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Extremist Boffins ‘Risk' to Uni Repute

Education Minister Christopher Pyne warned higher-education institutions against ideological self-indulgence that could sabot...

Education Minister Christopher Pyne warned higher-education institutions against ideological self-indulgence that could sabotage the sector Source: News Limited

ACADEMIC extremism risks damaging the standing of Australia's universities, says Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

His comments come in the wake of the controversy over the support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement by Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and The Australian's revelations this week that a Sydney University senior lecturer was part of a WikiLeaks Party delegation granted an audience with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, where they affirmed "the solidarity of the Australian people.

"The commonwealth government's highest priority in higher education is quality," Mr Pyne said in a carefully coded caution.

"Every vice-chancellor should always be reviewing whether their university is meeting high standards of quality in order to protect its reputation but also Australia's international reputation in education."

Mr Pyne hinted that Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence and bodies such as its senate, which had a string of left-leaning celebrity candidates including columnist Peter FitzSimons, ABC broadcaster Andrew West and former state minister Verity Firth recently elected to its ranks, should act.

"Each university is responsible for its own governance, but universities should avoid needless controversies that damage their reputation (and) also make Australia look less respectable to our potential international student market," he said.

Mr Pyne used diplomatic but firm language to warn higher-education institutions against ideological self-indulgence that could sabotage the sector.

"One of the most important things that the government can do is build revenue to universities by growing the international student market," he told The Weekend Australian.

"Universities should be partners in this goal and ensure that their reputations support rather than hinder that."

Sydney University acting vice-chancellor Tyrone Carlin declined to say whether he was concerned academic Tim Anderson's visit to Syria with the WikiLeaks group would damage the university's standing.

"The University of Sydney believes it is essential for academics to be able to able to express their views publicly on any matter within their area of expertise," Professor Carlin said.

He said he was satisfied with the recruitment practices of CPACS and the Department of Political Economy, where Dr Anderson works, and the scholarly credentials and academic rigour of both bodies.

Dr Anderson has backed calls by Jake Lynch, the CPACS chief, for Sydney University to sever its ties with Israeli institutions.

Associate Professor Lynch's support for the BDS movement, which explicitly equates Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, has been condemned by Mr Pyne and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who this week called the WikiLeaks delegation's endorsement of the Assad regime "extremely reckless".

Dr Anderson accused critics of "a cold war mentality" over Syria.

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