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Reflections on 10 years of the New Colombo Plan

As the 10 year anniversary of Australia’s outbound student mobility New Colombo Plan approaches next year, stakeholders shared how the program has catapulted Australia ahead of other countries engaging with the world.

Photo: The PIE News

Williams noted that the NCP "has been a fantastic step in the right direction in the last 10 years"

Acknowledging that Australia has “long been seen as a one-way destination for international students”, Griffith University vice president (Global) Sarah Todd noted at AIEC 2023 that the sector has been working really hard to get Australian student to travel overseas.

“Colleagues around the world are often stunned when I talk about pre-pandemic when over 20% of Australian undergraduate students were having in an outbound mobility experience,” she told attendees.

“Actually, that is way ahead of the US which has been investing in study abroad programs for years and that story is not well told beyond all of us.”

However, while Australia previously had a target of sending 10,000 UG students abroad through the program before the pandemic, the goal disappeared in government documents during Covid-19.

What we’re looking at here is rebuilding and revitalising the program,” Michael Bergmann, acting assistant secretary for Global Programs and Partnerships Branch at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said.

However, Australia’s aims and interest in bilateral relationships and business links with Indo-Pacific region has barely changed in the last decade.

Trust me, that is remarkable. Having a program with a strategic objective remain unchanged for around 10 years is quite a thing,” he said.

Giving insight into her research into the NCP, professor in the School of Education and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Deakin University, Ly Tran, noted that an area where he program could be improved is recognition among employers.

The research from 2021 had shown that while 89% of students agreed that the experience was useful for their resumé, only 44% believed that it was valued by employers.

The Indo-Pacific learning abroad opportunity really gives them a marker of distinction at the entry point in the labour market, but it’s not fully recognised by the employers once they enter the workplace,” Tran said. “So that’s something that we need to think about and work more on.”

Higher Education Consultant and PhD candidate at College of Asia and The Pacific, Australian National University, Elena Williams, emphasised the impact the program has had on building personal relationships and internationalisation at home.

“Having a program with a strategic objective remain unchanged for around 10 years is quite a thing”

“The NCP is not an employability guarantee. Many students said to me, ‘I got home and there were no jobs’,” she said, detailing the findings of her research which focuses on the relationship with Indonesia.

“We need to be working with industry, including our NCP business champions, to create graduate employment tracks.”

Williams noted that the NCP “has been a fantastic step in the right direction in the last 10 years”, but called on federal and state governments to do more to maintain interest and relationships in the region after students return from mobility.

“Without substantial investment into Indonesian language or Indonesian studies programs moving forward, at all levels, [the job] is only half done,” she said.

“When I hear stories about students who have picked up the language and love it and they come back, they can no longer keep going with it. We’ve lost them. What a waste.”

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