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MEDIA RELEASE: Now the French review is done CAPA demands Education Minister take legislative oversight over an actual crisis

15 Jan 20

Now the French review is done CAPA demands Education Minister take legislative oversight over an actual crisis.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the commitment to  ‘academic freedom’ to support academics to conduct research without interference, in the proposed amendment to the Higher Education Standards Framework. However, CAPA is concerned that universities are at risk of politically motivated, local and foreign interference, because they are not properly funded. 

In late 2018, several high-profile incidents provoked the conservatives to argue that free speech is under threat in universities. First, Quentin Van Meter’s talk at the University of Western Australia was cancelled amid student opposition on the basis that Van Meter’s subject matter was transphobic. Then, Bettina Arndt faced opposition to her speeches on her ‘Fake Rape Crisis’ campus speaking tour. 

These incidents provoked the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, to order a sector-wide Review of Freedom of Speech in Higher Education, which sought to create a model free speech code which universities can ratify. The Hon Robert French AC, tasked with leading the review, has generated the anticipated model code despite writing that he is not convinced of the existence of a free speech crisis.

“We have a manufactured freedom of speech crisis because funding for arts research is failing. We have a sexual assault and sexual harassment (SA/SH) crisis on our universities and the government can’t be bothered to fund a taskforce. If the government genuinely wanted to support free inquiry and research in all areas, they could ensure there was funding to do so,” says CAPA National President, Romana Begicevic.  

The government continually comes up with manufactured crises instead of dealing with real problems at hand such as the SA/SH taskforce, adequate funding for research and income support for postgraduate students. Universities are increasingly struggling to make ends meet, often having to look outside for funding to sustain their operations. The $328.5 million in funding cuts over the past few years, puts universities at real risk of interference to freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry.

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404