On the 15th of March 2022, the Campus Morning Mail (CMM) reported comments made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his visit to the University of Newcastle from the previous day. First, he praised the University of Newcastle for its contribution to the regional community but then made disparaging remarks about others:
“As opposed to another type of university, “that, you know, keeps itself separate from the rest of the community and walks around in gowns and looks down on everybody. And, you know, only looks at things that are remotely interesting to anyone.”
These statements were possibly taken out of context, or perhaps they were as intended but not referring to any Australian universities at all. Either way, the question remains; what were the motivations behind making such divisive statements?
To get a glimpse of what his statements meant, we can reflect on the policies made by his government for the past two years.
- Denial of jobseeker eligibility to universities
- a Higher Education funding reform (The Job-Ready Graduates)
- a senate inquiry into Foreign Interference
- a senate inquiry into Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech
- Australian Strategy for International Education 2021‑2030
- a Research Commercialisation policy package,
- vetoes to 6 ARC proposals
The consequences to some of these policies either directly or indirectly contributed to substantial job losses, funding cuts and loss of research funding. The full effects of these policies (positive or otherwise) are yet to be realised fully, but they share a common theme: “We know how the world works, so do what we tell you because fostering new ideas are a waste of time.”
In response to this, I would say. The absence of nurturing new ideas is why we will continue to aspire to be nothing more than the quarry for the human race. This is not to be ungrateful for what mining has done for this country, but suppressing new ideas and preventing people from obtaining a proper education is what’s wrong.
Let us not be coy and patronise the population. A proper education is more than just giving people an opportunity to study at university. It includes the quality of teaching that nurtures individuals to develop novel ideas that will invigorate our society. Instead, we provide a watered-down tertiary education designed to create a workforce with technical skills without the critical thinking skills required to develop an innovative country. To disenfranchise the population from real intellectual development so they cannot aspire to be more than mundane contributors in society is why we will stagnate as a nation.
This latest instalment of open hostility towards universities by no less the head of this country indicates an attempt to appeal to the anti-intellectual sentiment. It is a venomous statement accusing universities of elitism and snobbery, pitting an ‘us vs them’ proposition where he is with the people and we are the oppressors. This may not be the anti-intellectual propaganda in Cambodia during the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge. However, it should still raise alarm bells when we consider the long term effects on their society.
We need to ask ourselves, is this election time propaganda or our Prime Minister’s deep-seated conviction? And if so, can Australia afford to be led by such a leader?