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University fee reforms “stifle diverse voices” when Australia needs them most

The Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres has today addressed a letter to Hon. Dan Tehan, the Australian Minister for Education, calling on the Minister to recognise that the Government’s proposed changes to university fee structures will stifle equitable access to higher education in Australia by pricing students out of the market, and consequently “impoverish humanities research”.

The letter reads:

The Hon. Mr Dan Tehan,
Federal Minister for Education,
Parliament House,
CANBERRA.

24 June 2020

Dear Mr Tehan,

I write on behalf of the Advisory Board of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres to protest against the Australian Government’s declaration of the irrelevance of the humanities by projecting prohibitive fee increases for humanities courses at the nation’s universities. Indeed, as Minister for Education, you are actually legislating to ensure their irrelevance, openly asking potential humanities students either to think again if they want a proper job, or (if they stubbornly persist) to shoulder the burden of the nation’s recovery from COVID-19. The government’s new university fee scheme may be designed to “incentivise students to make more job-relevant choices, that lead to more job-ready graduates, by reducing the student contribution in areas of expected employment growth and demand”. But it is also designed to disincentivise students from making what the government considers ‘job-irrelevant’ choices, by drastically increasing the student contribution in other areas, like the humanities, where the knowledge and skills acquired are assumed to be irrelevant to the new work force. “Universities must teach the skills needed to succeed in the jobs of the future”, you declare self-evidently, though how far the mission of the university should be limited to vocational training is a moot point. Even if it were the case, however, the humanities do teach the skills required to succeed in the jobs of the future and should not be used to cross-subsidise science, health, architecture, IT, and engineering.

More egregiously, the changes you have announced will disproportionately impact the under-privileged – working people, mature-age students, and people in minority groups, like Indigenous students and students from migrant backgrounds; first-in-family students – making the study of history, society, and culture an elitist pursuit, out of reach of all but the wealthy. It is unlikely that humanities subjects at the Group of Eight universities will experience a dramatic falling off in demand, but in other universities, especially in the regions, such a policy will no doubt radically reconfigure the choices available to potential students. It is not enough to suggest, as you do, that under the new regime “Students will have the freedom to choose what they want to study”, when you have priced what they want to study out of the market.

Clearly, recognising the importance of the humanities to all areas of society, including or especially to the corporate world, has never been more urgent. In making your decision, you invoke the authority of “key leaders from the [Education] sector and industry”. But this advice is directly contradicted by the findings of reports like the University of Oxford’s Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact (Kreager, 2013), the Australian Academy of the Humanity’s Mapping the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences in Australia (Turner and Brass, 2014), and Deloitte Access Economics’ The Value of the Humanities for Macquarie University (2017). Since these reports were published, the skills provided by the humanities and the social sciences have only become more important, and are likely to become increasingly so to a future economy and society in which many of the jobs projected in the Minister’s policy speech have been taken over by intelligent machines.

Studying the humanities equips students with valuable skills in advanced analysis and interpretation, creative problem solving, effective communication, and the ability to construct reasoned arguments and to question assumptions. The biggest challenges facing us today will only be solved by building trust, finding a shared language, navigating ambiguity, understanding how human ecosystems work, and creating compelling visions of the future. It is flexible and creative thinking around complex problems in a context of dialogue and collaborative investigation that best feeds enterprise and innovation. We need to understand this, and to conceive and structure our educational offerings accordingly, allowing a generous mixture of the humanities to give the STEM disciplines that you privilege (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) a much richer soil – socially, ethically, intellectually, imaginatively – in which to flourish. The most successful companies, even or especially the new tech companies, thrive by bringing together the humanities with science and technology.

The Board of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres calls on you as Minister for Education to provide equitable access to higher education for all people, regardless of what they choose to study, and opposes these fee increases on the grounds that they will impose a greater burden on aspiring humanities students of the next generation. Reducing the demand for humanities subjects will also threaten the livelihoods of early career humanities scholars who have already suffered most from the cutbacks forced on the universities by COVID-19 and the government’s unwillingness to offer emergency resources. This in turn will impoverish humanities research and the strength, innovation, and contribution to Australian society made by humanities researchers. By prohibiting access to the humanities, these initiatives are destined to lead to a significant dearth of knowledge and expertise and a stifling of diverse voices at a time in the near future when Australia is most in need of them.

