International education is not just important for universities, it has shaped our nation.

International education is in crisis, both in Australia and around the world. It is time for Australians to learn more about international education and why it is important.

Restrictions on travel have kept students from travelling to Australia for study, and has limited the options of those already in Australia. International students are queueing for food vouchers in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney, universities are losing staff and funds as international student fees dry up. The place of international education in the relationship between Australia and China is now regularly discussed, with racism and geopolitics all part of the conversation. Academics, policy makers and commentators are asking serious questions about what international education will look like on the other side of this crisis.

This is not the best way for many in the Australian community to be learning about international education, and the presence of half a million students in their community, but it is, unfortunately, the circumstance we find ourselves in.

This is not the first time that a crisis has brought international education into popular and political view. The last “perfect storm” of 2008-2010, involved a financial crisis, the closure of a number of private providers and a series of racist attacks. This pushed the sector into view and into the minds of analysts who don’t regularly engage with international education – for example the intervention of the foreign policy think-tank the Lowy Institute, with a briefing paper written by Michael Wesley . The current crisis, which is far more serious than the previous perfect storm, has also brought out the security analysts. A recent opinion piece in the Canberra Times, written by two employees of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, was a lesson in how not to discuss international education in public forums, and others more closely aligned with recruitment and admissions may wish to respond to the inaccuracies within it.

But the presence of these conversations in public forums and policy think tanks offers those of us in the sector an opportunity to continue that conversation; to further the discussion about international education using our own research and knowledge. can read the rest of this piece at the Asian Currents blog

Overseas students coordinating committees – the origins of student support in Australia?

Student support in contemporary educational settings is vastly different from what it was when international education became a visible presence on Australian campuses in the 1950s. At that time, community organizations, businesses and the government cooperated to provide support to students in Australia, with little support being offered formally through universities and colleges. These Co-ordinating Committees survived for decades, into the 1990s. It could be argued that these Co-ordinating Committees facilitated a community engagement in international education that has not continued as the number of students has multiplied. Using archival and other primary source documents, this article will look at the beginnings of the Australian Organisations’ Co-ordinating Committee for Overseas Students (AOCCOS), and other similar organizations. It will analyse how the Committees changed over the decades of their existence, and what role they played in influencing government policies.
The article will also investigate when and why these Committees ended, and what, if anything, has taken their place. The huge expansion of the international education sector, with more than half a million students now studying in Australia as international students, has impacted the quantity and quality of engagement with the Australian community for many of these students.
Finally, the article will look at efforts to engage the community in the support of, and engagement with, international students in Australia in a more contemporary setting. This includes support provided by institutions, community and sporting organizations and state government and municipal councils.

Sponsored Students and the Rise of “the International” in Australian Communities

By David Lowe & Anna Kent

Increasing scholarly attention is being paid to the students of Australia’s first wave of international education, those sponsored via the Colombo Plan and other privately funded students in the 1950s and 1960s. There is, however, a need for considering more closely the significance of these students’ interactions with Australians during the course of their studies. This focus on interactions benefits from adding a sense of place—in Australian colleges and their communities—where the interactions occurred. By reframing the focus of the Colombo Plan and subsequent scholarships to the impact on scholarship holders and Australians together, we can see how an emerging, vernacular sense of the international has been jointly produced in educational and community settings. While mindful of policy hopes and fears for sponsored scholarships, this article shifts the focus towards experiences on the ground. It adds to the historical record in ways that are becoming more possible through new lines of investigation and new sources. In addition, it suggests that some of the questions posed by international relations scholars in their analysis of international students as a source of soft power are best addressed in the form of examples of student-local interactions.

What do Australians know about international education in Australia?

(This piece was published on the Australian Policy History website - click through for the full piece)

International students, and the international education sector are hitting the headlines on a regular basis at the moment. These stories are rarely positive – stories of students being accepted without sufficient English language skills, students as spies and more. There are more nuanced discussions on the role of international education in contemporary Australia, such as Margaret Simons’ essay in Australian Foreign Affairs, but they are less common.

In part this is because most Australians know so little about what is one of Australia’s largest export industries. This is not entirely the fault of everyday Australians, but also the fault of the sector itself, which has for a long time played a “small target” game – staying away from the news, and just quietly going about its business. With immigration, particularly non-white immigration, always in the news, bringing attention to a large segment of that immigration (albeit temporary) could seem unwise.

