University to offer controversial degree

University to offer controversial degree

The Australian Catholic University (ACU) is the latest institution to offer the controversial Western Civilisation after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Ramsay Centre.

While the degree is yet to undergo university course approval, the Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation) is already scheduled to start in 2021 at the University’s North Sydney Campus under the National School of Arts.

The program, which includes an optional honours year, will cover a curriculum starting from the antiquity period to present day history and will be delivered in small group settings. 

Professor Greg Craven, ACU vice-chancellor and president, said the degree is timely as universities lean more towards STEM degrees.

Professor Craven also said liberal arts education inspires students to question issues and ideas presented in “great books and the thinking they have inspired over the centuries.”

Reports have shown that school leavers are more inclined to pursue STEM-related degrees, while separate research has found that primary school students are also more inclined to take up technology-related subjects than traditional subjects.

Ramsay Centre CEO Professor Simon Haines said the Centre was delighted to partner with ACU – an institution nationally ranked 12th in terms of humanities and among the leading universities with the best graduate employment outcomes.

“They also provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the Humanities in Australia – an unprecedented level of support – at a time when opportunities to maintain and strengthen foundational disciplines are diminishing,” Professor Haines said.

Ramsay Centre’s $50m, eight-year deal will cover 150 undergraduate scholarships for over five years, the production of course materials and the hiring of new staff, which includes a maximum of 10 full-time equivalent academic staff and two non-academic staff.

The Centre was established in 2017 in a bid to advance education through promoting studies and discussion on Western civilisation. These efforts include collaborations with secondary and tertiary institutions, and even the wider community.

Other goals set by the Centre include offering national Ramsay Postgraduate Scholarships and setting up summer school programs and related events to promote appreciation for Western civilisation.

A highly-contested program

In 2019, prior to signing the deal with ACU, the Centre got the Universities of Wollongong and Queensland (UQ) on board despite protests from their staff. These two universities are offering the program this year.

UQ National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Secretary Michael McNally in a statement last year said they rejected the deal for a number of reasons, among these being the “corporatisation of public universities.”

Meanwhile, UOW was met with court action from NTEU for approving the degree without having it pass through the academic senate, but it was later dropped.

The Ramsey Centre also previously tried to strike deals with the University of Sydney and the Australian National University to offer the program, but the ventures failed.

In an article published in The Conversation, former ANU Chancellor Professor Gareth Evans and Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt wrote they had withdrawn from the deal due to their concerns about the Centre’s “controlling approach” especially when it comes to the curriculum and staff.   

Professor Craven, meanwhile, maintained that the University had been clear during their negotiations with the Centre that it will maintain autonomy over the delivery of the program to keep its intellectual and academic freedom.

Professor Peter Høj, UQ vice-chancellor and president, reaffirmed this when the University signed on with the program.