Professor David Hill’s Address for the Launch of
Indonesian Language in Australian Universities
Strategies for a stronger future,
Parliament House, Canberra, 27 February 2012
I’d like to thank the AIBC for hosting this event (President Ian Satchwell, EO Kirrilee Hughes, and particularly the advice given by Phil Burford) & the Australian Government OLT (represented today by Suzi Hewlett) for providing the Fellowship that enabled me to undertake this review.
The Report we are launching — and submitting to the Office of the Minister for Tertiary Education today — provides strategies for the reinvigoration of Indn language in Austn universities.
The problem we address is this: Indonesian language skills are vital for Australia’s future in Asia yet for more than 15 years Indonesian language learning here has been in decline: some would say in crisis.
Since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, through the 1998 fall of President Suharto, the various bombings in Bali & Jakarta, and imprisonment of Australian drug smugglers, Indonesian has been buffeted by a ‘perfect storm’: it could have survived any single incident, but the cumulative impact upon the image of the country and its language in the eyes of many Australians has been disastrous.
Indonesian – the national language of our nearest neighbour, with nearly a quarter of a billion people, the world’s largest Muslim community, third largest democracy, and home to a rapidly expanding middle-class that dwindles our own – was studied at Year 12 level by fewer Australian students in 2009 than was the case 40 years ago (in 1972). While Indonesian remains a major language in schools, ‘the number of programs offered and students studying the language are in serious decline.’ It is now ‘an “at risk”, low candidature language’ at senior secondary level, with school enrolments declining by about 10,000 annually.
In 2008 the government began a National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP) aimed to have at least 12 per cent of students exit Year 12 by 2020 with sufficient competence in an Asian language (including Indonesian) for university study or for business in Asia.
But the program was neither given sufficient funding nor of sufficient duration to achieve this; it was visionary, but needed a much greater commitment from government to achieve its goals. No further funding was provided for it last Budget.
At university level, between 2001 and 2010 undergraduate enrolments in Indonesian dropped nationally by 40 percent. [SLIDE 2] [SLIDE 3] NSW plunged by 71%; Tasmania by 49%; Queensland by 46%. Victoria had a relatively modest 28% decline. NT is virtually stable.
Between 2004 and 2009 autonomous Indonesian programs closed in six Australian universities.
In schools, less than 1% of Year 12 students were studying Indonesian. (SLIDE 4; Table 2, p.22) At universities, only 0.04 % of Australian undergraduate EFTSL load is Indonesian language; about one in every 2,500 students was doing any Indonesian.
If we convert the denominator ‘Effective Full-Time Student Load’ into approximate individual students [SLIDE 5], there are only about 1000 Australians studying Indonesian at university.
If this trajectory is projected forward (SLIDE 6:Table 3, p.22), without intervention, in several states university Indonesian programs will have disappeared by 2020.
The government has long recognised the importance of Indonesian language.[SLIDE] In 2004 the Commonwealth Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade recommended ‘that Indonesian Studies be designated a strategic national priority and that the Australian Research Council and the Department of Education, Science and Training be requested to recognise this in prioritising funding for both research and teaching.’ [SLIDE] Since 2006, Indonesian has been designated a ‘Nationally Strategic Language’ in Department of Education (DEEWR) funding agreements with universities. But the Parliamentary Committee’s recommendation for prioritised funding has been ignored; no funding attaches to being a ‘Nationally Strategic Language’.
To reverse Indonesian’s decline this report calls on government to back the designation as a ‘nationally strategic language’ with appropriately strategic funding, for a National Indonesian Language in Universities Program (NILUP). The aim is to strengthen Indonesian programs through this ‘perfect storm’, support quality teaching, while enhancing community links and re-energising demand for the language.
It offers 20 recommendations: 13 directed at the government and 7 readily applied by universities, either individually or collectively.
Let me highlight briefly some of those for governments.
Firstly, the Report calls upon both Government and Opposition to make an explicit public commitment to support Indonesian language in Australian universities until 2020, to provide secure bipartisan support.
A National Taskforce on Indonesian Language could drive and promote Indonesian teaching and learning.
The DFAT Travel Advisory for Indonesia has virtually eliminated bilateral student exchanges. The government is urged to review its wording and impact to avoid these unintended consequences.
The National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program – minimally with regard to Indonesian — should be extended until at least its target year of 2020.
The government should avoid any negative impact from the Higher Education Base Funding Review upon Indonesian language enrolments.
New lectureships in Indonesian would strengthen the advocacy and promotion of Indonesian into schools and the community to stimulate ‘demand’.
Contemporary university-level Indonesian learning materials and a tertiary teaching resources bank will make learning and teaching more stimulating.
Studying in Indonesia is a key strategy for mastery of the language. Government support for the Australian Consortium for “In-Country” Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) would expand such quality accredited programs in strategic fields, and produce more graduates – and postgraduates — of the highest calibre.
The report recommends that up to 20 recipients annually from the Australian & Indonesian govts’ postgraduate scholarship programs, with expertise in second-language acquisition, could assist teaching Indonesian here as a mentored part of their studies.
Business, too, has a role to play. Government and peak business associations could promote corporate support for Indonesian. Further, revised visa provisions could allow for a freer flow of university-qualified professionals between the two countries. This could eliminate the current impediments encountered in Indonesia by companies wanting to employ Australian staff with Indonesian language skills.
Together with the 7 additional recommendations directed at universities, and supported by our highly committed teaching staff, if adopted, these recommendations could revitalise Indonesian studies.
The recommendations relating specifically to universities would require the government, over the next ten years, to make a very modest average annual commitment of only about $10 million – or about 45 cents per Australian per year.
The consequences of not taking action to revitalise Indonesian language programs are dire. Events elsewhere in Parliament House today underscore the unpredictability of our political environment. Australia and Indonesia will be forever neighbours, inextricably bound, so we have too much to lose to surrender policy to political vagaries.
As a nation, we must invest in the foundation skills, the linguistic competence, for a productive, comprehensive, and harmonious relationship with Indonesia, whoever holds government.
May I conclude by thanking you for coming; I urge you to put your influence behind this Report. The future of Indonesian is too important for Australia to be left to fate and happenstance.
Professor David T. Hill
27 February 2012
m: 0449 069963
 M. Kohler and P. Mahnken, The current state of Indonesian Language Education in Australian schools. Report to Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Curriculum Corporation, Canberra, 2010. Downloadable from: http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NALSSP/Pages/Resources.aspx, sighted 20 October 2010.
 On NALSSP, see http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NALSSP/Pages/default.aspx, sighted 18 January 2009)