Disestablishment of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy Occurred Without Student or Staff Consultation

Siobhan Fahey was enrolled at the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy before its disestablishment
Corrections to this article were made on the 27th October 2020 after more information about the disestablishment was presented.

The Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy (APCD), a constituent college of the Coral Bell School, has been disestablished. Officially disestablished on the 2nd October 2020, despite reassurances from the ANU, the college is now left without clear indication to the future of students degrees.

‘We are the only dedicated College of Diplomacy in the Southern Hemisphere,’ said Student Representative of the APCD, Dakota Parker. ‘We have distinguished people from around the world come to Canberra to study specifically at the APCD’. With a lack of communication from the higher representatives of the College to both students and academic staff, the announcement has left students pondering over the future of their degree. 

Bec Johns, a current student at the APCD, said; ‘I’m afraid that dissolving the APCD will result in the termination of diplomacy networking events and place the role of lecturer in the hands of individuals with no diplomatic background’. This concern is echoed by many students, who prior to the decision being made, were not consulted about the eradication of the APCD.

‘It was disheartening to know that we have done everything we can but the decision was made anyway, without consultation with either students or faculty,’ says Ms Parker.  For the six members of staff, all of which have distinguished careers in the field, the eradication of the APCD has left professors unsure of where their future lies in the Coral Bell School. However, the ANU emphasises that APCD staff were informed throughout the discussion period that their positions within the School were not in question.

An ANU Spokesperson emphasised that Diplomacy programs and research regarding Asia-Pacific Diplomacy will continue. Although the disestablishment of the APCD means that the college will no longer be an Academic Organisation Unit the ANU is in the process of mediating this. According to an ANU Spokesperson, there will be a new research and teaching cluster potentially titled ‘The Asia Pacific Centre for Diplomacy’ that is in the process of being established by the Coral Bell School and the Department of International Relations.

The audit, which examined the overall assessment of the school, was concluded with six recommendations from the governing panel. Made up of six members, the panel had representatives from various esteemed universities in the Asia Pacific region. The audit which was not released until the 14th May 2020, despite the site visit occurring from the 13th-15th of November 2019, was met with general approval. However students and faculty had particular issue with recommendation three, which stated:

‘The School should position APCD within the department of IR to provide greater support and structure for its educational programs and staff, as it is not sustainable under current arrangements.’ Further affirming; 

‘The Review Panel recommends the loss of neither staff positions as part of this proposed change nor diplomacy as an important area of teaching and research within the School.’

Justifying this proposal, the review panel supported this decision based on a ‘two-fold’ structural plan. They note:

‘the Review Panel maintains that this proposed move would be to the benefit of APCD’s staff and educational programs as it would offer a greater degree of structure and support…Second, the Review Panel concludes that the unit is ‘not sustainable under current arrangements’.

However, the greatest concern to come out of this counsel is that nowhere under this recommendation does the term ‘disestablishment’ appear. Whilst advised to transition into the department of IR, the official disestablishment of APCD was never recommended within the audit.

The ANU claims that Diplomacy students were reassured that diplomacy programs would be unaffected by the change to the APCD. Apparently the Review Panel’s intention for disestablishing the APCD and moving it to the Coral Bell School was to provide diplomacy students and staff with additional structure and support.

In speaking to Ms Johns, she regretfully says, ’My greatest fear is that diplomatic studies will get lost in a domino fashion of budget cuts and subject dissolvement. With very little communication of the APCD’s disestablishment to ANU students, these decisions have been non-transparent to the individuals who will be impacted the most.’

For many students, who chose to study a Master of Diplomacy specifically under the The Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at ANU, the reality of being moved under the International Relations Department at the Coral Bell School has proved to be a significant let down by the School.

However, an ANU spokesperson contradicted the claims that staff were not advised of the disestablishment, commenting that the “external panel noted that to best support the important Diplomacy programs taught within the School, the programs and staff in Asia-Pacific, the APCD should be moved to the International Relations Department in the Bell School. The Review Panel expressed a concern that APCD was not viable in its current form.”

They also noted that “this recommendation (along with the other Review Panel recommendations) was distributed to all members of staff within the Bell School, including members of APCD, and the whole School spent a couple of months discussing the recommendations and preparing a formal response.”