| Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
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Chapter 4 Education Links
Education services is now Australia’s second highest export earner after
mining. With this in mind, the Committee considered the contribution of the
higher education sector to Australia’s ties with Africa. To do this it
investigated links between Australian and African universities, and
scholarships and student exchanges between the two continents.
This is followed by an examination of a proposal to establish a new
dedicated facility in Australia for research in African studies.
The Committee considered the nature and scale of links between
Australian and African universities, investigating both research cooperation
and provisions for staff exchange. Universities Australia told the Committee
that there were 45 agreements between Australian and African universities.
These were bilateral agreements between ‘individual Australian and African
universities’, of which ‘almost half’ were with universities in South Africa.
The agreements provided for ‘collaboration between individual academics,
or in some instances faculties or schools, to allow for research collaboration
and staff exchange’. They also provided a framework for student exchange and
In addition, Australian universities had formed partnership agreements
with African universities and other institutions to underpin collaboration on particular
research projects. Of these, Universities
Australia told the Committee, the most important was an agreement between
Australia and South Africa to collaborate on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project
and other space-telescope projects.
DFAT provided details of Australian universities involved in Africa,
advising the Committee of initiatives by Monash University; the universities of
Sydney and Brisbane; and Griffith and Edith Cowan Universities. These ranged
from the on-shore provision of higher education at Monash South Africa and the
Australian Studies Institute in Kenya; and memoranda of understanding and
agreements with universities in South Africa, Kenya, and Libya.
As well, the Committee has received information directly from Murdoch University
on its activities in Africa.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
advised the Committee of government-sponsored initiatives on education between
Australia and African countries. In the absence of formal government-to-government
links, these consisted of visits to Australia by departmental delegations from
African countries, and visits to African countries by area representatives of Australian
Education International (AEI), the government-sponsored representative of
Australian education service-providers.
In general, relations between Australian and African universities have
been driven by the research interests of individual academics.
The Committee has, however, received detailed information of more formal
African centred activities of two universities:
- Monash University;
- University of Sydney.
Universities Australia told the Committee that Monash University had the
greatest involvement in Africa of any Australian university.
This was supported by a number of other contributions to the inquiry, which
gave prominence to its activities in Africa, including those by DEEWR and DFAT.
Monash University described its activities in similar terms, describing a range
of ties with African universities.
Monash University is the only Australian university with a campus in
Africa. DEEWR advised the Committee that student numbers at the campus had
risen from ‘100 students when it first opened’ to ‘over 2,200 in 2008’.
Professor Simon Adams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, International Engagement,
told the Committee that Monash South Africa (MSA) was established in 2001 as
‘the first foreign university in South Africa’. This was part of a broader
expansion of the University’s activities, which has also included establishing
facilities in India, Italy, and Malaysia.
Monash University had established MSA because it saw Africa as ’an area
of growing importance to Australia and to the world’:
… the university believes, very strongly that, if we look at
the major issues facing our country and the world in the 21st century, the
front line of many of these issues is Africa more generally and South Africa
specifically. I am talking here about issues of public health, climate change,
food security, sustainability and so forth …
Professor Adams told the Committee that Monash University had never seen
MSA as ‘being a solely South African concern’. It was a highly-diverse campus
with students from ’43 African countries’, and was a base for ‘an Africa-wide
view’. Monash University saw MSA ‘not as an end in and of itself or as an
isolated base’ but ‘really as a node through which we can connect up with the
rest of the African continent’, and as ‘an essential part of an interaction
between the developed world and the developing world around issues of global
The Committee Delegation visited the Monash South Africa campus and was
impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of its staff. The Delegation was
told that students applying for a place had to meet the same academic standard
as pertaining to Monash University in Australia and, if necessary, students
attended a foundation year to bring them up to this standard. Some 40 per cent
of graduates came through this foundation year program. Significantly
international students attending MSA returned to their home country because of
their personal commitment to return.
The Delegation also met with the student organising committee for the
MSA volunteer program. The submission from Monash University describes their
… most activities related to improving the educational
facilities and opportunities of the local community. MSA staff and students
volunteer their time and expertise towards a variety of projects in local
schools. The volunteer program has been active in other ways, running support
programs for young children and 'maintenance days' to improve local community
facilities, such as schools.
University of Sydney
Professor John Hearn, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, International, told the
Committee that the University of Sydney also had an extensive commitment to
Africa. This included ‘over 20 senior academics and researchers with expertise
and programs in Africa’, and a close relationship with AusAID and the Australia
Council for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) amongst others.There was also a ‘university wide Australia
Africa Network’, through which the university was ‘building teams with the
private sector, government and NGOs and indeed with other Australian
In addition, Professor Hearn told the Committee that the university had
‘100 African students from 17 countries’; ran ‘leadership training courses’ for
African clients; sent ‘regular’ delegations to East and South Africa; and had
recently hosted an ‘Africa forum with a number of African speakers’.
Professor Hearn told the Committee, however, that this was a ‘drop in
the bucket when the task [was] examined’. He emphasised the need for the
University to ‘focus’ and stated that, as a result, the University was very
selective with choosing its partners and in developing funding models.
The University concentrated on activities in East Africa, ‘particularly
in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa’:
We focus on contracts and agreements with the universities of
Nairobi, Makerere and Cape Town, and we focus around our major expertise
relevant to Africa and the Australian government programs in food security,
including agricultural biotech; public health, including non-communicable
disease; extractive industries; and public sector reform.
