AIM Overseas has analysed the recently released AsiaBound Grant Program Guidelines – there is a written analysis as well as a video analysis.

Both can be found below.

Media enquiries can be directed to: Rob Malicki, Director (02 9975 7792)

Overview

  1. AsiaBound is the most significant outbound mobility initiative since OS-HELP was introduced in 2005, Di Yerbury chaired the National Forum in 2006, and the OS-HELP loan fee was removed in 2009.
  • Recap: AsiaBound introduces new funding of over $30m for scholarships, $3m for universities Australia to run an information campaign and structural changes to OS-HELP. See our video analysis of the scheme at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zbdil1sYIu4
  1. Overall, the Guidelines looks open and flexible, allowing institutions to apply for funding for projects covering a wide range of international experiences.
  2. The scheme is open to both Higher Ed and VET providers, public and private, which is equitable and a good extension of the good work the Department has already done in trying to encourage VET-level mobility.
  3. Only requiring experiences to make up a mandatory component of an Australian course means a lot more types of experiences can be funded — this is in sync with the changes to OS-HELP and helps emphasise the value of experiences like clinical placements and research.
  4. The funding amounts indicated ($5k exchanges, $2k short programs, $1k language) look like a fair way to divide the ‘pot’. The Department retains the right to redirect funding from one of these elements to another in the event they are under-subscribed. This is a good mechanism to ensure the funding is fully used.
  5. The inclusion of the Project Facilitation subsidies is a very good one and is very open and flexible. This is a very clever way of assisting universities with the burden of applying for and administering these projects, without straying into the territory of the general funding of universities. It also leaves the door open to working with private providers, which was one of the significant concerns of universities during the discussions around these guidelines.
  6. System for applying for grants follows the standard DIICCSRTE process, so universities will already be familiar with that and thus don’t have to learn a new process (although see challenge 2 below).
  7. Allowing institutions to run projects from second half year 2013 right through to EoY 2014 gives institutions plenty of time to implement and acquit
  8. Credit must be given to the Department for their excellent work over the past five years in continuing to listen to the sector and, as much as possible, adapt the outbound funding programs to make them easier for institutions to work with.
  9. The Guidelines don’t specifically exclude utilising private providers as part of a project — like travel agents, language schools etc — but logically outline that only eligible education providers can apply for the grants. This will be a relief to many institutions who held concerns about this (see AIM Overseas’ Alignment of Interest at the end of this document).

Challenges

1.     New Opportunities vs Old Opportunities

The Guidelines acknowledge that in semester 2, 2013 institutions will build on ‘established activities’. This will lead to the obvious criticism that the scheme isn’t actually creating anything ‘new’. However, it is being realistic about the the time it takes institutions to create new opportunities (anywhere from 3-18 months) and without naming names I’m aware of a number of institutions who have been anticipating the release of the Guidelines and are ready to activate new options quickly.

2.     Quality

As counterpoint to point 4 in the summary, it’s fantastic to open the scheme so broadly but it must be noted that in some cases this removes an institution’s inherent quality control mechanism (i.e. academic credit being assigned to a course and courses being monitored by an Academic Senates or other institutional bodies). In theory this might increase the risk of lower quality experiences being funded, although there is an inherent check and balance by projects having to be ‘prioritised’, thus an opportunity to ‘revisit’ the quality of projects in future funding rounds.

3.     Application Timeline

As has been widely acknowledge, the funding timeline is restrictive for institutions — a 6 week turnaround time is quite short. Big mobility programs should be ready and capable to get applications in for both new and existing projects, but smaller outbound teams might be stretched. However, as for Challenge 1, the fact the grants can be used for existing relationships and projects means that even small programs should be able to get something together at short notice.

It should be acknowledged that the Department have created a new funding program, 5-6 times bigger than the previous program, in just a few months. In addition, two changes of Minister in that period probably hasn’t assisted the approval process.

4.     Maximum number of subsidies

The maximum number of subsidies per application is ‘10’ Realistically, ‘10’ is not a large number of places for a study tour, and ‘1’ is not a large number of exchange movements. These numbers may mean that institutions may need to complete multiple applications for a single program.

5.     Availability of Language subsidies

Restricting language subsidies to students going on short programs and exchanges may eliminate a potential pool of outbound students: those who just want to undertake a language experience overseas. It also means some students will ‘double dip’ on grants by obtaining a language subsidy followed by an exchange/short term subsidy.

6.     Double Dipping

Students are able to access one short term subsidy, one semester subsidy and one intensive language subsidy. This seems a fair approach. Some might argue that this means an overall smaller pool of students will access the scheme and simply do so multiple times — hence diluting the total number of students who will pick up grants through the scheme. Whilst this is true, I would also argue that it means a number of students getting a far deeper, more comprehensive understanding of Asia, which is also a clear goal of the scheme.

Questions

Are we going to see a splash?

Yes, without question. It’s not certain whether this will be before the September poll, but without doubt the Government is going to have runs on the board in what is shaping up to be a key policy area for both sides, which will put some pressure on the Opposition to quickly add details to their ‘New Colombo Plan’.

Can institutions handle the quick turnaround time?

Having spoken to many Australian universities, many of the smaller outbound programs have expressed concern about the amount of time they have to submit these grant applications. It seems quite clear that the big mobility programs will have no significant issue in submitting a substantial suite of applications, and whilst some of the small programs will be stretched to get projects in, it’s unlikely anyone will want to miss out on what is a very attractive funding opportunity.

Alignment of Interest

AIM Overseas is a private organisation dedicated to the outbound mobility of Australian university students. We run intensive overseas short courses, however, we only offer one option in Asia and AIM Overseas will receive no direct benefit from the implementation of the AsiaBound scheme.