For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.
When Julie Bishop was foreign minister she committed Australia to the New Colombo Plan, a bold push to get more young Australians out of their comfort zones and into learning opportunities across the Asia-Pacific region.
Julie Bishop at the United Nations headquarters in 2015.Credit:AP
The growth in numbers was impressive. In 2014, 8437 Australian students pursued learning abroad in the Asia-Pacific region. By 2019, that number had almost doubled to 15,440.
Then, in March last year, as Australia’s global connections began to wither, student exchange came to a grinding halt. The New Colombo Plan, Westpac’s Asian Exchange and high school programs such as Rotary and AFS all needed to make dramatic adjustments.
Some activities were amenable to a virtual mode. Most were not. Building closer people-to-people links is the primary ambition of these schemes and, however miraculous our technologies, there is simply no substitute for getting young people to know each other up close.
Until now, the focus of pandemic student mobility has been – rightly so – on urgently managing decimated international student numbers.
Yet this overshadows the potentially devastating impact of a years-long moratorium on getting Australian students into the Asia-Pacific region. The blunt reality is that the window for participating in international mobility opportunities is time-sensitive. These are youthful moments, which, once passed, are almost irretrievable.
There is something raw and enduring about the friendships formed on unfamiliar streets in loose and unencumbered times. Those friendships regularly persist into deep professional ties.
Virtual connections work for senior players with mature networks. But the stripping of sensory experiences offers little to newcomers. There is no Zoom substitute for the mistakes we all make, or the lessons we learn the hard way.
Too often we see the consequences of blundering Australian leaders who can manage only timid, unsophisticated and illiterate engagements with our key neighbours. We now risk losing a generation of Australians who want to study and work with their Asia-based peers.
Australia, more than ever, will rely on the bonds we create across the Asia-Pacific region. In economic and cultural terms, these links are priceless. They are one of the vital antidotes to the narrow-minded and parochial instincts lying beneath the surface of Australian life.
We who are beneficiaries of pre-pandemic mobility schemes need to help ensure there’s a quick return of Asia-bound student opportunities. We should recognise what multiple cohorts of students have lost in this pandemic, and find ways to give them the chances we take for granted.
Sadly, if we are seriously contemplating a dramatic deterioration in the security landscape, there may not be endless opportunities to refresh how we understand the lives of our friends across the Asia-Pacific region.
Young people will need to be at the vanguard as we all seek to remind ourselves and our neighbours of our many shared goals.
Alice Dawkins is a senior associate at Asia strategy firm Lydekker. She was previously a New Colombo Plan scholar in Myanmar and a Schwarzman scholar at Tsinghua University, China.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article