Australian overseas mobility programme heads online

New guidelines offer fresh hope for veteran Indonesia studies scheme that was facing closure because of Covid impact on overseas travel

八月 20, 2020
Indonesia Java Yogyakarta Borobodur Temple Buddhist Buddha
Source: iStock

Australia’s landmark funding scheme for overseas study has switched to remote mode, offering a lifeline to a long-standing programme that connects the country’s students with its large northern neighbour, Indonesia.

In a temporary change to the guidelines of the New Colombo Plan (NCP), students will be eligible for financial assistance for online study. The new arrangements – slated to apply for about 18 months or until travel restrictions are lifted – are designed to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, which has all but frozen foreign travel by Australians, ending a recent resurgence in outbound student mobility.

The NCP is credited with fostering an explosion in study abroad, with the numbers of Australians completing parts of their courses overseas more than quadrupling in less than a decade. The scheme helps about 10,000 undergraduates undertake study every year in the Indo-Pacific, with many opting for stints of between a fortnight and a semester under the NCP’s “Mobility Programme” stream.

Its new guidelines allow for various types of international study – including internships, practicums and work-integrated learning, as well as “faculty-led programmes” – delivered virtually.

The new arrangements echo changes to mobility schemes overseas. The European Commission has urged institutions participating in its signature Erasmus+ programme to be “as flexible and pragmatic as possible”, harnessing remote study arrangements to help students regardless of their “geographical location”.

And while 93 per cent of US outward mobility programmes were partly or entirely cancelled over the summer, according to surveys by the Institute of International Education, some American institutions are offering virtual study abroad experiences.

The change to the NCP’s Mobility Programme rules has proven a godsend for an Australian university consortium that faced closure this year after sending local students to Indonesia for a quarter of a century.

The Australian Consortium for “In-Country” Indonesian Studies (Acicis), whose business model depended on students being able to visit the archipelago, began laying off staff in both countries after failing to secure emergency financial assistance.

Acicis director Liam Prince said that while appetite for virtual overseas immersions would have to be tested, the new NCP guidelines now meant that his organisation had a “fighting chance” of surviving the pandemic. “This is completely new terrain for us, but I’m looking forward to Acicis exploring the opportunities afforded by virtual programme delivery.”

He said that Acicis had been a prime beneficiary of the NCP since the scheme’s 2014 inception. The number of participating students, which had remained at fewer than 150 for most of the past 15 years, rose to more than 500 by 2019.

“Up until Covid started to impact our operations in the middle of March, we’d had our biggest summer study period. It was operating at a historically high point.”

Mr Prince said that Indonesia was “an enormous country of immutable strategic importance” to Australia. “We need more people that understand our large neighbour in a deep and nuanced way.

“Australian undergraduate students are going up there in volumes that we couldn’t have imagined six or seven years ago. We need to bed that in and keep it going. We need a couple of generations of Australians who view Jakarta, Yogyakarta or Bandung as desirable places to go, akin to London or Berlin or wherever else students were heading off to in previous generations.”



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