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Week in review: Ramsay Centre, opinion polls and radical university models

Hi, I’m Wade Zaglas, education editor for Campus Review. Welcome to our second roundup of the key stories and issues of the week. You can either read the summary or listen to the podcast below.

First, the controversial Ramsay Centre is back in the headlines.

University of Queensland academics rejected the the Centre’s revised western civilisation degree for the second time in a meeting this week.

UQ’s Board of Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) made the decision after a vote against the program in early April.

UQ’s Branch President of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Andrew Bonnell said the two board votes against the program and a petition written by the union signals the end of the Ramsay Centre at UQ.

The union’s petition read: “Not only does the proposed partnership with the Ramsay Centre threaten the customary conditions of academic freedom, university autonomy, and transparency at UQ, but it raises serious concerns about educational diversity and equity and the quality of UQ curriculum.

“…The proposed curriculum, in its structure and content, is regressive and outdated. Teaching in this way would threaten UQ’s academic reputation nationally and internationally.”

Bonnell, an Associate Professor in History, also said UQ staff were concerned about the degree’s focus on canonical “great books”.

Despite the Board’s opposition, a UQ spokesperson said the HASS Board would not have the final say.

“The Board of Studies is advisory to the executive dean, it is not an approval body as implied by the NTEU,” the spokesperson said via a statement.

“The feedback from the meeting will be considered carefully as the program progresses through its standard governance process.”

The Ramsay Centre’s program was rejected by the Australian National University over concerns it affected academic autonomy.

The University of Wollongong is the only Australian university to have signed up to the Western Civilisation degree so far.

The NTEU announced that it was taking the University of Wollongong and its Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings to the Supreme Court over what the union calls an “invalid process” the university used to approve the western civilisation degree.

Another big story of the week was the work of Professor Bela Stantic, the Griffith University data mining expert who tipped the Coalition to win the federal election.

After the dust settled from the Coalition’s upset win on the weekend, conversation quickly turned to how inaccurate the country’s major opinion polls had been.

Throughout the election campaign Labor consistently led the Coalition 51:49; at the time Morrison took over, the Coalition trailled Labor 46:54. Despite the Labor lead narrowing over the campaign, it was still expected to translate into a comfortable win for Bill Shorten.

However, the Liberal National Party trounced Labor in the Sunshine State where Shorten’s equivocation over the Adani mine stoked concerns over job losses. Western Australia and Tasmania also came firmly back into the Coalition fold.

Former Newspoll boss Martin O’Shannessy took aim at poor sampling methods, arguing that the traditional polling methods don’t reflect the modern age.

“Not everyone has a landline and the numbers that are published are incomplete,” he said.

One person who predicted the Coalition’s win – as well as Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory – was Griffith University Professor Bela Stantic, an expert in data mining.

To achieve this, Professor Stantic analysed two million social media comments related to key campaign terms.

Finally,Professor Raewyn Connell’s vision for radical change among Australian universities resonated with many readers this week. The leading social scientist believes universities have drifted from their core role. She sees the sector placing far too much importance on profits rather than on the students, people and societies they serve.

The author of The Good University is critical of the corporate, neo-liberal university model that has emerged in the last 50 years. In an interview with Campus Review, Professor Connell said that “universities have been re-defined as money-making firms, not as a public service”.

The social scientist also discusses the need to jettison the university lecture in her book, stating that it reflects an “empty vessel” approach to education that is not fit for our age. You can read our interview with Professor Connell here.

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