebrating the professorial appointment of a person who has spent his entire career discretely eschewing open debate, and withholding or managing information and ideas on national security is an explicit episode in self-harm.

Such people, no matter their previous lives of faithful, distinguished service, belong elsewhere, off campus, in the  privileged centres and institutes they should take with them.  On some things, and on the basis of the historical record, this is one of them. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was right: moderation is impossible; abstinence should be the rule.

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ASPI’s proposal to further militarise and securitise the university – Part 1

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/08/2021 - 4:57am in

Tags 

Education

It is now unambiguously clear that certain influential centres of government advice and government policy hold the university-as-institution in contempt. 

More specifically, they hold the ideal of the traditional university in contempt, and by the ideal, I refer to a reasonable concept which, with good will and adequate funding, is also achievable in most, if not all respects.  Regardless of its faults, it was an aspirational site and survives a popular belief in some quarters of modern democratic societies that the universities are unique as sites of teaching, inquiry, research, and writing which, above all, are marked by their independence from the various forces which influence so much of the life outside of the academy.

The academy, in these terms, approximates to an ideal which, though it never existed, continues to be honoured in the terms put forward by Wilhelm von Humboldt, as: 

“. . . nothing other than the spiritual life of those human beings who are moved by external leisure or internal pressures toward learning and research. “

 But this is more than an ideal proclaiming the need for the satisfaction of a personal yearning; indeed, its wider, extremely serious ramifications are apparent in the comment it attracted from Noam Chomsky:

 “The extent to which existing institutional forms permit these human needs to be satisfied provides one measure of the level of civilisation a society has achieved.”

Historically, moreover, to the extent that the University approached von Humboldt’s ideal in more than a vestigial resemblance it “reduced the entropy of time and fought against it;” fought against it, furthermore, as a stable institution, able, because of its historical consciousness, “to preserve at least a pocket of memory, “ and maintain, as Regis Debray recalls it, “a tribal reservation for the ethics of truth.”  

Within it, which is to say within the membership of the academy, education and abnegation were “virtually synonymous,” a deceased identity which Debray laments with just a hint of contempt for its successors:

Integrity, obscurity, selflessness; the words raise a smile, but the archaism of the vocabulary derives from the downgrading of the practices of the schools, not vice versa.

The University, then, was of course a dominant site of secular critique practised by people “capable of living what [they] taught until it killed [them].  In their commitment to this principle, to what Paul Bové sees as the imperative to “take aim  at the unequal, imperial, antidemocratic present,” academics demonstrated a truth: “Critics should never be good company.”  

And both Debray and Bové, just to name two, are intent on making even more explicit as the purpose of University education – the need to provide the bases of that “educated and active citizenry [which] is indispensable for a free and inclusive democratic society” within the belief that critical citizens are made, not born.  

In turn, this democratic education must take the form of being “an education for democracy . . . it must argue for its means as well as its ends.”  Ultimately, this is to be encapsulated within the principles which all education should take place – the foremost being “intellectual freedom and ethical responsibility.”  

It is against this concept as measure that a recent offering by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is set. It provides, succinctly and clearly, another example of the now reigning view of the University from those trusted with providing policy advice, which is to say, it is corporate, predatory and and ignorant.  And it does this under the camouflage of appearing to offer the University a way out from some of its troubles by appealing to the contributions it can make to national security. That said, it is, prima facie, a slick operation.  

Given ASPI’s standing in matters of national security advice, its views might even be implemented, That is the reason for this two- part rejection: they would lead to the further impoverishment and balkanisation of higher education in Australia.  

In a relatively short recent paper of 12 substantive pages, published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute entitled An Australian DARPA to turbocharge universities’ national security research: securely managed Defence-funded research partnerships in Five-Eyes universities, authors Robert Clark, a former chief defence scientist, and ASPI’s executive director, Peter Jennings, identify what they see as significant opportunity to boost international defence scientific and technical research cooperation with ‘Five Eyes’ partners the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

In what has become standard practice, and presumably in anticipation that those with extremely limited concentration spans would be challenged by the time to read and reflect upon the pronouncements from the apex of ASPI, an almost immediate epistle – essentially an abridged, judiciously selective, Pauline attempt to explain the important points of the reigning theology found in the original – was issued.

DARPA, here, refers to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the template upon which an Australian version would be based. It is described as “an innovation ecosystem that includes academic, corporate and government partners spanning from open-domain to classified research.”

At its core the ASPI’s proposal focuses on science and technology; Australia should establish its own DARPA by way of a formal partnership between the Defence Department, defence industry and Australian universities. Accordingly, the US model is heralded as providing “best practice guidance” for such an undertaking. 

The source for, or register for this claim is not cited. This might be just as well because the open-source history of the US universities’ involvement with the national security state should not encourage Australia to emulate it.  

The springboard for this is to be provided by Australia’s – Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF) – with its nine priority areas: integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; space; enhanced human performance; medical countermeasures; multidisciplinary material sciences; quantum technologies; trusted autonomous systems; cyber and advanced sensors; and hypersonics and directed energy.

Central to the envisaged partnership to produce more efficient killing machines the proposal advocates ‘the need to restructure current arrangements for Defence funding of Australian universities’ in order that Australia maintains ‘a strong and sovereign university research base with the capacity to support industry, the community and national security.’ 

Other rationales include: 

  • A release from both the policy of underfunding of national universities by Australian governments and concomitant financial and security risks of Australian universities over-dependence on funding sources from the People’s Republic of China in particular and international students fees in general. 
  • The need to follow the US in which universities as an important part of the national security enterprise and, are thus, subjected to stronger regulation and oversight (and will necessarily include high-level security clearances for this involved)  – an approach which will increasingly inform thinking among democratic governments around the world. Failure to follow suit will almost certainly result in diminished research relationships with the US.
  • The current, largely open approach of Australian research universities to their international links is, rather than a matter of intellectual pride, a significant weakness.
  • This initiative is necessary because the mission-oriented research carried out by Australian government agencies—Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and others are incapable of doing the work which needs to be done.

Immediately apparent is the distance the University has traversed from the reasonable ideals which, disingenuously, and usually at graduation ceremonies, those entrusted with the stewardship of universities still proclaim.

To be clear, shorn of the embedded Sinophobia which infuses so many of ASPI’s political-strategic analyses, the funding problems which a neoliberal approach to higher education are accurately described and no issue is taken with them.  Indeed, they would support the conclusion that the universities now constitute an educational dystopia – and deserving of Richard Hil’s recent dismissal  of them on this site as “no longer fit for purpose.”

Our universities are in crisis.They are no longer fit for purpose?

Against this diagnosis, however, is ASAPI’s prescription, a programme which cannot be seen independently of its corporate mentality; indeed, it is a demonstration of it.

The universities are viewed as suitable recipients of alms and/or places to be pillaged.  The  fundamental questions as to how and why this is the case are ignored.  Dependency on the revenue stream generated by international students is not the root cause; for that  there is a need to confront the neoliberal fundamentalism practised by successive governments, a measure seemingly beyond the courage or the imagination, of the ASPI proposal. Similarly, the dismissal of the capabilities of the government research agencies is neither explained nor are policy and budgetary remedies suggested.  

Instead, the focus is on what is essentially a hostile, corporate takeover of parts of the University which are deemed useful to national security.  It is a process of securitisation and militarisation by stealth, and its consequences – outlined in Part 2 – will be ruinous, both for those in the academy who enlist in the DARPA-isation, and those who walk in the  shadow of the now humiliated concepts of the roles and functions of the University.

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