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SA Centre Alliance kills hope for university arts and humanities

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 14 October 2020

The American writer, David Foster Wallace, gave a great speech at the 2005 Kenyon College Commencement Address. It wasn't your typical speech about tolerating difference or promoting equality. It had none of the 'right-on', PC qualities one would expect of a renowned and popular novelist, much adored by young people.

He said that, "Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."

Unfortunately, the price of learning how to think, just got 'totally hosed' by a South Australian minor party Centre Alliance (formerly the Nick XenophonTeam), which backed major changes to university course funding.


For Law and economics, management and commerce, humanities and the social sciences, fees will more than double, putting them in the highest price band of $14,500 a year.

Currently arts degrees cost around $21,000 but thanks to Rebekha Sharkie MP and Senator Stirling Griff from the SA Centre Alliance, the total cost of an Arts degree will be around $45,000 or more.

The Government will increase its contribution to the cost of nursing, psychology, English, languages, teaching, agriculture, maths, science, health and architecture, making them those disciplines cheaper.

Sharkie and Griff's vote was bought by allocating an extra 12,000 Commonwealth funded places to South Australian basket-case universities: The University of Adelaide, the University of SA and Flinders University, over four-years.

These universities have driven ATAR entry scores so low, your blood pressure drops just looking at them. They've been fudging domestic enrolment figures for the last ten years by stating that 'bums on seats' equals full time equivalent enrolments.

They are the 'dead parrots' of the Australian tertiary education system. They were catatonic before Covid-19, now they have, in all but name, joined what's left in capability and mental acuity of the Australian TAFE system.


Those 12,000 Commonwealth places will be divided up and allocated by the same boffins who ran these institutions in to the ground.

Indeed, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, Peter Rathjen, is being investigated by the SA Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, for allegedly 'hugging and kissing' two female employees in unwanted sexual advances and covering it up.

Those Commonwealth places certainly won't go to tertiary arts education as back in 2018, the new Marshall Government announced cuts totalling $31.9 million from the arts.

Various SA youth arts organisations, including what's left of Adelaide's theatre companies, the South Australian Film Corporation, the Adelaide Film Festival and the Jam Factory, are in penury. Many smaller arts organisations no longer exist.

This story gives a good update on the state of the arts in SA. It appeared in the Adelaide Review, an arts and culture newspaper, which folded last month after publishing for 36 years.

Maybe SA Centre Alliance saw the writing on the wall for the arts in SA, and decided to stick the knife in.

Part of the Government's rationale for pricing art and humanity degrees up there with the purchase of a cheap Brett Whitely painting, is to drive young people towards science, maths and nursing and useful, quantifiable subjects like that.

The Government's pre-pandemic modelling showed 62 per cent of employment growth in the next five years will be in health care, science and technology, education and construction.

Yet this modelling is no longer valid as the spread of the Coronavirus is a black swan event, throwing future careers and whole sections of the economy in to chaos.

The government is implementing a social engineering experiment which seeks to drive people in to courses they may have little or no interest in for the 'national interest'. It militates against the idea of agency or free will, in favour of price signals and inducements.

Near the end of Kenyon College Commencement speech, Wallace says the real value of a (liberal) education, has almost nothing to do with knowledge, "and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us…"

It's individual awareness – of the great interconnectivity of knowledge, of synergy, rather than knowledge itself, which comes from studying the arts and humanities.

Sharkie and Griff will be damned by a generation of young Australians, priced out of a liberal arts education.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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