The Australian National University is one of the world’s leading academic institutions for the study of Malaysia.
The Malaysia Institute was established in 2016, but builds on a long history of Malaysian scholarship at ANU.
Among the scholars who have provided international leadership in the field of Malaysian history and Islamic studies are Professors A.H. Johns, Anthony Milner, Virginia Matheson Hooker, Anthony Reid, M.B. Hooker and Associate Professor Ian Proudfoot; in the field of Politics, Professors Jamie Mackie, and Harold Crouch; and for Economics – Professors T H Silcock, E K Fisk, Hal Hill, Premchandra Athukorala, and Dr Colin Barlow.
A large number of Malaysians and others have studied at ANU, many of whom have gone on to illustrious careers in academia, the public service, and some to influential positions in Malaysian society and politics. The previous Pakatan Harapan government (May 2018–February 2020) included three influential deputy ministers, Dr. Mohd Radzi Md Jidin, Liew Chin Tong and Chong Chieng Jen. Dr Radzi is in the current government as Education Minister, and one of four Senior Ministers. An earlier student (1968–71) was the literary laureate Shahnon Ahmad.
Malaysians are still an important component of ANU students. In late 2019, 73 postgraduates and 172 undergraduates were from Malaysia, making it the third largest national group.
Several international and Malaysian academics have had visiting fellowships at ANU, including noted political scientist Professor K J Ratnam (1983), and in recent times, Professors Bridget Welsh and Meredith Weiss. Other Malaysians have been regular visitors to ANU, including Professors Shamsul Amri Baharuddin and Norani Othman. Australians closely associated with the Institute include Professors Clive Kessler and James Chin, and Associate Professor Amanda Whiting and Kean Wong.
ANU has provided a venue for public lectures by many distinguished Malaysian political leaders, including Anwar Ibrahim (2010), Muhyiddin Yassin (2014), and Saifuddin Abdullah (2015 and 2018). After the change of government in 2018, visitors included Lim Kit Siang from DAP, Shamsul Iskandar, Wong Cheng and Chua Tian Chang from PKR, and two delegations of federal and state-elected representatives from across the political spectrum.
The Institute has cooperated closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, hosting DFAT-sponsored Malaysian visitors, and organising reporting on the 2018 elections and aftermath with the assistance of a DFAT grant. That has enabled extensive reporting in New Mandala.
The Malaysia Institute is one of several Asia Pacific institutes at ANU. All are focused on bringing together ANU expertise in their particular field, holding regular seminars (normally once a month), and an Update conference every one or two years, and facilitating communications with other relevant experts in Australia and internationally.
Since it was established the Institute has held seminars every 4–6 weeks. These have mainly been on political matters, but have included other issues such as history, aspects of Malaysia’s unique plural society, social media, and even food. In 2018, the general election on 9 May dominated the focus, with two seminars before the election and several after. The Institute together with ANU’s online publication New Mandala organised live reporting on election night, attracting a large international audience of Malaysianists and the interested public.
In October 2018, the Institute organised a Malaysian Update, a two-day event featuring 15 Malaysian and international experts with a specialisation on Malaysia. Details are available on the Institute website via a podcast, and some presentations have been published in New Mandala.
Post 2018 election developments have continued to be a focus, with events that have included a one-year update on 9 May 2019, the launch of a 2019 publication by the Crawford School providing a comprehensive ‘state of the nation’ report, and a seminar in March 2020 on the change of government in February. Malaysian studies were also strengthened by the appointment of an Institute Post Doctoral Fellow, Dr Show Ying Xing, who commenced a two-year appointment in September, and has interests in Malaysian literature, contemporary politics and society.
The 2018 election, the regime change that followed, and the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government, have stimulated renewed interest in Malaysian affairs that is reflected in attendance at Institute events. The Institute’s profile is now well established and provides a strong platform for continued growth in 2020 and beyond.