By Neeraj Nanda
La Trobe University is one of the two Universities, the other being the ANU which offers Hindi in its curriculum. A post-COVID financial crunch with collapsing revenues and funding cuts by the Federal Government, most universities are planning to cut many Humanities subjects. And, Hindi along with Greek and Indonesian are the ones likely to be scrapped by the La Trobe University. The planned axing of Hindi has created an uproar with a signature campaign against the move by supporters of the Hindi program, Hindi speakers in the Indian community, and academics gaining pace.
Renowned India expert Robin Jeffery (retired La Trobe Professor) has in a letter to the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Education, and Penny Wong says is it not possible from the large sums committed to Australian overseas diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific to create a fund to support institutions to maintain strategic languages of the Indo-Pacific, particularly Hindi and Indonesian? (Chinese and Japanese are more widely taught and supported). The cost of a talented senior lecturer is about $160,000 a year, including on costs.
As news of La Trobe’s intention spreads in educational circles in India it will confirm the too-common attitude that ‘Australia doesn’t want our students; it wants their money.
I urge you in the national interest to make provision to support strategic languages of the Indo-Pacific, he says.
In his overview, Ian Woolford, who teaches Hindi at the La Trobe University says,” If Hindi is eliminated at the university. it will be very difficult to reinstate once the financial situation has improved. It is crucial that we maintain a Hindi presence in the curriculum.”
To overcome the situation, he says, “We propose to eliminate the Hindi major, but retain Hindi instruction in a slimmed-down form that is better situated within the university.” And,
- While it is sad to see the major go, there is also an exciting opportunity for Hindi here. Most students who want to study Hindi do not do so as Hindi majors. Rather, they want to add on some Hindi to their main degrees.
- A slimmed-down Hindi program better meets this need of students.
- By reducing the number of Hindi subjects, and rebranding Latrobe Hindi as a series of electives targeted at students in other disciplines (such as International Relations, Archaeology, and Health fields), we are in a position to grow Hindi enrolment numbers and create better synergy with other courses of study at the university.
- It will not cost the university money to pursue this plan. This is a very important point! The Hindi lecturer also teaches heavily in the Asian Studies program. Those Asian Studies subjects need to be covered. As we are proposing to reduce Hindi subject offerings, the Hindi lecturer can cover both the Asian Studies subjects and the Asian Studies subjects.
“Yes this is a difficult time, but this challenge presents a good opportunity to reshape the Hindi curriculum, reduce cost, and set Latrobe Hindi up in a much stronger position as a service area for multiple disciplines within the university. This proposal has little or no cost attached, given the realities of staffing needs within Asian Studies, Ian says.
Melbourne each year celebrates ‘Hindi Diwas’ with speeches, poetry recital, and a pledge to enhance Hindi. Is that all rhetoric? There are only three Hindi students in La Trobe this year but the urge to retain Hindi at the University is strong.
Last year Bollywood mega-star Shah Rukh Khan was honored with an honorary doctorate last year, and the La Trobe chancellor gave a speech during the ceremony highlighting our commitment to Hindi. What kind of message does this send to cancel Hindi a year later?