Professor Hearn told the Committee that the University hoped to organise
a ‘broader Australia-Africa conference’, to which would be invited Australian
stakeholders, such as ‘the universities of Western Australia, Newcastle,
Monash, Sydney and others, along with NGOs and government agencies’. He told
the Committee that:
We feel that if we can do this and come up with some real
areas where we can make a difference that we would achieve better reach, depth
and impact, and we do need to define specific Australian expertise and
This reflected a broader concern with levels of coordination amongst
academic researchers into Africa. Professor Hearn added that Australian
universities needed ‘to invent a network’ with ‘the leading partners who really
have demonstrated commitment and can work in this new re-engagement with Africa’.
Part of the work of such a network would be to ‘map the assets’ of Australian
universities working on Africa which, he suggested, were ‘often very good at
working together offshore while competing like cats onshore’. As a result,
Australian universities needed to work to achieve better coordination and
divisions of labour. 
Scholarships and exchanges
Scholarships and exchanges form an important part of educational links
with Africa and constitute a significant foundation for persistent
person-to-person ties, and good will, between Australia and African countries.
A submission from Universities Australia noted that Australian
universities currently have 9,701 higher education African students enrolled,
of whom 6,582 were engaged in study in Australia and 3,119 overseas.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) advised the
Committee that ‘in the 2008-2009 program year, 7947 Student visas were granted
to people from African nations’ and, at 30 June 2009, ’13,012 persons from a
range of African [countries] were present in Australia on a Student visa’,
spread across the ‘Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training (VET)
The submission from the Department of Education, Employment and
Workplace Relations (DEEWR) noted that ‘African students comprise less than 2.2
per cent of international student numbers’ in Australia. They come from a
variety of countries of origin. Many African countries have 20 or less higher
education students in Australia. Countries with greater numbers include: ‘Malawi
(94 students); Ghana (125); Seychelles (126); Tanzania (181); Nigeria (293);
Zambia (868); South Africa (872); Kenya (2,044); Zimbabwe (2,205); Mauritius (4,883);
Libya (331) and Egypt (2,080)’.
Universities Australia advised the Committee that the most popular
fields of study were ‘management and commerce and the broad collection of
studies relating to science and culture’.
Scholarships are provided to African (and other) students by AusAID and
by individual Australian universities. AusAID advised the Committee that under
current policy, announced early in 2009, there would be ‘ten-fold’ increase in
AusAID scholarships for African students. This would see scholarships rise to
‘1,000 long- and short-term awards by 2012- 13’. Australia had provided ‘more
than 3,600’ scholarships to African students since 1960.
AusAID advised the Committee that this ‘expansion’ was ‘well underway,
with over 250 scholarships offered in 2010’. This compared to the 2009 intake which
was 109. In addition, the topics of the scholarships program was ‘shifting to
align with the Australian Government's African focus on agriculture, natural
resource management and public policy’. This included mining fellowships, of
which a total of 24 had been offered in 2010, compared with 14 in 2008.
The picture is less clear for the overall number of scholarships offered
by individual Australian universities. Submissions by Universities Australia
and DEEWR did not provide overall figures, and DEEWR advised the Committee
Australian universities are autonomous and make their own
decisions regarding the allocation of scholarships. DEEWR does not collect
information on these programs and is not in a position to be able to provide
information on the proportion provided to Africa.
Specific information was provided by Monash University, however, which advised
the Committee that it had provided 51 scholarships and 38 bursaries at Monash
South Africa in 2009.
Monash University also advised the Committee that the creation of the Monash
University Fund for Education in South Africa (MUFESA), which had ‘sought and
received contributions from business and industry in South Africa and Australia’,
would lead to an expansion in financial support of this kind for African higher
Universities Australia advised the Committee that out of the 43
agreements, detailed in its submission, which Australian universities hold with
African universities, 19 make provision for student exchange, and 30 for staff
exchange. However, with a single
exception (staff exchanges between Macquarie and Rhodes universities),
Monash was the only Australian university to provide the Committee with
information in detail about its student and staff exchange programs.
With respect to student exchanges, Monash University advised the
Committee that due to its South Africa and other overseas campuses, the
University had the ability to achieve these exchanges ‘internally’ within its
own organisation. The University provided specific funding assistance to its
students so that they can undertake exchange programs in Australia, Malaysia or
South Africa, depending on their campus of origin.
Typically these take the form of ‘exchange semesters’, where students
enrolled at one campus spend a semester at one of the other overseas sites.
There are also shorter ‘study tours’, particularly in the discipline areas of
geography and environmental science and ‘victimology’: the study of genocide.
Generically, these are termed ‘mobility programs’. Monash University
advised the Committee that together they had resulted in ‘a small but steady
flow of Australian and African students between each continent’:
Since 2006, 35 Australian students have studied at MSA on
exchange or short term study programs, while in the same time period, 29
African students from the MSA campus have undertaken a semester exchange at one
of the University's Australian campuses.
Universities Australia told the Committee, regarding Monash University’s
student exchange program, that while numbers were ‘relatively low’, it has ‘been
a business development plan for Monash University since 2001, with about a
20-year investment’, and it was expected ‘to grow over time’.
With respect to staff exchanges, Monash University told the Committee
that these were conducted in two ways. First, through a process in which senior
academic or administrative staff are seconded from one campus to another.
Second, through a ‘staff mobility’ policy, in which:
… we actually encourage and financially support our staff to
move within the Monash system, from Australia, Malaysia and Africa and in both
directions, to have the opportunity to go to and work for a little while on one
of the other campuses to learn how it operates and to hopefully share ideas
with their colleagues and counterparts.
