The Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) views with concern Education Minister Tehan’s announcement of 19 June 2020 about the restructure of University funding.
The purpose of this restructuring is to support degrees that prepare graduates to be “job ready” while creating more Commonwealth funded places. This will be achieved by decreasing the Commonwealth contribution to Humanities and Social Science (HASS) degrees, including philosophy, whilst increasing the Commonwealth contribution to select degrees, such as teaching, nursing and IT.
We recognize that the present COVID-19 crisis raises profound challenges for higher education in this country. We acknowledge the vital need for higher education reform, as the nation tries to recover.
However, the ASCP joins other parties in questioning whether the proposed policies will achieve the government’s stated aims, on their own terms.
As educators, we also question whether artificially interfering in students’ educational choices by devaluing humanities degrees will lastingly benefit the country in a time of rapidly growing instability and socio-technological change. In such troubled times the Humanities are especially significant to think through our shared as well as contested values and to open up new horizons in thought.
The government and its supporters claim a passionate concern to preserve imperiled cultural memory and tradition. Yet using “price signals” to redirect students away from non-vocational higher education represents a startling break with the educational history Australia inherits, from classical antiquity, Indigenous cultures and diverse traditions in the great Arts Faculties at the core of the universities.
The government and its supporters claim to be promoting the larger national interest. Yet using market signals to effectively repackage humanities degrees as luxury goods turns its back on the vital role the universities have long played in nation-building, in Australia as elsewhere.
Mr Tehan's proposal reflects an increasing loss of any sense of Australians as more than economic agents who live to work, but also citizens whose higher education was long considered vital to enriching Australian democracy, across party lines.
Australia is moving into a deeply troubled time. When we look overseas, we can see the dangers that attend societies wherein economic inequality, and social and racial divides have developed to unprecedented levels. We are witnessing nearly-daily the perverse public health and security effects that follow when populations elect leaders who advertise their scorn for science, civility and culture as a badge of authenticity.
In such times, the importance of humanities degrees which preserve (but also question) our shared histories (proud and shameful), analyze (but also critique) social and political ideologies and institutions (Left and Right), and open students to the diverse cultural heritage of not simply the Western, but the other great cultures of the world, is increasing.
In the years ahead, the importance of humanities degrees in educating citizens how to read, interpret, and think for themselves, and to intelligently question the reliability of the information new media floods them with, will be paramount for the continuing health of Australia as a democracy in which informed discussions about a good life holds sway over demagogic pandering.
The ASCP therefore joins with the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Science and Humanities in urging the government to urgently reconsider this proposal.
ASCP Executive Committee