Plans to boost Australia’s integration with Asia should include funding to get Australian students into Asian countries, say Asian studies experts.
The comments come as Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu is reportedly seeking to mandate compulsory Chinese-language classes for all government school students by 2025, and scholarships for intensive Chinese study in China.
Mr Baillieu’s Asia push comes ahead of the release of the Federal Government-commissioned white paper on Australia in the Asian Century.
The white paper, to be released on Sunday, is expected to recommend closer links between Australian and Asian universities so more students can complete part of their degree at an overseas campus, according to a report in The Australian.
A recent trip to Asia is what drives many students at school level to choose to study Asian culture and languages, said Ross Tapsell, lecturer in Asian Studies at Australian National University.
Dr Tapsell is currently coordinating a program designed to give school teachers a better understanding of Asia.
“You can go through the entire education system without really studying anything about Asia,” Dr Tapsell said.
He added that compulsory professional development for teachers may be the only way to recalibrate thinking on Asian studies.
But to make a major impact on demand for Asian studies, with falling uptake in Asian language courses, Dr Tapsell said more travel to Asian countries was required.
“Let’s get our students in-country through various programs, whether at a school level, gap year or first year university level,” Dr Tapsell said.
David Hill, professor of Southeast Asian studies at Murdoch University, agreed in-country study was the key to improving language skills.
Professor Hill delivered a Federal Government-funded report on Indonesian languages in Australian universities in February that found there were fewer Year 12 students studying Indonesian in 2009 than there were in 1972. It also revealed university enrolments in Indonesian language fell nationally by 37% between 2001 and 2010.
“Study in Asia is the most effective way of getting intensive language training and exposure,” Professor Hill said.
He added that out of the Australia in the Asian Century discussion he would like to see a commitment made to funding Australian university students to study in Asia.
“It’s relatively cheap, it’s very quick and it’s a dramatic and substantial strategic outcome.”