New Colombo Plan: Australians as international students in Asia and their cross-cultural learning

A/Prof. Ly Tran1

1Deakin University, Vermont, Australia

The latest figure from the Australian University Directors’ Forum, AUIDF, (2016) shows that the number of Australian students participating in learning abroad increased more than six fold over the last 10 years, from 6000 in 2005 to 38,144 in 2015. Almost one out of five Australian students undertook learning abroad during their undergraduate study in 2015 (AUIDF, 2016). The New Colombo Plan program established in 2014 represents the Australian government’s signature initiative of not only student mobility but importantly public diplomacy. This important mobility program has contributed to the recent remarkable growth of Australia’s outbound mobility to Asia, bringing the number of Australian students funded by the NCP to the Indo Pacific to more than 10,000 by 2016. However up to date, there has been insufficient empirical data about the cross-cultural development and other forms of learning Australian students are engaged in Asia through the New Colombo Plan. This paper aims to fill out this critical gap. It draws on empirical data from a research project that includes policy discourse analysis and more than 50 interviews with academics, mobility officers and Australian students undertaking study abroad in Asia. The presentation addresses the diverse forms of learning including intended and incidental learning, authentic, formal and informal learning as well as individual and collective learning in which the New Colombo Plan participants are engaged. Using Bourdieu’s concepts of capital and habitus to interpret Australian students’ learning in Asia, it analyses to what extent Asia as a geographical, social, cultural and educational space can help to transform Australian students’ cross-cultural understanding, their capacity to pursue a meaningful professional life and their potential to act as actors of public diplomacy with regard to Australia’s connection with Asia. The presentation draws on Harvard University’s Visible Thinking Approach to engage the audience in exploring Australian students’ learning and cross-cultural development in Asia via the New Colombo Plan.


Dr Ly Thi Tran is an Associate Professor in the School of Education, Deakin University, Australia. Her research focuses on student mobility including the New Colombo Plan and the teaching, learning and wellbeing of international students across the school, VET and HE sectors. Ly has been awarded three grants on international student mobility and staff professional development in international education from the Australian Research Council. She has published widely in the field of international education and is frequently invited to speak at a wide range of conferences, symposiums and workshops on student mobility and the teaching and learning of international students. Ly’s book, ‘Teaching international students in vocational education: New pedagogical approaches’, won the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) Excellence Award for Best Practice/Innovation in International Education.


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