The Committee considered ways in which Australia could achieve the best
possible value from scholarships and exchanges.
Offshore or onshore provision?
In connection with the discussion on scholarships, the Committee
considered the question of whether there were greater benefits from educating
African students ‘on the ground’ in Africa or in Australia.
Witnesses offered a number of opinions. The Australian Council for
International Development (ACFID) Africa Working Group told the Committee that
under the expanded Australian scholarship program, a proportion of scholarships
should be for students to study ‘within the region’. In this model, ‘the best
and brightest’ would study on Australian scholarships in ‘key universities
within the region’—in addition to African scholarship students studying in
Australia. This would be a way ‘to invest and help build education systems
within Africa’, helping to ‘build sustainability over time’.
However, other witnesses told the Committee that there was more value in
bringing scholarship students to Australia. Professor Ware told the Committee
that African students in Australia had access to a training ‘that they would
not get at the same level at home’. Moreover, they were exposed to a range of
Australian institutions and experiences, from ‘watching the Australian
parliament on the television’ to ‘seeing how a local council works’.
In addition, Professor Ware told the Committee, supporting African students
in Australia was uniquely something that Australian funding could achieve, that
‘African countries, however cash strapped, can sponsor their own students at
home’, but they ‘cannot, unless they are diamond-rich Botswana, afford to
sponsor their students to come to Australia’.
Moreover, Professor Ware told the Committee, ‘taking the expertise in
that direction’ was important, particularly ‘for long-term university
scholarships at the postgraduate level’. Australia had ‘unique things to
offer, in terms of training and in terms of the broader social contacts with
learning how democracies work’ and this was something to which ‘we should
Benefits for Australia
This way of delivering education also brought greater benefits for
Australia. A number of witnesses told the Committee that when African students
study in Australia, rather than offshore, this forges persistent links and
ties. Dr Lucas told the Committee that African students studying in university
campuses in Africa were unlikely to ‘feel any great attachment to Australia’.
He also raised concerns about class sizes and quality of teaching in some
In contrast, Dr Lucas told the Committee that where students had studied
in Australia, there were persistent ties. These links could be particularly
influential where graduates have risen to positions of prominence.
Dr Lucas also noted that in a recent speech, the Foreign Minister Mr
Smith had stated that he wanted African students to become ‘ambassadors’ for
Australia. Dr Lucas told the Committee that he did not ‘see how they are going
to do that if they are being trained at, for example, Fort Hare University’.
Other witnesses also attested to the durability of such ties. Dr Brian Keating,
Director, Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, CSIRO, told the Committee that the
‘human links’ that result from this process ‘are strong’, that ‘[you] can run
into an African student who has spent time in Australia 20 years later in
Africa’ and they will ‘still embrace you and say what a fantastic experience it
Return on completion of study
Dr Lucas told the Committee that it was important that African students,
having completed their studies in Australia, return so that the benefits of
their training are retained in Africa. He told the Committee that immigration
arrangements had been ‘relaxed’ since the 1970s when students ‘had to go home’,
resulting in a greater proportion of graduates remaining in Australia.
Professor Ware spoke to the Committee in similar terms, suggesting that this
might be more readily achieved in the context of ‘a really targeted program’
where there were firmer arrangements for graduates to return to their country
Such views were also supported by the Nigerian High Commissioner who
We have said to immigration that when they bring Nigerians
here on scholarship and they train here for three or four years, it is
important that they should go back home. If they want to come back here later,
then they could apply and then come in as skilled migrant labour. We are
working very hard on that now. …
When they go back home, they then help to strengthen
relations between Australia and Nigeria. …
Some say, 'If they train here and they stay here, the
negative effect on Nigeria is not bad,' and I personally do not buy that.
The Committee notes the earlier discussion of the ALPA program in this
Links with alumni
A third component of value-for-money for scholarships and exchanges
related to maintaining relationships with alumni. Professor Ware told the
Committee that Australia ‘should also do more to maintain links with former
students from Africa’, and that Australian universities were ‘generally poor in
maintaining alumni links’ compared with U.S. universities. This could, she
suggested, be improved with a ‘modest investment of time and resources’ in
African countries where Australia has diplomatic representation.
Professor Hearn also told the Committee that if Australia could do more
to maintain relationships with alumni this would do much to enhance the value
generated through periods of study in Australia:
… some of our alumni, including the director of public health
in Kenya, say that the opportunity they had to do a masters or a visit to
Australia transformed their life, the way they think and their approach. So I
think that … we need to structure our approach to support such leaders and such
people and not just have a visit which is over and from which we walk away. 
Dr Asumadu also highlighted the importance of alumni and suggested that
organising formal associations of alumni in home countries was likely to lead
to further productive relationships, not only in academia and government, but
also in business.
Some witnesses to the inquiry indicated to the Committee a number of
areas in which there were challenges with educational links.
First, DEEWR and DIAC, in their submissions to the inquiry, both advised
the Committee of financial difficulties for some African students in the face
of economic problems in their country of origin.
DEEWR advised the Committee that 6 Australian universities had enrolled
‘a significant number’ of Zimbabwean students affected by unrest in their own
country. These students—amounting to 500-600 in Australia—were in significant ‘financial,
academic and emotional difficulties’. These were ‘escalating rapidly’, and it
was estimated at the time (2008) that ‘potential bad debt from unpaid fees from
this group could total close to $2.4 million’.
