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In the 1990s, Australian government and society were transfixed and divided by the question of Australia's relations with the nations of East and Southeast Asia. In the first half of the decade under Labor Prime Ministers Hawke and Keating, government pursued a long-term strategy of building closer cultural and political ties with the countries of the region to underpin sustainable economic relationships and the partial geo-political integration of Australia into Asia. In this policy framework, Australia continued to be understood as a European and predominantly Anglo-Celtic settler-state which over time was becoming partly hybridised by contact with Asian countries in a globalising world: a conception that was manifest in practice in the growing people movement into Australia for the often overlapping purposes of business, immigration and education.

The official strategy affected education policy and practice in a number of ways: for example in the spectacular growth of the market in foreign student education, especially in tertiary institutions, and in official support for the activities of Australian educational institutions in East and Southeast Asian countries; in the encouragement of international educational coordination and cooperation, for example procedures for mutual recognition, in multilateral forums such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); in languages policy in schools; and in the continuation of developmental aid in education. Australian educational policy towards countries of the region moved uneasily between a neo-colonial superior/ inferior dualism (Asia understood as `third world'), to a trading relationship (Asia understood as an upwardly mobile middle-class market to exploit), to Asia as a cultural partner with an open potential. This reflected both the great diversity of Asian nations and their developmental trajectories and the contemporary mixing of the historical layers of Australian policy itself as it moved from isolationism to engagement, from colonialism to a more independent national identity, and from Euro-racism to hesitant cosmopolitanism.

The Labor government strategy was rather misleadingly dubbed `Asianisation'--misleading because the term exaggerated the degree to which Australian identity was shifting. There was considerably less people movement from Australia to Asian nations, compared with the movement from Asian nations to Australia. Australia remained mono-cultural and mono-linguistic. Nor was the relationship with Asian nations yet conceived in terms of genuine equality, especially in the cultural sense. Australian policy was still influenced by the notions of the inherent superiority of the Western way of life inherited from 19th century British colonialism and the long dominance of White Australia in population policy. Too often, the material advantages of Australia as a first-world nation were seen as the sign of a `natural' cultural advantage, rather than historically contingent, the sign of an episodic imperialism and the associated economic and linguistic hegemony of Anglo-America. The resilience of this traditional racism was surprising, given the economic success of Japan, China and the `little dragons'. The persistence of the generic term `Asia' in official and public discourse indicated the degree to which East and Southeast Asian nations and peoples were still `othered' as non-European rather than understood in terms of their national specificities and their particular global roles.

These errors, limitations and hesitations help to explain the ease with which the Howard government elected in 1996 declared Keating's `Asianisation' strategy at an end. Howard's famous pre-election comment about being `comfortable and relaxed' signified his tacit support for the One Nation Party's assertion of a traditional British-centric and at most European-centric conception of Australia--a mono-cultural politics manifest again, later, in the government's aggressive hostility towards would-be Afghani refugees which helped it secure a third election victory in 2001. Nevertheless, just as Keating's rhetoric of `Asianisation' exaggerated the degree of commitment and change, so too did the official repudiation by the Howard government. The clock was not completely turned back. Immigration from Asian countries--although focused more on the wealthier source nations and globally mobile high-skill personnel than on poorer nations and family reunion--has been sustained. In this context, the political shift from the politics of anti-Asia to the politics of anti-Islam is significant, in that it has enabled the government to continue to mobilise traditional Anglo-Australian identity for internal political purposes, while at the same time reducing the damage to Australia's trading relations in the region caused by an overt anti-Asian stance, and thus permitting the continued growth of regional engagement. Nevertheless this strategy has created new problems in Australia's relations with the Muslim countries of the region, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, problems that have yet to be acknowledged in Australia, much less faced.

Under the Howard government, education institutions have received a lesser level of policy support in their dealings in the region. For example, the current visa regime discriminates against student entrants from countries with a history of high over-stay such as China, and this has reduced the potential market. Despite this, the foreign student presence in Australia has continued to grow rapidly. In 1990, there were 24 998 international students enrolled in Australian universities. In the second half of 2001, there were 143 788 international students, including off-shore and distance-education enrolments, comprising 18.1 per cent of the total Australian student population, which is almost one student in every five (IDP, 2002). The overwhelming majority of these students were from East and Southeast Asia. This extraordinary growth has been partly driven by government fiscal policies that have reduced public investment in universities as a share of GDP to half the level of the late 1970s (Considine, Marginson, & Sheehan, 2001). There has also been significant though more modest growth in the number of international students in Australian schools. At the same time, educational collaboration between Australian institutions and Asian institutions continues to expand, especially in Hong Kong and mainland China, and in Singapore.

