Minister for Education Dan Tehan and University of Tasmania vice-chancellor Rufus Black (Images: AAP, UTAS)

The latest twist and turn in the Dan Tehan higher-ed funding boondoggle stuff-up saga is that Uni of Tasmania vice-chancellor Rufus Black has signed up for it. Which is of course an attempt to get the vote of Jacqui Lambie.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry, Black noted that the funding scheme would help UTAS “pursue its goals” by which he meant — surrrrprise — make it an overseas student destination.

Tasmanians wanting to do an arts degree in the lowest median income state? They would have to saddle themselves with $50k of debt. Which in terms of salary expectations is more like $75k, given the absence of regional adjustments.

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Who is Rufus Black? He is a trained theologian who went from Wesley in Melbourne, to Melbourne Uni arts and Ormond College, then a Rhodes scholarship and Oxford PhD, and a decade with McKinseys, then the usual roll-call of the exhaustingly ambitious academic: half a dozen institutional directorships, triple professorships and the like, while also being bound up with the army and the spooks as a consultant on defence spending and intelligence. 

Doubtless Black only wants the best for the University of Tasmania, but this proposed supercharging of a regional uni as an overseas ed powerhouse can’t help but serve as an audition for the VC perch at a group of eight (poor UTAS sandstone Cinderella, the only original uni outside the charmed circle).

Lambie should reflect on this: Black is a Melbourne elite private school grad who did an arts degree when it cost $250 a year, following his intellectual passions where they would, and now wants to make it impossible for Tasmanian kids to do the same without mortgaging their future away. Does one get a sense that it’s thought the humanities is for some, but not for the likes of they? 

They have to live there. VC Black, who has worked in Melbourne, Oxford, Canberra and New York, will most likely not be tarrying long by the Derwent. Is Tasmania better served by a modest, affordable state university, or an overpriced one dependent on the overseas student market and the influence of overseas governments which comes with it?

All of which has made universities like Melbourne and Sydney and others beholden to the market — and to the Confucius Institutes run by the Chinese Communist Party. If a faux-global university doesn’t best serve the state’s interests, whose interests is it serving? 

The final kicker? Black, whose CV would be thick enough to float him back across the Bass Strait to his next globetrotting job, did his PhD on theologian Stanley Hauerwas, whose lifelong message was the separation of the Christian from worldliness. Black would appear to have fallen from his grace, to rule in Tasmania. Funny old worldliness!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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