Removal of Asian Language Courses from Australian Universities Hurts Student Employment Prospects, Experts Say | Australian universities
Australian universities are failing students and leaving them ill-prepared for the future job market by cutting Asian language courses, teachers and experts say.
Four college-level Asian language subjects were phased out in 2021 as universities grapple with the continued economic impact of the Covid pandemic.
This week, La Trobe University in Victoria confirmed that it will stop accepting new enrollments in Indonesian at the end of 2021 – only existing students can complete the remainder of their studies.
Earlier this year, Swinburne University in Victoria cut its Chinese and Japanese classes, while Western Sydney University also cut its Indonesian classes.
Murdoch University in Western Australia had announced plans to stop offering Indonesian, which has been taught since the 1970s, but then postponed that decision.
The president of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, Kate McGregor, said the cuts created a “crisis” that would put Australian students and businesses at a disadvantage in the future.
University of Melbourne Indonesian law expert Professor Tim Lindsey said there are now fewer people studying Indonesian in Australia than 50 years ago.
Indonesia was on its way to becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy, he said, and the lack of language skills meant Australian businesses and students “risked being downqualified.”
McGregor also said that Swinburne’s tech-driven decision to stop Chinese and Japanese was particularly damaging given that they were “the languages ââof two of the world’s leading science and technology innovators.” Both courses, she said, also had “healthy enrollment numbers.”
Lindsey said Australia was losing its own “competitive advantage” on the world stage by having insufficient language skills.
âIt’s not just slowly declining, it’s a dramatic collapse from what it was 50 years ago,â he said. âIn the 1970s there were more Australian children, in absolute numbers, studying Indonesian in Grade 12 than there are now. And that’s when the population was a third smaller, if not more.
âThis is a very big problem, because it is the century of Asia, as we have been told over and over again. This is a major strategic mistakeâ¦ If you want to engage closely with Indonesia and for example do business there, it is necessary to have language skills.
âIndonesia has 271 million inhabitants, it is the third democracy in the world after America and India. And it has an economy that, before Covid, was growing steadily by around 5% and is expected to be in the top five economies in the world by 2050.
âIf we are a linguistically disqualified country, our interactions with Asia will always go through interpreters, often provided by the host country or other countries. It is not in our national interest.
A spokesperson for La Trobe University said: âMarket demand and student enrollment in Indonesian has been very low for several years.
The university said other universities in Victoria still offer Indonesian and that it allows its students to enroll in these courses through interagency enrollment.
âLa Trobe continues to offer a full range of languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Auslan. “
This year, a spokesperson for Swinburne University said it has reduced its language units to “focus on our strengths in STEM and technology as we emerge from the challenges presented by Covid-19.”
“This decision does not indicate a lack of respect for the study of languages, however, we believe that other institutions are better placed to support these fields of study.”
McGregor, who is also an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said it has been known since the ’80s and’ 90s that Asian language skills will be important, but Australia has retreated due to a lack of support and government funding.
She said the number of universities offering Indonesian in 2022 had halved for “a generation.”
Lindsey said the government should subsidize Asian language programs in schools and universities to reverse the trend.
âThe evidence is very clear that where governments subsidize and support the teaching of Asian languages, the number of students will increase. And also without these subsidies, they will decline.
âThe Keating government set up an Asian language grant program which was abolished under the Howard government. The Rudd government introduced a much smaller program, which was cut under the Gillard governmentâ¦ The Keating program resulted in a significant number of registrations.
McGregor acknowledged that these price cuts “are occurring against a backdrop of acute financial pressures.”
âI don’t think it was an easy decision for the university,â she said. âThey were looking for solutions.
âIt always comes down to the question of how to get more demand? Government and society at large must recognize the importance of Asian languages ââ… More recently, the designation of Asian languages ââas strategic languages ââhas been removed from university funding agreements, weakening the case for government protection of these programs. against closure.
âUniversities are still engaged in the horse trade, borrowing from one school to pay for another,â she said. âSo if the universities really believed in it, they could do it. There are a lot of issues involved here.
McGregor also pointed out that a lack of Indonesian speakers who graduated from the university would create a shortage of Indonesian teachers for primary and secondary schools.