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In the media: Academic Freedom

Letters to the Editor – The Australian – 13 May 2021

The Group of Eight (Go8) supports the freedom of our academics to comment in the public domain. This is part of the dissemination and evaluation of knowledge that is the lifeblood of university activity.

However, that freedom comes with the responsibility to ensure that what you are saying is correct. In the opinion piece by Associate Professor Salvatore Babones “Foreign policy: No mortar board for you, think tank upstarts” (12 May 2021) which comments on the Go8 submission into funding for foreign policy research, he claims that the Go8 universities “want more money” and “want the money to go to them”.

This is incorrect. In fact, our submission actually states that the flow of public money to non-university think tanks “should be closely scrutinised and subject to regular value-for-money evaluations, as this funding is ordinarily not subject to competitive tender, review, or performance appraisal – unlike research funding support to public universities”.

It does not say that think tanks should not be funded, nor does it say that the money should all flow to universities, let alone the Go8. Rather than a “thinly disguised dig” as claimed, it simply argues for the best practice governance measures that should be applied to the use of all public money.

It is unfortunate that Associate Professor Babones is dismissive of the independence and institutional autonomy that marks the Australian university model. Both are important in the provision of independent and evidence-based advice. Without these provisions, on what basis does he expect governments to make their public policy decisions? Indeed, it is the very lack of this institutional autonomy that determines whether foreign universities are subject to the requirements of the Australian Foreign Relations Act.

It is important to set the record straight.

Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive, The Group of Eight