Bristol bucks trend in Asian study

July 25, 2003

Bristol University is opening an East Asian studies department barely a month after Durham University announced plans to close its department, writes Caroline Davis.

In contrast to several universities that have cut back in East Asian studies, Bristol said it made sense to increase provision.

Ray Forrest, head of the university's school for policy research, said: "To be a serious world-class university, we have to have a robust engagement with that part of the world. Bristol has an increasing number of students from China and Japan, and East Asia is going to be a major economic and social influence."

Durham blamed low interest from students and unsatisfactory research output for the closure. The department was rated 4 in the 2000 research assessment exercise.

Bristol began looking at East Asian studies before the problems in other universities became apparent. Professor Forrest said the new department would concentrate on contemporary issues of social science, economics and politics rather than take Durham's more historical approach.

If approved by the university council, the new department will draw together expertise in history, education, political science, economics, sociology and political analysis. It will undertake collaborative research and teach Japanese and Mandarin. Only postgraduate students will be accepted. The first cohort of about 15 masters students would begin in autumn 2004.

With growing industrial links with East Asia, Professor Forrest expects most students to come with a first degree in another subject.

The department will be part of the social science faculty. The initial five-year strategy is to establish the university as a serious presence in East Asian studies. It will be supported by fees from students, with university development funding, and Bristol hopes to gain further funding by linking up with major players in Japan and China.

A third of institutions that conducted research in Asian studies have closed or merged departments in the past few years.

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