DIAC advised the Committee that it had received reports ‘that some
students from African countries have been unable to pay tuition fees due to the
difficulty with [transferring] funds to Australia’. However, the department
advised the Committee that educational providers were supportive of these
students, and that non-payment did not result in revocation of visas by DIAC:
rather they were ‘given adequate opportunity to find an alternative education
provider or apply for another visa category’.
International English Language Testing System
A second area of concern lay with the International English Language
Testing System (IELTS) English-language tests for prospective students from
Africa. The Kenyan High Commission advised the Committee that Kenyan students
studying in other Commonwealth countries did not have to pass this language
test. Removing this criterion for students wishing to enter Australia, it was
suggested, would ‘boost the numbers of students seeking admission in Australian
institutions’ and ‘relieve a great burden’ from Kenyan students and their
In discussion with DIAC, the Committee noted that the Kenyan High
Commission had been ‘quite critical of the way in which the test is applied’.
DIAC responded that it employed a flexible approach to English-language
testing. Different IELTS levels were required depending on the ‘education
sector’ students apply for and assessment levels determined for the country of
DIAC also told the Committee that there were options to use other tests,
such as the Occupational English Test (OET) and Test of English as a Foreign
Language (TOEFL), ‘in some African countries’. In addition, DIAC was
considering ‘introducing more competition’ among test providers to increase
confidence and effectiveness in English-language testing.
In its submission to the inquiry, DIAC advised the Committee that:
All applicants for a Student visa, regardless of nationality,
are required to meet certain objective and transparent criteria to be eligible for
grant [that is, of a student visa]. These criteria are used to assess whether
an applicant has a genuine intention to study in Australia and will abide by
the conditions of their visa.
Requirements were calibrated according to levels of ‘risk’ calculated by
DIAC for each country of origin, and included tests of financial capability and
educational achievement, along with skill-levels derived from English-language
Relative scale of resources
Some witnesses to the inquiry highlighted the relatively modest scale of
what Australia had to offer African countries. Speaking in general terms,
Professor Hearn told the Committee that China’s level of investment was
‘enormous’ and that a number of European countries also had ‘long-term
interests’ in Africa. The scale of these
interventions, and the fact that some had ‘failed’, highlighted both the
competition and risk entailed in investments.
In view of this, Professor Hearn told the Committee, Australian universities
needed ‘a realistic view of where we are and what we can achieve, while being
ambitious and optimistic’. They could
do this by identifying ‘a few people … leaders who are in the political,
academic or business fields who are making a difference’, and working with them
in ‘target countries’. Professor Hearn told the Committee that by taking this
approach Australian universities could ‘make a huge difference’ in African
Professor Hearn told the Committee that his own institution, the
University of Sydney, had followed this more targeted approach by focusing on
selected countries in East and South Africa, in particular, and identifying
areas of capacity with distinct relevance to Africa, including ‘agricultural
biotech; public health, including non-communicable disease; extractive industries;
and public sector reform’.
Mr Sibraa spoke in similar terms, telling the Committee that Australia
had recognised strengths in areas relevant to Africa—in particular dry-land
… we should stick to areas like that that we know well. We
are never going to be a huge aid donor. I think we could suffer if we try to
spread a small amount too widely, because it will just disappear.
Gaps in education links
The Committee considered gaps in education links with African countries
arrangements that were highlighted by witnesses.
This included some lack of representation in certain parts of Africa.
Universities Australia told the Committee that it was not aware of any links
between Australian universities and those of West Africa. The Committee noted
that Australia had no links with the universities of Nigeria, despite it being
the single most populous country in Africa.
DEEWR also noted gaps, advising the Committee that AEI is entirely
without representation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Further, there were no government-to-government educational MOUs between
Australia and African countries: all existing relationships were between
Australian and African universities alone.
The higher education sector is now a significant contributor to
Australia’s export earnings. The sector has a growing reputation for building
links with academic institutions in developing countries particularly in Asia
and the Gulf. Therefore it is in Australia’s interest to further develop
valuable ties and similar relationships in research and higher education in
The evidence provided to the Committee reveals a picture of Australia as
a small partner in specialised cooperative research, and a small but important
provider of scholarships and student exchanges with African universities.
In the Committee’s view, it is clear that Australia cannot compete in
absolute terms with other countries, such as China, which are employing
educational links as a way to establish closer ties with Africa. However, it
makes good sense for the message that Australia, armed with a realistic
appraisal of its capabilities and strengths in research and higher education,
can create valuable ties in Africa—and, indeed, already has an established
record of doing so.
It is critical, in the Committee’s view, that Australia develops a
greater capacity to coordinate its activities in this regard. First, it needs
to pursue the accurate targeting of research effort and scholarships. Second,
it needs to do the follow-up—with alumni and others engaged by these
programs—in order to generate maximum benefit: both for African staff and
students, and for Australia and its universities.
The Committee recognises that there needs to be a balance with respect
to the provision of scholarships to Africans. On the one hand Africa will
benefit through the transfer of skills if African students return to their
country of origin after completion of their studies. (The Committee is mindful
of the experience of MSA where international students return to their home
country.) Australia also benefits because the African alumni will act as
'ambassadors from Australia'.
On the other hand, the immediate benefit to Australia occurs when
African students remain in Australia because their skills alleviate Australia's
skills shortage. Such a brain drain is of concern not only to African countries
but also to other countries providing talented students to study in Australia.
