Universities Australia condemns all forms of coercion on campus and in classroom

Universities Australia has condemned all forms of coercion, on campus, or in the classroom, or elsewhere in the community following the release by Human Rights Watch of a new report alleging coercion of students and staff.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the sector had zero tolerance for behaviour which sought to undermine academic freedom.

“Every university leader will read this report with concern. No student of staff member should feel constrained in expressing their views as part of the free exchange of views that is in the DNA of our universities. The safety and security of students and staff are of utmost importance to universities.”

“Universities have long-established and robust policies to deal with coercion and intimidation on our campuses. We urge students to come forward to universities to report any incidents of concern.”

“Universities Australia’s members – the nation’s 39 comprehensive universities – are unequivocally committed to academic freedom and intellectual enquiry.”

“The University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) is actively working on measures designed to counter interference in the university sector. Right now, further work is being done to strengthen deterrence to this kind of coercion as part of the refresh of the UFIT guidelines established by the Taskforce in November 2019.”

“Attempted coercion of students and staff is not a problem that universities can address alone. The partnership approach established through UFIT is essential to tackling these very complex issues. UFIT brings together Government, security agencies and university expertise to develop additional guidance for the sector in dealing with difficult issues that affect students and staff, including those raised in the Human Rights Watch report.”

Ms Jackson said universities are vigilant in their commitment to academic freedom and intellectual enquiry.

“Academic freedom is the bedrock on which universities are built. We resist any attempt to undermine the foundations of free expression in our classrooms or on our campuses.”

“The issues raised by Human Rights Watch are complex and go to the heart of the importance of free expression in our universities.”

“Campuses are places where we prize free speech, and we always have.”

Ms Jackson said Universities Australia and its members had participated extensively with the report’s authors to discuss the issues.

“We will be looking carefully at the Human Rights Watch report, as will the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce, to see what additional practical steps can be taken to protect students and staff.”

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