New Space Race: Putting Woke Into Orbit

Written by:
29 February 2024
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In this article, Brianna McKee contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research into Australian Universities and how they are failing young Australians.

If we want to reach for the stars, then it will be our best and brightest – not virtue signalling – that gets us there. It’s not rocket science.

Or is it? Those working at Monash University’s recently launched National Indigenous Space Academy might disagree. Lauded as a world first, the program paves the way for First Nations STEM students to intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States.

The five successful Indigenous applicants start with a Space Boot Camp run by the Faculty of IT exploring astrophysics, planetary science, and engineering. This is followed by a 10-week internship with NASA covering space missions, and rovers and robotics for unexplored ocean worlds.

Space seems to be shaping up as the final frontier for diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioners to push their wares, and Australia’s academics have wasted no time putting Woke into orbit. The Associate Dean of Indigenous Engagement at Monash University’s Faculty of Information and Technology said his main objective was:

‘To find the first Indigenous astronaut and help get them into space … Indigenous Australians were the first scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians … They’ve been using STEM for over 65,000 years.’

Putting aside the factual inaccuracy of the statement, the Associate Dean is not alone in this thinking. His emphasis on race is reflective of a much broader problem in the university sector.

The purpose of a university is to develop knowledge through scholarship and research and, in so doing, enrich and up-skill society. It is about function over form and there should be nothing more colour-blind. Monash University should seek to attract high performers yet, as is more fashionable these days, it has opted instead to focus on people’s cultural background.

The rise of Critical Race Theory and Affirmative Action in universities has been all-encompassing. Welcome to Country precedes lectures, Indigenous course content is embedded in most degrees, and many universities have Indigenous-only equipment or programs. Just last year, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare guaranteed all Indigenous students a taxpayer-funded place at university.

This focus on equity over education seriously compromises academic standards, and the decline is evident. The recent report of the Productivity Commission’s five-year inquiry found poor quality teaching is failing students, who enter the workforce unprepared to meet the demands of the real world.

In the world of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), equity means equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity. Embracing Affirmative Action in university admissions undermines the principle that we all should have a fair shot at excellence, unencumbered by background.

Last June, the US Supreme Court ruled that race-based preferencing in admissions violated the Constitution. In his judgement, US Chief Justice John Roberts said universities had:

‘…concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the colour of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.’

Many advanced societies have implemented policies to support the welfare of the marginalised and, at least at one time, were focused on tearing down barriers that prevented them from embracing opportunities to pursue a better life.

But nowadays, these barriers are merely being replaced by others, erected by self-satisfied elites and the political class. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the National Indigenous Space Academy will actually benefit Indigenous students. Program prerequisites only require candidates to ‘identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander’ and, as we know, such identification has been called into question by numerous parties, chief among them Indigenous advocates.

Basing university admissions criteria on race rather than merit is not a good strategy for developing and harnessing our nation’s talent. When it comes to funding universities, it would be far better for taxpayers’ dollars to be spent on programs that encourage excellence and achievement, which are open to all and determined by an individual’s record of performance.

It appears our universities are committed to ensuring future generations view the world strictly through a prism of class, race, and gender. Such an educational philosophy will produce students who are nothing more than graduates in virtue signalling, while failing to address the barriers faced by Indigenous Australians.

The National Indigenous Space Academy presents as a harmless program providing opportunities for disadvantaged students. In reality, it is just another divisive project that undermines the merit-based academic system.

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