New Colombo Plan: Australian students’ learning in and engagement with Asia

The challenge

Australia’s future is increasingly connected with the Indo-Pacific. Preparing young Australians to learn about and understand the people, cultures, societies as well as professional practices of this region is critical to Australia’s economy and prosperity.

The Indo-Pacific’s geographic proximity and geopolitical connectivity with Australia crucially defines our relationship with the region. Immigrants from this region account for 41 per cent of all Australian citizens born overseas. Approximately 80 per cent of Australia’s trade and a majority of its largest services export, international education ($40 billion in 2019), are within this region.

With engagement across the Indo-Pacific being of strategic importance, the Australian government is committed to building knowledge of the Indo-Pacific for young Australians through the New Colombo Plan. Launched in 2014, the New Colombo Plan supports Australian undergraduates to study in the region via a scholarship program for study of up to 18 months as well as internships, mentorships and research. Administered jointly by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Education, the NCP supported over 1,340 students in its pilot phase in 2014 and in 2021 mobilised an alumni community of more than 70,000.

This Australian Research Council-funded project aimed to analyse the nature, circumstances and impacts of Australian students’ learning and engagement in the Indo-Pacific region through the New Colombo Plan.

Project overview

This project used a multi-method research design to examine two issues of vital importance for universities and the nation:

  1. the learning and engagement of Australian students in the Indo-Pacific
  2. the effects of their learning and regional engagement.

The project addressed a critical need to have nuanced understandings of the longer-term impacts of mobility experiences in the Indo-Pacific for all students and for the possibility of using student mobility to the Indo-Pacific as a mechanism of public diplomacy. The key findings emerged from a national survey of 1,371 NCP students and alumni, in-country fieldwork and interviews with related stakeholders.

Outcomes

The project found that the primary motivations of students who took part in the New Colombo Plan were to challenge themselves (96%), gain experience in the Indo-Pacific region and broaden their understanding about the region (96%), become familiar with another culture (96%), and travel to a new place (95%).

The research found that the impact of short-term mobility on student learning outcomes and development was similar to that of long-term mobility and that short-term mobility students were more satisfied with their learning abroad experience than long-term ones.

The research provided evidence that the New Colombo Plan achieved its objective of increasing knowledge of the Indo-Pacific among young Australians. The key areas of student learning were:

  • developing an understanding of, and confidence in, engagement with the region
  • stimulating connections with Australians of Indo-Pacific background
  • developing an interest in learning an Asian/Indo-Pacific language
  • interested in pursuing employment within the Indo-Pacific (66%).

There is evidence that New Colombo Plan students not only experience personal, intercultural and professional development, but that they use their Indo-Pacific knowledge and experience to influence their family, friends and communities in both home and host countries.

The research shows the values of learning abroad in the Indo-Pacific through the New Colombo Plan in terms of building multilateral relationships, establishing and reinforcing research and industry partnerships, strengthening the internationalisation of Higher Education and domestic and international recruitment for both home and host universities, and creating social impacts for Australian and Indo-Pacific communities.

There were some challenges including: dealing with a new language (89%), dealing with the culture (84%), and adjusting to teaching and learning methods (79%).

Key recommendations from this research have been published in the National Report and outlined in the Infographic.

Project report

Project team

Timeline

8 September 2017 7 September 2022 

Funding

Australian Research Council – Future Fellowship $827,926 

This project was funded by the Australian Research Council with additional funding from Deakin University. 

More information

Keywords

international education, learning abroad, student mobility, leadership, governance and policy, New Colombo Plan, Indo-Pacific