Global collaboration is at the heart of humanities research and Australia benefits enormously from this approach – not only in terms of the quality and impact of the work we do but also through the benefits it brings in terms of talent and student recruitment, cost sharing, risk reduction, and access to international funding support.
The landscape for international engagement has become more challenging in recent times, particularly due to broader geopolitical tensions and heightened concerns regarding foreign interference. This sentiment has evolved relatively quickly, and it is timely for the Academy to make a statement about international collaboration to ensure academic relationships and productive partnerships abroad are not negatively affected.
Academics and researchers need to be aware of what is expected of them in this landscape and understand how to identify and manage risks, while university leaders can play an important role in offering to protect their institutions and their people to ensure the ongoing success of international research and educational co-operation.
We need to ensure staff and students are protected against unwarranted foreign interference and that academic freedom is strongly protected. At the same time, we also need to protect the important role that international collaboration plays for the humanities in Australia, and for universities more generally, especially at a time when even more collaboration is required given the challenges our world faces.
An important focus for research diplomacy in the 21st century is the need for international collaboration in addressing challenges that cross national borders, such as climate change, ageing populations, cybersecurity, and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious diseases. No one nation can deal with issues of this magnitude, and just as a global approach is required to tackle the biggest challenges we’re facing today, so too must humanities researchers join forces with those in the sciences and other disciplines, to present the most effective responses for the benefit of all humankind.
While we are aware of the need to protect Australia’s security interests, any new legislation or regulatory arrangements should not jeopardise the clear benefits of collaboration, and we need to especially guard against potential unintended consequences for the humanities. To that end, we must ensure any new security arrangements put in place around humanities research programs and funding bodies are transparent, fit for purpose and do not undermine research excellence in our disciplines.
It is crucial to acknowledge that this current sensitivity to international collaboration has negative impacts on Australian-based humanities scholars from foreign countries, or who may be ethnically or religiously linked to foreign countries. To ensure that the best scholarship is produced in Australia from all our humanities researchers, and that Australian institutions are able to maximise the benefits Australia accrues from the networks that diaspora scholars bring, we need to recognise the harm to freedom of expression, freedom of thought and academic inquiry when a significant proportion of our academic workforce is anxious about whether they are perceived as being sources of foreign interference.
The Academy proudly promotes the value and inestimable benefits of international research and we strongly encourage all researchers, academics and universities involved in international collaboration to do so with absolute transparency and to take whatever actions they can to minimise the risk to their work and our national security.
Our purpose remains clear and sharply focused: to ensure the humanities in Australia thrive and excel, both within our shores and also globally, because we believe a better future for all humanity depends on the sharing of ethical, historical, creative and cultural knowledge and expertise.
While the closure of international borders during the pandemic has impacted the direct face-to-face exchange of ideas and information, modern technology and new ways of communicating have enabled ongoing collaboration on a scale unimaginable a decade or two ago given similar circumstances.
Notwithstanding the present-day challenges, the Academy encourages and will continue to support greater international research collaborations, and in doing so, we will continue to seek to work with organisations with shared priorities and principles, to better advance the humanities, and in doing so, the lives of people both in Australia and abroad.