Asia expert says White Paper needs more

The Director of the Griffith Asia Institute has welcomed a “visionary” White Paper on ‘Australia in the Asian Century’, but also sought clarity on the funding commitments required to meet the challenges involved.

Professor Andrew O’Neil described the White Paper as “disappointingly vague” when it came to the improvement of Australian capabilities during the term of deeper engagement up to 2025.

Professor Andrew O'Neil
Professor Andrew O’Neil

“There is no evidence of any new funding commitments to achieve greater Asian literacy among Australian school students, despite the widely acknowledged need for greater investment in languages,” he said.

The White Paper seems remiss in providing any detail on new initiatives to remedy what is clearly a national crisis in training well qualified Asian language teachers.”

Professor O’Neil described the document, launched by Prime Minister Gillard, as substantial and visionary, and an important knowledge resource.

He said it showed “a strong grasp of the challenges ahead for Australia in pursuing deeper regional engagement” and had “intellectual depth”.

The White Paper covers a broad range of topics but focusing on the higher education sector, Minister for Tertiary Education Senator Chris Evans said that every Australian university would be encouraged to send students to universities in Asia to ensure the next generation of Australian leaders were Asia-literate.

Griffith University already has close working relationships with partner institutions in the region — but the Minister wants these types of relationships strengthened by the establishment of more exchange arrangements with major Asian universities.

Students will be able to gain credits for the study they undertake in Asia, under the White Paper’s plan.

“The next generation of leaders will need to be Asia-literate and these are skills best learnt by first-hand experience,’’ Senator Evans said.

In the past decade, there have been 1.9 million enrolments of students from Asia in Australian education institutions.

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“We want to support more Australian students to undertake part of their study in the Asian region, not only to boost their direct understanding of Asia in the changing economy, but also to develop networks and friendships that will last a lifetime,’’ Senator Evans said.

“Our aim is that by 2025, a larger number of Australian university students will be studying overseas and a greater proportion will be undertaking part of their degree in an Asian country.

“That’s why we will work with universities to substantially boost the number of Australian students studying in Asia.”

Universities will be supported to increase the number of students who undertake Asian studies and Asian languages as part of their university education, including through increased use of the National Broadband Network and digital technology.