When she launched the New Colombo Plan in December 2013, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she hoped that Australian tertiary students would come to see a period of study at an Asian university as ‘a rite of passage’ associated with their transition to adulthood.
This lecture suggests that much is being asked of the New Colombo Plan, including the constant invitation to recall the successes of the original Colombo Plan; but I also suggest that now is the right time to be setting both research and policy directions in relation to the subject of international students as a dimension of foreign relations. Much has changed for connections between Asia and Australia since the original Colombo Plan gave way to other aid programs and revised thinking on international students in the 1980s. But one of the most enduring sources of narrative about connections, and one that taps directly into memories of the original Colombo Plan, is that of shared learning and life experiences – the personal reflections that featured in AusAID, and now feature in DFAT, stories about student experiences. At a time of when international students are being considered elsewhere as an under-appreciated dimension of foreign relations, Australians should logically be extending their thinking in how best to ‘listen’ to student reflections and communicate with overseas alumni.