We need to turn our research eyes toward home much more often – The Australian

Australia Day is a day to celebrate who we are and what makes our country great.

It is also a day to acknowledge our history.

For Australians to successfully navigate our future we must better understand our past.

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We need fewer people telling us what to think. Instead we need more knowledge and information to help us understand our past for ourselves. Knowledge of our history will help us break the cycle of Australia Day antagonism.

Reconciliation will not come from ignorance. For all Australians to move forward together we must understand who we are, where we have come from and the events that have shaped us.

This will create increased pride in our Australian indigenous history, better knowledge of our British heritage and a greater understanding of the success of our multicultural endeavour. It will help bind us rather than break us.

A successful nation should celebrate, develop and critique its ­society, history and culture, and understand its geography, music, arts, literature and politics. We should be proud that our taxes are funding cutting-edge research in this pursuit.

However, as Education Minister, I have become increasingly concerned that our research is preferencing the foreign at the expense of the Australian. In some cases I worry Australian taxpayers are funding research projects into exotic international topics at the expense of studies into our country and our people. This is in part driven by the method for ranking our universities.

One of the key ways universities receive global recognition is from the quality and quantity of academic papers published in ­respected international journals.

This incentivises Australian academics to study topics with a global flavour likely to appeal to an international editor. As a result, ­ inquiry into uniquely Australian topics suffers.

When Australia as a field of ­research is viewed as a second-class topic it makes the subject less attractive to talented academics, which in turn means there are fewer teachers, students and universities interested in the field. It’s a downward spiral.

Between 2011 and 2020, just 3 per cent of grants under our primary competitive grant scheme — the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Grants — were in the areas of Australian society, history or culture.

If we don’t take an interest in understanding Australia we can’t expect the rest of the world to. For example, Australian indigenous history, like the extraordinary aquaculture that occurred at Budj Bim, has not been given the full ­attention it so richly deserves and the fathers of our Constitution, who helped bring us together as a nation, continue to slip from our national consciousness.

The Australian taxpayer is providing record funding over the next four years for academic ­research through the ARC. This research is high-quality and innovative but we must ensure we continue to mould it for the benefit of the Australian community.

It is why on Monday I am announcing the government is backing the importance of research into Australian society, history and culture by setting aside $12m in ARC grant money exclusively for this purpose.

This will fund about 40 projects in the range of $20,000 to $100,000 each year for up to three years.

Applications for grants open next month with funding starting from October.

Grants will still be decided through a competitive peer-reviewed process in accordance with international best practice.

This Special Research Initiative will encourage academics to pursue research into Australian society, history, culture, literature, art, music, politics and geography.

It will cover all aspects, from our ancient Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander beginnings to modern-day Australia, covering community, institutions, urban, regional and rural history and ­cultures.

We don’t fund research to serve the interests of individual academics, we fund research to generate new knowledge that serves our country.

It will reward academics with an interest in Australia, and incentivise more inquiry into the topic.

We all will benefit from more research, more diversity of views, more debate and more new knowledge about Australia.

I want to strengthen the connection between what happens at our universities and the communities that support them.

Our government is working with the sector to protect academic freedom, guarantee freedom of speech and freedom from foreign interference on campus.

We are working to promote our academic research and to explain its benefits to Australians.

From discussions with the relevant faculties, I expect this initiative will fall on fertile ground at our universities.

Teaching Australian students to know more about our society, history and culture should be a priority for all Australian universities.

Dan Tehan is the federal Minister for Education.

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