Senior maths and statistics professor Gerd Schroeder-Turk went on the program in May citing concerns over English language standards, and since commenced legal proceedings under the Fair Work Act against Murdoch University.
“[This] sets a dangerous precedent for all Australian universities”
In his claim, he alleged his appearance caused Murdoch University to undertake disciplinary action against him, including an attempt to remove him from the university’s senate.
The university filed a counter-claim in September, alleging his appearance resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue due to fewer international students, as well costing substantial amounts in responding to investigations by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency.
The claim also says that since Schroeder-Turk appeared on the program, their visa risk rating has increased to the highest level, meaning the majority of international students are unable to access streamlined visa processing.
Murdoch University has been heavily criticised for its decision to file a counter-claim.
“Murdoch’s cross-claim is for compensation for apparent loss they will incur because their risk rating, as determined by the Department of Home Affairs, has increased,” said national president of the National Tertiary Education Union Alison Barnes.
“They say a higher risk rating makes it difficult to recruit international students.”
Barnes told The PIE News the suggestion that it was Schroeder-Turk’s appearance on Four Corners and not Murdoch University’s practices that caused the university’s risk rating to increase was “embarrassing to Murdoch”.
“It is like Murdoch does not understand the complex nature of the Department’s formulation of risk ratings, which take into account a range of external factors. That can’t be the case, so the only logical conclusion is that Murdoch is attempting to intimidate the academic into dropping his claim.”
Australia introduced the Simplified Student Visa Framework in 2016, which created risk ratings based on a student’s country of origin and the institution at which they intended to study.
Depending on the combined rating, students could access either regular or streamlined visa processing, which requires fewer evidentiary documents.
According to a DHA explanatory note obtained by The PIE, risk is based on the rate of visa cancellations, visa refusals due to fraud, visa refusals excluding fraud offshore, student visa holders becoming unlawful non-citizens, and subsequent protection visa applications.
In mid-2019, DHA also announced onshore visa refusals would be included.
Several campaigns, petitions and open letters have also circulated since the news of Murdoch University’s counter-claim.
In an open letter from 22 October, signed by more than 50 of Australia’s top professors, Murdoch University’s vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen was asked to drop the claim, saying it “sets a dangerous precedent for all Australian universities”.
“It is a long-established principle of academic freedom that academics must be able to criticise university governance,” the letter reads.