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Media statement: Go8 universities committed to providing a safe, secure environment for students and staff

Group of Eight universities are committed to protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech, while ensuring all international and domestic students have a positive and rewarding experience while studying in Australia.

The issues raised in today’s Human Rights Watch (HRW) report are concerning and must be addressed – harassment or censorship is unacceptable – however it must be noted that this is not characteristic of the typical student experience at Australian universities. Nor is it solely the responsibility of universities to address these issues – it is a national concern. In this context, the primary responsibility for monitoring the actions of foreign governments on Australian soil lies with the Australian Government and its agencies, not universities.

Australia is a tolerant and safe society and one of the safest countries in the world for international students.

The Go8, which represents Australia’s leading research-intensive universities and undertakes almost 70% of Australian university research activity, takes the safety and security of students and staff extremely seriously.

Go8 universities have numerous policies and protocols in place for this purpose, and in a fast changing digital and geopolitical world, universities regularly review these procedures for improvement and to ensure best practice.

Universities are only one part of the equation.  The HRW report itself acknowledges that these are complex and multifaceted issues that cannot be addressed in isolation, with universities, government departments, law enforcement and security agencies all having an important to role to play.

Institutionally, Go8 universities regularly engage with these external partners on the issues raised and will continue to work collaboratively to ensure the best policies and processes are in place, with student welfare at the centre.

However, at a national level the most effective forum for addressing the issues raised in the HRW report is the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT). UFIT – which includes both university sector and government representatives and produced the internationally leading Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector – is the body with the capacity and track record to address issues raised in today’s report. 

As a founding and active member of UFIT, the Go8 is committed to continuing to work both with UFIT and more broadly to protect our student and staff community.

Contact: Dr Matthew Brown, Group of Eight Deputy Chief Executive on +61 422 937 663