AusAID’s scholarships program should include providing
scholarships to African students to undertake tertiary education in Africa.
This could involve study at African universities and at Australian
universities with links with Africa such as Monash South Africa
A centre to focus on African issues
The ‘gaps’ in coverage and representation identified in previous
sections point to wider issues of coordination. The difficulty in gauging the
number of scholarships offered to African overseas students by Australian
universities is an instance where the higher education sector is let down by an
absence of mechanisms to collect and collate data. Such information would be
useful for strategic planning.
Many witnesses have called for the creation of a centre for African
studies as a means to enhance Australia’s engagement with Africa through a
focus on teaching and research on Africa.
Reflecting on this issue, the Committee discusses the reasons why
Australia should increase its research capacity in relation to Africa; the
current levels of research in Australia; and the various proposals for a centre
to foster an increased effort in African studies.
Many submissions and witnesses proposed that Australia should consider
increasing its research capacity. Their reasons centred on Australia’s
involvement in mining in Africa; interest in working cooperatively with African
countries on the world stage; and person-to-person links between Australia and
A number of witnesses drew attention to the significance of Australia’s
involvement with mining in Africa, and argued that it was critical that, in
view of this involvement, Australia develop a basis for expertise and research
Associate Professor Geoffrey Hawker, from Macquarie University but
appearing in a private capacity, advised the Committee that ‘Australian
engagement with Africa is driven by business opportunities now opening up on an
unprecedented scale’. In particular he noted rapid expansions in investment and
operations in ‘extractive industries’ as being of special importance.
Dr David Dorward, a retired Associate Professor from Latrobe University,
commented that increasingly close ties between Africa and China, in terms of
natural resources, added a sense of urgency to Australia’s involvement with
mining in Africa. He noted that the ‘export economy of Australia, the strength
of the dollar and our capacity to borrow overseas are all linked to the
strength of the mining sector’. While currently Australia’s ‘leading customer
is China’, there was potential for Africa ‘to undermine Australia's economic
position as a leading supplier to China’, because:
- ‘Africa offers a
clear alternative source of supply for mainland China's mineral requirements’;
- the ‘scale and
variety of known mineral reserves in Africa far outstrip those of Australia’; and
- ‘China is already a
major player in the African mining sector’.
A suitable response was for Australia to ‘cultivate a higher profile in
Africa [and to] facilitate but also inform its corporate sector’. This would
help place Australia in a better competitive position in relation to the
African resources sector, thus mitigating negative effects, on Australia, of
this alternative source of supply.
A number of contributors to the inquiry advised the Committee that
Australia needed to improve its understanding of Africa if it were to improve
its relationships with African countries and pursue foreign policy objectives
through bilateral and multilateral engagements.
The Commonwealth Round Table in Australia advised the Committee that on
‘a continental and global level, Australia increasingly views itself as a ‘middle
power’ building consensus on global issues’ and that ‘African support is
crucial to agreement and action on global concerns’.
Mr Matthew Neuhaus, former Head of Mission to five African countries and
current Ambassador to Zimbabwe, suggested that this was important because
African nations represented ‘one quarter’ of the world’s nations, in addition
to Australia’s significant commercial and person to person links with Africa.
He advised the Committee that as ‘important players in international forums,
Africa nations can … help us achieve our global goals’. Conversely, Australia ‘will
certainly fail to build global coalitions for these goals without engaging them’.
However Australia’s level of awareness of Africa fell short of what it
needed to achieve these objectives. Australia needed an increased awareness of
Africa, and a policy ‘sophisticated enough to engage Africa not just as a
continent but on a nation by nation basis’.
A number of contributors to the inquiry suggested that further research
capacity is needed to understand the high degree of cultural diversity in
Africa. Dr Elizabeth Dimock, Executive Committee Member of the African Studies
Association of Australasia and the Pacific (AFSAAP), commented that
this diversity was generated by Africa’s ‘diverse geographies and cultures’; a population
‘of more than a billion people’; and a history of ‘internal conflicts’. In the
absence of an understanding of these conditions, Australia would struggle to
deal with African migrants effectively. As a result, she wrote, if ‘the current
Federal Government is serious about engaging more closely with African
countries, consideration should be given to increasing levels of expertise in
The Committee also considered the involvement of Australians in Africa. Mr
Neuhaus advised the Committee that ‘Australians’ had ‘a long history with Africa’,
and that from the ‘end of the First World War till well after independence it
was Australian missionaries who provided the bulk of the health and education
services in this vast region of East Africa’.
In spite of this, Australia had ‘never sought to capitalise on this
investment of decades of goodwill or support with official aid the very real
assistance provided by Australians’. This again suggested a
gap in knowledge and awareness, which unless addressed could inhibit Australia
from realising its present-day aspirations in Africa.
In the Committee’s view, the evidence points to a need for further
capacity within Australia to provide a higher education, teaching and research focus
on Africa. Contributors to the inquiry have consistently highlighted the
practical advantages of this approach. The Committee believes that proposals to
create further research capacity in this area warrant serious attention.
To establish the extent of the requirement to expand teaching and research
on Africa the Committee sought to establish Australia’s contemporary levels of such
Dr Lucas told the Committee that under current conditions it was
difficult to ascertain levels of expertise, or effort currently expended on
research into Africa, and that this offered an insight into the present state
of African Studies in Australia.
