It is a well-established fact that the College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP) has one of the largest uptakes of double degrees among its students (roughly half of all enrolled).
It is great to see people with exotic combination of degrees, such as Paddy Mayoh (a celebrity amongst younger Mandarin students at CAP), who did a Law/Asia-Pacific degree. However, it does not impress me that some students, who are genuinely interested in the field, decide to take up another degree such as Arts, Law or Science simply because they believe having only an Asian Studies degree will not get them over the line in the national and international job market.
Asian Studies has a special place in the Australian education system and especially so at the ANU. Apart from the impact of the Asian continent’s spectacular economic growth, Australian students should place Asian studies as a key priority simply because we are geographically located in the Eastern Hemisphere. Anything that happens in our neighbourhood clearly influences our national interest. Also, our large mining and education industries rely heavily on our relationships with Asian countries.
This special place of Asian Studies in Australia led to the ANU becoming a pioneer in establishing a stand-alone faculty of Asian Studies some years back. On top of that, the university has recently invested millions of dollars in a public policy precinct around the Crawford School of Public Policy (including Kevin Rudd’s pet project of a China in the World Centre). This investment indicates the desire of government and businesses for graduates with skills in the area.
Public servants like Ross Garnaut and Hugh White are examples of how strategically important the study of the economic, political and strategic developments in Asia is for Australia. In short, I feel that the fears of double degree students are unfounded, simply because any Asia-related capabilities are in great demand in Australia.
On a more general point, in the current global economic climate, a person’s job prospects are unlikely to be determined by their undergraduate degree. In a talk earlier this semester, a senior academic at CAP explained how the job market has become so competitive over the last twenty years that a Masters degree has become all but essential in order to gain a competitive position. I believe it is more important to get good marks in any field of study to gain access to a high-quality postgraduate institution. This is where undertaking one single degree that you genuinely are passionate about plays an important role in your professional career.
My argument is not intended to disparage students undertaking double degrees. If you genuinely love law, and want to become a lawyer then by all means take up a double degree in Law and Asian Studies. But those who are first and foremost interested in undertaking the study of Asia should not be burdened by any sort of guilt or fear if they choose a single degree – their place in the sun is as good as anyone’s.
Its time that Asia-Pacific students became genuinely confident about their degree, and that they feel it is as good as a Law, Arts or Science degree – that’s the smart move in the Asian Century.