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Australian universities “in danger of being captured by the fossil fuel industry”

Posted by gmarkets on 3 October, 2007

According to Brendan O’Keefe in The Australian (13/6/07, p. 29), Australia’s universities were in danger of being captured by the fossil fuel industry, a report released today has claimed.

Companies may be influencing uni decisions: The discussion paper, University Capture: Australian Universities and the Fossil Fuel Industries, by researchers at the Australia Institute, said oil, gas and coal companies, which sponsor scholarships and professorial chairs for tens of millions of dollars, were influencing academics and university governance. As universities were encouraged to become more entrepreneurial, many turn to captains of the fossil fuel industry to take leading roles in governance, says the report by institute director Clive Hamilton and research fellow Christian Downie.

No problem with industry-university relationship: They cite examples of Curtin University chancellor Gordon Martin, chairman of oil and gas company Coogee Resources; University of Western Australia chancellor Michael Chaney, director of petrol company Woodside; and a former Deakin University chancellor, Richard Searby, who was a director of Woodside while in the chair at Deakin. Downie said the institute had no problem with industry and universities working together.

But cannot undermine academic freedom: “But it’s another thing to have these relationships undermining academic freedom or to have the potential to,” he said. The paper cites the case of Curtin University professor of health economics Gavin Mooney, who in 2005 was critIcised by the university for speaking on ABC television about pollution from an Alcoa aluminium plant at Yarloop. The company had given Curtin $1.5 million to sponsor the Alcoa Research Centre for Stronger Communities. At University of Queensland, the institute says, millions of dollars worth of sponsorship in mining and engineering “suggests fossil fuel companies have considerable influence”.

Unis called to est registries of interests: “It reinforces concerns that lecturers could refrain from making remarks that could he construed as critical of individual mining companies or practices in the industry,” the report said. UWA acting vice-chancellor Margaret Seares said university staff “adhered to the highest ethical standards in our relationships with external partners”. The institute called for universities to establish registries of interests to improve transparency.

The Australian, 13/6/2007, p. 29

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