Sincerely,

Professor Will Christie, BA (Syd), DPhil (Oxf), FAHA

Director, Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres (on behalf of the ACHRC Advisory Board)

Media Enquiries

Katie Cox, ACHRC Research Manager

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Director’s Report – 2019 CHCI Annual Meeting

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The Annual Meeting of the international Consortium of Humanities Research Centers (CHCI) this year met in Dublin on 19-22 June to reflect on Cultural Interventions. Why does culture matter? What impact does it have and how has this changed over time and region? How have cultural interventions helped to make the world a place we want to live in? It also reflected on business-as-usual for research centres like ours, indeed the highlight for me was on the Wednesday before the main conference kicked off devoted exclusively to the CHCI network on Public Humanities. Over the course of the day we heard from numerous practitioners from all over the world making daily cultural interventions of their own in the interests of (usually) their local communities. The possibilities for Public Humanities programs in streets, prisons, galleries, and community halls turned out to be rich and strange – and endless. There was also an excellent panel on Advocacy for the Humanities during the conference proper, which looks different in the very different British, American, and Irish contexts, but there were enough common aspirations and anxieties to make the event engaging and instructive. 

The ‘themed’ panels on cultural interventions moved us in a variety of geographical and cultural directions. Post-colonialisation, nationalism, globalisation, terrorism, migration, refugees, poverty, and corruption – the meeting asked how the arts and humanities might contribute to society in times of trauma and repression. The main, Srinivas Aravamudan Memorial Lecture was a cancellation replaced by a panel including Homi Bhabar, James Chandler, Debjani GangulyPremesh Lalu, and Wang Hui, arguing the case for and against the Radical Middle. 

Not surprisingly, like a chameleon, the meeting eventually took on the colour of its environment and there were rich offerings around ‘The Troubles’ of Northern Ireland that culminated on the last day with an exploration of the Field Day Theatre Company, the cultural intervention staged by actor Stephen Rea and playwright Brian Friel which included Seamus Deane, Tom Paulin, Brian Hammond, and Seamus Heaney. A panel with Stephen Rea discussed the significance of Field Day and the actor was interviewed at length about the phenomenon by Clare Dwyer Hogg, before a screening of the documentary Brexit: a cry from the Irish border, written by Hogg and performed by Rea, who wound up proceedings by offering a brilliant reading of Seamus Heaney’s translation of the sixth book of Aeneid. 

William Christie
Director, Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres

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ACHRC Humanities in the Regions Workshop: Building Capacity Through Connectivity and Knowledge – 13-14 April 2015

Hums in the Regions image

13-15 April 2015,
University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba campus,
hosted by Dr Robert Mason

The ACHRC is co-hosting an event aimed at building research capacity, connectivity and institutional knowledge for Humanities research in the regions.

This two-day event combines presentations on practical aspects of working on Humanities-projects from the regions, expertise in collaboration and grant writing partnerships, and workshops aimed at generating research outcomes.

At this event, we will be launching “Humanities in the Regions”, a project of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres designed to meet the needs of regions-based Humanities researchers. We invite interested parties to join the project which will be part network and part action group.

 

For more information contact Tully Barnett tully.barnett@flinders.edu.au

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Report on the 2014 Annual Meeting “Alliances and Impacts: Sustaining Humanities Research in the 21st Century”

The 2014 ACHRC Annual Meeting was held on 13-14 October at The University of Melbourne, hosted by Professor Kate Darian-Smith with the theme “Alliances and Impacts: Sustaining Humanities Research in the 21st Century”

ACHRC 2014 meeting image for website

The Annual Meeting of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres took place in mid-October in Melbourne.

The two-day meeting with optional pre-meetings immediately prior gathered representatives from all states and territories bar the Northern Territory, plus New Zealand and Kong representatives.

A range of institutions were represented as well as other peak bodies including the Australian Research Council, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), The Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (DASSH), Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS).

