In 2020, the ANU announced major funding reallocations in response to budgetary pressures and changing student interests. Major cuts were made to College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) faculties – in particular to the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS). The reduced funding and staff shortages have impacted the CAIS’s ability to conduct high-quality teaching and research. This has had negative implications for ANU students and threatens the valuable work done by CAIS.

Founded in 1994, the CAIS is Australia’s leading Middle East and Central Asia research institution. It offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses and majors, as well as a PhD program. Its work focuses on the politics, economics, and culture of the Middle East, and also the North Africa region. Language courses such as Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi are among the Centre’s most highly regarded offerings. No other university in Australia offers programs on Central Asia. 

Its expertise on such matters has made it a valuable component of ANU’s pipeline into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the intelligence community, where knowledge of the Middle East’s languages and strategic environment are in demand. 

It should be noted that while many CAIS courses do not match the large enrolments of mainstream humanities fields such as philosophy or politics, its strength lies in niche areas. Courses such as ‘Iran in World Politics’ are designed to cater to a small group of students with a keen interest in that topic, allowing them to specialise rather than simply attain a base-level understanding of the Middle East.

Since 2020, these offerings have been under threat. The ANU Recovery Plan, published in 2020, found it necessary to reduce the CAIS’s funding due to a “steady decline” in students enrolling in CAIS courses. Despite the educational and research value of CAIS programs, the ANU demanded a more “cost-effective” curriculum. 

This resulted in a smaller faculty and course cuts. In some cases, lecturers have been obligated to also act as tutors. Despite the cuts, CAIS staff have emphasised that they have managed to recover from these changes. Importantly, the Centre’s prized Arabic program still attracts considerable student interest. 

Students currently taking CAIS courses usually hold the Centre in high esteem. 

Ruby Crandell, an ANU student majoring in Middle Eastern Studies, describes the Centre as having an “amazing team”. Despite the budget constraints the CAIS has faced, she notes that “the quality of teaching [hasn’t] changed.”

Crandell sees the CAIS as a valuable institution trying to create a generation of “scholars who represent [the Middle East] accurately” – a much-needed skill at a time when research on the region and Islam are “underrepresented” in Australia.

Having recently taken a Middle East-focused class on an overseas exchange, Crandell did note that the “pedagogy is not as high a standard as CAIS’s” in Europe. 

A current Arabic student described the CAIS as having “the best teachers [they had] ever had”. 

The same student told Woroni that the Centre’s work promotes an “increased cultural understanding…of an often misunderstood region.”

The Centre is also currently running a Public Lecture series titled, “Reimagining Palestine.” The series features experts and speakers on the topic of Palestine and has received engagement from the student body, particularly the lecture hosted on International Women’s Day earlier this year.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.