Saturday, September 20, 2008

Australian Education and its impact in the Philippines

As one of the initiatives of Kevin Rudd's labor government, AusAid has embarked on a global survey of the impact of Australian scholarship programmes in particular and Australian education in general. Australia considers its programme as a good but costly investment.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, AusAid representatives and its consultants held a series of focused group discussions (FGD) . AusAid is looking at the possibility of setting up a network of scholarship grantees in all countries. Australia has been providing scholarships to citizens of more than 50 countries.

For the FGD, AusAid invited Pinoy scholars. Australia's scholarship programme for the Philippines once included a private (merit) category and a public (government) scholarship component. I got my PhD scholarship in the merit category. Many of the ex-scholars are now with private business concerns. Since the government category is larger, many ex-scholars are with the government departments.

Australian educational aid in recent years have focused on governance especially in the administration of justice (a lot of the ex-scholars are with the Justice department and the Supreme Court). Some are with the state higher education sector and a few are with the Office of the President.

The FGD was conducted by a larrikin Queenslander named Geoff. Geoff is now an independent organization specialist who was once with the state school system of Queensland.

Many of the scholars studied in Sydney and Melbourne. Geoff's Queensland jokes were lost on them. Since I studied in north Queensland, I was the only one to get the larrikin jokes! (and laughed)

I know about these state school jokes since my best mate Simon, was a Queensland school teacher before he studied for a postgrad qualification in my university.

So it seems I stood out! Worse, in the FGD, my Queensland accent reemerged!

Back to more serious biz. Geoff wanted to find out if the Pinoy scholars wanted a network. Our consensus is this is really needed. Unlike the US scholarship program, Australia's program still lacks follow through on their ex-scholars. For example US Fulbright grantees are always contacted (s0metimes more than twice a year) after they have returned home. Thus Fulbrighters have very little excuse to be out of the loop. (BTW, I was a Fulbright grantee too!). I brought out the point that AusAid scholars once they have returned, lost touch with AusAid and their fellow grantees. Thus a Fulbright like network is needed.

AusAid suggests that the network focus on "national development". We told Geoff that the phrase has political colour (especially in the Philippines) and perhaps AusAid should look into a less loaded phrase. The Fulbright network just focuses on strengthening US-Philippine relations. This isn't a politically loaded term as "national development".

But what I learned from Geoff is how Australian scholarships have impacted nations like Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the African countries and the Pacific island nations. In some countries the programme did make a huge impact and in some just a minor one.

As for the Philippines, the impact it seems is modest as compared to that of the American one. After all America was our colonial master and we have historical ties to that nation. Also America has had a scholarship programme in the Philippines for more than a hundred years. Australia on the other hand started its programme in the early 1950s. My mum is one of the first women Australian scholarship grantees in 1952. Australia had gender equality in scholarship criteria even then. (Other scholarship programmes gave grants only to men!)

Thus according to the Australian Embassy, the total number of grantees since 1950 is about 10,000. But many of these are in responsible positions in the private and public sectors.ThusI believe the Pinoy scholars have made a difference.

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