Understanding the neighbours

With universities cancelling Asia language-learning (morning La Trobe U, hi Swinburne U) the state of research and learning on our region should surely be a big issue

It isn’t – at least if the number of submissions to a Senate inquiry is any indication.

The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is inquiring into funding for public research into foreign policy issues.

Its report (due mid-June) should not be long – what with the committee receiving just 21 submissions.

Among them is the Group of Eight’s, which makes a point so important it should not need making, but clearly does – that while “Asia-capability” is broader than languages, a “key requirement in developing greater Asia-capability and cultural awareness is ensuring more Australians can fluently communicate in Asian languages. … Given Australia’s geographical location and the ever-changing geopolitical challenges emerging in our region, open and transparent communication is critical to our nation’s security and economic development prospects. The decline in Asian language study in Australia is an issue that could benefit from dedicated investment in public research.”

The Go8 also does what it always does – state its members’ credentials and explain why universities, particularly the Eight are best-equipped to assist.

Unlike, in this case, it suggests, un-named organisations, “The flow of public money to non-university think tanks should be closely scrutinised and subject to regular value-for-money evaluations, as this funding is ordinarily not subject to competitive tender, review, or performance appraisal – unlike research funding support to public universities.”

In contrast, the Lowy Foundation makes the case for independent organisations advising government and informing the community.

“As government agencies are called on to deliver a broader range of services in an increasingly complex domestic and international environment, policy functions are often stretched. In this context, we believe government funding of independent policy research is crucial to Australia’s national interest. The sustainability of independent sources of policy research depends on meaningful government support.”

Lowy rates 76th in the world on the University of Pennsylvania’s 2020 ranking of think-tanks, just behind local front-runner, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (71st), (CMM February 1).