Dr Lucas commented that Australian universities did not specifically
identify scholars engaged with Africa, or highlight courses or projects in this
area. Indeed, they appeared to be less than fully aware of such work being done
within their own establishments. This was exacerbated by continual
restructuring in Australian universities which had, it appeared, affected even
fairly recent plans by Monash University to establish a formal centre, in
Australia, for African Studies.
Dr Lucas also told the Committee that an ‘inventory’ of work being done
in the area in Australian universities should be created to make up this
shortfall. In the meantime those who wished to identify this work had to rely
on searches on the open web and other unstructured approaches, and that this was
a less-than-satisfactory state of affairs. This was a contrast with
arrangements in Britain, where a central register of doctoral dissertations
provided a point of access to materials produced in universities on specific
In response, the Committee noted that in Australia there appeared to be
‘no central point’ for ‘people who are interested’ in African-Australian
relations. This led to discussion
of the current scope and role of the AFSAAP, a professional association
The African Studies
Association of Australasia and the Pacific
In its submission to the inquiry, the AFSAAP advised the Committee of
its current functions and aims, including to:
- ‘maintain a network
of Africanist scholars’;
communication between members’;
- publish the Australasian
Review of African Studies;
- organise an annual
- ‘encourage advocacy
and cooperation amongst interested parties’.
Dr Cherry Gertzel, Adjunct Professor, Curtin University, advised the
Committee that scholarly interest in research into Africa in Australia
increased in the ‘late 1960s’, and this persisted through the 1970s and 80s.
Dr Dimock noted that this expansion had led to the creation of the AFSAAP as a
means of coordinating research in the area.,
A paper provided by Dr Dimock and Dr Tanya Lyons, Flinders University,
but contributing in a private capacity, gave the reasons for this interest,
- interest in
liberation struggles and newly-independent African states;
- an emphasis on area
studies as a function of Cold War geo-politics;
- ‘waves’ of ‘migrants
from Southern Africa … fleeing white racist regimes’; and,
- the collapse of
apartheid and interest in nation-building in the new South Africa.
Interest in Africa began to decrease in the early 1990s.
Dr Lucas advised the Committee that, following the mid-1990s, research into
Africa in Australia experienced a number of contractions. A reduction in
academics working in the area progressed to the point where there were reckoned
to be, as of 2003, as little as 10 ‘teaching topics related to Africa’ in the
whole of Australia.
A key factor was a system of institutional incentives for studies in the
Asia-Pacific region, consistent with priorities laid-down by Australian
governments since the mid-nineteen-nineties. Reflecting this
down-turn, La Trobe University closed its African Research Institute in 2006.
Dr Lucas told the Committee that the AFSAAP had been affected by these
developments. The association’s members now numbered between 100 and 200, and
were in decline. Moreover, the AFSAAP had insufficient influence to achieve its
objectives because it had not attracted members at Vice-Chancellor or similar
levels of seniority.
Dr Dimock advised the Committee that it had ‘always been the case’ that Africanists
had been ‘spread across many disciplines’ Australia-wide, and that this had
been the reason for creating the AFSAAP and La Trobe University's African
Research Institute. However, Dr Dorward
advised the Committee, the overall contraction in participation in African
Studies in Australia had led to the AFSAAP being unable to perform,
effectively, the coordinating function for which it was first intended.
African Studies in
The Committee considered the effect of this trend on scholarship on
Africa in Australian universities. A number of witnesses advised the Committee
that there had been a significant down-turn in the area.
Dr Dorward advised the Committee that within Australian academia ‘the
pool of African expertise had collapsed dramatically in the past decade with
retirements and as university administrations shift toward fee-paying courses’,
and a ‘once significant pool of localised expertise on Africa within academia …
has all but disappeared’. This correlated with a similar trend in the NGO sector.
The paper provided to the Committee by Dr Dimock and Dr Lyons supplied
further evidence for this trend. It presented survey-based information on the
state of research and teaching in African topic-areas in Australian universities
as at 2003. At that time the survey showed that of 38 public universities in
Australia ‘only fourteen Australian … appear to have any African Studies in
their teaching programmes’. Of a ‘total of 49 topics that … mention Africa … on
offer at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in these universities …., only
sixteen’ were ‘specific to Africa, while another 33 included Africa within a
Dr Lyons advised the Committee that the survey ‘demonstrates the lack of
an Africa specific focus in topics available to tertiary students’, and
‘clearly shows that Australian universities are not able to provide [in-depth]
opportunities within tertiary education to study Africa’.
Dr Lyons also advised the Committee that other features of African scholarship
in Australia also demonstrated a lack of capacity, in particular:
- an absence of
dedicated academic appointments in the area;
- the closure of the
only dedicated African Research Institute; and
- an absence of jobs
for African experts in Australia, whether in universities or in government.
When Dr Lyons appeared before the Committee, she was asked if the state
of academic study of Africa in Australia reflected similar trends overseas. Dr
Lyons responded that this was not the case: there were substantial, long-term
commitments to African Studies in the United States of America, Britain, France
and Canada. The American African Studies Association, in particular, was
‘huge’. In her submission, Dr
Lyons also advised the Committee that China had ‘addressed this issue by
promoting African studies’, in line with its other interests in Africa.
Dr Lyons told the Committee that in Australian universities, by
contrast, African scholarship had a low profile. To her knowledge no African
languages were taught and, she advised the Committee, she was ‘one of the few
academics in Australia to teach dedicated topics on African studies to students
in international relations’.
