For all the hyperbole around the importance of the Asian century, how well does the West – and Australia – really know Asia? We can argue that knowledge of Asia over the past 50 years has increased dramatically, but knowing the region – a more intimate, subtle process – is another matter.
Public opinion of Asia quickly declines in the West at the first sign of difficulty, as surveys by the BBC World Service, Pew Global Research and the Lowy Institute recently confirmed. These 2013 surveys show signs that sentiments towards Japan and China are slipping to similar levels recorded in 1953.
We need competition in supply and funding of individuals not institutions Julia Gillard wisely remarked last month that competition with Asia could “make us the runt of the litter” in terms of our educational performance. This provocative remark should trigger urgent application to government policy, given that increasingly unlike much of Asia, ours is a state-owned tertiary model. Our university communities are not offered the diversity of choice as in the USA, or indeed as in our own secondary and primary schools. New technology and social networks allow leapfrog in terms of ways of sharing information. All universities could jump ahead by using such remote devices to augment teaching, writing and research frameworks across broader international markets. However Socratic face-to-face “tutorial” and live lecture modes remain vitally important – the “getting of wisdom” is too important to be on iPads or lonely PCs.