Steve Georganas, Federal Member for the SA seat of Adelaide, went into battle to save Italian at Flinders University.
“Students of the Italian programme at Flinders University alerted me of the university’s intention to cut the program,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“Community groups and many people were expressing concern via email and calling my office.
“We had the same experience with Hellenic Studies at Flinders University a few years ago, we went through exactly the same thing, so I jumped on board and basically got the petition going.”
Mr Georganas recirculated the petition and activated his social media, he wrote letters to the Prime Minister, to the state South Australian Minister of Education, and to Flinders University telling them that this is important for the community.
He put forth a question in parliament which influenced the university.
“I raised the issue in federal parliament and that, along with the ongoing petition, saw Flinders University issue a statement saying they were going to keep Italian, it’s exactly the same way as we stopped Hellenic Studies from being cut at Flinders University,” Mr Georganas said.
Mr Georganas is concerned that many universities, not unlike La Trobe University in Melbourne, with Greek Studies are trying to “cut these languages”.
“I don’t think they get it,” Mr Georganas said.
“They don’t understand the connection these languages have with our communities, and in maintaining connection to these European nations.
“They have not understood that Italian and Greek are as important as Indonesian, Mandarin and Japanese to our economy.”
Mr Georganas insists that Greek and Italian are “beneficial to the Australian economy.”
“The people-to-people contacts that we have with Italy and with Greece are enormous, the amount of exchange in terms of personal money back and forth is huge, as well as the opportunity to build economic and cultural links, and a range of other things that we now underutilised.”
Mr Georganas does not pull his punches and says that the decision to cut Italian and Greek are made by university “bean counters saying that it’s not viable.”
The Member for Hindmarsh is also deeply concerned about the cutting of “humanities federally”.
“A year or so ago, the Classics at Adelaide University were cut, and that was one of the best classics schools in Australia and there were partnerships with the University of Athens, these are the areas that are going to get cut at the expense of education of our people,” he said.
Mr Georganas says it is important to maintain “community languages” as a response to the desire of communities and as bridges to international trade. He adds that these laguages are core building blocks across all subject areas.
“Italian, Latin, and Greek are foundational languages in academia; it’s not for the community only, thy are foundational languages,” Mr Georganas said.
“Latin and Greek, are foundational to law, medicine, pharmacy, economics, history and much more.”
Mr Georganas wants Greek and Italian to be embedded in the twelve second languages in the national curriculum. And he will be advocating that position to the federal government.
In South Australia discussions have begun between Italian and Hellenic studies “to get together with the view of joining forces and establishing a centre so we don’t go through this every couple of years.”
Mr Georganas is keen to see Vietnamese “representing the third largest community group” in South Australia “in terms of language, to be embedded in universities.”
The attack on Italian, Greek and generally humanities is a “limited view on the bottom-line profits.”
“I am scared that it will happen again over the next few of years when the universities come out and say, ‘we haven’t got the resource’ so we really need to come together so Greek and Italian are secured in a specific languages centre.”
Mr Georganas and a number of those keen to see Greek and Italian secured are lobbying the South Australian and the Federal governments to set up a community languages centre at University of South Australia where students from Flinders University, University of Adelaide, and Uni SA can access.
“A language centre may ensure that students can study their language add it to their course and if they wanted can specialise in one of those languages.”
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He admits that that the idea is in its “embryonic stage at the moment” but that have “put something to the premier” of SA and they are “scheduled to meet the minister education.”
Mr Georganas will continue to advocate for the preservation of community languages at a federal level and will stand as a bulwark against the “bean counters” at tertiary institutions.