It’s supposed to be the Asian Century but educator Marnie Hughes-Warrington is having to turn away students keen to learn Asian languages such as Chinese and Hindi. It is a lesson in unintended consequences.
This year a new diploma was launched by the Australian National University, a languages powerhouse where Professor Hughes-Warrington is deputy vice-chancellor (academic).
The idea was that students could pick up “on the side” the language major impossible to fit into their degrees, especially in professional fields such as engineering or medicine. The diploma found a ready market, and ANU signed up 54 students across 13 languages. It sounded like a success story but for one awkward fact. The government gave ANU funding for only 26 student places — places that come with federal money for teaching. From the rest of those enrolled in the diploma, the university gets just the student HECS payment, which is not enough to cover costs, let alone fund expansion.
“And we have another 53 students who we’ve had to turn away because we don’t have enough places,” Professor Hughes-Warrington said. If the new languages program were a degree, the uncapped system would allow ANU to have as many subsidised places as it could fill, but it is a diploma that offers the flexibility to open up languages to a wider group of students.
“The federal government has pretty much put a moratorium on diploma places and that’s had the unforeseen consequence of putting a lid on language diploma enrolments,” Professor Hughes-Warrington said.
It’s a state of affairs hard to reconcile with the government’s Asian Century white paper, which promised to “support universities 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”.
Most of the new diploma students are on campus but Professor Hughes-Warrington hopes to go online with the white paper’s priority languages — Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese — within two to three years.
“Eighty per cent who want to do the diploma are wanting to do Asian languages,” she said.
“We are keen to open the diploma up to more and more people, and we want to co-operate with other universities to offer languages that they don’t have.”
Or won’t have. Language programs with small enrolments may be vulnerable to closure around the country as universities try to find $900 million in savings announced at the weekend by the government, whose competing Gonski reforms are supposed to strengthen languages in school.
“It’s a situation replete with irony,” said Professor Hughes-Warrington, who hopes that language students elsewhere will not need to be rescued by ANU.
“(If they do) the diploma is the way to pick them up because they can complete a bachelor degree at their own institution,” she said.
To expand the diploma, the university would like another 10 subsidised places this year, and 20 more next year. ANU has been putting its case to the Tertiary Education Minister’s office for some time. “Our sense is that the department is sympathetic but we’re on to our third minister now and we still haven’t had a response,” Professor Hughes-Warrington said.
A department spokesman said the government “supports universities’ efforts to sustain their language offerings (but) any decision to provide additional places for diploma courses will need to be taken in context of the 2013-14 budget”.Source: The Australian – Talk of Asian Century just that as language funding falls short
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