THE AUSTRALIAN
BERNARD LANE, IN YOGYAKARTA
February 08, 2013 4:30AMA PROMISE to send thousands more young Australians into Asia on study tours is in doubt after a decision to ignore a model the government itself declares a success.

In the Asian Century white paper the government promised a “significant boost” in the number of university students opting for Asia, rather than traditional exchange destinations in Europe and the US.

And the paper singled out as a “successful model” the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies, a university collaboration set up in part to handle Indonesia’s difficult visa process.

For foreign affairs ministers, Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr included, photo opportunities with young ACICIS students in Indonesia have become a rite of passage.

But specialist university consortiums such as ACICIS and private firms with experience in what is known as student mobility, will be excluded from the government’s new $37m AsiaBound grant scheme, which is supposed to send more than 10,000 students abroad.

The tertiary education department said the scheme would be limited to individual universities where students were enrolled. Experts on study travel say some institutions lack the expertise, resources or even the will to boost numbers.

Adelaide University’s Professor Kent Anderson, who advised the government on the AsiaBound program, said US experience showed that so-called third parties, such as consortiums and private operators, were needed to bring about a big jump in students heading overseas.

“Until we accept that (and change the funding rules), mobility will be small numbers run as a cottage industry within universities,” he said.

About 10-15 per cent of undergraduates take up some kind of overseas study tour.

Just over half of these go to the US or Europe, and a third to Asia, on recent figures.

Indonesia, India and Japan each accounted for less than 3 per cent of overseas trips. Semester-long study for credit in Asia is on a small scale.

The founder of ACICIS, Murdoch University”s Professor David Hill, said the government decision was “extremely disappointing” and “sets the (AsiaBound) program up to fail with regard to Indonesia”.

He said programs open only to individual universities had been “of very limited success” in changing the Australian mindset so that overseas study becomes a normal part of life.

To succeed the government had to draw on country specialists such as ACICIS, set up in 1994 and now boasting more than 20 university members.

“Such programs should be collaborative, collective, and able to provide support to students across all universities, irrespective of the capacity of an individual university to provide additional funding — or even background information about potential programs of study,” Professor Hill said.

Student mobility expert Rob Malicki, director of AIM Overseas, said the decision to exclude private firms “put a leash” on the AsiaBound scheme and meant smaller universities would be poorly placed to exploit it.

A department spokeswoman said: “AsiaBound funding will be paid to students through the universities, higher education providers and registered training organisations where they are enrolled.

“Institutions should be able to work collaboratively to arrange and support mobility experiences.”

Regulation gives the government tight control over individual institutions.