I am wanting to advise you, and correct some of the misinformation that is currently being quoted regarding Victoria University’s (VU) future arrangements for the study of Languages Other Than English (LOTEs) at VU, in particular Chinese. I have been in communication with prominent members of the Chinese community over the last couple of weeks - I spoke with Dr Stanley Chiang, State President of the CCCA and provided written advice to Dr Anthony Pun, the National President of the CCCA, as well as responding to several other groups on request. VU is aware of, and agrees with, the Rudd government’s initiatives with respect to Asian languages. We support the government’s intention to have more Australian students fluent in Chinese language.
Far from withdrawing support for LOTEs (including Chinese language), students in the Faculty of Arts Education and Human Development will continue to be encouraged to study a LOTE through collaborative arrangements with other providers, which are detailed below. I intend to work closely with the University’s other two faculties to ensure that their course structures allow room for the study of a language appropriate for Australia’s business future, and that students are actively encouraged to study such languages.
Ongoing low numbers in LOTE and English Language Support for VU's CALD students
VU’s first priority is to the communities we serve, which are ethnically diverse and multi-lingual – with more than 40% of our higher education students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Our community is telling us that they want English language programs which help them through their courses of study. Over recent years relatively few of them have expressed a demand for the LOTEs that we have been teaching. This is reflected in the fact that all current LOTEs have relatively low levels of enrolment at second and third year levels: as at March this year, there were 18 second year / 17 third year Spanish students; 19 second year / 8 third year Japanese students; 12 second year / 3 third year Chinese students; and 9 second year Vietnamese students. Despite extra efforts at promoting the LOTEs at our 2009 enrolment sessions, there was little improvement over last year’s enrolments, and in some cases a reduction in later year enrolments.
Like Chinese, we recognise that Vietnamese is an important community language in the west, but there are several other providers of Chinese language in Victoria that have much stronger enrolment numbers and consequently offer a much richer student experience. Our student numbers in Vietnamese are also small and unviable, but as we are the only provider in Victoria (and one of only two in Australia), Victoria University will work with University of Melbourne (UoM) to strengthen that language.
Arrangements for VU students to continue to study LOTEs in Partnership with UoM
In principle agreement has been reached for VU students who wish to study a LOTE to undertake those studies at the UoM, progressively from 2010. In this context, LOTEs will continue to be offered to VU students in a viable and sustainable way in this collaborative arrangement with the UoM Faculty of Arts. VU students will be able to study Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and possibly two additional LOTEs not currently offered by VU - Indonesian and Arabic - through UoM. Indonesian language is widely taught in schools in Melbourne’s west and such an arrangement with UoM will add significantly to choice for VU students. We currently have a substantial number of students from Middle Eastern backgrounds and Arabic may well be of interest to these students. VU would continue to offer Vietnamese language programs to both VU and UoM students. In 2010, the second and third years of VU’s language programs would continue to be offered to present VU language students, but VU commencing students will undertake LOTEs other than Vietnamese through UoM language programs. In 2011, all language students will take their language studies other than Vietnamese through UoM programs. Under this collaborative arrangement, which has already been agreed to in-principle by the Dean of Arts at UoM, VU students would continue to be able to do either language units or language majors as part of their VU courses in much the same way as they can do at the moment under complementary enrolment provisions. Students will need to travel to another campus, UoM’s Parkville Campus, but students from St Albans and other campuses currently need to travel to Footscray Park for LOTE classes, and there is a possibility that UoM may be able to offer some classes at VU’s City Campus. Time-tabling has been raised as an issue but the very large number of language students at UoM (e.g. 600 Japanese first year students) means that there will be a wider choice of class times to mesh with a student’s VU class times.
UoM has also clarified that there will be no screening of VU students based on their ENTER scores, but rather language proficiency testing to allow them to start at the right level of their chosen language (UoM is about to introduce a five-level language education model, rather than a three year level mode offered by VU). The Head of the School of Communication and the Arts, and Executive Dean, are currently in negotiation with the UoM Faculty of Arts and Language Heads about the administrative and enrolment arrangements to enable any interested VU student to undertake the LOTE of their choice.
As part of VU’s continuing commitment to LOTEs we would ensure the new arrangements would include regular information sessions for our students on LOTE options, and guidance for students at our own enrolment sessions on how to undertake the relevant UoM LOTE programs.
Queensland precedent for collaborative arrangements with the teaching of LOTEs
A similar collaborative arrangement funded by the Rudd Government has recently been instituted in Queensland between the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University, under which students undertaking Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish will be able to study languages at any of the universities and be credited as if they were studying at their home university. One of the main advantages driving the initiative is that students will have a much wider choice of LOTE that any individual university can offer by itself. VU and UoM will be able to learn from the Queensland experience how best to make such collaborative arrangements work effectively, particularly in terms of the administrative, time-tabling, promotional and enrolment aspects (for instance, the use of web portals to advise students of the inter-university LOTE study opportunities). VU has already written to all current LOTE students advising them of the teaching arrangements outlined in this letter.
VU’S ongoing commitment to educational collaboration in China
VU’s commitment to China and Chinese communities remains strong as evidenced by our ongoing commitment to the provision of education programs in China, where VU is a leading provider of English, TAFE and higher education courses - accounting for 5,000 out of 30,000 students undertaking Australian higher education programs in China. Our largest program with Liaoning University in Shenyang will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year. VU will hold its fourth Offshore Teaching and Learning Conference in July at Sichuan University. This conference will involve some 200 teaching staff at VU and its international partner campuses in China. We will also hold our second graduation ceremony in Beijing on 5 July this year.
Chinese students account for 30% of the 4,000 international students enrolled at VU campuses in Melbourne. They contribute to the inter-cultural learning experience in our classrooms and in education assignments taken with other students in the Australian workplace - through industry placements and community projects. This large group of students will benefit from VU’s strong commitment to the provision of excellent English language support outlined above.
New partnership funding to boost Asian languages in schools
In Dr Pun’s media release he refers to VU accepting part of the Rudd Government’s allocation of $62.4 million for the study of Asian languages. I wish to point out that VU is not an applicant for such funds around the direct teaching of languages. Vietnamese, the only LOTE that we will continue to teach directly on our campus, was not listed as a priority language for this funding. VU has expressed an interest in funding to support an education research project on "developing an understanding and knowledge of Asian languages and cultures in Australian schools", in partnership with the Hong Kong Institute of Education and Busan National University of Education. This again highlights VU's commitment to its strong relationships in China focusing on its expertise in the teaching of LOTEs at a school level rather than tertiary level.
Victoria University also supports the Rudd government’s initiatives that will see Universities increase access to a greater number of students. Government initiatives also encourage universities to specialise in certain course and discipline areas and collaborate with other Universities to ensure students continue to have broad choice. The decisions we have made are solutions that reflect the best outcomes for our students and the communities we serve. They are also solutions which are consistent with a number of Rudd government initiatives.
Elizabeth Harman Vice Chancellor and President