I am sitting at lunch with a friend who was a former executive in the SA Department of Education and Training. We are discussing the latest report into Child Protection in SA. There is a certain taste of irony in the air. The issues of Child Protection were in his Education portfolio until the new CEO met with David in his office and told him there was no place for him or his portfolio in his new regime – and by the way, what is it you do?
So now as a result of the new report a couple of years later, the structures and programs look like being re-instated!
How many reports does it take to change a light bulb?
Enough to keep the research and reporting industry turning over?
Academe tackles extremism
Universities need to work harder at minimising the risk of indoctrination of students by radical groups.
University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Jan Thomas told the Association of Commonwealth Universities conference in Ghana last week that it was imperative all universities “consider strategies to curb radicalisation”.
She pointed to British research showing “higher education at its best counters radicalisation through improving students’ self-esteem and sense of achievement and in enhancing their feeling of belonging to society”.
The role for universities in this area included educating students to be critical thinkers, conducting research to better understand radicalisation, and building resilience and cross-cultural tolerance, Professor Thomas, who is chairwoman of the ACU, told the HES.
However, Greg Austin, an international security expert and visiting professor at University of NSW, said universities had no role in monitoring students for radical thought and most staff had no qualifications to help de-radicalise students. Rather the focus should be on research.
“Australian universities have a relatively weak research base on most aspects of domestic terrorism and violent extremism in this country, he said. There are pockets of excellence on niche subjects, especially around the theme of countering violent extremism. However, the research scene has remained largely static in the past decade.”
Since 2010 the Australian Research Council appeared to have funded one grant focused on political science aspects of countering violent extremism, terrorism and radicalisation, Professor Austin said.
Greg Barton, a counter-terrorism expert at Deakin University, said universities should do more but the question was how.
“People dont like talking about countering violent extremism or radicalisation, it’s a very sensitive topic”, said Professor Barton, who is also co-director of the Australian Intervention Support Hub, a research centre launched last year to counter radicalisation.
“It would be good to work with Muslim student associations across Australian campuses, but if you go through formal channels the chances of meeting sharp opposition are quite high, partly because of the dynamics of campus politics.”
Professor Thomas argued it was important that Australian universities supported their peers in developing countries.
“There’s a massive opportunity in developing nations to influence how they educate their young people and to promote a peaceful and tolerant society across such a large swath of the world,” Professor Thomas said.
“Critical thinking skills are important in parts of the world where these extreme political and religious groups have a stronger presence.”
The Australian, Higher Education, August 3, 2016
I must say I was a bit aghast at Bob Hawke’s rationale, at the launch of the new UniSA Hawke International Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding in 2010. He believed that the best way to avoid a ‘clash of civilisations’ was through ‘understanding’. I have no problems with the necessity of education but need the source for cultural change be placed in a research institute? Is ‘understanding’ enough? How will this investment of $25m-plus affect the everyday person at their kitchen table? Will its affectiveness be gauged by yet more glossy reports sitting on book shelves? If so, it’s too superficial, too easy!
Recently I had a visit from Prof. Wesley Wildman, Professor of Theology at Boston University. He was making connections with people in our Theology and Philosophy Departments in his field of trans-religious theology (doing theology from multiple religious and non-religious perspectives). He described Oasis as one of the few trans-religious communities of practice in the world, enacting the research concensus about best practice in pre-empting religious radicalisation and in fostering cultural competencies among students.
What we need, I think, are communities of practice, informed by the academy. Oasis is being successful by creating a culture of hospitality, informed not just in the head, but in the heart. We can point to students returning to their countries with the experience, understanding and commitment to promote peace in their cultures. It happens on a shoe-string through the experience, understanding and commitment of our volunteers who have embraced the vision of Oasis.