What is now becoming clear, however, is that this small target approach has created problems of its own. When international education does make the news, there is so little understanding of the sector that there is no buffer. The sector gets no free passes.

Read the full piece here.

Recent Trends in International Scholarships

(Chapter in Dassin, J., Marsh, R. R., & Mawer, M. (2018). International scholarships in higher education : pathways to social change. Palgrave Macmillan.)

This chapter explores the relationship between scholarship design and changing geopolitical structures across the world. International scholarships, regardless of their funding body, are being shaped and changed by myriad factors including budget constraints, commodity prices, regulatory and policy changes, political imperatives, conflict and changing power structures including gender norms. The design, apparatus and infrastructure that support and maintain international scholarships, such as geographic focus areas, or levels of study, can have a significant impact on access and equity in application processes and will impact on the outcomes the programs can achieve. Therefore, this chapter asserts that changes to design elements in response to the stressor factors outlined above will lead to changing outcomes from international scholarships.

Writing on the Contemporary History Research Group page

Fiji Fieldwork

Reflections on procrastination

Rules of study


Colloquium and the real world

Research trip to NYC


Four Corners and the debate about universites that we should be having.

21 April 2015

Four Corners last night was an interesting, and important, look into quality standards at Australian universities.  And it had evidence of some areas of real issues, and examples of incidents where quality standards are not being properly applied.  It draws in the issue of the increasing casualization of the academic workforce (which is a huge and growing issue).  It also addressed issues of English language proficiency.

However, while I agree that these issues are worthy of attention, this was not a balanced approach to the story.  The overriding message of the story is that international students are ‘weak students’.  This is not necessarily true, and belies a xenophopic attitude rather than an academic one.  The reliance on anecdotal evidence within the program was troubling, and while there was some research discussed, there is far more significant research available that was not discussed. 

It was most disappointing that the Vice Chancellors of the universities involved in the program declined the opportunity to be interviewed, and I think this a missed opportunity for them to actively participate in a discussion about what universities are and what we want them to be.  (And on that point - where was the input from English Australia, IEAA and Universities Australia?  A big fail on the part of 4 Corners there.)

Because, essentially this is the question.  Universities are no longer the elite towers they were in the past.  Access is available to far more domestic students that previously.  This does not need to mean a drop in standards, but it does require a new approach to pedagogy, time frames and approaches to teaching and learning.  The same applies for international students.  Academics who wish to continue to “do things as they used to” will no doubt be left behind in the shift.  Unfortunately, however, we have not had a community conversation or debate about how universities have changed, and are changing, and what that means for their place in our society.  I think that is a far more useful conversation to be having, rather than hearing more whinging about international students.

As an aside, at an event last week with sponsors and sponsored students, we discussed the benefits that the Introductory Academic Program (IAP) gives to Australia Awards students when they arrive in Australia.  This program has only reinforced my view (and the view of many at the Sponsored Student SIG Forum last week) that the IAP should be offered to all sponsored students and perhaps all international students.  As usual, it comes down to who pays….

Risks and Challenges

18th January 2015

I was having an interesting conversation about risk taking the other day.  I think I am typically risk averse; I don’t have a home loan (oh, the commitment and the debt!?!), I always validate my train ticket, I have a million different insurance policies, and I always wear a helmet when riding my bike.  But in other aspects of my life I have what some might see as a stupidly high risk tolerance.  I left the country at 19 to travel and work overseas for a year; I moved states to chase the “dream” of being a public servant (which thankfully didn’t come to pass!); I quit a permanent job to go travelling for a year after getting married; I quit another permanent job to strike out on my own as a consultant, and I decided to do a Masters by research rather than coursework because I wanted the “challenge”. 

In taking these risks I always knew I could rely on support if it really hit the fan; from my family, my friends and especially my partner.  In this conversation about risk it became clear that many of these risks – particularly some of the more crazy ones, were done with a safety net ready to catch me if I needed it. 

This year I will step off into some brand new challenges – maybe not risks but massive challenges!  Next week I will take my first trip to Africa, one of only two inhabitable continents I am yet to visit.  My role as Course Adviser on the Australia Awards Africa program will allow me to do something I love – talk about higher education to people who aspire to make a difference for themselves and their countries.  And not only that, I will get to learn about countries and people in a part of the world I don’t know much about (yet!).  It will also mean leaving my family behind at least three times – which will be a challenge in itself (what was I saying about having great support!).

