By Professor Catharine Coleborne, President Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
By now you will have heard Australia has a new Government, a new Education Minister, a growing crossbench in the Senate and the potential for real change in the tertiary education system.
Arts, social science and humanities disciplines suffered under the previous administration and palpable disregard for the creative arts ran deep.
In the lead up to the Federal election, then Acting Minister for Education and Youth Stuart Robert sent a letter of expectation to the ARC. Among the requested changes was an expectation that some Australian Research Council funding would be allocated based on its relevance to the nation’s top six manufacturing priorities, and that decisions about funding allocation might be determined by industry end users.
While the broader HASS disciplines stood to suffer under these changes, Non-Traditional Research Output (NTROs) disciplines would find it nearly impossible to align their research with food manufacturing or space research.
In the wake of this letter of expectation an Advisory Committee was introduced to inform the implementation of the proposed changes.
The Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities noted with serious concern the complete lack of representation of the humanities fields or the galleries, museums, archives and museum (GLAM) sector.
We did acknowledge the inclusion of both Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter and Professor Deborah Terry AO, Vice Chancellor and President, University of Queensland both of whom have backgrounds in the social sciences.
The decision to exclude the humanities and GLAM sector from this distinguished list further entrenched the lack of representation for these sectors at the ARC.
With the added introduction of the Commercialisation of Research Action Plan, the research environment was already undergoing a significant shift towards industry-affiliated research, putting our disciplines at a disadvantage.
The humanities and arts industries, particularly history, heritage, galleries, libraries, archives and museums, provide a rich array of industry experience from which ARC can draw, and which offer very clear national benefit.
The neglect of these fields is damaging, both to the intent of the Ministerial direction to gain more insight into the end users of research, as well as to those researching in these fields.
At the time, we argued that the inclusion of representatives from our disciplines would fundamentally boost the effectiveness of the consultation process through well-rounded advice from highly recognised professionals in their fields.
Without this advice this consultation process will likely result in limited findings that do not represent the whole of the Australian research sector, or even Australian society.
Following the Federal election, Australia has not only had a change in Government. We have seen a sea of progressive independent candidates as well as a number of new Greens Senators and MPs take a seat in parliament.
Voting outcomes were historic: with “blue-ribbon” Liberal party seats falling to candidates putting climate change and integrity at the heart of their campaigns.
It is our hope that with this change of guard, the incoming Labor Government, now governing with a majority in the House of Representatives, will note the serious concerns held by the HASS and creative sectors about the slated changes to the ARC and the continued disregard for our disciplines.
We welcome Education Minister Jason Clare to his new role. His own career pivoted on the Bachelor of Arts he undertook on completing high school: the first in his family to do so. We hope that he and the rest of his administration will acknowledge the contribution the creative arts, social sciences and humanities make to Australian society, and look to fund Australia’s top-tier research accordingly.
DASSH represents more than 250 deans, and associate and deputy deans, from 43 universities across Australia and New Zealand, leading schools and faculties that teach tens of thousands of students and several thousand scholars in the HASS disciplines. Led and governed by an executive committee, DASSH supports those who have responsibility for governance and management of research, teaching and learning across those member institutions.