Friday, June 14, 2019

Australian Minister Tehan wants Australian universities to champion free speech, but not the right of fee paying foreign students to protest poor course delivery, content ,teaching

by Ganesh Sahathevan

The Australian has reported this morning that Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has warned that more Australians are broadly “self-­censoring out of fear that they’ll be shouted down or condemned for expressing sincerely held views and beliefs”.

Tehan has warned Australia's providers of tertiary education services that they must champion free speech.

Meanwhile, Tehan seems  happy to condone all sorts of curbs on free speech when the subject of  student protest is the very product that the universities and other tertiary institutions sell them;in essence teaching, assessment and until recently, well regarded Australian tertiary degrees.

The Minister's inaction in the matter of the FEE-HELP funded College Of Law is a case in point.The Minister was  made aware by this writer of how the College and in particular its CEO Neville Carter
used  disciplinary measures to silence complaints about course delivery and substance. The complaints raised by this writer are not new, having being aired publicly in the past by  the industry paper Lawyers Weekly. Despite the long standing issues of this Commonwealth funded course, and despite the abuse of disciplinary measures, Tehan has done nothing.

This writer had the advantage of being able to put his queries and complaints  about course content and delivery as an investigative journalist. Carter and the College admitted that fact and insisted that the College's policies allowed it to ignore the queries. Tehan was made aware of this fact also,and again chose to do nothing.

Generally anecdotal evidence gathered over the years from students at other tertiary education institutions  suggests that there is fear, especially among foreign students, that complaints against their universities and colleges  will result in marking down or other action that will cost them the  Australian degrees for which  they have paid substantial fees  in advance. 

The argument that foreign students raise complaints in order to mask their own academic failings no longer holds water; Australian authorities and the tertiary institutions they are supposed to regulate are perceived to be more interested in the foreign student fee income rather than standards.

Tehan needs consistency in his approach to free speech if  he is to be believed.

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