While Dr Lyons advised the Committee that there were ‘a significant
number of postgraduates conducting research into Africa and African issues’ there
was ‘no research to date that tracks this research or its outcomes’. She
observed that, ‘anecdotally it would appear that many researchers are unaware
of each other and [as a result] each continues to reinvent the research wheel’.
On the basis of evidence to the inquiry, it appears that Australia’s
capacity to research and teach African studies, and coordinate this work, is declining
compared to other nations.
The Committee also notes with concern the present state of the AFSAAP,
in which it appears less able to perform the coordinating role for which it was
created. The Committee notes the absence of sufficient coordinating activities
in Australia, which reduces Australia’s capacity to produce good work in the
The Committee is also concerned over the low prevalence of academic
courses and appointments in African Studies; and the reported loss of expertise
in other sectors such as NGOs.
In the Committee’s view, it would seem that if Australia wishes to place
a priority on Africa, in view of its emergent interests, it should take
deliberate steps to expand its expertise and capacity to engage by establishing
a centre specialising in African studies. This will provide a point of focus; a
coordinating function; and a direct injection of resources into an area that
has clearly declined since the mid-19 90s.
Creation of a centre to focus on African studies
The Committee considered a number of models for a facility to answer the
need for Australia to foster greater expertise and a greater research capacity
in relation to Africa. These included:
- a new centre under
the ARC Centre of Excellence program;
- a new centre under
the Government’s Cooperative Research Centres program; 
- an ‘Australia-Africa
Research Institute’, potentially based on a
consortium model, or that of the Lowy
- direct funding of an
academic unit or faculty in an Australian university.
Centre of Excellence
In Australia, the term ‘Centre of Excellence’ refers to a centre created
under a formal program of the Australian Research Council (ARC) as part of the
National Competitive Grants Program.
The ARC website shows that many of the Centres of Excellence funded
under the program deal with relatively specific areas of study often, although
not exclusively, within the physical sciences. In the 2005, for example, 11
Centres of Excellence were funded under the program, out of which one could be
construed as being outside of the physical sciences. This was the ARC Centre of
Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation.
However there are other ways of setting a focus for research under the
program. It is open to government to set priority areas for research funded by
the ARC, which then attract applications in particular areas of study. These
are known as ‘Special Research Initiatives’.
An example of this was the priority set on Policing and Security
in the 2006 ARC grants round, for funding commencing in 2007.
This also shows that under this arrangement priorities can be set outside of
the physical sciences. Outcomes for this round show, for this Special Research
Initiative, that all five of the successful applications were from Humanities
and Creative Arts. However, it also shows that such initiatives do not create a
physical centre: successful applications were from a range of other units and
institutions, which pursued separate projects, only related by the funding
This provides some basis to suggest that this may be an avenue through
which government could set a priority on research into African Studies, for
which precedents and funding arrangements already exist. Support for this
approach came from Murdoch University which suggested that proposals should be
assessed against ARC criteria.
The ARC Centres of Excellence program offers one avenue through which
Australia could increase its research capacity in African Studies. While many
of the projects which are currently funded lie within the physical sciences,
the Special Research Initiatives sub-program provides a tool through which
government could invite and fund applications from researchers with proposals
pertinent to Africa.
However, there are two disadvantages in adopting this approach. First,
it would not create a physical ‘centre’ for African Studies in Australia,
because it would fund a suite of separate projects. Second, there are questions
over the longevity of such an initiative. In the Committee’s view, a persistent
physical centre for African Studies is required if Australia is to regenerate
its capacity in this area.
A second proposal considered by the Committee was for a Cooperative
Research Centre for African Studies.
The Cooperative Research Centres program is administered by the Department
of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR). The DIISR web-page for Cooperative
Research Centres states that the program’s objective is to:
… deliver significant economic, environmental and social
benefits to Australia by supporting end-user driven research partnerships
between publicly funded researchers and end-users to address clearly
articulated, major challenges that require medium to long term collaborative
The web-page states that to date ‘there have been a total of 168 CRCs’,
and there are currently:
48 CRCs operating in 6 sectors: environment (10), agriculture
and rural-based manufacturing (14), information and communication technology
(5), mining and energy (4), medical science and technology (8) and
manufacturing technology (7).
CRCs are funded for 'up to 10 years', but this is contingent, however,
upon 'the outcomes of rigorous reviews' made by an 'independent panel of
experts' in the fourth and eighth years.
The Committee notes that, as for the ARC Centres of Excellence
program, a bias is evident in DIISR’s CRCs program in favour of physical
sciences and technology.
Nevertheless, the CRCs provide a number of functions which the Committee
has identified as being desirable for regenerating capacity in African Studies
in Australia. In particular, the Committee notes the ability of CRCs to combine
to increase research capacity in an area, and foster long-term research
interests in particular areas.
On the other hand, CRCs have a tightly focused research interest which
does not encompass undergraduate teaching. A CRC needs a source of graduates
with a specialist knowledge if it is to develop a research capacity. As well,
CRCs have a limited life which could be as short as four years. This is in
conflict with the Committee's view that it is necessary to achieve a long-term
increase in Australia’s expertise in African Studies if Australia is to pursue
its interests and good global citizenship effectively.
The Committee considered the role of the former African Research
Institute (ARI), which operated at La Trobe University from 1985 to 2006, and
whether a successor to the ARI would answer the needs identified for the
revival of African Studies in Australia.