The other big challenge I will begin to tackle this year (‘cos this one is likely to take a while) is a PhD.  To everyone I told I would never study again after my Masters, I’m sorry – it seems I was wrong.  And to those I will whinge to over the next few years – I am sorry in advance!  I am excited, and just a bit daunted, by the prospect of reading, researching, interviewing and learning a whole lot more about scholarships and public diplomacy.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be in a position to take these risks, and take on these challenges – I have benefited from an excellent education, I have the ability to type fast (great for getting admin jobs in far off lands) and a saving ethos that I can thank my parents for!  And perhaps most importantly, the confidence in myself and my abilities to know that even if it is a challenge, I can do it.

In the meantime, my family deals with the prospect of dealing with me, dealing with these challenges!  My oldest daughter starts school this year, so will no doubt have many of her own challenges to face, and risks (calculated I hope) to take.  I hope as parents we can help her to gain the confidence to do whatever she needs to, to make herself happy and fulfilled.  And of course, always be the safety net. 

At the risk of ending this post on a particularly sappy note, I will take this moment to quote from one of my favourite movies, with a line that often crosses my mind as I step onto a plane heading somewhere new -  “A life lived in fear is a life half lived” (from Strictly Ballroom of course!).

Reflections on time, and timing

10th November 2014

It has been a funny year.  At the start of this year I decided that I couldn’t hack the uncertainty of this freelance/consultant life, and I needed a full time ‘real’ job.  I set about this task, applying here, applying there.  Getting rejected here, getting interviewed and then rejected there.  I applied for jobs I wanted, and jobs I didn’t really want, or like, because I became obsessed with the fact that I need A JOB, ANY JOB!

I was getting more stressed by the week.  Panic was really setting in, my confidence was getting battered and selection criteria were driving me bananas.  Nearly six months into my quest for a real job, I got a short term contract.  Less than 20 days work, but hard work, good work, and work in an area I’ve been trying to crack into.  And then someone called with some more work.  Work I could do around my existing childcare arrangements, with only a little bit of juggling.  It was interesting work, a bit different to what I’m used to, and a huge eye opener (my very first experience of being a direct public servant!).  And then a few weeks ago I got another call, some more work, which I could again fit around childcare, in a space where I felt I could be useful.  And so it goes.

So why am I telling you about my 2014 happy ending?  Well I was contacted last week by someone who had noticed my LinkedIn profile, and liked the sound of being a Freelance/Consultant in international education, but wondered how I got to be just that.  It was a funny conversation and a good chance for reflection.  Because while I know how I got here (kinda), and why I got here, this certainly wasn’t what I expected to be doing 2 years ago when I decided that going back to my “real job” after my second baby wasn’t what I wanted.  Most of all though, it was interesting to discuss with this person the first half of this year, when I thought I wanted a real job.  And how I’m really really glad that none of those jobs ever came about (although, there is probably one or two that I would have loved!).  I have the benefit of great, interesting work, without the office politics.  I get to meet a huge number of interesting people, and never get bored.

While I don’t want to tempt fate, I hope to not apply for any real jobs for a while (that is unless it is super awesome, is extremely well paid, and I don’t have to do selection criteria), and it feels pretty good.  I took a leap 2 years ago, and finally it feels like I’m not going to bang into something hard on the landing.

Higher Education Reforms - some rambling

28th August 2014

Today is a big day in higher education in Australia.  Some pretty massive reforms have been (finally!) tabled in Federal Parliament, setting the stage for fee deregulation, changes to government funding (well, cuts to government funding) and a few other bits and pieces.  How much actually makes it through the Senate is yet to be decided, but I think there is a few interesting things to note and ponder about these changes.  And please excuse the stream of consciousness nature of this entry – toddler tantrums and recovering from illness has hampered my ability to build narrative.

The Group of Eight universities are definitely in support of fee deregulation, not surprisingly given that they are the ones likely to reap the most benefit from that.  Universities Australia (UA) is also on board – although there are certainly some university Vice-Chancellors who are less than impressed – particularly Professor Stephen Parker at University of Canberra.  I guess in some ways being a member of UA is like being a member of a political party – the majority rules!  But the logic and rationale behind fee deregulation coming from the Federal Minister for Education – Christopher Pyne - is a little bit around about.  In a nutshell, Pyne has said that fee deregulation will set the universities up to be competitive on the world stage – but really what he is saying is the Commonwealth has and will  continue to cut university funding, so if universities want to diversify their sources of funding, they need to increase their fees.  I am not sure how ones makes the argument that in order to ensure quality provision of education you need to cut funding, but that is what Pyne is doing.

Also important is the way the reforms proposed today (see the explanatory memo here) will impact on the way Australia’s higher education system is shaped.  I have always thought that many universities in Australia struggle to define what it is the “are”.  The very nature of our system is that everyone tries to do everything, with varying degrees of success.  These reforms may encourage some of those universities struggling with an identity to create something – and really hone in on their strengths.  I think this is what we should be aiming for, universities that are the best at what they do – rather than having a top 20 university in the world.

And finally, how does this affect international education in Australia?  Given the importance of international education to the Australian economy, I am surprised how little this aspect has featured in the debates around these reforms.  Will fee increases for domestic students only highlight to international students how much they are subsidising their domestic counterparts?  Will private colleges reduce international marketing, given their access to Commonwealth Supported Places for (more cheaply recruited) domestic students?  Will the potentially shedding of student numbers from Group of Eight universities (as foreshadowed by ANU Vice-Chancellor Prof. Ian Young) lead to fewer places at these universities for international students?  And perhaps most importantly, will these changes lead to a higher quality education for domestic and international students alike?

Some questions to make you think.  Now, back to the tantrums!

Researching in International Education

15th July 2014

It has been a while since I’ve updated this blog.  No doubt this is a cardinal sin of blog keeping, but one I’m sure gets broken fairly consistently.  Life sometimes gets in the way of documenting what’s going on.  But there has been lots going on…deregulation, funding cuts, federalism – there is not a space in higher education in Australia that is not full of policy conversations and conundrums.

However, despite the craziness, yesterday I was lucky to attend the annual IEAA midwinter Researchers Seminar.  I think I’ve been to every one of these since they started in 2009, when I was in the first throws of my thesis.  Every one I’ve been to has provided insight, interest, and (and I’m not sure if this is a good thing) lots of ideas for PhDs.  It is a great place for people who work and research in international education to network, share ideas, and find out what is going on in the research space.  The MC/Chair of yesterday, Assoc. Professor Chris Ziguras (RMIT), made an excellent point about the way the day has evolved over the years.  At the start the different between those who worked in international education and those who researched in international education was vast.  There were some, like me, who did both.  But much of the ‘research’ wanted by the industry was market intel, data crunching and working out where the next cohort of students is coming from.  The industry, and research in the space, has changed so much since then – for the better.  There is a much better connection between what is needed, what is wanted, and what is being done in international education research.

A great case in point is a project undertaken over 3 years by Deakin (led by Prof Jill Blackmore and Dr Cate Gribble) and IDP Education, funded through an ARC Linkage grant.  Forgive my very basic summary, but the project looked at how international students got work (or didn’t) in Australia after their study.  The migration settings, the expectations, and the responses to this cohort of industry and industry representative bodies.  Seeing the outcomes of the study yesterday was interesting, if for no other reason that the outcomes are not a huge surprise to me, having worked in the industry for 10 years.  But, what is important is that it is no longer a hunch I have.  This has been researched, formally investigated and will soon be published.  That we can turn our hunches into proof is a great thing for the industry, and for the students who will benefit from the policy and practical changes that flow from that.

The other really important outcome, for me, from this day, was a realisation – or an affirmation perhaps – that I’m on the right track when it comes to my research interest.  What I’m thinking about are the connections between international education and public diplomacy (soft power is the other term – which is what I used in my thesis).  The New Colombo Plan (unfortunate name aside) will be providing some excellent case studies for testing my hypothesis around the ideas – so perhaps it’s time to pull my finger out and get cracking.  The “Old” Colombo Plan provides the foundations to build on, with more research and evidence to highlight the excellent diplomatic outcomes from these scholarships. 

Perhaps the next blog post will not be so far away, as I test out some of these ideas in print…

A new university order?

12th February 2014

It is great to come across something that really gets you thinking, and not to be twee about it but today I was privileged to enjoy that feeling.  Earlier this week the World Bank held a seminar with the President of Arizona State University (ASU), Dr. Michael Crow.  The wonders of modern technology (the same wonders that are making universities scared and excited in perhaps equal measure!?) allowed me to watch this presentation this morning, on my couch.  That, in itself is part of the amazing opportunities that the times we live in present us with.  But Dr Crow’s presentation went far beyond the opportunities of learning platforms and technological aids. 

The seminar was called Universities as Partners in Global Development, which is a bit of a thinking point for me at the moment.  The role universities can, and should, be playing in development is almost beyond limit, and goes a long way past scholarships to those from developing countries.  But how to make a university dynamic enough to take advantage of opportunities is something that many institutions and individuals struggle with.  So, back to Dr Crow.  His delivery was engaging, and his message is compelling.  I have since followed up with a look on the website, and I’m glad I watched the presentation first.  If I had seen the website first I would have in all likelihood dismissed it as a bit of weasel words; too many buzz words and empty statements.  But with the context that Dr Crow provided in his presentation it seems an ambitious and potentially game changing development. 

In summary, ASU is redesigning itself to address one of the key issues of universities in the modern age – how do you balance the need to deliver quality and excellence, with the growing demand for access to tertiary education.  Dr Crow talked about the mismatch between accessibility and excellence.  I personally think this is a huge issue in the Australian system, with many universities struggling to decide if they’re working to provide as many people as possible with a vanilla Bachelor of Business, or if they really want the best PhD graduates in the country. 

While Dr Crow doesn’t outline exactly how this is done (and the website doesn’t give away too much either), ASU is focussed on giving students from all SES backgrounds access.  Their goal is to ensure that regardless of your background on entry, your chances of success throughout your degree are equal.  He makes a persuasive argument that the old/current model of universities in fact drive inequity, by excluding many and measuring success by those that are rejected, or more simply how difficult it is to get in.

The argument reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who was deciding where he would do his MBA.  Choices included US, UK and Australian institutions but his advice had been that while Harvard would give him a great network, other institutions would give him a better MBA.  The elitism that Harvard offered was a selling point for the MBA, rather than the quality of the educational experience and outcomes on offer.  That is, perhaps, exactly why projects like ASU are so important.

And why is all of this important to Global Development?  Because we copy.  Because universities around the world look to the US, UK and Europe (and maybe sometimes Australia) for examples about how to create and develop themselves.  Developing countries seek and pay for advice from academics and administrators in the developed world about how best to structure tertiary institutions.   Access to higher education is an issue in Australia, but it is an even greater issue in many developing countries.  And if a new model is out there, one that provides for greater access for those who could most benefit from tertiary education, without compromising on the quality of that education, then that should be the model we are looking to.  If ASU has unlocked the secret to the accessibility vs excellence conundrum then that is fantastic.  I look forward to finding out more about it.


Why specialised Scholarship Staff are important.

23rd October 2013

The Australian International Education Conference now seems like an age ago, given it was 2 weeks ago yesterday that I facilitated a workshop on Sponsored Student Strategies.  It was a great workshop, with interesting and involved discussions around all things sponsors, sponsored students and scholarships.  It highlighted the interest in the area, but also unfortunately highlighted the lack of clear direction that most institutions have when it comes to sponsors and sponsored students.

The status that sponsored students and their sponsors have within an institution was a key element of our workshop.  How much a division is respected, understood and valued can have a great influence on its ability to function effectively.  Scholarship Managers and their teams are of course competing for attention in a crowded marketplace; Transnational Education (TNE), mobility and agent management are all important to nearly every institution these days.  Therefore, it comes down to the teams to agitate for resources and support.

I think every Scholarship Manager got a little boost in this effort last week when a message from the Malaysian Consulate in Sydney fell into the hands of the 7.30 program on the ABC (watch the piece here).  The Consulate was warning sponsored students not to attend the speech to be given by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.  The story was repeated in Fairfax press, and elsewhere.  It is events such as this that highlight to universities and TAFEs that while sponsored students might seem like they’re just the same as all other international students, they come with additional, tricky, politics.  It is important that those who have to deal with these situations (and not just the stories that make in the news) are well skilled, resourced and supported to do so.

And this leads me to my plug.  One of the great things, in my humble opinion, to come out of the AIEC this year, was the ratification by the IEAA AGM of a new Special Interest Group on Sponsored Students.  The SIG will give specialised staff (and we are specialised!) an opportunity to further expand and develop their professional skills; a place to network and share (war) stories; and a place where best practice can be seen, adopted and implemented.

I am excited to be the inaugural convener of the Sponsored Student SIG, and I look forward to working with the expert scholarship teams from around Australia to making it a group worth being a part of.

If you’re interested in being part of the SIG, contact me and we will keep you in the loop.


Have Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop been reading my thesis?

25th September 2013

It has been a strange fortnight or so, since Australia voted.  Our new government promised to be a no-surprises affair, and to be honest, many of the policy announcements are very predictable, if not from previously announced policies (i.e. Asylum seeker policy, climate change policy), then certainly from previously expressed ideology (University Amenities Fees). 

However, the changes to AusAID that have been mooted, changes that remain unclear at this stage, have been quite a surprise for me and others.  I won’t hash over the details of what should or shouldn’t happen with AusAID now that Tony Abbott has flagged...well...changes, for that you can read some excellent work on the Devpolicy blog, but I would note that the Coalition had indicated they would have introduced a  Minister for International Development if they had won the 2010 election.  That seems a big change in approach to make but I suppose priorities change.

Perhaps rather than seeing this situation as potentially terrible, I need to look on the bright side.  It seems, perhaps that Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott have read my thesis, and extrapolated it a little.  In my conclusion I stated:

What is demonstrated, therefore, is that while the ADS [Australian Development Scholarships] do not meet the development objectives set for it, as a government funded program it has great potential.  What is required is a rethinking of the approach of the ADS, moving it from a Development focussed activity, to a diplomatic focussed activity.  The greatest benefits to be gained from the scholarship program are diplomatic, with development outcomes a potentially positive side effect. (Kent, 2012, p61)

All you really need to do is swap “ADS” for “the entire aid budget”, and you really describe the Coalition’s policy direction.  So, rather than mope about, perhaps I need to be selling my skills as a Ministerial adviser and policy developer.

In all seriousness though, the movement of the aid program to a more trade focussed footing plays is potentially great news for the Australia Awards.  I did note in a previous post that the New Colombo Plan has the potential to make uncertain the future of the Australia Awards, however, diplomacy is one area that the Australia Awards can clearly demonstrate their effectiveness.

My thesis also suggests that moving the Australian Development Awards (now known as the Australia Awards) to DFAT would free up aid funding for more demonstrably effective tertiary education programs.  While it is yet to be seen how the announced funding cuts will be enacted, and Tony Abbott’s announcement about how the changes to AusAID does not give much of an indication about how things will play out, I think the Australia Awards are in a good position to survive any cuts.  An aid program that is clearly, inexplicably and almost totally linked to Australia’s national interest has got to be at the head of the class, and I’m happy to send my thesis to Julie Bishop if she’d like some supporting evidence.



The “New Colombo Plan”

4th September 2013

The people of Australia are finally about to head to the polls.  Whilst I am grateful for the opportunities being a citizen of Australia affords me, and full understand the role I play as a voter (and intend to vote below the line in the senate – just under 100 candidates in Victoria!), like many Australians I am well and truly over this election.

My state of mind has probably hindered me a little in addressing the one publically released policy in this election that has a significant impact on me in a professional context.  I’m not talking paid parental leave, but the New Colombo Plan. 

I thought given this policy relates not only to international education, scholarships, Asian literacy and soft power – I probably should give it a bit of a look.  The Coalition policy - “New Colombo Plan” has been on the books for a while now, and I have taken a passing interest in its development.   My key concern to date has been the name – which to me reeks of unacknowledged post-colonial influence.  But perhaps that is too harsh, should I look beyond the name?

The available commentary seems to be pretty positive.  Both Simon Marginson and Universities Australia are on board.  The Liberal Party press release is predictably glowing, although does not link to the most important element of the policy, the Steering Group report, put together by the Menzies Research Centre.

The New Colombo Plan is a great idea.  But it is not new.  This is probably not a surprise.  I think the steering group are quite an eminent bunch, and whilst they certainly know what they’re talking about, the idea of encouraging students to study in Asia has been around for quite a while.  We have the Asia Bound Grants and Murdoch University has run the ACICIS program since 1994.  Confusingly, ACICIS did not rate a mention in the Steering Group Report; especially given the Coalition is planning to focus initially on Indonesia.  Also, rates of Asian language study in high school and tertiary environments have decreased over the last decade or so.  I’m not sure that can be fully explained by funding changes, or societal changes, or a perception that you can get by with English so why stretch yourself?  But if students are going to go to Asia and have a meaningful study and life experience, knowing the language is a pretty good place to start.  The report does say that maybe those who don’t speak an Asian language can go to Singapore, which might mean a lot of students headed to Singapore.

But what played on my mind the most as I read the report was the Australia Awards*.    The Steering Group report does not even mention the Australia Awards.  It does talk of integrating some of the Endeavour Awards into the New Colombo Plan, and while this will avoid duplication it seems to leave the Endeavour Awards in an uncertain position.  Perhaps this is a pointer, that the Australia Awards brand will not last long under a Coalition government, and we will return to the separate development scholarship, merit scholarship divide?

Alternatively, of course, they could set up a scholarships hub within government, similar to the Australia Awards that manages all of these different schemes.  This might lead to useful cost savings, sharing of ideas, resources and best practice, and make life easier for other stakeholders, particularly institutions that recruit and manage students, both inbound and outbound, on these programs.

At this point, with the election just under 2 days away, this is all purely speculation, and in reality will not be making a difference to my vote.  But there are a few issues that the New Colombo Plan raises, read in conjunction with other foreign aid policy indications, which lead me to questions about what role Australia Awards may have under a Coalition government.  Certainly, it seems there may be interesting times ahead.

*Disclaimer 1: When the Rudd Mk1 government created the Australia Awards concept I thought it was a bit of a waste of time, and a good excuse to employ some marketers, but it has grown on me since.

Disclaimer 2: My sister is currently studying in Indonesia under a 2013 Prime Minister's Australia Asia Award.  She also went to Indonesia on an Asialink Arts Management Residency, and studied for a year in Yogyakarta during her undergraduate degree through ACICIS.  Really, she would be a good poster-child for the New Colombo Plan...



Why Freelance?

23rd August 2013

On the slow days, when working out where my next job might be coming from, I wonder about the decision I made to be “freelance”.  It is the normal (I hope) feeling of uncertainty, when you have chosen the road less travelled.  One that does not align with loan applications, holiday planning or continuity, the stuff of suburban dreams.  I have been lucky, I have been employed and paid for much of this first year of my freelance career.  And whilst things might be slow today, I know that things can change in a few days.  And it does give me the time to spend doing the things I’ve been putting off (hello journal article). 

And of course, while the lure of stability, a regular paycheque and workmates might tug from time to time, the reasons I made the leap still exist.  The leaking of my work into my days at home with my kids, the challenge of managing staff when you’re not there every day, fitting a full time job into three days – with the inevitable loss of the fun stuff (strategy, planning) for the immediate operational necessities, and trying to juggle sick kids, sick staff, distressed students, clients and sponsors, whilst doing at least a half decent job at any of those things.

Don’t worry, this is not a rant about how women can or can’t have it all.  That is a debate I detest, as I am not in this by myself.  But the most important reason I did this was actually to have control over my work.  Not just the hours that I worked, but the work that I did as well.  I am working towards a position where I can chose how I use my intellectual capabilities and capacities (whilst making allowances for paying the bills).  Perhaps that is the Gen-Y in me, wanting only that that interests me, not wanting the other boring stuff.  But I would say my CV shows that I am not a shirker of the hard work, nor the boring work.  I was once a legal secretary for a banking law partner for crying out loud.  If you can think of something more boring than typing dictated letters about derivatives...well, you know the rest.  

The positives of this choice are abundantly clear: sitting at my desk (right next to the kitchen table), looking at the blossoms emerging on the trees in the front yard and a pink galah appearing on the electric wires; not having to explain to the boss that I can’t come in today because my 3 year old has a fever (today’s experience); being able to clear my head by taking the dog for a walk in the park, rather than wandering the concrete jungle at lunchtime; and not rushing out the door of work at 5pm in order to get the kids from childcare before they turn feral.

So, I have the intellectual challenges (hello again journal article), I have the flexibility (3 year old now watching a movie in the next room), now all I need is the next job...


The story of my Masters

This is the abstract for my Masters by Research:

My thesis critically examines the place of scholarships for students from the developing world as an aid modality. It presents a detailed case study of the AusAID funded Australian Development Scholarships (ADS).  The findings highlight the problems and challenges of the ADS program which is difficult to assess in terms of efficacy.  As such, the 'value' of the ADS, and international education more generally, needs to be looked at primarily in terms of securing regional and global positionality.

