Raghbendra Jha is Emeritus Professor of Economics in the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics at the Crawford School of Public Policy. He is Fellow of the World Innovation Foundation and specialises in development economics, macroeconomics, and public economics.
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As The Australian National University (ANU) celebrates its 75th anniversary, Raghbendra Jha reflects on how the Australia South Asia Research Centre (ASARC) came to be the most significant research institute on South Asian economics in the country.
The Australia South Asia Research Centre was formed at ANU in April 1994. In the early 1990s, India went through a period of comprehensive economic reforms. As part of these reforms, the Prime Minister of India at the time, Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao, adopted the ‘Look East’ policy. The purpose of this policy was for India to develop closer economic and diplomatic relations with countries to its East. Australia is one of the countries with which India decided to substantially improve ties.
In 1994, the Vice President of India at the time, Dr Kocheril Raman Narayanan, visited Australia. During his visit, Dr Narayanan, Professor Deane Terrell AO (then Vice-Chancellor of ANU) and Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, AC, QC (then Foreign Minister of Australia and later Chancellor of the ANU) founded ASARC. Dr Richard Shand was the first Executive Director of the Centre.
Initial financial support for ASARC came from the Commonwealth Government. The Centre became a research unit within the Division of Economics in the ANU Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS). When the University restructured in 2009, RSPAS became the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, and the Division of Economics was renamed the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics (ACDE). A few years later, ACDE was absorbed within Crawford School of Public Policy.
In 2000, the Rajiv Gandhi Professorial Chair of South Asian Economics was formed and I was appointed Chair, as well as Executive Director of ASARC in 2001. I remained in these two positions until my retirement in June 2021. I was then appointed Emeritus Professor.
United by a shared vision and purpose
The primary goal of ASARC is to conduct research into the economics of the countries of South Asia, particularly of India, as well as Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Researchers at the Centre teach courses and supervise PhD students studying economics of the South Asian region, as well as other topics in development economics. ASARC publishes a working paper series and compiles comprehensive databases about economic activity in South Asian countries.
Collectively, the Centre works to establish links between key policymakers in Australia and India, and improve awareness of South Asian economic issues at ANU and among the wider Australian academic community.
Driven by a strong research focus
ASARC has contributed extensively to the study of economics in the South Asian region including macroeconomic and monetary policy, fiscal policy and tax reforms, international trade and investment, poverty, economic vulnerability, food security and the attainment of food security.
ASARC has been at the forefront of research into the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Program – the world’s largest workfare program – being carried out in India. Research at ASARC has also concentrated on the behaviour of the banking sector during structural reforms, environmental pollution and economic growth, examining links between corruption and economic growth in India, decentralisation and the provision of local public goods, and the impact of consumption and employment subsidies on nutritional outcomes.
A commitment to outreach and engagement
Researchers at ASARC have engaged in several outreach activities. This includes hosting the Narayanan lectures in honour of ASARC’s founder. This oration has been delivered by some of the most significant intellectuals and policymakers in India. The first ten orations were published as a book, The First Ten K R Narayanan Orations: Essays by Eminent Persons on the Rapidly Transforming Indian Economy, in 2006. All twenty orations were published in 2021.
ASARC has organised several seminars, and Indian Economy and Business Updates, where policymakers have spoken about Australia-India economic linkages.
Supported through research funding
ASARC has obtained competitive grants for its research from several sources. Among several others, ARC-AusAID, through a linkage grant, supported ASARC’s work on India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee program. The Department for International Development (UK) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (Rome) supported ASARC’s work on nutritional issues in India, and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (India) funded ASARC’s work on decentralisation and the provision of local public goods in rural India. ASARC’s work on the impact of globalisation on the environment was supported by the Macarthur Foundation.
Funding for the Narayanan orations was obtained primarily from the Australia-India Council, as well as the Reserve Bank of Australia, NECG, Australian Bureau of Statistics and ANU School of Physics.
Sharing expertise through consultancy activities
ASARC has also carried out several consultancies for the World Institute of Development Economics Research, Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and UNRISD among others.
A final word
As ANU celebrates its 75 anniversary, ASARC celebrates 27 years of cutting-edge research on the economics and politics of development in the South Asia region.
In the years since it was founded, ASARC has attained its primary goal of becoming the most significant research institute on South Asian economics in Australia.