Education Minister Dan Tehan’s review of academic freedom and freedom of expression comes a week after the nation’s Vice-Chancellors restated their commitment once again to those enduring principles.
Between them, Australia’s universities have more than 100 policies, codes and agreements that support free intellectual inquiry.
Universities Australia Chair Professor Margaret Gardner said: “In this context, it is unclear what issue the Government is seeking to address.”
“Australian universities have been on the public record through the ages affirming our longstanding commitment to informed evidence-based discussion and vigorous debate,” she said.
“Australian universities teach students how to think, not what to think — and we teach them to engage both with ideas they agree with and those they don’t agree with.”
“As we reaffirmed only a week ago, we educate the next generation to engage with ideas, challenge themselves and others, and to do so using evidence and courtesy.”
“University staff and students should be free to teach, learn, debate and research without political interference.”
Professor Gardner noted some recent assertions in recent media reporting had mischaracterised academic freedom and downplayed the robust state of debate on university campuses.
“Some commentators on free speech at Australian universities have been very wide of the mark — jumping to the wrong conclusions or selectively quoting from university policies and codes.”
“These same conclusions would not meet the threshold test of academic inquiry — informed by evidence and facts.”
“They are made by advocates who appear to want Government to override university autonomy with heavy-handed external regulation and red tape.”
“Despite these incorrect assertions, a wide range of opinions are freely expressed on campus— and in the context of Australian law and university codes of conduct.”
Universities Australia did not provide input to the terms of reference and our member universities remain strongly of the view that we will continue to uphold these freedoms ourselves in line with the important principle that universities are autonomous institutions.