For Australian scholars working in the field of education, though the primary zone of international collaboration continues to be the English-speaking countries of the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, the regions of Western Europe and East and Southeast Asia are the site of growing activities. In the case of Asia, the most important locations for scholarly collaboration are probably the city states of Hong Kong and Singapore, where English is widely used and universities are thriving, assisted by local policies designed to build a central role in the global knowledge economy (Elson-Green, 2002). Many Australian education academics and teachers have worked for periods in mainland China and there is a growing presence also in Vietnam. There are continuing long-standing links with educators in the Philippines. The volume of collaboration in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand is perhaps less than the level of Australian educational business with those countries might suggest. Bourke and Butler's (1995) study of Australian patterns of international research collaboration noted that patterns of research collaboration do not always parallel the patterns of foreign student recruitment. In aggregate, Australian scholars have underplayed research collaboration with the well-developed universities in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, and should contribute more (while also learning in the process) to the evolution of research capacity in countries such as Indonesia and the nations of Indo-China. Indonesia, with one of the world's largest and most ethnically diverse populations, and among the world's lowest levels of GDP per head and proportion of GDP spent on education, is located closest to Australia and arguably is Australia's most important responsibility in educational aid. Scholarly collaboration between Australia and Indonesia has grown slowly, despite a long history of rather lop-sided Australian involvement in that country. In Indonesia, language barriers present more of a challenge to a mono-linguistic Australia, and internal political instability has combined with recent Australian obtuseness and indifference to weaken the potential for cross-border action.

In a global environment, the need to strengthen educational and scholarly links between Australia and the countries of the region is inescapable. No nation can be isolated from global relations; geo-political location matters and regional blocs are becoming increasingly important across the globe. However overblown in rhetoric and contradictory in practice, the Keating strategy was correct in its intention. Australia's future lies in a closer integration with the countries of the region, and as a junction point for relations between Europe, America and the individual countries of Asia. This makes it mandatory for Australia to expand its practical understanding of East and Southeast Asian countries. In the context of the knowledge economy and instantaneous global cultural engagement, driven by information and communications technologies, education has become increasingly crucial to this vital process of mixing and engagement.

Educational systems in Australia and the countries of the region, and scholars/researchers themselves, have much to learn from each other. In this context, it is very pleasing that the number and quality of contributions to the Australian Journal of Education from East and Southeast Asian countries and scholars continues to increase. All of the articles in this issue are ultimately sourced from the region, three from Hong Kong--which is playing an increasingly central educational part at the cross-roads between China and UK/Australia/Europe, one from Malaysia (via the USA) and one from Indonesia (via Australia). The final issue of 2001 featured articles from Korea and Vietnam, and the next edition will include a contribution from Taiwan. Some of these articles take us into the specificities of the nations concerned, others also pose questions of cross-cultural and comparative educational practices and identities, while a third group deals with more universal scholarly themes, albeit sometimes with a local or comparative twist (for example Lam, Wong, and Ho on school effectiveness research in this issue). AJE warmly welcomes further contributions from regional scholars, and trusts that Australian scholars will continue to expand their attention to regional and comparative themes.

AJE, Volume 46, Number 3

In a significant policy intervention, Amartya Sen's (1999) book Development as freedom argues for a fundamental reworking of the global debate on development strategy. Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1998, combines economics with political philosophy in the tradition of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. He is a political economist rather than a neo-classical economist like most of his contemporaries, and unlike them has strong practical concerns about global poverty and inequality. In Development as freedom, Sen argues that a nation's quality of life should be measured not by the level of GDP or some other indicator of economic wealth, but by the level of freedom. Far from econ-omic wealth being the means to political liberty, Sen argues that the causal relation is more often the other way round. The expansion of human capacity and capability through education, the liberation of women and the growth of democracy are primary conditions for both economic prosperity and for other forms of social well-being, including the equitable distribution of income and wealth.
 The literature on human capital tends to concentrate on the
 agency of human beings in augmenting production possibilities.
 The perspective of human capability focuses, on the other hand,
 on the ability--the substantive freedom--of people to live the
 lives they have reason to value and to enhance the real choices
 they have ... even with the same level of income, a person may
 benefit from education--in reading, communicating, arguing, in
 being able to choose in a more informed way, in being taken more
 seriously by others and so on. The benefits of education, thus,
 exceed its role in commodity production ... there is a strong
 need to go well beyond that rather limited and circumscribed
 role of human capital in understanding development as freedom.
 (Sen, 1998, pp. 293-297)

