Enhancing education ties between Sarawak and Australia

By Jude Toyat
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Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Rod Smith (right) and Australia’s honorary consul in Kuching Datuk Dr Philip Ting speaking in a press conference held at Pullman Hotel Kuching on Aug 23.

Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Rod Smith (right) and Australia’s honorary consul in Kuching Datuk Dr Philip Ting speaking in a press conference held at Pullman Hotel Kuching on Aug 23.

Education has been a strong connecting thread between Sarawak and Australia that goes as far back as the 1950s with the Colombo plan.

Many Sarawakians, including Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem were Colombo Plan scholars, furthering their studies at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

“Today, the education ties between Sarawak and Australia continues to be very strong,” said Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Rod Smith in a press conference held at Pullman Hotel Kuching on Aug 23, who added that this very personal dimension to the relationship helps contribute to better understanding between Sarawak and Australia, creating the desire to work and come up with more potential to do more together in terms of education.

“This year, about 24,000 Malaysians with vast majority of them are Sarawakians have enrolled in Australian universities.”

In Sarawak, there are two Australian university campuses namely Curtin University in Miri and the Swinburne University of Technlogy in Kuching. Another Australian university campus in the country is Monash University in Kuala Lumpur.

“The support that Australia received from the state government has been a very important factor contributing to the success of both Swinburne and Curtin. We are very appreciative of the support they continue to provide in terms of education,” said Smith. “This reminds us of how important education is in building this transregional relationship.”

Smith pointed out that over the years, many Sarawakians have benefitted from Australian university educational programmes through the Colombo plan scholarship.

To replicate the benefits of the Colombo plan, a new programme was introduced in 2014 called the New Colombo Plan scholarship programme. Some may refer it as the ‘reverse’ Colombo Plan as it is targeted towards Australian students who will head out to Asian universities instead.

“It is a scholarship programme that supports undergraduates to study in other countries which are part of the Asia-Pacific region,” Smith explained.

“Through this plan, Australian students were also given opportunities to study in universities in Malaysia. Being part of the plan, they were able to develop understanding about Malaysian history and cultures.

“It also encourages people-to-people links which is very important in moving our relationship forward.”

In 2015, which was also the first year that Malaysia participated in the New Colombo Plan, about 150 Australian students furthered their studies in Malaysia.

“This year, we have about 270 Australian students participating in Malaysian universities and we hope that the programme will continue to grow and the number will increase in future years.”

Smith pointed out that one of the areas of growth in education relationship, in addition to higher education, was vocational education and training.

“As Malaysia continues to develop the skills of its workforce to fit the demands of the global economy, there are many areas in which Australia vocational and training providers can work with Malaysian institutions to help develop those skills,” he said adding that Malaysia and Australia shared very strong connections in various sectors, including education, migration, tourism and business.

Smith revealed that currently about 4,000 students were furthering their studies in Curtin and Swinburne each. He said the capacity could be increased in the near future.

Curtin University ranked 23rd while Swinburne was 81st in the world for universities under the age of 50 in the QS World University Rankings 2015. Curtin also received a five-star overall excellence rating in the QS Stars University Ratings 2015.

“In addition to that, there are about seven Australian universities ranked in the Top 100. This is a testament to the quality of Australian universities, which are also very strong in terms of its vocational education and training. We are very keen to work with Sarawak to see how our expertise can benefit the state towards enhancing its workforce in the future,” he added.

Acknowledging that most of the senior members of the Sarawak administration as well as business community leaders are direct beneficiaries of the Colombo Plan, Australia’s honorary consul in Kuching Datuk Dr Philip Ting said that Australia has always been a top choice for education in the state.

“Many Colombo Plan scholars from Sarawak who furthered their studies in Australia came back to serve in the state and become business and political leaders.

“This shows how credible Australian higher learning institutions are towards enhancing the quality of education in the state,” he said.

In a year, Swinburne and Curtin Sarawak can take up to 6, 500 students each.

“Eighty per cent of the undergraduates studying in Australian universities are Sarawakian, and only 20 per cent are foreigners. This means that there will be more Sarawakian Australian alumni compared to anywhere else very soon and this is a great testament to the Australian education system which is very well perceived.

“Moreover, about 96 per cent of all graduates from Swinburne and Curtin will get employment within six months upon graduation. When you talk about unemployed graduates issue in Malaysia, I guarantee you that very few of them are from Swinburne, Curtin or Monash,” he added.

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