UNSW students benefit from virtual exchanges across the Indo-Pacific

UNSW Sydney has received the highest funding yet for its 2021 New Colombo Plan Mobility Program, supporting students in COVID-safe study and work overseas.

More than 779 students from UNSW will have the opportunity to undertake virtual programs with the Indo-Pacific region, thanks to $2.9 million in federal government funding under the New Colombo Plan (NCP) Mobility Program.

The NCP is an Australian government initiative aimed at strengthening links and improving Australia’s knowledge of the Indo-Pacific region. UNSW students have participated in the program since it was founded in 2015.

The program will be run virtually this year while travel restrictions are in place. Undergraduate students can study and partake in special projects and internships with 18 countries including India, China and Singapore.

UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor, International Laurie Pearcey said the NCP program had been adapted for virtual experiences which deepened students’ knowledge and understanding of the region and built connections with overseas partners for the future.

“Virtual learning abroad enables students to get a taste of international locations while undertaking their study, short courses, internships or practicum in conjunction with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” Mr Pearcey said.

“Students can make lifelong international connections with businesses, institutions, staff and peers from the Indo-Pacific region, and can study courses and gain experiences that are not available at UNSW.

“The NCP virtual program helps UNSW create a future workforce which has experience working and building relationships with some of Australia’s closest neighbours and trading partners.”

UNSW projects selected for 2021 funding include developing assistive technology for children with disability in the Solomon Islands; assessing food safety and nutritional value of school meals in Bangladesh; and studying medical electives with a university in Singapore.

Eva Lloyd, a lecturer from UNSW’s School of Built Environment, in collaboration with Education Program Manager Tom Richards, designed a virtual program with Cambodia which secured NCP funding. The program, which has run for the past five years, investigates the challenges and opportunities experienced by communities living in the rapidly urbanising context of Phnom Penh.

“From a teamwork perspective, the virtual mode of work presented some benefits in the allocation of tasks. Students in Cambodia became the ‘eyes on the field’ and students in Sydney acted as ‘online investigators’, with teams meeting regularly for synthesis of these perspectives. Online collaboration was also leveraged to expand and expose students to global connections in the development sector through an ‘urban talks’ series that ran throughout the course,” Ms Lloyd said.

“We arranged regular on-campus cultural immersion activities for the students in Sydney, including Khmer food and film nights recognising the work of esteemed Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh. Formal online meetings in conjunction with less structured social media catch-ups fostered close working relationships between Cambodian and Sydney-based students. Testament to this is the commitment of one student team to continue project development with their local NGO host and community partners across 2021.”

NCP Alumni Ambassador and final year Engineering/Music student, Janice Lai, says the NCP Mobility program is a fantastic way to meet people from around the world and learn about their unique perspectives.

Janice Lai

Janice Lai at Gyeongbokgung, South Korea. Photo: UNSW.

“My experience helped me communicate with people from diverse backgrounds. As the world becomes increasingly connected, it is important to be able to collaborate across cultures and be open-minded to new ideas. For Australia, this means working with our closest neighbours which are those in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Ms Lai, who participated in an exchange to Korea and an internship in Singapore.

“Participating in a virtual program will equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to collaborate effectively with others in a virtual setting. Even after the pandemic, many workplaces may continue with a working from home approach where working with others virtually becomes the norm.

“I really encourage everyone who can apply for a mobility grant to do so. The people you meet may very well expose you to new perspectives and knowledge, which may even influence your future career path or outlook on life as it did for me. Participating in the New Colombo Plan was an eye-opening experience, and such an opportunity would be hard to come by after leaving university.”

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