Australia India Institute says 8 of the 13 fellows who resigned due to “serious concerns about the vision and governance of the Australia India Institute” had been retired the same day.
In an emailed response to NRI Affairs, an AII spokesperson said the Institute recently refreshed its fellows policy, “which has added 9 new fellows and retired 8 fellows.”
“These 8 fellows were written to thanking them for their service. These letters were sent on the same day as some 13 fellows chose to resign. Of the 13 who resigned in writing, 8 were ones that had been written to thanking them for their service,” stated an AII spokesperson.
“It is a regular practice for think tanks to refresh their fellows on an annual basis. We apologise sincerely for the delay in notifying academic fellows about changes to our fellows policy, which was reflected on our new website before our small team was able to arrange for them to be notified. It has been a very busy time at the Institute for our small team. All our fellows are unpaid positions that have been invited by the Board or the director and CEO to become fellows of the AII,” the statement further added.
Severe allegations of interference have cropped up against the running of the Institute and the encroachment upon academic freedom. One instance given by the fellows who resigned is of a public event that was “downgraded to a private invitation-only seminar, following an intervention by the Indian High Commissioner”.
AII says the Indian High Commission does not have a say in the activities of the AII.
“Therefore, there has been no interference by the mission in activities of the AII under the leadership of Lisa Singh,” AII said in its first statement since the controversy errupted last month.
Thirteen fellows of the Australia India Institute had written a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne raising “serious concerns about the vision and governance of the Australia India Institute (AII) given the University’s values and commitments.”
“The new strategic vision for the Aii, expressed through its 2022-2026 strategy, the events it has recently held, and communication from leadership, takes exactly the course that the signatories warned against. Moreover, this strategic vision was implemented with no meaningful consultation with researchers and other Aii stakeholders, not even academic fellows of the AII,” reads the letter.
However, AII says it consulted with a wide range of stakeholders.
“These included some AII fellows and experts, as well as other scholars from the University of Melbourne, the business diaspora, and the AII Board.
“The AII takes a very broad view of our engagement with India. We settled on our three program areas after careful consideration and consultations, deliberately selecting themes that provided a very broad scope where we felt we could have the greatest impact in public debates and the development of public policy, and where research could inform and enrich the discussions.”
AII had been started in 2008 by the University of Melbourne as a centre dedicated to promoting support for and understanding of the Australia-India relationship. The Labor government led by Kevin Rudd had given the University a grant of $8 million to set it up amid reports of attacks on Indian students. The Institute continues to be funded by the Australian and Victorian governments.
According to the AII spokesperson, “The AII is not an academic centre, but rather has an academic interface through our links with fellows and researchers. The academic fellows have been a mainstay of the Institute and we have relied on their goodwill and generosity in sharing research expertise.”
“As part of the University, the AII upholds the principles of academic freedom. We have hosted events tackling difficult topics and facilitated academics’ publications that contribute to the public debates on such issues,” notes the spokersperson.