Australia: Rudd seeks revival of Asian language study

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 7 13:57:50 UTC 2006

Rudd seeks revival of Asian language study

Matthew Franklin


KEVIN Rudd will propose a dramatic increase in the study of Asian
languages in schools and universities. Judging by his previous statements,
the Mandarin-speaking Opposition Leader will want to work with the states
to reinvigorate the Asian language program abandoned by the Howard
Government in 2002.  He will also demand greater study of Asian languages
by the nation's intelligence agencies. Mr Rudd is convinced the study of
Asian languages will help Australia increase its trade within the region.

In a major speech delivered in May last year, he urged the Howard
Government to make a "policy U-turn" on the study of Asian languages and
cultures. He accused the Government of short-sightedness over its 2002
decision to cease commonwealth funding of the National Asian Languages and
Studies Strategy for Australian Schools, created by the Council of
Australian Governments 10 years earlier.

"Only six months into his stint as education minister, Brendan Nelson took
the axe to the program that his predecessors worked so hard to implement,"
Mr Rudd said. "In the education sector, China has already become
Australia's largest single-country source of overseas students (with) more
than 40,000 young Chinese ... now studying in Australia. "And all the
while the new policy direction of the Howard Government is to disengage us
linguistically and culturally from China and the rest of Asia."

When Mr Rudd worked for former Queensland premier Wayne Goss as an adviser
and bureaucrat in the early 1990s, the Labor government delivered big
increases in funding to the study of languages other than English. In his
2005 speech, Mr Rudd said that since the Howard Government cut its funding
the number of people studying Indonesian in Australian universities had
plunged by 15 per cent, while Japanese study enrolments had declined by 5
per cent. Although the study of Chinese languages had increased, many of
the students were from overseas, Mr Rudd said.

Only seven universities taught Korean, while three taught Vietnamese and
Thai. "Hindu/Urdu, the second-largest spoken language in the world and the
mother tongue of nearly 500 million people, was available at three
institutions, with about 50 students in total," he said. He said a 2001
inquiry into the nation's intelligence services by former Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Philip Flood found they lacked depth
in languages. "Flood made the point of recommending that the agencies
devote extra funding to build language capacity," he said.,20867,20885105-2702,00.html


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