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Australia: study abroad enhances “Asia literacy”

Study and work abroad opportunities are contributing to Australia’s “Asia literacy” but more needs to be done to understand how much demand there is for these skills, according to researchers. 

Opportunities to study and work abroad are enhancing Australian students’ understanding of Asia. Photo: Unsplash

The number of Australian undergraduates studying in the Indo-Pacific increased by 83% between 2014 to 2019

A joint report from Asia Society Australia and the International Education Association of Australia, published on August 30, looked at young Australians’ Asia-related skills and knowledge, also called Asia literacy. 

Asia Literacy and Employability found that opportunities to study and work abroad are enhancing students’ understanding of the region, with the number of Australian undergraduates studying in the Indo-Pacific increasing by 83% between 2014 to 2019. 

Learning abroad opportunities have diversified “well-beyond” traditional one-semester exchange programs, the authors note, pointing to the range of global study tours, health placements, research experiences and other work placements available to students.  

This mobility has been driven by the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan, established in 2014, which aims to increase knowledge of the Indo-Pacific region among young people and support future career opportunities. 

A survey cited in the report found that learning abroad made students more confident about engaging with the region, including increasing their interest in pursuing employment there. 

But less than half of participating students believed that their study abroad experience was valued by their current employer, leading the authors to call for more research into workplace demand for Asia literacy. 

“Currently, it is difficult to identify Australian employers who specifically seek knowledge of Asia or proficiency in specific Asian languages through their graduate recruitment programs,” the report reads. 

“Improving Australia’s Asia literacy is a key reason many of us work in international education”

Researchers also discussed the employability of international students from the Indo-Pacific region in Australia, noting that temporary graduate visa holders, who are “overwhelmingly” from Asia Pacific countries, “are not able to secure work that is meaningfully connected to their long-term aspirations”.

Instead, post-study work visas tend to be used for unskilled jobs. 

The Australian government today announced the extension of work rights for international graduates with in-demand skills. 

“Improving Australia’s Asia literacy is a key reason many of us work in international education,” said Kirrilee Hughes, IEAA research manager. “Asia literacy is about efforts to develop skills and knowledge relevant to Australia’s place in the world. It’s at the heart of the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan and it’s essential for Australia’s TNE footprint across Asia.”

This is the second report in a series of three focusing on Australia’s engagement with Asia.

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