We have a new website! Our previous website has now been archived, it is accessible here

Disarmament Education: a glaring gap in tertiary courses offered in Aotearoa New Zealand.

November 13, 2020

A research project carried out by the Disarmament and Security Centre (DSC) over the past 18 months has highlighted that there is very little disarmament education taught at the tertiary level at any University in Aotearoa New Zealand. The report is called Tertiary Scoping Project: The State of Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Education in New Zealand. Its findings stand in stark contrast to our Nuclear Free status as a nation and our history as a disarmament advocate and peace maker internationally, which we find concerning. For Aotearoa New Zealand to remain a world leader in disarmament we need the next generation to be aware of disarmament and non-proliferation issues and to be equipped with the tools to work for change internationally. The study’s findings showed that while courses in conflict resolution, security studies and various conflict issues were common, courses that focussed on disarmament issues, or even included a small amount of disarmament material, were few and far between. You can access the full report here.

There has never been a greater need for education in the areas of disarmament and non-proliferation, especially with regard to weapons of mass destruction, but also in the field of small arms and international terrorism. Since the end of the Cold War, changing concepts of security and threat have demanded new thinking. Such new thinking will arise from those who are educated and trained today.
The overall objective of disarmament and non-proliferation education and training is to impart knowledge and skills to individuals to empower them to make their contribution, as national and world citizens, to the achievement of concrete disarmament and non-proliferation measures and the ultimate goal of general and complete disarmament under effective international control." (2002 United Nations Study on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education.)

Lucy Stewart, DSC Coordinator, presents to students at the University of Auckland. August 2018.

Executive Summary of the Tertiary Scoping Project Report:

The DSC has worked in the disarmament field for four decades and observed many changes in disarmament education in New Zealand over that time. We have seen lecturers who focus on disarmament material come and go, courses change to include or remove disarmament materials, and have been invited to deliver guest lectures on disarmament at almost all universities across New Zealand at some time. Prior to undertaking this project, our understanding was that there was very little regular disarmament education being taught at the tertiary level in New Zealand. The findings of this research project confirmed this to be true. 

Over the course of 2019 and 2020, the DSC team began formally researching the state of disarmament – and more broadly, non-proliferation – education at New Zealand universities. We looked into which academics are researching and teaching on disarmament and related issues, carried out interviews where possible with these academics, and followed up with research on courses offered on university websites. This research indicates that disarmament or non-proliferation (NPD) related material is not being taught comprehensively or systematically across disciplines throughout New Zealand universities. Significantly, there are fewer courses teaching disarmament today than in earlier years, when regular courses were taught, for instance, at the University of Canterbury. A key exception to this is the University of Auckland, where Associate Professor Treasa Dunworth and Dr Anna Hood of the Law Faculty are very active in disarmament research as well as teaching and encouraging their students to carry out research on disarmament–related topics. Associate Professor Dunworth has twice offered a summer school paper (LAW 466 Contemporary Issues in Disarmament Law), which is the only recent New Zealand tertiary level course that focuses solely on disarmament. It has attracted a large number of students both times it was offered and is being offered again in the summer school semester 2021 (Jan / Feb). 

All eight New Zealand universities offer courses on broader conflict issues (such as defence and security studies, conflict resolution, peace education, peace building, ethics of war, terrorism, law of armed conflict etc.). However, within these courses, disarmament as a concept (and disarmament-related material) is touched on only briefly and/or sporadically. This is an obvious gap in course curricula and as a teaching opportunity, as a disarmament module would fit easily and appropriately into these highly subscribed courses. Our view is that (aside from the course offered at the University of Auckland) the lack of disarmament education is a significant gap in tertiary education offered in New Zealand. Especially considering our national history in the area and the disarmament work that New Zealand carries out internationally. 

All of the academic staff we spoke with agreed that the lack of NPD teaching at the tertiary level in New Zealand was significant, and several appeared interested in incorporating some material into their courses. Consequently, our staff were invited for two guest lectures as a result of these conversations – a postgraduate Conflict and Terrorism Studies course at the University of Auckland and an undergraduate Political Science course at the University of Canterbury.

Tertiary teaching in NPD occurs primarily in the social sciences and law disciplines, with the most comprehensive courses taught by academics with a primary and sustained research interest in NPD theory and practice, and a public profile in NPD policy analysis. Other courses that include minor NPD teaching elements are taught by academics with a wider research profile within the discipline, of which NPD is only a minor part, or by guest lecturers, who are usually unpaid for such work. There is a worryingly small number of academics with the expertise and capacity to teach comprehensive NPD courses at stage 2 and 3 undergraduate level and, in particular, postgraduate courses at Honours and (taught) Masters level, or to supervise Masters and PhD students researching NPD topics. The absence of dedicated undergraduate courses, or significant NPD components in senior undergraduate courses, has stymied the flow of students taking up NPD research at postgraduate level resulting in a lack of New Zealand PhD graduates with the capability to lead NPD research and teaching at New Zealand universities. 

