This week, it was announced by UWA’S Deputy Vice Chancellor Tayyeb Shah that UWA Publishing (UWAP) will be closed, beginning this month. Since the announcement, Facebook groups protesting the shut-down have proliferated; a change.org petition has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures at the time of publication; and news outlets, including The Guardian and the ABC, have reported on the event. Academia, journalists and the public have openly lamented the loss of jobs, cultural erosion and disconnect within the WA community that is predicted if the UWAP shut-down proceeds.

UWA, among other universities, is standing on the precipice of a weighty moral decision. Indeed, one could argue that this precipice is no more; that decisions have been made by some university executives, and associated university communities are being forced down a path they actively and openly resist.

The proposed closure of UWAP is part of a larger movement in the university sector away from culturally-integral, local concerns, towards internationalism and the generation of capital. Universities are increasingly run first and foremost as businesses, not educational and research facilities; the manifestation of this is the closure of UWAP.

In a YouTube video titled “Visit of Mr. Tayyeb Shah,” published by ISME School of Management of Entrepreneurship, Shah says “My advice… just generally, from my learning of seeing universities all over the world… is that you should look to internationalising as much as possible.” Such a perspective is neither new nor surprising; in an increasingly globalised world, advocates of internationalism are increasing.

One can have a different conversation about the ethics of internationalism. But what concerns UWAP and (Western) Australian universities and culture most significantly at this moment is the morality of generating internationalism as a means of garnering capital, at the expense of important, local communities, and the subsequent detriment that befalls many people.

When “Visit of Mr. Tayyeb Shah” was posted in a closed Facebook group protesting the proposed closure of UWAP, group members reflected these concerns. I sought the permission of Guy Salvidge to publish his comments here:

“It’s very clear. This guy has been brought in to UWA to increase the university’s profitability via increased numbers of international students. As we know, they are worth big bickies. But what about UWA’s connection with the local community? What about our socio-cultural-spatial voices?”

People will suffer if UWAP is closed. The Guardian reports that five members of staff at UWAP will lose their jobs, not to mention those directly and indirectly effected if the 35 books scheduled to be published in 2020 never see the light of day. But when universities prioritise the recruitment of international students for profits, and move away from focussing their attention and funding on university institutions, it’s those very international students that suffer.

Dr. Gerd Schrӧder-Turk, formerly of Murdoch University, described the unethical recruitment methods of his former-institution in an ABC Four Corners report:

“Admitting students who don’t have the right pre-requisites or correct language capabilities is setting them up for failure. This is just not what a university should do. That’s not what education is about.”

Following this interview, Dr. Schrӧder-Turk was sued by Murdoch University; they cite great losses in revenue and decreases in international student enrolment as their cause.

UWA is not the only Western Australian university subscribing to the agenda of internationalism advocated by Shah. The program of what one might describe as morally-ambiguous international student recruitment might been seen by people like Shah as a means of launching great educational facilities into the future and onto the global stage. Here, Western Australia’s insecurity about hosting the most isolated city in the world becomes evident. In reality, the program manifests as maiming both cultural institutions and international student communities.

Dr. Kate Noske is the Editor of Westerly Magazine, based out of the Westerly centre, located at UWA. I asked if she would make a personal statement regarding the proposed closure of UWAP, and she responded:

“The tertiary sector’s interest in internationalising is perhaps inevitable, but it cannot be at the sacrifice of the local community, or we risk compromising the integrity of our institution. To remove one of the publishers from the local sector will be hugely detrimental to the writing and publishing industry in (Western) Australia. Alongside the intrinsic value and the heritage of UWA Publishing’s backlist, as well as the cultural benefit of their activities to Western Australian communities, this decision will damage the prospects of UWA graduates. Lecturing in creative writing and English, my colleagues and I have worked hard over the last three years to enhance and solidify vocational pathways for our students, including in connecting students directly with UWA Publishing. Closing UWA Publishing would have huge effect in the local sector, and as such seriously undermine the careers of these graduates, as well as imperilling the pathway we have built for them in gaining access to the publishing industry. Alongside my personal horror in the loss that the closure of UWA Publishing would entail, I feel a responsibility to speak in defence of our students.”

I think Kate raises a crucial point here. I have so far primarily suggested that Mr. Shah’s agenda in closing UWAP might be attributed to the university’s focus on garnering capital, and, as a consequence of this, increasing the numbers of international students, which Dr. Shcrӧeder-Turk believes universities are not equipped for. Noske highlights that all UWA (international and domestic) graduates who might use UWAP’s services will be negatively and directly impacted by the institution’s closure.

I also asked Scott-Patrick Mitchell, a poet, writer, and a WA Poets inc. committee member, to comment on the event:

“Nowhere in the meager [sic] press releases and statements supplied by Mr Shah is there any mention of HOW the new, proposed version of UWAP will support First Nation, female-identifying and LGBTIQA+ writers and poets. Under the current UWAP platform, these voices have been amplified, celebrated and brought to the fore with passion and tenderness. But in the new model? One can only presume they will be silenced and potentially erased in the interest of capital gain.

The students of UWA are in an unique [sic] position in regards to this matter. When similar models of publishing have been proposed at UK universities, these changes were averted when the students themselves spoke out against the changes. So I urge every single UWA student to speak up, speak out! Write to Robert French, Dawn Freshwater and Mr Shah demanding that they reconsider this proposed change. After all, this is your legacy and future they are erasing, and they are doing so without your consultation. The power is with you, the students, to avert this decision.”

Mitchell highlights that the continued existence of UWAP rests with you, Pelican readers (and UWA students at large). When I read Mitchell’s comments, I am reminded of a poem by Dylan Thomas, who I am sure most in the literary community are familiar with: we must rage, rage against the dying of the light, against the closure of UWAP.

Do not mistake the proposed closure of UWAP as simply an isolated event, a local concern, or an indication of an increasingly science-oriented global perspective. It’s about increasing university profits at the expense of what makes our universities worthwhile places to exist and produce amongst.

We don’t have to go down the path that Shah is proposing. Many in the Facebook group have expressed their belief that we can and will not do so. I desperately want to believe them.

Words by By Stirling Kain