Sunday, April 07, 2013

Asia-Bound Study Grants

The Australian Prime Minister announced that applications were open for small grants to help students study in Asia ("Applications Open for AsiaBound Study", 6 April 2013). The "AsiaBound Grants Program 2014" opens on 8 April 2013.
The grants will be 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 are offered. It is not clear why vocational students receive less money than university students. The grants are to "... offset some of the costs involved in participating in an international study in Asia of one or two semesters ...".

The AsiaBound Grants Program Guidelines require that the student has to study on a campus in the nominated Asian country. However, the guidelines do not say how long the student has to be there for. It is likely that most new students will be undertaking studies in blended mode, with about 75% of their time on-line and 25% in the classroom. The optimal location for the student when studying on-line, or in the classroom, may differ from course to course. The student could be physically on the Asian campus to absorb the local culture informally, while their formal study is on-line with an Australian university. Alternatively the student might be at the Asian campus for a short intensive part of the program and undertake the rest of the course on-line in Australia. Some blend of the two is likely.

The Asia-Bound Study Grants may have the unintended effect of subsidizing the outsourcing of Australian university education to lower cost Asian countries. Australian universities will 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.

In announcing the new grants, Prime Minister Julia Gillard compared them to the the Colombo plan: "What we do today dwarfs in size and scale the work that was done under the Colombo plan." This is not quite correct, as the Colombo plan was an international program for aid and did not just bring overseas students to Australia. Also the Prime Minister is incorrect in implying that Colombo Plan has ended, as a small secretariat still operates from Colombo coordinating some programs.

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