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Launch of the Trinity Centre for Asian Studies

Minister Charles Flanagan, Speech, Asia and Oceania, Ireland, 2015

Launch of the Trinity Centre for Asian Studies

Keynote address by Minister Charles Flanagan

7 October 2015

Provost, Ambassadors, Distinguished guests,

I am truly delighted to be here this evening to launch the Trinity Centre for Asian Studies. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Provost for his warm words of welcome, and to the Centre Director Lorna Carson and her team here at the Centre for Asian Studies, for their efforts in not only organising this evening’s launch, but also for their committed work in establishing the Centre.

Our Government is committed to positioning Ireland as a global leader in the provision of high quality education; a tangible demonstration of our commitment to strengthening people-to-people links with Asia.

This Centre will act as a focal point for Asian Studies in Trinity College and will aim to promote Asian Studies nationally and internationally, to become a leading knowledge Centre in Ireland for policy-makers, business leaders and scholars in the field.

Its activities will focus on contemporary history, society and culture, language, diaspora and comparative studies. At postgraduate level, it provides opportunities for doctoral research in Asian Studies, and offers a two-year M.Phil. in Chinese Studies. It also offers undergraduate modules on contemporary Asia which will hopefully give many students a chance to increase their familiarity with the region, and has language programmes which provide Trinity students and the general public opportunities to learn Korean, Mandarin and Japanese.

Their programmes have received support from the Japan Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the Academy of Korean Studies as well as philanthropic donations in Chinese Studies. This strong support from a range of sources clearly demonstrates the high regard in which this Centre is held, and the importance of the work that will be done here.

From my experience to date as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I know that the work of this Centre will complement the work that our Government is doing to strengthen Ireland’s relationship with Asia. Ireland’s international education strategy has a strong focus on internationalisation of our education system on a long term basis. This should include greater outward mobility and international experience of staff and students, widening and deepening collaborations, and internationalising our curricula. The Trinity Centre for Asian Studies is active on all of these fronts, and I am excited about the work that will be done here in the years ahead.

I’m also pleased to say that I am familiar the quality of the programmes which will be delivered here, as a small number of graduates from Trinity’s existing Asia programmes work with me in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Our ties with the Asian Region have been growing steadily stronger and closer in recent years. Total merchandise trade with Asia in 2014 stood at €14 billion, with over €6 billion in exports and almost €8billion in imports. The equivalent figure in 2013 was €13.2 billion – and when added to the services figures of €11.7 billion in exports to Asia and imports of €2.5 billion – the total trade figure of over €27 billion for 2013 is truly impressive.

As a region, Asia is experiencing faster economic growth than anywhere else in the world. Three of the top four most populous countries are in Asia: China, India and Indonesia. According to the UN these countries also have the world’s largest youth populations (aged 10-24). These strengths combined clearly show just why Asia is considered by many to be the continent of the future.

While economic ties are important, there are many other aspects to our relationships with countries in Asia, and it is vitally important that we build close ties to nurture and enrich these relationships.

As part of this, last year we expanded our Embassy Network in Asia, with the opening of Embassies in Thailand and Indonesia, and a Consulate in Hong Kong to take account of the growing links between Ireland and this important region.

One area where we clearly share very strong traditions and values is education.

While Ireland has a very large diaspora worldwide, we do not have the presence in Asia that we would have in some other regions. However, there are many locations across Asia where our strong tradition in education is well known thanks to many years of work by Irish missionaries in education. Even today, 45 schools founded by Irish Missionaries are still in operation in India and they include some of India’s most prestigious schools.

More recently, large numbers of Irish people have spent a considerable amount of time teaching in Asia and having a positive influence in their education systems.

Every year Irish people travel to Japan to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme. They teach in schools all over Japan, from large urban areas to isolated rural communities.

As well as teaching English, they bring awareness of Irish culture and values to the communities in which they live. While they go as teachers, they also learn, they learn about the culture and language and they learn about themselves. They learn to be resilient, to be adaptable and to be curious.

