Students strengthen Australia-Asia connection

Advancing Society and Culture

New research will investigate Australian STEM students’ learning and experiences in Asia.

The number of Australian students studying overseas during their undergraduate years has increased rapidly over the past decade, with one in five undertaking learning abroad.

Now, a national investigation into the learning and cultural experiences of Australian students in Asia will examine how international study affects formation of their identity, career directions and future aspirations.

Led by Associate Professor Ly Tran, from Deakin University’s Research for Educational Impact Strategic Research Centre (REDI), the “New Colombo Plan: Australian students’ learning and engagement with Asia” will also explore how students’ insights and understanding of Asia as a result of their experiences can contribute to public diplomacy and inform higher education policy.

“Australia’s future is increasingly connected with Asia, with about 80 per cent of our trade and the majority of our biggest service export of over $22 billion – international education – within this region,” said Associate Professor Tran.

“However, the volume of students going out is increasing much more rapidly than those coming in. It has risen by more than sixfold between 2005 and 2015, from 6000 to 38,144.

“While we know a lot about international students coming to Australia, we know less about the experiences of Australian students learning abroad, especially in the Indo Pacific, and how those experiences affect their future.”

The project is part of Associate Professor Tran’s prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship, one of only two Future Fellowships announced for Deakin in June.

Australia’s signature initiative of student mobility and public diplomacy, the New Colombo Plan aims to lift knowledge of the Indo Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.

Associate Professor Tran said the Australian Government had made student engagement with Asia a priority, funding 17,000 students over the first four years of the New Colombo Plan.

“Social, political and economic development is vital to Australia. Student mobility, and the resulting public diplomacy when they bring back learning and experience to benefit other students and other members of the Australian community, broadens our exposure to the Indo Pacific region and deepens Australia’s engagement and connections.”
Associate Professor Ly Tran
Associate Professor Ly Tran Research for Educational Impact (REDI)

She explained her multi-faceted, multi-method project will focus on the four key stages of students’ experiences under the New Colombo Plan – pre-departure, in country, re-entry to Australia and post-graduation.

It will involve a longitudinal study of 35 New Colombo Plan students, an online survey of another 1000 students from across Australia about their motivations behind studying in Asia and their experiences, and interviews with 55 different stakeholders including academics, student mobility staff, policy makers, host institutions and industry.

“We want to understand how learning abroad in Asia affects the way students engage in their disciplinary study and how it influences their cultural awareness and outlook and their understanding of Asia,” Associate Professor Tran said.

“By following the students over four critical stages from pre-departure to post-graduation, we’ll be able to see how their experiences in Asia have affected their later career decisions and aspirations.”

Associate Professor Tran and her team will interview selected students about their expectations at pre-departure before visiting them during their time in China, Japan and Vietnam to observe their learning and experiences.

“We want to explore the different forms their learning takes, including cultural, social and personal, and curriculum specific and understand the connections between them,” she said.

A significant part of the project will be examining the student’s perspectives one year after graduation as they reflect on the impact of their overseas experience on their careers, connections and perspectives of Asia.

“We want to find out how their New Colombo Plan experience has affected their career direction, their employability and how they interact and communicate as a result of the experience,” Associate Professor Tran said.

“However, we won’t just focus on the career context, but on the collective impact of their experience on the community – how their international study experience has increased their capacity for cultural and public diplomacy and how they have shared their experiences and learning with their community at home.”

Professor Tim Winter from Deakin’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) also received an ARC Future Fellowship.

Research for Educational Impact

Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre in Education, Research for Educational Impact (REDI) is located within the School of Education. Our research is designed around four distinctive programs, and is led by renowned scholars in collaboration with highly active and successful educational researchers from a number of disciplines, as well as from the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE).