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News / Veto of research grants a threat to academic freedom in Australia

News / Veto of research grants a threat to academic freedom in Australia

In an open letter published last month, more than 60 high-profile Australian academics including Brian Schmidt, the Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist and Australian National University vice-chancellor, condemned acting Education Minister Stuart Robert’s Christmas eve decision to cancel six grants recommended for funding by the independent Australian Research Council (ARC).

The group of eminent researchers called for the ARC to be “allowed to return to its core mission of funding fundamental curiosity driven research without political interference”. The Minister rejected six humanities projects — on topics related to English literature, China, climate activism, and religion in novels — on the grounds that they were not demonstrating “value for taxpayers’ money” and not contributing to the “national interest.”

A petition with over 1,700 signatures, including those of respected authors Alexis Wright, Amanda Lohrey, J.M. Coetzee and Michelle de Kretser, has called on the acting minister to “reinstate the defunded projects and commit to legislating the complete independence of the ARC from government interference and censorship.”

“The actions of the government reveal that it is committed to defunding Australia’s literary culture by overriding academic autonomy and determining what kinds of knowledge can and cannot be pursued. This is especially ironic given its recent campaign to defend freedom of speech on Australia’s campuses.” 

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