SUBJECTS: The Review of the Adoption of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom, TIMMS, International students and pilot programs, Returning Australians
Chris Smith: Well, Minister, if these university chancellors were students, you’d be asking them for their assignment, wouldn’t you?
Dan Tehan: Well, that’s what Sally Walker has done. She’s done a fantastic piece of work. She’s looked at all the policies that universities have put in place when it comes to freedom of speech and academic inquiry, she’s assessed them. Nine have passed with flying colours, which is great. We’ve got La Trobe University as an exemplar that other universities can now look towards. But, we’ve got other universities that have still have more to do. And, my hope is that, they gave a firm commitment that they would have those policies in place by the end of the year, and that’s what they’ll do.
Smith: But, the problem is, you’ve got 79 per cent that haven’t handed up their assignment, that haven’t joined the new Code, and one, in particular, I think it’s University of New South Wales, who claim that they have a better policy than the Code that they’re being asked to join.
Tehan: Well, in the case of University of New South Wales, Sally addressed that today. She said they’ve made statements, but what she wants to see is policies in place. So, she has asked them to put policies in place, written policies in place, which go to the heart of the French Model Code. And, I’m sure that that’s what they will now do …
Smith: … Are you concerned that there’s a reluctance amongst university hierarchy to be part of the Code?
Tehan: Well, I think what we’re seeing is that they’re not giving it their full attention, they’re not giving it the seriousness that we want them to give it to. Now, that’s not all. We’ve had nine that have done a very, very good job, but we want all others to really focus on it. And, that is why, you know, the Government, I’m sure will accept Sally Walker’s recommendation that this now becomes something which university governing councils have to attest to, that not only do they have policies in place, but they are actually taking positive measures to ensure there is a culture within universities that mean that freedom of speech and academic inquiry is absolutely central to what they do.
Smith: If there’s some reluctance from these universities to get on the same train, could it have something to do with the fact that they don’t want to upset the student applecart? That somehow they know how students can be rather feisty and protest, and they don’t want that? Or, is this just because it’s the end of the year and they’ve got other things on their mind?
Tehan: Look, I think it’s because that what they’ve done is they, they’ve thought by saying that freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry are dear to their hearts, that that’s enough. But, what Sally Walker has said, quite clearly, it’s all very well vocalising your commitment, but what we need to see is your policies reflect that. That’s how you absolutely give surety to staff, that’s how you give surety to professors, to your academic staff. That’s what’s needed. It’s not just statements, it’s policies in place, and that’s the genius of what Sally’s done, is she has meticulously gone through all their approaches, and what she said is, those that have policies in place are the ones that are passing with flying colours. The ones who are just stating, but not putting the policies in place, are the ones that have more work to do. So, I think, once the universities sit down, assess what Sally’s done, understand that the recommendations she’s, that she’s put in place mean that governing councils will be able to ensure, through their annual reports, that this has been properly implemented, and that the Government has reserved the right to also have TEQSA look at this. Because, once it’s part of the annual reports, they can get involved – that’s the regulatory body that looks after universities – that they’ll really start to understand that it’s not just statements, it’s actual policies in place that’s required.
Smith: A couple of other related topics. You must have been pleased with these results that we heard about today – the latest in maths and science for high school students in Australia – we’re back in the top 10.
Tehan: Really, really positive development, and something that we can build on. And, that’s why, you know, we were very pleased. The Government has been focused on ensuring that those numeracy skills are at the heart of our education system, and if we can continue to do that, I think that these results are a very positive sign. We had those disappointing PISA results, which led to us focusing on ensuring that science and maths as part of the curriculum are reviewed, become a key focus, and we declutter a lot of the other stuff so that we’ve got that focus on numeracy and on science. So, this is a positive first step. But, we’ve still got a long way to go, and that’s why we will continue to keep pushing that we want, at the heart of our school system, that focus on numeracy. And, of course, that focus on literacy, which wasn’t examined as part of this recent test.
Smith: And, one last question about exemptions for more foreign students. The universities are obviously pushing for it. Where are we up to in reference to that?
Tehan: Well, the focus from the Government is still very much about getting Australians home before Christmas, and that will continue to be our focus. Once we hit the new year, and if we can see an increase in the caps from the states and territories, and hopefully Victoria might be able to lift their caps, there might be an ability for us then to start looking at international students. Obviously, 250,000 jobs domestically are created by our international student market, $40 billion worth of income. So, we want to get that pipeline going again. But still, our focus, and especially in the lead up to Christmas, is returning Australians, as I think it should be.
Smith: Minister, thank you very much for your time.
Tehan: Always a pleasure, Chris.