The 21st century has been dubbed the Asian Century. Two decades ago, academics, policy-makers and others in Australia often asked how our country could best equip itself for the coming rise of Asia. That rise is now upon us.

The Asian Studies Association of Australia has launched a new report: Australia’s Asia Education Imperative: Trends in the Study of Asia and Pathways for the Future. Written by Melissa Crouch and Edward Aspinall, the report focuses on the trends in the promotion and conservation of Asia literacy in Australia and highlights the shortfalls in university and government support.

The report has found that although the Australian government has a vested interest in promoting Asia literacy, the absence of a coordinated federal policy is inconsistent with the rise of Asia and its centrality to Australia’s future. The absence of a national strategy, the commercialisation and bureaucratisation of the university sector, and real declines in the social sciences and humanities are part of the wider context that has negatively affected the study of Asia at Australian universities.

“Both government and university leadership are needed to support a comprehensive and long-term approach to sustaining Australia’s Asia education imperative.”

The report provides evidence to show that the number of programs and enrolments in Asian languages at Australian universities has changed over time. East Asian languages have grown in size, in part due to international student enrolments but also due to other factors like the cultural popularity of K-pop that has seen growing interest in Korean studies. Indonesian language programs have declined the most, with just eleven programs left at Australian universities. This is despite the fact that Australia is expanding its trade and economic engagement in Indonesia through the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

“Asia literacy, or Asia capability, refers to the skills, knowledge and competencies a person needs in order to communicate and engage effectively with people in or from Asian countries. These skills and values include language competence, understanding of relevant cultural norms and codes, and of historical and social context, cross-cultural communication skills, and commitment to investing in mutual long-term relations.”

The report emphasises that building Asia literacy requires a cross-sectoral approach – from the federal to state governments, to foreign affairs and education, from primary and secondary schools to the university sector.

The key take away from the report is that bipartisan support is needed at the federal level to develop a new federal strategy to promote Asia literacy. Universities need to partner with the federal government to ensure the structures and incentives are in place – the programs, the academic expertise and funding for students and for academic research – to drive and facilitate greater Asia literacy among Australian graduates.

The full report can be viewed at: