Go8 warn: research university achievements and values under attack

22 Nov 2017

Campus Morning Mail, 22 November 2017

“The erosion of trust in a post-truth society,” is undermining universities, the Group of Eight warns in a briefing for the annual meeting of the international umbrella body of associations of elite research institutions, in Brisbane next week.

“In a world where alternative facts, fake news and unsubstantiated opinion permeate the virtual landscape, expert opinion and the authority of an evidence-based approach is undermined. … Suspicion and distrust towards experts has increased significantly with a hard core of anti-intellectualism on the rise,” the Go8 warns the nine-member Global Research-Intensive Universities association.

And the Eight observes that this erosion of earned authority translates into a populist aversion to university objectives and ideals, generating an obsession with the utilitarian so that, “university research is judged as indulgent; an activity that takes lecturers away from their core purpose and function of teaching. This is a frequent trope in current Australian government commentary and further fuels the beliefs of the broader community that universities are self-serving institutions.”

The danger of a reaction against university purpose extends to undervaluing basic research, with the Go8 fearing a focus on market-ready work will reduce Australia’s contribution to “the generation of knowledge.”

“Trying to encourage innovative, breakthrough products without the basic knowledge required to create them, however well-intentioned, is like attempting to build a cathedral without first laying foundations.”