Monday, September 2, 2013

New Colombo Plan

The Australian Coalition has proposed to establish a New Colombo Plan as part of its policy. It should be noted that the Colombo Plan, for cooperative economic and social development in Asia and the Pacific, is a multinational initiative which is still in operation, with Australia providing university education as part of the plan.

Proposals for a new plan would need to be negotiated with the other countries involved. The plan is named after the location of its foundation meeting in Colombo in 1950. There is a detailed history of the politics behind the plan in "Facing Asia: A History of the Colombo Plan" by Daniel Oakman (ANU e-Press, 2010). The Colombo Plan Secretariat is still located in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

A Steering Group was formed for the New Colombo Plan in June 2013:
  • Chair: Mr Kevin McCann AM, Fellow of the Senate, University of Sydney; Chairman of Macquarie Group; Chairman of Origin Energy Limited
  • Deputy Chair: Professor Sandra Harding, Vice-Chancellor, James Cook University; Chair, Universities Australia
  • Members: 
    • Professor Kent Anderson, Pro Vice Chancellor (International), University of Adelaide
    • Ms Suzette Corr, General Manager, Human Resources, Australia, ANZ; Group General Manager, Talent and Culture, ANZ
    • Mr Trevor Goddard, Manager, Monash Abroad, Monash University (Victoria)
    • Hon Phil Honeywood, Executive Director, International Education Association of Australia (IEAA)
    • Mr Rob Malicki, Director, Australian Institute for Mobility Overseas (AIM Overseas)
    • Mr Bill Scales AO, Chancellor, Swinburne University; President, Business-Higher Education Round Table (B-HERT)
    • Professor Krishna Sen, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Western Australia; President and Chair, Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (DASSH)
    • Hon Warwick Smith AM, Chairman, Asia Society AustralAsia Centre; Chair, Australia-China Council
    • Ms Vicki Thomson, Executive Director, Australian Technology Network of Universities
    • Professor Paul Wellings CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wollongong
    • Mr Tom Williams, National President (Australia), Australia-China Youth Association (ACYA); Student, University of Western Australia
  • Secretariat:
    • Dr Don Markwell, Executive Director, Menzies Research Centre
    • Ms Rachael Thompson, Deputy Director, Menzies Research Centre

The previous Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard,  announced a similar grants program, in April 2013, explicitly comparing it to the the Colombo plan: "What we do today dwarfs in size and scale the work that was done under the Colombo plan.". Presumably this is still part of the ALP's policy platform.

Like the Coalition, the PM misrepresented the Colombo Plan, which was an international program for aid and did not just bring overseas students to Australia. Also like the Coalition, the Prime Minister incorrectly implied the Colombo Plan had ended.

The "AsiaBound Grants Program 2014" was to open on 8 April 2013, with grants made through Australian universities and vocational education institutions who partner with an overseas institution. Amounts of up to $2,000 per vocational student and $5,000 per university student were to be offered. It is not clear if this scheme would proceed under a Coalition government.

The Asia-Bound Study Grants might have the unintended effect of subsidizing the outsourcing of Australian university education to lower cost Asian countries. Australian universities would be paid extra to have their students studying at partner universities in Asia, for up to two semesters. So Australian universities could use a lower cost Asian partner to provide up to one third of a university degree for Australian students. The Australian students might do the rest of their degree on-line and never set foot on a campus in Australia. Such an education need be in no way inferior to an education on an Australian campus, but not what was intended.

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