Australia: Private and independent schools awarded vast majority of $30,000 Ramsay Centre scholarships
Despite Leftist hatred of the subject, it looks like Western civilization courses attract a lot of takers. So much so that the demand greatly exceeds the supply of places. That in turn means that a high bar has to be set for students to get in. And that high bar consists of very good High School results. And good High School results are most common in the private school sector. So it folows that most admissions to such courses go to private school graduates. It is nothing strange or sinister
The vast majority of the generous Ramsay Centre Western civilisation scholarships have been awarded to private or non-government school students, with a top university now attempting to attract more public school applicants to the controversial program.
The centre says the $30,000-a-year scholarships, offered at the University of Queensland, University of Wollongong and Australian Catholic University in Sydney, give a much-needed “shot in the arm” to humanities in Australia.
Figures provided to the Herald show that at the University of Queensland, about 85 per cent of the 71 scholarship recipients over the past three years attended private or independent high schools. At the University of Wollongong, 71 per cent of the 93 recipients attended private or non-government schools.
The Australian Catholic University, which is not subject to NSW freedom of information laws, did not provide the full data on request and said a “public/private” school binary did not paint a fair and accurate picture of equality of outcomes.
The Western civilisation degrees, which are funded through a $3 billion bequest from healthcare magnate Paul Ramsay, are great books-style courses in which small groups of students study key texts from the Western tradition in depth. Up to 30 students a year at each participating university are offered the $30,000 annual scholarships for up to five years.
In 2018 and 2019, the centre was engaged in discussions to set up a base at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney. However, agreement on a proposed model could not be reached amid concerns about academic freedom and a backlash from some academics who claimed that the centre was trying to push a right-wing agenda.
Queensland University said the Western civilisation courses were now among the most competitive humanities degrees in the country, with required ATARs ranging from 95 to 98. It said the percentage of scholarship recipients was reflective of the number of applicants when comparing private/independent to public school data.
“To encourage greater representation from public schools, we are speaking with our current students from public schools to understand how we can better promote the scholarships and review administrative processes,” a spokesperson said.
“We will also have program ambassadors from public high schools to support this work. We have targeted engagement and outreach programs that prioritise public schools, and for regional schools, financial bursaries are offered for travel costs to attend.”
The university said of the scholarship recipients, 11 per cent were from regional Australia and 17 per cent identified as disadvantaged.
“It is sadly unsurprising scholarships are not being awarded or being promoted to those who would benefit from them most.”
National Tertiary Education Union president Dr Alison Barnes said the figures showed universities needed to review the selection criteria and processes around promoting the scholarships in public schools.
“It is sadly unsurprising scholarships are not being awarded or being promoted to those who would benefit from them most,” she said. “Irrespective of the course’s controversial curriculum, all scholarships should be available and made known to all students.”
A University of Wollongong spokeswoman said students enrolled in the course came from a broad mix of social and schooling backgrounds. In 2022, 37 per cent of the university’s scholarship recipients were from public schools, up on the three-year average of 29 per cent.
“UOW aims to attract high-achieving students from all backgrounds and all schools – whether public, Catholic or independent – to the course. We endeavour to make the course and the scholarships as widely known as possible among NSW high school students,” the spokeswoman said.
“We promote the bachelor of Western civilisation course in the same way we promote all other courses – via open days, discovery days, information evenings, career expos and other events, and by promoting it directly to schools and to students.”
A Ramsay Centre spokeswoman said the scholarship application process may, where appropriate, give preference to applicants who are disadvantaged or are from an underrepresented background.
“Our university partners continue to target engagement and outreach programs to public schools and lower SES students in line with their university policies,” she said. “We have always been keen to support three distinct programs at three distinct universities to ensure a diverse cohort of students have access to the wonderful opportunity the study of Western civilisation provides.”
“Having access to the scholarship makes a big difference to their ability to achieve their academic aspirations.”
Professor Robert Carver, director of the Western civilisation program, said most of its scholarship recipients came from Catholic schools where fees were “low to modest” and the student body was “rich in diversity of ethnic background”.
“About a quarter of our students are from outer suburban or regional areas and having access to the scholarship makes a big difference to their ability to achieve their academic aspirations,” he said.
“In all cases, we look at the totality of the person – our selection process (particularly the interview) gives us the scope to assess the potential of each candidate and the flexibility to take any mitigating factors or special circumstances into account.”