By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 17 February 2021: The decision of La Trobe University to retain Hindi teaching has been welcomed by the community. The decision to stop Hindi teaching at the university because of revenue shortfalls and low enrolments is now reversed for good. But with few student numbers, the challenge remains. In a letter to the Indian Consul General, Mr. Raj Kumar, La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor and President Prof John Dewar, while informing the decision, talks about the challenges ahead.
” While we have made the decision to continue teaching Hindi, this does not in itself resolve the challenges that led us to consider closing the program. We must still address the low enrolments in Hindi language subjects in order for the program to become sustainable and thrive in the future. We do hope that the considerable passion and enthusiasm for Hindi language teaching that was evident in the feedback we received will help to generate an immediate increase in enrolments in these programs.
La Trobe University looks forward to working together with you and other stakeholders to increase enrolments in our Hindi language program and generate the community support that is needed for us to provide Hindi language teaching at La Trobe in a sustainable way in the years ahead, the La Trobe VC says.
In his letter to the community, Mr. Raj Kumar says, ” As you may notice in the attached letter, and as mentioned by Vice-Chancellor that continuation of this program itself does not resolve the main challenge which is the low number of enrolments. I am also of the belief, that in spite of this program continuing, this reduced number of enrolments will always be a threat, and if not addressed timely, it won’t be a surprise that we might be in the same situation of this course getting canceled.
Therefore, I would like to request all of you to find a permanent solution to this problem and find ways to build up enrolments, to avoid this situation in the future.”
Talking to South Asia Times (SAT), Dr.Vikrant Kishore, Academic & Filmmaker from the Hindi Action Group says, ” We must make sure that the target for these Hindi programs/courses is not just Indians/South Asians, but Australians at large. Also, a greater connection with the schools must be charted to create an understanding and importance of Hindi as a language, and as an option that students can elect at the university level.
In addition, internship opportunities, study tours/field trips to India might help to engage more students (these might already be there in the University). This approach can certainly help in increasing the visibility of the course and thereby creating demand. The Hindi Action Group will certainly do its best to continue its effort to promote, popularise, and discuss Hindi and other Indian languages in Australia.”
Renowned Hindi scholar Ian Woolford has been teaching Hindi at La Trobe University for some years. He is passionate about continuing Hindi at the La Trobe University and understands the importance of the enrolment challenge.
He says, “As is the case with many lesser-taught languages in Australia, the urgent matter of enrolment still remains. During the consultation process, the Department of Languages and Linguistics worked with and sought input from many other La Trobe departments and programs—including Public Health, Speech Pathology, Sociology, International Relations, and Law.
Our goal was to better understand how we can tailor the Hindi subjects to better meet the needs of students in those programs. During these discussions, faculty from across La Trobe agreed that Hindi can be of value to students across the university. Consequently, we are working to develop new Hindi materials for students studying in various fields, and we are preparing a marketing campaign that highlights the benefits of Hindi language study.”
After a three-month consultation process, during which the University administration considered internal input from staff and students, and also external input from academics, diplomats, MPs, and community members, the decision was been made to retain La Trobe’s Hindi program. The issue of having a sizable number of students to consolidate the Hindi program, no doubt, remains a challenge.
In the mid-1990s, six Australian universities taught Hindi. With the La Trobe university deciding to retain Hindi, it will be the second one along with the ANU, Canberra to teach Hindi.
Meanwhile, at the school level, there are about 500 plus students in 14 VSL (Victorian School of Languages) locations where Hindi is taught. Last year (2020) 40 students passed Hindi ‘Foundation – Year 12 (VCE) from these centers. One who passes this can take admission in 3rd year La Trobe Hindi course for one year and obtain a degree. Unfortunately, none of the 40 students took admission in La Trobe. So, much needs to be done in this direction.