Swinburne University’s China expert, John Fitzgerald, has called on universities across the Western World to shun the Chinese-run Academic Ranking of World Universities, in order to defend the principles of free speech and expression, which is under threat by the Chinese Communist Party:
“Universities that value institutional autonomy and freedom of inquiry should no longer reference the ARWU rankings or participate in the Shanghai Jiaotong rankings process which risks spreading the Chinese Communist Party’s university model globally,” he wrote in the article.
“Universities that continue to participate or to reference the Shanghai rankings should be tasked by their faculty and alumni to explain why they are failing to uphold the principles of free inquiry and institutional autonomy as fiercely as (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping is undermining them”…
Seven Australian universities have achieve top 100 status in the ARWU, which helps draw international students to Australia.
Professor Fitzgerald told The Australian the ARWU ranking system gave “credibility to the Chinese higher education system at a time when institutional autonomy and academic freedom are under attack in that country”.
“At the present time how can we have a credible international ranking system from a country that is thumbing its nose at the fundamental principle of a liberal university?” he asked.
These are valid criticisms by John Fitzgerald. However, Australia’s universities should first clean up their own backyard before worrying about the credibility of China’s education system.
Over recent years, we have witnessed multiple examples of Australian universities dumbing down entry and teaching standards in order to drive-up international student enrolments and course fees.
For example, last year’s Four Corners “Cash cows” report featured several academics warning that universities were enrolling international students with inadequate English language proficiency, as well as resorting to soft marking, in a bid to maximise fee revenue:
“In terms of attracting international students, universities will do whatever they need to do…they are the cash cows. There is no doubt about it.” – Academic
Shortly afterwards, a former Monash College English language teacher, Warwick Lough, accused universities of using dodgy English-language bridging courses to farm sub-standard international students through their degree-level courses:
“This is not a grey area. It is an absurdity that they can enter with language which is wholly inadequate,” he said…
“The assessments are carefully crafted to allow about 90 per cent of students to pass.” He said speech and writing components of the internal test were often “very carefully rehearsed”…
Similar accusations were made by Professor Salvatore Babones in his recent seminal report for the Centre for Independent Studies.
So-called “academic freedom” and “freedom of speech” have also alluded Murdoch University, which featured heavily in Four Corners’ “Cash cows” report.
As we know, Murdoch University launched legal action against Dr Gerd Schroeder-Turk for appearing on Four Corners and criticising Murdoch’s international student entry and teaching standards. Rather than addressing his valid concerns (corroborated by other academics), Murdoch instead expelled Dr Schroeder-Turk from the University’s senate (the highest governing body) and threatened to sue him for millions of dollars in damages for purportedly sullying the University’s reputation.
Blind Freddy can see that the increasing concentration of international students has caused a progressive erosion and dumbing down of academic standards across Australia’s universities. Their administrators long ago prioritised the fees from international student enrolments over the very principles of liberal freedom of enquiry and academic excellence, which were once their raison d’etre.
Our universities must fix their own backyards first, lift entry and teaching standards, as well as ensure academic freedom, before criticising other nations’ systems.
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