'Australia’s Dumbdowner’ university fee hike cops ire
A MASSIVE fee hike for some university courses is just the latest blow in a long-running attack on the humanities, a senior academic says.
Emeritus Professor at the University of Tasmania Jeff Malpas said local humanities courses were already being left to "wither and die" before Friday's funding announcement by the Federal Government.
While HECS fees for some degrees described as "job relevant" by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan will be slashed, others including humanities and communications, will rise by 113 per cent, making them among the most expensive degree options.
Professor Malpas, who is a philosopher and cross-disciplinarian, said the Government's decision was "breathtakingly" ignorant.
"For a government that likes slogans, this has to be branded as Australia's 'Dumbdowner' package," Prof Malpas said.
"It exhibits a depth of ignorance about higher education and the humanities and their role in society that is truly breathtaking.
"Unfortunately, however, the general direction of these measures is not new. The attack on the humanities and the arts has been underway for some time. This is just the latest blow."
Prof Malpas said the University of Tasmania's humanities courses were already under threat as the institution grappled with a huge revenue downturn in the wake of coronavirus.
He said recent global events had shown how important it was for students to learn the "core human skills" of critical thinking, questioning and engaging with language.
"Because the humanities are often perceived as less vocationally important, they're seen as easy areas for cost-cutting," Prof Malpas said.
"But in fact they are the most important areas. They teach us the basic core human skills of thinking about ourselves as people, thinking about our histories and identities, the capacity to engage with language. Essentially how to think."
The university has said it must cut salary costs by up to $50 million as it faces forecast losses in revenue of up to $120 million a year across the next three years due to the loss of international students.
"The humanities are especially vulnerable to the general changes currently taking place," Prof Malpas said.
"The University of Tasmania, like universities everywhere, talks about the importance of the humanities, but seems to lack any vision or positive strategy to address the current crisis of the humanities.
"If we value the humanities, as I believe we must, then universities, including the University of Tasmania, need to work on how actively to support and promote the humanities in a way that also draws on the expertise of the academics themselves, who have largely been excluded from decision-making. The alternative is the humanities will wither and die. That is what is happening now, and the result is that we will all be impoverished by it."
The University's chief academic officer, Provost Jane Long, said "strength in the humanities" was a key plank of the university's strategic plan.
"The history of Tasmania is clear proof that to achieve successes and overcome challenges across our society - whether they are economic, social or wellbeing - arts and the humanities must be at the table and must play an influential role," said Professor Long, who is a historian.
While there was student growth in some courses such as English, she said the university was working to reverse national and international trends that had seen enrolments drop in other areas.
"Anyone who considers the events of just the first six months of 2020 will see that the thinking and ideas and provocations that arise from the arts, philosophy, history, sociology and more will be just as crucial to our future as developments in science and medicine," Prof Long said.
Originally published as Expert slams 'ignorant' uni fee hike