University of Wollongong defends controversial Western civilisation degree

UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings, left, with Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines have welcomed the partnership. Source: University of Wollongong

The University of Wollongong's Bachelor of Arts in Western civilisation will begin in 2020.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) is under fire for accepting $50 million dollars to run a controversial Bachelor of Arts in Western civilisation.

The degree will be funded over the next eight years by The Ramsay Centre, whose board of directors includes former Liberal Party Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott.

The curriculum is yet to be confirmed, but the UOW says it will allow students to "engage directly with great works central to Western civilisation."

Critics say the degree will offer an uncritical view of Western civilisation and will, because of the political links of the Ramsay Centre, infringe on academic freedom.


The south-coast university disagrees.

"This course is about developing critical thinking in our students,” Professor Theo Farrell, the Executive Dean of Law, Humanities and the Arts at UOW, told SBS News.

The degree will provide a "unique and fantastic learning opportunity" for students, Prof Farrell said.

“It’s not at all about training students in what to think, it’s is about training students how to think and how to be independent critical thinkers for themselves."

Prof Farrell insists the degree will be non-partisan.

"This course will respect the values and traditions of non-Western cultures, civilisations and traditions of thought,” he said.

“We've actually designed into the course critical engagement with non-Western cultures and traditions for students to understand how these have influenced the development of Western civilisation."

Wollongong university will become the first in Australia to offer the course.
Wollongong university will become the first in Australia to offer the course.
Facebook @uow

‘Absolutely appalling’

Greens education spokeswoman and former academic, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, told SBS News the degree is unnecessary.

“I think that it’s absolutely appalling that the university should take a cash handout to teach a course on Western civilisation," she said.

"Universities already have courses which teach Western civilisation: courses in history, in geography and social sciences.

Senator Faruqi, a Pakistani migrant, is urging UOW to reject the Ramsay Centre’s money - as well as the political ideology she claims comes with it.

"As someone who comes from Pakistan, a place which has experienced the real negative impacts of colonialism and imperialism, it completely airbrushes the impact of imperialism and colonialism. We know in Australia that Aboriginal people have also experienced the negative impacts.

“There is no place for such narrow political ideologies to be taught in universities."

Senator Mehreen Faruqi, the first ever Punjabi migrant in Australia's federal parliament
Senator Mehreen Faruqi in Australia's federal parliament
David Foote/Auspic

‘Strikes at the heart of academic freedom’

This is not the first time the Ramsay Centre has offered a university funding to run the controversial degree - both Sydney University and the Australian National University have previously been approached.

The National Tertiary Education Union’s National President, Dr Alison Barnes, told SBS News union representatives raised concerns at both universities.

"The Ramsay Centre wanted to ensure that they were on selection panels for selecting staff and that they would be to attend lectures,” she said.

“This, in combination, with input into curriculum development, strikes at the heart of academic freedom."


While the Ramsay Centre said discussions with UOW about the degree had been ongoing for a number of months, they were not held in the public eye.

Dr Barnes wants to know exactly who will be calling the shots.

"In the interest of transparency, the University of Wollongong management must release the Memorandum of Understanding explaining the nature of the deal they've reached with the Ramsay Centre."

The three-year degree is expected to begin in 2020.

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