A few weeks ago, Mr. Michael Daley (the current New South Wales Opposition Leader) claimed that (1) “Our young children will flee and who are they being replaced with? They are being replaced by young people from typically Asia with PhDs.” His remark has sparked a controversy in the popular media, and Asian Australians have once again become a political object in the election campaign. Mr. Daley later apologized for the controversial remark (2). In this note, I would like to examine the representation of Asians in the Australian academic community.
I have come across a very interesting report titled “The experiences of Asian academics in Australian universities” (University of Melbourne 2017). The author of the report is Associate Professor Nana Oishi of the University of Melbourne. The report contains many statistical data showing that the presence of Asians in Australian universities is fairly modest, particularly at the upper echelons of academia.
Overall, according to the 2016 census statistics, approximately 14% of Australian population are of Asian background. However, among those with a university degree, Asian Australians have a slightly higher representation. For instance, among all Australians with a bachelor’s degree, 18.2% were of Asian-born Australians; for master’s degree, this proportion was 32.4%; and for doctoral’s degree, the proportion of Asian-born was 16.8% (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The representation (%) of Asian-born residents in each of the 3 university degrees: bachelor, master, and doctoral degree.
The proportion of Asian-born Australians with a university degree was roughly 35%, 3-fold higher than that in the general Australian population (11%). Approximately 24% of Asian-born Australians had a bachelor’s degree (compared with 9.2% in the general population). The proportion of Asian Australians with a master’s degree is also higher than the general Australian population (9% vs 1.4%). Approximately 1% of Asian Australians are holders of doctoral degree, and this proportion is 2.7-fold higher than that in the general population (0.4%) (Figure 2). These statistics show that on average Asian Australians have higher level of university education than the general population.
Figure 2: Proportion of Asia-born and general Australian population with a university degree.
In academia, Asian academics have a population-expected proportion. Among all academics of Go8 universities (“Group of Eight”), 16% were of Asian background. However, at the professorial levels (associate professor and full professor), Asian-born academics accounted for only 12% all Go8 professors. Asian-born academics have a over-representation in fields such as IT (34.4%), engineering (33%), and management & commerce (~27%), but under-represented in education and arts (5.3%). At the more senior management levels, Asian academics were underrepresented, with only 3.4% of deputy vice chancellors being Asian-born Australians. There were no vice chancellors of Asian background.
The Oishi’s report also includes a number of qualitative research to explore views of Asian-born academics in Australian universities. More than half (54%) of Asian Australian academics thought that their ethnic or immigrant background was a disadvantage in workplace. Among those who felt disadvantage, 42% reported to have experienced some forms of racism, ethnic stereotyping and/or marginalisation, and another 35% felt a disadvantage in getting promotion or leadership position. Asian women in academia felt more disadvantaged than Asian men.
That was the situation in academia, what about in research institutions? I have gathered some data from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) website concerning grant outcomes between 2013 and 2018. Based on these data, I could work out the proportion of Asian-born scientists in each grant type. The results are:
· For postgraduate scholarships, Asian-born scientists accounted for approximately 20% of all awardees.
· For early career fellowships, the share of Asian-born scientists reduced to 12%.
· For the prestigious research fellowship category, only 3.6% of awardees were of Asian background.
· Even for project grant (standard grant for medical research), only 6% of all grants were awarded to Asian-born chief investigators (CIAs), and the research budget for them was significantly lower than that for Caucasian CIAs.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that there is any unconscious bias against Asian-born scientists in the prestigious research fellowship and project grant funding. All of us, Asian-born or Australia-born academics, suffer from the limited science budget of successive governments. All of those data strongly falsify Mr. Michael Daley’s remark.
Anyway, I wish him luck in the election!