University cutbacks have led to the loss of specialist knowledge of Asia, which is undermining diplomatic efforts to combat terrorism, say academics.
A third of institutions that conduct research in Asian studies have closed or merged their departments in the past few years. Cuts to history departments have exacerbated the trend.
Last month, the University of Durham decided to close its East Asian studies programme. The University of Hull closed its Southeast Asian studies department and transferred some of its staff to the University of Leeds. But Leeds itself is due to cut two posts in Japanese and Chinese history. The University of Stirling has also shed staff. And the history department at the School of Oriental and African Studies suffered major cutbacks, including the loss of one specialist in Chinese history, one in Japanese history and a professor of African history.
Soas said a voluntary redundancy programme was under way, with up to half the cuts expected in Asian studies. The final number sought will depend on student recruitment. Ironically, as Soas relies on attracting postgraduate students from overseas, the more unstable the international situation, the more likely it is to be adversely affected.
Tim Barrett of Soas chaired the Asian studies panel in the 2001 research assessment exercise. He told The THES: "Every time there is contraction, unique specialist knowledge disappears. For example, one of the Durham staff is our only expert nationally on contemporary Uighur separatism in the Central Asian parts of China, an area where terrorists are active and an international crisis could easily occur.
"Knowledge of the parts of Asia that, from a British point of view, seem obscure and cannot attract students is therefore in trouble. But Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world," he said.
Academics blamed research concentration and a fall in international mobility for the cutbacks. Some 13 institutions entered staff in Asian studies in the most recent RAE. Those that have since closed programmes were rated nationally and internationally as excellent, gaining grades between 3a and 5.