Now's a bad time to take eye off Asian ball

'Abysmal' Australian provision may isolate nation as East rises. Phil Baty reports from Adelaide

October 27, 2011



Credit: Getty
Warning signs: Australia will miss out if it can't understand Asian culture


Australia could miss out on the "huge opportunities" presented by the rise of India and China because it is failing to develop its scholarship on Asia.

The warning was made at the Australian International Education Conference in Adelaide, when experts said that the country could be alienated as global power shifts to the East.

One speaker warned that Australia's current provision in Asian language and culture was "abysmal".

Amitabh Mattoo, director of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, told delegates that India would soon have 600 million people of working age - more than the combined workforces of Western Europe.

The country requires a hugely expanded higher education system, he said, with as many as 1,500 new universities planned, but it could not manage such expansion alone.

"Ironically, at the moment when there are such huge opportunities offered by India, understanding of India in Australia is at its weakest," he said.

"Thirty years ago, the study of contemporary and ancient India was probably in its most exciting period in Australia. Some of the most intellectually exciting work on India was done in Australian universities. Today, the study ... is in decline."

Besides his own Commonwealth-funded institute, he added, "you can't see scholarship of India being nourished or nurtured". Yet exploiting opportunities in Asia would "require first of all an ability to understand the dynamic forces and complexities of this region", so Australia risked missing out because of these weaknesses.

Speaking at the same session at the conference, held from 11 to 14 October, Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, focused on China.

He said the "sky was the limit" in terms of its move towards a mass higher education system, with high levels of private and family investment plus strong state support.

"This is an educational development of quite extraordinary significance," he said.

"As the economic power of the Confucian-heritage countries grows, so their cultural forms (will) come to the fore. The rise of China is not a process of Westernisation overcoming Chinese traditions: it is a splicing together of those two elements."

This meant that the nation's unique cultural traditions needed to be better understood, he said.

"We are in a race against time to understand the culture and languages of the region and our current provision is abysmal," he said. "We all know that as each year goes past the problem gets worse."

Professor Marginson also suggested that Australia needed to improve research capacity in its elite universities "because it is going to be research universities that play a key role in circulating the knowledge that enables us to have something to offer".

He added: "Unless we are more than competitive in relation to our capacity to generate and transmit knowledge at the highest international level, we won't have an advanced knowledge economy-type role in the region. It's as simple as that."

phil.baty@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy