Benefits of New Colombo Plan exceed expectations

At a time when many of us are feeling disconnected from the world, Professor Ly Tran’s research is highlighting the importance of learning abroad and creating connections through education.

Professor Ly Tran

Professor Ly Tran, of Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre Research for Educational Impact (REDI), was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to explore the impact of the Australian Government's New Colombo Plan on Australian students' learning and engagement in the Indo-Pacific.

Launched in 2014, the New Colombo Plan aims to increase knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region. It includes a scholarship program for study of up to 18 months as well as internships, mentorships and research.

Before COVID-19 put a stop to international travel, the number of Australian students learning abroad during their undergraduate years had been increasing steadily. For many of the students participating in the New Colombo Plan it was their first opportunity to experience a foreign culture on a level beyond tourism.

Professor Tran’s project focused on the four key stages of their experiences with the New Colombo Plan – pre-departure, in country, re-entry to Australia and post-graduation.

“Many of the participants in our study were not confident when they started their study in the Indo-Pacific. This lack of confidence primarily came from the language barrier, which made it difficult for them to engage at first. Once they settled in, they found that the experience opened many new opportunities for them and boosted their confidence and independence.”

Professor Tran also found that students developed a greater appreciation of Australia.

“We often think that learning abroad will help young people develop intercultural competence, disciplinary knowledge and employability, but actually the engagement with the Indo-Pacific has also helped them develop empathy,” Professor Tran said.

“Our research findings showed that returning students felt a strong sense of appreciation and gratefulness to their parents, community and country. That kind of awareness was not there before their mobility program.”

“Another compelling finding was in the way they saw themselves being represented in the Indo-Pacific and how their host country was represented in Australia.”

“Those who came from less well-known places in Australia, such as Tasmania, felt the need to represent Tasmania in a positive light to people in their host country. Those who came from bigger cities like Melbourne or Sydney and went to smaller countries, like Papua New Guinea, were often keen to communicate the beauty of their host country and how much they learned there to their friends and family in Australia.”

“In both cases they were representing something that was less well-known to the community that they were involved with, whether overseas or in Australia.”

“We often think that Australia is strategic in using student mobility to maintain country to country connections. Our evidence and data show that the New Colombo Plan also allows host countries such as, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam and China, to engage back with Australia. The Plan acts as a catalyst for receiving countries, helping them achieve their own international agenda,” Professor Tran said.

The New Colombo Plan has increased understanding and empathy among young Australians about a region critical to Australia’s economic, cultural and political development. This will be even more important as we try to strengthen connections that have been affected by the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Find out more about Professor Ly Tran