And this is the finished product:


But there is more to the story...

One day I woke up and realised all my peers seemed to have a Masters – it freaked me out a bit.  So I decided I might try and get myself one of these fancy bits of paper.  And, if the truth be told, I was always annoyed that at my undergraduate graduation I didn’t get to wear a funny hat.  My sister went to ANU, and she got to wear one – not fair.  I am sure that Melbourne Uni does this on purpose – creating a desire to come back and get that funny hat graduation!

Anyway, I completed, and loved, an honours year at the end of my undergrad degree, so I figured I’d already done the equivalent of a Masters by Coursework.  I was up for a challenge (stupid, stupid).  So I decided to try a Masters by Research.  I had been mulling on a few potential PhD/Thesis topics for a few years (its a sickness I still suffer from), so I picked one I thought that I could potentially convince my employer would be work related – and therefore get study leave and other professional development perks.

I researched my options for an institution, and eventually went with the comfortable and familiar University of Melbourne.  It also helped that as I was alumni, the paperwork required was significantly less!  My assigned supervisor was new at the Masters by Research game – so we battled through the paperwork, requirements and other bits and pieces together.  Then he went on leave for a semester.  My co-supervisor stepped into the void, and into my head.  A coffee catch up led to a realisation that my topic was not really working out, but the topic I should be doing was sitting right there (lucky!).

My employer was helpfully giving me a day off every fortnight, and between that and weekends I was able to keep things bubbling along.  Then I made the mistake I have heard so many women make – I’ll have a baby and I’ll get heaps of time to work on this while I’m on maternity leave.  Now lets all repeat after me – maternity leave is not a good time to get jobs done...not a good time.   So, after a three month leave of absence to get my brain out of a breastfeeding, not-sleeping, tim tam eating haze, I got back into it.  My dad kindly stepped in to care for the bub while I studied one day a week or so, time we all enjoyed I believe. 

Work progressed, issues arose (why will no one respond to my survey?), and problems came and went.  Then I went back to work, and study leave wasn’t possible, and kids take up lots of time, and my husband was doing his masters too – phew!  Finally, I made the decision to put my now 18 month old into another day of childcare, on a day I didn’t work.  I missed her, but I had to get some time back otherwise this was going to turn into the never-ending-Masters.

Back on track I was getting down to the business of finishing things off.  Draft, chapter, draft, chapter, it was slowly coming together.  The final push, incentive perhaps, was provided by the impending arrival of baby number 2.  My co-supervisor suggested an extension might be a good idea, but I was determined to get my Masters baby off my desk before my real baby arrived. 

Two weeks before the arrival of baby number 2, my thesis was submitted.  About 6 months later I finally got the letter I was hoping for – passed and no amendments required.  The comments by my examiners were not all positive, and at times were hard to read, but I am proud of what I achieved.

As I reflect on this, I think that if I had taken my supervisor’s advice I might still be doing my Masters.  That might be good thing, if getting a better mark was my goal.  But I have enjoyed the freedom that finishing gave me. 

So, now, where is that file with my PhD topics again...


From the Lowy Institute Blog The Interpreter (7 December 2012):

I have been reading with interest the recent debate in the Interpreter regarding the true purpose of aid.  I recently completed a Masters thesis looking at an element of our aid program that is promoted as development, but probably fits better as diplomacy – Australian Development Scholarships.  While these scholarships are now part of the Australia Awards family, they are offered to prospective students from a variety of developing nations, for study at Australian TAFEs and Universities. 
The links between aid, development and diplomacy are easy to see in the ADS, just a little below the surface (and the shiny PR).  My thesis argued that the scholarships are actually a much better tool of diplomacy than development.  And one could now argue that Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council has been ‘bought’ by hundreds of these scholarships, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean.  But the ongoing, long term diplomatic impact of thousands of students educated in Australia returning home to their lives thankful of the opportunities given to the by the Australian Government will also be a significant diplomatic ‘win’. 

But, these awards are funded by AusAID, considered Overseas Development Assistance, and one of our largest Education Sector programs.  They are also ‘aid’ spent for the most part in Australia on university and TAFE fees, living allowances and other costs.  And development outcomes from the scholarships are hard to track, attribute and demonstrate.
If we’re looking for a good case study to start a debate about Australia’s confused aid/development/diplomacy conundrum with, Development Scholarships could be a good place to start.