After such experiences, our young people come back to Ireland as well rounded individuals with experience of the world; with open minds and new ideas; making them well placed to contribute positively to Irish Society.

Many develop a deep interest in the language, history and culture of the country they have taught in, and thanks to centres such as this, can turn that interest into specialised skills and experience.

Each year, over 2,000 students from Korea travel to Ireland to learn English, and roughly 600 Irish people are currently living and teaching English in Korea.

The President of the National Institute of International Education visited Ireland in October 2014 to promote English teaching programmes such as the ‘English Programme in Korea’ and ‘Teach and Learn in Korea’, and I hope that increasing numbers of Irish people will participate in programmes such as these in Asia to broaden their horizons and learn about different cultures.

We signed a memorandum of understanding in education with the Republic of Korea during a visit to Ireland by Korea’s Education Minister, Ju-Ho Lee, in 2013. This will allow us to strengthen our education links, and I look forward to this and to exploring new ways in which we can work together.

It is my sincere hope that this Centre will contribute greatly to increasing awareness and understanding about Asia among Irish students, leading to more Irish people with the skills and knowledge to build relations with Asia in their respective fields.

Our Government has been working on building our education links with Asia. Later this month, Minister O’Sullivan will take the baton of ‘country of honour’ at the Chinese Education Expo, which gives us a major platform on which to build in China.

Already, approximately 2,700 Chinese students are studying in Irish higher education institutions with a further 2,400 studying on Irish programmes in partner institutions in China. Chinese researchers are now the second-largest cohort of non-Irish PhD students, and Irish higher education institutions have some 170 partnership programmes in operation with Chinese institutions.

Last May the Chief Secretary of Hong Kong, Mrs. Carrie Lam, addressed an audience here in Trinity College where she spoke about a number of things, including the value placed in Hong Kong on high quality education. It is no wonder that a number of universities in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong University HKU, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, have agreed partnerships Trinity College.

In addition, the new M.Phil. in Chinese Studies has been enabled through a philanthropic donation by Dr Sam Lam, a Trinity alumnus from Hong Kong. Dr Lam kindly presented his donation during the Provost’s visit to Hong Kong in 2013. Trinity has a large alumni network in Hong Kong, and it is clear that there is a close relationship between these members and the College itself.

In south-east Asia, Ireland already has some longstanding educational partnerships in Malaysia in the area of medical education, but links are growing in other areas of education including biotechnology, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, food technology, nutrition and agriculture.

In Vietnam our Embassy has run a number of initiatives including TV programmes to promote Ireland as an education destination, and we offer scholarships for 40 Vietnamese students each year to study in Ireland. Many of these are very talented young people who I have no doubt will go on to become future leaders in their respective fields, following the example of Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, who was educated both in UCD and here in Trinity College, who has continued to be a great friend of Ireland.

There is currently a very interesting partnership between Trinity College and Singapore Institute of Technology, which allows degrees which are designed, taught and awarded by Trinity College Dublin to be offered in Singapore. Degrees in Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Radiation Therapy and Diagnostic Radiography are available to students, who are taught by staff of Trinity College in Singapore. This is a really exciting collaboration, and points towards a new way in which educational institutes can have a presence in Asia.

The number of Indian students here has increased over the last number of years, and when Prime Minister Modi visited Ireland recently, an Taoiseach Enda Kenny emphasised to him how much we welcome these students. Our Government recently approved the signing of an Agreement for an Educational Exchange Programme between our Ireland and India which will provide an excellent basis to enhance co-operation, and we look forward to this Agreement being signed at an early opportunity.

More generally, the overall relationship between Ireland and Asia is in a healthy and growing state. So far this year we have had the privilege to welcome Premier Li of China and Prime Minister Modi of India to our shores, and our members of our cabinet have visited Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and India.

The Trinity Centre for Asian Studies is being launched at a very exciting time in the Ireland – Asia relationship. I have no doubt that it will be a key resource for many who are interested in learning about and connecting with Asia in the coming years, and I hope that it can play a part in bringing Ireland and Asia closer together.

Thank you