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BUSINESSES and NGOs have an important role to play in successful implementation of the New Colombo Plan scholarships through internships and mentoring opportunities . . .

WHEN launching the New Colombo Plan in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra on December 10 last year, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop quoted Sir Percy Spender, who was Minister for External Affairs in the Menzies Government from January 9, 1950.

“Geographically, Australia is next door to Asia, and our destiny as a nation is irrevocably conditioned by what takes place in Asia. This means that our future depends, to an ever-increasing degree, upon the political stability of our Asian neighbours, upon the economic wellbeing of Asian people, and upon the development of understanding and friendly relations between Australia and Asia,” Sir Percy said then.
“Whilst it remains true that peace is indivisible, and that what takes place in any part of the world may affect us, our vital interests are closer to home. It is therefore in Asia and the Pacific that Australia should make its primary effort in the field of foreign relations.”
It was in 1949 when the-then Indian Ambassador to China, K M Pannikar, proposed a multilateral fund to the British and Australian Ambassadors, in order to help the states of Southeast Asia battle Communist movements in their countries. Formally, the organisation was born out of a Commonwealth Conference of Foreign Ministers, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in January 1950; hence its name.
At this meeting, a plan was established to provide a framework within which international co-operation efforts could be promoted to raise the standards of people in the region. Originally conceived as lasting for a period of six years, the Colombo Plan was extended several times until 1980, when it was extended indefinitely.
One of the four Permanent programmes of the Colombo Plan is the Long-Term Scholarships Programme. This saw about 40,000 students from the region come to Australia to live with families here, study in Australian universities, learn about the country, and go home after a positive experience as Ambassadors for Australia.
The New Colombo Plan (NCP) is a flagship Australian Government initiative providing new opportunities for Australian undergraduate students to study and undertake internships and mentorships in the Indo-Pacific region.  It aims to lift knowledge of the region in Australia, build leadership skills, and foster people-to-people and institutional relationships.
The Australian Government has committed $100 million of new funding for the NCP, and a 2014 pilot year is currently under way in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore. This is involves:

  • ? A prestigious scholarships programme – around 40 students selected through a competitive nomination, shortlisting and interview panel process will receive awards valued up to $67,000
  • ? Mobility programme – grants to support more than 700 students to undertake both short and long-term study, internships, mentorships, practicums and research. Grants range from $1,000 to $7,000 per student.

The NCP will be rolled out more broadly in 2015, with locations across the Indo-Pacific to be invited to opt into the scheme from 2015 onwards.

Scholarships: There will be a prestigious scholarship programme for periods of study between one semester and one year. This programme will ensure that, as the NCP expands across the Indo-Pacific, more of Australia’s best and brightest undergraduates are strongly supported to spend a substantial period of time studying and living in the region.
The top-ranked scholar in each location, in each year, will obtain the additional prestige of becoming a New Colombo Plan Fellow. In 2014, Fellowships will be awarded to students who will become the Singapore Fellow, the Hong Kong Fellow, the Japan Fellow, and, for Indonesia, the Yudhoyono Fellow.
At the commencement of their scholarship, scholars must be in at least the second year of their degree; be between 18 and 28 years of age; and undertaking a Bachelor’s degree level programme (Pass or Honours). Scholars must undertake a study programme for which they will receive credit at their home University in any academic discipline.
The study component of the scholarship is mandatory and must be for at least one semester, but may be up to two semesters (a full academic year) in duration.
The criteria taken into account in selecting Scholars comprised demonstrated academic excellence with academic awards at the tertiary level and/or university commendations taken into account as well as leadership in the local community or overseas.
In addition, all applicants had to explain how the award of a Scholarship would enhance their cultural awareness, employment potential and their ability to operate in new and changing environments.
The quality of most of the shortlisted candidates interviewed was truly outstanding, their academic achievements and community involvement inspirational.
Internships and Mentorships: Internships and mentorships are a hallmark of the NCP. In addition to contributing to a student’s academic qualification, they offer students the chance to test their skills in real-life situations, gain insight into an organisation, and to build professional networks.
Internships provide a monitored work or volunteer experience, which should be for academic credit or a mandatory component of a student’s course. They can range in length, be unpaid or paid, undertaken full-time (eg during a semester break or after a course of study) or part time (for example, during a course of study).  The maximum duration of full-time internships is six months.
Mentorships are a personal development relationship, where a more experienced business professional or academic helps guide a student in his or her work or career.
Mentorships allow businesses and NGOs to engage with NCP students where they may not have capacity to support an internship placement, or where the host destination’s visa requirements restrict students from participating in a formal work experience.
More than 300 Australian students have benefitted from the initial round of mobility grants.  Students came from a wide range of disciplines, including business and law, health and education, language and culture, science, technology and engineering.
Students from South Australia are currently in Japan undertaking an internship at Japan, Display Inc, and medical students from Queensland will soon undertake clinical placements in Singapore.  Students from Western Australia are studying and undertaking work placements in Indonesia with leading engineering companies.
Businesses and NGOs in Australia and the region have an important role to play in successful implementation of the NCP, through provision of internship and mentorship opportunities for NCP students.
Business champions can also assist by promoting the value of study and work in the region towards career development, and helping build student demand for NCP experiences.

* Raj Logaraj was appointed by the Australian Government to a Panel to interview some of the shortlisted candidates for the award of the NCP Scholarships. His profile is at Email