Australia's first truly interdisciplinary Southeast Asia-focused research centre

23 November 2012

University of Sydney students from Southeast Asia attending the launch of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre wearing their national dress. [Image: Jamie Williams]
University of Sydney students from Southeast Asia attending the launch of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre wearing their national dress. [Image: Jamie Williams]

In the same week as the US President's historic visit to Myanmar, and Australia's participation in the East Asia summit, Foreign Minister Bob Carr today launched the nation's first truly interdisciplinary Southeast Asia-focused research centre.

The University of Sydney's new Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) has one of the highest concentrations of Southeast Asian regional expertise in the world, with more than 200 academics and honoraries working on and in the region.

SSEAC brings these scholars together in high-impact interdisciplinary projects on topics like infectious diseases, emergency management, the environment, food security, human mobility and regional economic integration.

Speaking at the launch, Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said that the SSEAC was a boon for the federal government's aspirations for Australia to more fully integrate with Asia.

"In its Australia in the Asian Century White Paper the federal government seeks a more Asia-literate population with capabilities needed to build stronger partnerships across the region," Dr Spence said.

"SSEAC will enhance Australia's and the world's understandings of our nearest neighbours as well as connect our populations through in-country research and humanitarian projects that will bind us to common goals and outcomes and enhance our shared future."

SSEAC draws upon the University of Sydney's expertise in disciplines as diverse as medicine, public health, archaeology, environmental management, public sector management and human rights, among many others. It connects these disciplinary specialists with area studies experts, who have the in-depth cultural and political knowledge necessary for sustained regional engagement.

Through its flagship graduate program SSEAC provides specialist support for research students working on Southeast Asia projects across the University. It also facilitates in-country study and students' acquisition of Southeast Asian languages.

SSEAC director Associate Professor Michele Ford said it was the diverse range of academic disciplines incorporated into the centre, as well as its focus on multidisciplinary projects, that distinguishes it from other area studies centres.

"SSEAC's focus on real-world issues, practical solutions and regional engagement will make it an obvious partner for government and other organisations with an interest in Southeast Asia," Associate Professor Ford said.

Associate Professor Ford said SSEAC's dedicated focus on Southeast Asia was also surprisingly rare.

"Many universities have a China studies centre. Southeast Asia tends to take a back seat and when Southeast Asia does get a look in, the focus has generally been on the humanities and social sciences," Associate Professor Ford said.

"It's time to give this important region the attention it deserves."

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