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ADI Statement on the Proposed Changes to Higher Education Fees

ADI Statement on the Proposed Changes to Higher Education Fees

The government plan for humanities and social sciences does not serve Australia’s future.

The government plan for humanities and social sciences does not serve Australia’s future

Proposed changes to the fee structure of some university courses by the Hon Minister for Education Dan Tehan are short-sighted and destructive for the future of Australia. The proposed changes target, in particular, humanities and social sciences without any justification or prior discussion and debate with industry or the higher education sector. The changes put at serious risk Australia’s capacity to cope with the challenges of the future, and thrive in the 21st century. Students should not be penalised for studying courses in the humanities and social sciences (HASS) when these areas of study have proven critical to Australia’s push towards a knowledge economy and its success in navigating a complex range of global, regional and national challenges. As the Academy of Social Sciences and the Academy of Humanities have pointed out, skills taught in the humanities and social sciences such as creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, decision-making, and communication skills are essential in all industries. According to an analysis by the Academy of the Social Sciences, two-third of CEOs of ASX200 companies hold a degree in social sciences. The same applies to 62% of government senior executives and 66% of Federal Parliamentarians.[1] The proposed changes are divorced from the changing job market and the introduction of AI-powered systems, where human intervention and critical thinking are even more important.

Contrary to the assumptions underlying the mooted changes, humanities and social sciences are widely valued by industry leaders. Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, in her 2016 speech on the role of humanities in the world of business said that all future leaders will need “some form of humanities perspective and education”. Graduates of humanities, she noted, “ask the right questions, think for themselves, explain what they think, and turn those ideas into actions”.[2]  In a report on the effects of automation and AI on the future job markets, the Royal Bank of Canada concluded that “[new jobs] will need a portfolio of human skills such as critical thinking, social perceptiveness, and complex problem solving to remain competitive and resilient in the labour market”.[3]

If adopted, these changes to the fee structure of some humanities and social sciences courses and the consequent downgrading of these areas will ultimately tarnish the global reputation of Australian higher education at a time when Australian universities are already suffering from the economic impact of Covid-19. This puts Australia out of step with a global assessment of the relevance and contribution of humanities and social sciences. According to the World Economic Forum some of the most urgent challenges that humanity faces include food security, inclusive development, entrenched unemployment, climate change, digital transformation, public trust and social inequalities.[4] An assessment by KPMG points to similar challenges facing Australian leaders.[5] These challenges require well-rounded and comprehensive responses that rely on science and technology as well as humanities and social sciences. They also require a values-based approach to solving problems – where humanities and social sciences play a critical role, given they deal with such basic questions as what it is to be human, what makes for a good society and what is the basis of ethical decision-making. The value of a HASS approach to problem-solving became especially evident during the COVID-19 crisis when, as a society, we made decisions that have saved lives. This will be even more relevant in the post-COVID-19 era as we grapple with the multi-faceted negative implications of this global pandemic.

As a leading Australian research institute in humanities and social sciences with strong national and international impact and reputation, the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation invites the Hon Minister Dan Tehan to present, openly and transparently, the evidence that has led to the proposed changes. Furthermore, we strongly urge the Minister to engage with industry and the higher education sector to ascertain and discuss areas of need for genuine and much-needed reform.


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