In their discussion of Malaysian higher education, Surendra Subramani and Ken Kempner start from assumptions similar to those of Sen, that national development is a process of expanding freedom, and that self-determination is integrally linked to economic modernisation. Some might argue that economic success should not take place at the expense of national tradition. Subramani and Kempner assume rather that economic success is less likely to occur in developing nations that remain caught in the condition of dependence and the mentality of the `captive mind' (Alatas, 1974). Civic and policy agency is central to making the best use of material conditions; in a globalising world, national identity remains one of the keys to agency (Castells, 1997; Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, & Perraton, 1999); and national identity must be continually constructed. Education is central to this. Following their interviews with university and disciplinary leaders, Subramani and Kempner find that `certain segments of Malaysian higher education' are `making significant attempts to break out of the captivity of Western hegemony'. They draw attention to the role of language policy and of centres for regional studies in fostering Malaysian identity.

In describing and contrasting higher education reforms in Hong Kong and Singapore, Michael Lee focuses on countries with a somewhat different trajectory. Hong Kong and Singapore are specialising in the role of global hub. They also constitute major concentrations of diasporic Chinese capital with a key role in the economic shaping of mainland China. They are playing close attention to the development of their own capacity in services such as finance, communications and, more recently, education and knowledge that are increasingly important in the global era, and hence to the strategic role that the two city states have chosen for themselves. Lee charts recent education reforms, in which the mass education is joined to mixed funding, partial markets and new private universities, performance management, and governmental systems of `centralised decentralisation'. In many respects, the trends in Hong Kong and Singapore resemble Anglo-America and Western Europe. There are also differences, and the two countries diverge from each other in some respects. For example, enrolment ratios are higher in Singapore, whereas quality assurance is less centralised in Singapore than in Hong Kong.

In an important macro study of school effectiveness in Hong Kong, based on 41 709 students in 332 schools, Raymond Lam, Kam-cheung Wong and Lai-ming Ho demonstrate that general problems of research and policy, such as those focused on by the world-wide school-effectiveness movement, can take varying forms in different national sites. These data, derived from a streamed school system in Hong Kong, differ significantly from those derived from mixed ability sites. In the streamed system, school effects appear to be relatively enhanced. The results might be relevant not only to other East Asian countries with streamed systems, but also those schooling systems where recent policies of marketisation have produced de facto social streaming that correlates to ability streaming; for example New Zealand and to some extent the UK.

System-level reforms are top-down by their nature but they mostly depend for their implementation on semi-autonomous professionals who often lack an intrinsic interest in the immediate policy goals (for example saving money, securing tighter governmental control, presenting an appearance of government action) that the reforms are designed to achieve. It is not surprising that reforms are frequently ineffective and leave systems unchanged. In the third article from three different universities in Hong Kong, Derek Cheung develops and tests criteria for measuring teachers' varying responses to innovations, ranging from resistance to proactive implementation.

Erlenawati takes us from the system level to an intensive micro-level study of the conversational behaviour of Indonesian learners of English as a foreign language, and their assumptions about and approaches to learning. Her data highlight the influence of learners' own conscious beliefs about learning. In contrast to some of the stereotypes about `Asian learners', the Indonesian students are aware that knowledge of the cultural context strengthens language learning, although in part their prior learning has emphasised the importance of grammar and linguistic rules at the expense of communicative competence--that is language for practical use. These are common problems of foreign language learning in environments where resources for immersion in the spoken language are unavailable. Lack of a focus on communicative competence impairs not only language development but the capacity for inter-cultural cooperation.

Yang Rui's review of the book by Watkins and Biggs complements the articles, opening up the domain of comparative studies and the educational question of the `Chinese learner'. We hope to strengthen the AJE book reviews section, and the scholarly conversations it enables. Expressions of interest from potential reviewers are welcome.


Alatas, S. H. (1974). The captive mind and creative development. International Social Science Journal, 36 (4), 691-700.

Bourke, P. & Butler, L. (1995). International links in higher education research (NBEET Commissioned Report No. 37). Canberra: AGPS.

Castells, M. (1997). The power of identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Considine, M., Marginson, S., & Sheehan, P. (2001). The comparative performance of Australia as a knowledge nation. Paper for the Chifley Research Centre, Canberra. Nation-rev2106.pdf

Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D., & Perraton, J. (1999). Rethinking globalisation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

IDP Australia. (2002). Statistical data at

Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
Simon Marginson
Monash University
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Author:Marginson, Simon
Publication:Australian Journal of Education
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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