New Zealand’s tertiary education faces a crisis following the pandemic. The government’s underfunding is leading universities to make large job cuts. This threatens the study of Asia and Asian languages at the university level.
In recent years, New Zealand universities built a strong foundation in Asian studies. However, AUT, Otago, Massey, and Victoria University of Wellington are now reducing or potentially ending programmes in Japanese, Chinese, and Asian Studies. This is due to budget issues.
Despite the cuts, 79% of New Zealanders in a 2021 survey said they believe ties with Asia are essential for the country’s future. Seven of New Zealand’s top 10 trading partners are in Asia.
Despite China being New Zealand’s most important economic partner, over the past five years we have seen a decrease in Mandarin study. However, this shouldn’t lead to cutting Chinese programmes. New Zealand needs its own understanding of Asia. It should also remember that Asia is more than just China. Korean and Japanese languages remain popular, and New Zealand risks falling behind other countries.
The country had previously dropped Indonesian studies from some universities. This lost potential ties with Indonesia, a significant Asian country.
Underfunding is causing universities to judge Asian studies by student numbers. Yet, these courses help students from different fields understand Asia. The cuts could also suggest to Asian New Zealanders that they aren’t valued.
The end of Asian studies and language programmes may have negative long-term effects. New Zealand risks becoming isolated and less competitive. The country could even depend on outside sources for understanding Asia, which in today’s era of misinformation, could be dangerous.