Global developments mean Anglophone insularity needs to be tackled

December 10, 2004

Galina Yemelianova , a Russian specialist in Arabic and Islamic studies at Birmingham University, may speak six languages but she cannot persuade her children to follow her example.

"I try to get them to speak Russian but the more they socialise in the English environment at school, the less they see languages as important. They want to speak only English because their environment imposes it."

Dr Yemelianova is a senior research fellow at Birmingham's Centre for Russian and East European Studies.

She has lived in the UK for ten years but finds the British culture insular.

According to Dr Yemelianova, there has been a decline in Russian and Eastern European studies since the collapse of Communism. She said that the lack of expertise put the UK at a disadvantage both politically and commercially.

"Russian is still the lingua franca in the Eurasian area. I think Russia has to be studied more in terms of culture and as a potential great power.

After a transitional period, I hope Russia will regain importance in the world."

The best course of action the Higher Education Funding Council for England could take would be to fund more academic posts in minority subjects, Dr Yemelianova said. Birmingham benefited from one such post in Ukrainian studies.

"I would like them to fund more posts in Central Asian studies, which would benefit the UK and academia generally. Azerbaijan, for instance, is an important oil economy for the UK," she said.

"When something happens in the Caucasus or Central Asia, there is no competent opinion because there are no experts. We just do not understand these societies. Language learning would help that."

* Bristol University took up the baton that was dropped by Durham University when it decided to close its department for East Asian studies two years ago.

It is setting up a Centre for East Asian Studies that will bridge the gap between Europe and Asia. Heading the centre will be Joshua Ka Ho Mok , who is moving from City University in Hong Kong, in January.

Dr Ka Ho Mok said: "Bristol's move is wise and imaginative since China and East Asia will develop into a major economic zone in the next ten to 20 years."

The emphasis on contemporary and comparative perspectives was unique, Dr Ka Ho Mok said. He said that the centre would captitalise on the potential benefits of the expansion of East Asian societies.

"Unlike other China or Asian-related centres in the UK, Bristol positions its East Asian Centre as a place engaging in contemporary developments and comparative policy and development studies," he said.

While the Government had been well aware of the importance of language training, the new strategy was very important, Dr Ka Ho Mok said.

"The UK people should pick up Asian languages, try hard to understand China and Asia and attempt to engage with them right now.

"We should be forward looking, China and Asia are really rising."

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