ACHRC 2014 panel

The very impressive program put together in collaboration with Kate Darian-Smith and the ACHRC Advisory Board saw keynote speaker JD Hill, Head of Research at the British Museum, deliver a presentation on “The Impact of Impact on the Humanities and the Wider Cultural Sector: a View from the UK”. JD Hill’s presence at the ACHRC annual meeting was enabled by the University of Western Australia’s Institute of Advanced Studies where he is a 2014 Professor-at-Large under their visiting fellow program. This keynote looked at the positive aspects of a move towards measuring impact, especially through case study analysis, which has driven collaboration and interdisciplinarity across sectors and opened new possibilities for drawing on research and expertise outside of one institution’s capacity to provide. And it acknowledged the negative aspects where frequently cultural organisations can be used as impact providers.

A session on Research Alliances: International Networks saw Susannah Radstone, Dean of Research at the University of South Australia, Glenda Sluga, from the University of Sydney, Jenny Lewis, The University of Melbourne and Simon Haines, Chinese University of Hong Kong, discuss practical strategies employed nationally and internationally to promote international research collaborations.

A session on Strategic Research Teams saw Imedla Whelehan from the University of Tasmania discuss her institution’s C-Domain project – where the C is Culture. The project was designed to build ECR and HDR, and reluctant researchers, capacity in collaborative research. Carolyn Stephens from Monash discussed her Sonic Japan Digital Repository. David Lowe form the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University discussed a number of projects that develop partnerships, attract postdocs, and build capacity.

A session on Humanities Research: Future Directions saw Christina Parolin and Kylie Brass form the Australian Academy of the Humanities discuss their Mapping the Humanities and Social Sciences project, due for launch on 28 October. Robert Phiddian discussed the sustainability of humanities research centres project and sought input from the floor.

At the close of the first day of the meeting, J.D. Hill gave a public lecture about the History of the World in 100 objects phenomenon.

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On day two Dr Jakelin Troy gave a keynote on “The new age of Indigenous research: AIATSIS after 50 years and the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network.”

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A session on Humanities Research Models and Practices of Collaboration saw several projects posed comparatively. Heather Gaunt from the Ian Potter Museum discussed work teaching arts to health discipline students. Shaun McVeigh of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities at the University of Melbourne discussed the space between law and humanities in the area of jurisprudence. Lachlan MacDowell from the Centre for Cultural Partnerships at the University of Melbourne discussed their many community-based arts projects. Julie McLeod from the Melbourne Social Equity Institute, University of Melbourne, discussed a virtual research network set up to foster interdisciplinary research and ECRs.

A session on Funding New Alliances combined the expertise of Denise Meredyth from the ARC, Steven Schwartz from CHASS and Gerard Vaughan, Australian Institute of Art History, University of Melbourne. Denise talked about changes at the ARC that make funding requests more Hums friendly, including extending the kinds of organizations that aren’t asked to make a cash contribution and changing the fractional requirements for Chief Investigators on Discovery Projects. Steven Schwartz discussed the opportunities provided by crowdfunding for Humanities projects. Gerard Vaughan talked about Philanthropic organisations and making approaches to endowed organizations and individuals.

A session on Partnerships saw Robin Hirst from Museums Victoria, Peter Rose from the Australian Book Review and Louise Box from Partnerships 21 discuss ways that universities can work with organisations in new and creative ways. Hirst discussed the role of collecting organisations in partnering with universities on Linkage Projects and what criteria they use to determine their involvement. Peter Rose talked about the role of the Review in developing scholarly research for public readerships. Louise Box discussed the role for an organisation like Humanities 21 in brokering collaborations between humanities researchers and the business sector.

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The ACHRC’s AGM saw new members added to the Advisory Committee and the decision to take up the offer from Associate Professor Kerry Taylor to host the 2015 event in New Zealand.

Director, Robert Phiddian

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New Collection Space

The State Library of New South Wales has opened a new AMAZE gallery to show case curious objects in the library’s collection, particularly from the Dixson collection which contains items such as the only extant Ned Kelly Wanted poster and James Cook’s charts of New Zealand.

To support engagement with the collection, the library has developed a smartphone app that can be used downloaded onto visitors’ own devices or used on one of the library’s devices.

See the library’s exhibition space website for more information or listen to Dr Alex Byrne, director of the library, on Radio National’s PM program via the podcast on the RN website.