The paper provided to the Committee by Dr Dimock and Dr Lyons noted that
the ARI maintained ‘ties with the Africa-Australia Business Council, the South
Africa Business Council and a broad spectrum of African community and special
interest groups’. They also noted linkages with the Australian Government—members
of the ‘Australian diplomatic corps [had] visited the Institute before
departure to postings in Africa and provided briefings upon their return to
In this sense, the exhibit suggested, the ARI together with the AFSAAP
had, before its closure, performed a range of functions that had fostered, and
provided a focus and a point of coordination for Australian research on Africa.
In view of this, the Committee considered whether such an institute should
again be created in Australia, to perform similar functions.
Witnesses to the inquiry told the Committee of two models which might be
considered. Dr Lucas referred to a research centre on Africa that had been created
at the London School of Economics (LSE), the ‘LSE African Initiative’, as a
consortium between the LSE and Oxford University, with additional funding from
Dr Lyons told the Committee that the Lowy Institute for International
Policy was a suitable model for a future African research institute. The Lowy
Institute is described as an ‘independent international policy think tank’. It
is a privately-endowed organisation, based in Sydney, which publishes papers on
foreign policy; hosts conferences; and provides fellowships for researchers on
foreign policy. It currently maintains
a staff of 42, of which 23 are either fellows, visiting fellows or non-resident
The Committee considers that these are interesting models for an
Australian research centre or institute on Africa, and that they hold out the
prospect of a flexible and inclusive model for such a centre.
In this inquiry the Committee is bound to consider, among other things,
what may be done by government to foster African Studies in Australia. Neither
the LSE African Initiative nor the Lowy Institute were initiated by
government—the first created as an initiative between universities, the second
by private endowment.
In addition, an institute, such as that based on the Lowy Institute, for
example, would not contain an education element at either student or
An alternative would be creating a specialised academic unit or faculty
for African Studies within an existing university,
partially or fully funded by the Government.
Where to locate a centre
The Committee has considered a number of alternative models for locating
a studies centre.
Dr Lucas told the Committee that difficulties arose in choosing a
university as a site for such a unit or faculty, as the main elements of
Australian academic expertise in African Studies were distributed, on the
whole, between two universities: Monash University and the University of
Sydney. WA's Murdoch University
has also argued for a centre, but one based on a hub and spokes model with
'important elements of the network' based on Australia's western coast. Perth
was suggested because Western Australia has a higher density of Africans living
in the state when compared to the East Coast states.
Also it is closer to Africa, and is the location of
the head offices of many Australian mining companies with interests in Africa.
The fact that Monash and Sydney Universities display significant
strengths with respect to Africa raises the question of where a research
facility should be established.
Dr Dimock told the Committee that while Monash and Sydney universities
both had acknowledged strengths in the area, there were other factors that
favoured Monash University. These, she suggested, were linkages on Africa with
other universities in Melbourne; existing research projects and
African-Australian staff in universities in Melbourne; and networks between
universities and the ‘very large African communities in Melbourne and in
Victoria’. Universities Australia
also advised the Committee that, in its view, Monash University was the ‘most
active’ Australian university in Africa.
The AFSAAP favoured a distributed model, where a centre would be
established in a university, but would extend its reach via online facilities.
The AFSAAP advised the Committee that the Centre could:
… consist of a model whereby a central node is located in a
university led by a Professor, whilst a number of spokes could be located
virtually (or physically) in various parts of Australia. In this way,
Africanist scholars resident outside of the major centres could participate as
equals in various academic and administrative aspects of the Centre. Many of
the newer educational technologies, including podcasts, could be deployed to foster
greater inclusion of individuals and greater regional representation in an
African Studies Centre.
Edith Cowan University provided support for a virtual centre:
… something into which all universities can contribute and
which perhaps even moves between universities at a given period of time, rather
than placing the onus on anyone University, or organisation for that matter, to
keep it alive and functioning.
The Committee considered a model, in which the two main networks
currently in operation—centred on Monash and Sydney universities—would be
brought together under one title. Dr Lucas told the Committee that;
In many ways if AFSAAP could cooperate with Monash, which has
its own network, and Sydney, which might have one, and we could all interact,
we would save an awful lot of effort and advance the cause of Africa.
The Committee also considered the model proposed by Dr Dorward where
government would provide funding for research materials, open to a competitive
process, under the condition that the universities bidding for grants would
undertake to establish a Chair of African Studies. Dr Dorward advised the
Committee that the Australian Government, in allocating ‘resources carefully
and with a clear focus’, should also ‘consider how it can build a long-term
foundation for’ Australia’s relationship with the countries of Africa.
This inquiry has highlighted the existence, within Australia, of a
substantial body of expertise on African issues. The Committee believes that it
is important to promote its coordination and further development.
Therefore the Committee proposes that a Centre for African Studies should
be established, preferably, within a university in Australia.
This will facilitate a coordinated approach to education and training
both at undergraduate and graduate level. Further, it will establish a focal
point for coordinating expertise on African issues.
The Committee has not come to a view as to where such as centre should
be located. Rather it supports aspects of the model proposed by Dr Dorward
which would involve a competitive process. Such a process for establishing a
centre will reveal the level of commitment of universities wishing to become
the location of a Centre for African Studies. Ultimately such a centre could
encompass a consortium of universities.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace
a Centre for African Studies;
competitive tenders from Australian universities for the establishment of the
- engage stake-holders and potential partners for the Centre;
- provide sufficient funding so that the Centre can:
- undertake research, education and training functions;
- engage with industry;
- raise the profile of African Studies in Australia; and
- provide value to both government and non-government end-users.