The lack of a coordinated academic NPD collegial research community in New Zealand to nurture new academics and encourage and supervise their development, including through publishing academic papers and presenting conference papers, also hampers their candidacy for appointment to academic positions domestically. Universities may overlook recent New Zealand PhD graduates with NPD specialisations in favour of foreign candidates with other specialisations and publishing and employment experience that may be considered more prestigious. This may push New Zealand graduates offshore or into other occupations, and constrain their ability to contribute to and help to grow the New Zealand NPD academic sector. There are also significant gaps in NPD tertiary teaching across New Zealand, in terms of the spread of comprehensive teaching across the eight universities, the number and type of relevant disciplines that teach pertinent aspects of NPD, and the paucity of academics with the expertise and capacity to teach NPD. Interviews conducted for this study confirm that there is a lack of time in busy courses to teach NPD issues, and a lack of expertise, interest or awareness of NPD theory and case studies pertinent to each discipline, or of the value of perpetuating New Zealand’s disarmament culture in successive generations. Also, the preliminary findings of this initial study indicate that there is a distinct lack of non-proliferation teaching in STEM subjects that involve dual-use science and technology that are capable of being misused for hostile purposes, or to cause harm inadvertently or negligently.

There is a real urgency to increase NPD education, as the expertise in this field is ageing and if we do not educate the next generation on disarmament issues soon, we risk not being able to fill key policy and professional positions in the field. Sarah Bidgood has researched this issue in the United States. While obviously the situation in that country, and the jobs the needed there, is different to New Zealand, our countries share the problems of having disarmament expertise held mostly by senior colleagues and only a rare few younger people maintaining a sustained interest in the field – or indeed, even being exposed to it, let alone finding employment in the field. Bidgood also notes that there is a need to increase diversity within the disarmament field and ensure that women and people of colour are exposed to the subject and given opportunities to engage, as typically the field has been dominated by males of Western origin which has limited the range of discourse. These needs could also validly apply to New Zealand.

On the basis that NPD tertiary education should serve to train the next generation of academics, policymakers, regulators, politicians and researchers in NPD issues, this study proposes nine recommendations to strengthen the provision of NPD tertiary teaching at New Zealand universities.

Recommendations from the authors:

1. Develop a network of academic champions (as identified in this report) that can: share curricula, teaching materials and discuss NPD pedagogy; champion the inclusion of NPD in courses across the university, including at senior management levels; foster an NPD academic community across New Zealand universities; and support academic publishing and conference opportunities for postgraduate students and the employability of NPD graduates in the field.

2. Collate relevant course materials that are already available across a range of disciplines (social science, law, humanities and, where available, STEM disciplines) for use in current and any new courses, and promote these widely across New Zealand universities.

3. Develop relevant course materials that can be used to insert an NPD component in pertinent disciplines, that are capable of being taught by non-NPD specialist academics, or guest lecturers.

4. Engage with university departments to secure their support for the inclusion of NPD elements in relevant courses, including by guest lecturers, and especially in departments where such teaching is currently minimal or non-existent (including STEM disciplines).
a. Encourage the inclusion of an NPD component in core/stage 1 courses in relevant disciplines (small section).
b. Encourage the teaching of dedicated NPD-related stage 2/3 courses, to deepen the breadth of NPD teaching, and increase the stream of students heading for postgraduate NPD study.

5. Use the latent expertise and capacity in New Zealand (by experts who are not employed by universities) to teach NPD courses and supervise postgraduate students in NPD research papers (at Honours, Masters and PhD levels). This would need to be paid, through for instance PADET grants, or through an appropriately funded DEUNIF allocation.

6. Fund the development of a full NPD tertiary course to teach in a social sciences discipline, such as Political Science/International Relations, to include course curricula, resources list, lecture outlines and PowerPoints, essay and exam questions. Ideally, it should be developed in coordination with the network of NPD academic champions and with the support of a ‘home’ university department that is willing to provide guidance on the format and requirements of new course applications considered for inclusion in the university calendar. This course could then be taught in a pilot trial, either by experts not currently employed by a university (around $20,000 p.a.) or by an academic currently employed at a university. The course could then be developed further on the basis of this trial. Ideally, this course would continue to be taught annually. Course materials would be shared among the champions network so that elements could also be included in existing courses.

7. Fund regular guest lectures, utilising the excellent latent capacity of NPD expertise based outside universities, to improve the provision of NPD teaching in currently taught courses. These are often currently provided for free.

8. Regularise and widely promote the provision of PADET Masters scholarship funds for students taking a Masters thesis, or a taught Masters course that includes a research paper on an NPD topic. The taught Masters research paper scholarship might be offered at a reduced amount to the current Masters scholarship to reflect that this research is approximately one quarter of a Masters thesis output, and in order to make more scholarships available and thereby incentivise more students to undertake such research.

9. Carry out a follow-on research project to assess how amenable STEM disciplines are to including pertinent non-proliferation teaching in existing or new courses. A pilot project could usefully focus on liaising with one department at one university, with a view to developing relevant course materials for inclusion in an existing course (such as on dual-use scientific ethics) eg. with the Biology Department at the University of Canterbury due to the DSC’s base in Christchurch.

You can access the full report here.

Please contact the authors should you wish to discuss the report and its findings: lucy@disarmsecure.org

Dr Kate Dewes teaches a guest lecture at the University of Canterbury to Political Science students. September 2020.

Back to News