Australia risks no-speaks with the neighbours

In the early ‘90s government and universities recognised Australia’s future depended on Asia – which required investing in language learning. But Kate McGregor (Uni Melbourne) warns, attention has drifted and shortages are emerging, of graduates and researchers with high level Asian language skills.

“Currently Australia lacks a national strategy to promote the learning of Asian languages. As a result, the teaching of key Asian languages has been in long-term decline at both schools and universities,” Associate Professor McGregor, president of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, says.

Her warning comes as La Trobe U confirms its decision to teach-out Indonesian (CMM yesterday) and Swinburne U advises the Commonwealth has approved its closing Japanese and Chinese courses.

“We acknowledge that these closures occur in the context of the acute financial pressures on Australian universities (but they) represent a marked acceleration of a trend that may have far-reaching consequences for understanding our region of the world,” Aspro McGregor warns.

With Indonesian soon to be taught at only 12 universities “entire states” will lack course in the language, she says.

And it is short-sighted for tech-focused Swinburne U to drop Japanese and Chinese, “the languages of two of the world’s leading scientific and technological innovators.”

However she fears the feds are not fussed. Aspro McGregor says Asian languages are no longer specified as strategic in university funding agreements, “weakening the case for government protection of these programmes from closure.”