Early in 2010, during my time as Guild President, I was lucky enough to travel to India with nine other Australians as part of a Government/Australia India Business Council sponsored Youth Delegation.
We spoke about the difficulties facing international students, in particular the concerns regarding safety from violence. Part of our time in Delhi was spent at a Young Indians leadership conference where we met a large number of enthusiastic young people who collectively represented our Indian Gen Y peers, variously engaged in business, government, community and education.
Now, I had thought myself a pretty motivated and ambitious person. I'd battled on through the baptism of fire that is student politics (quel horreur!) and was studying my way through a place in Law School.
I hope to work overseas one day, maybe for a law firm, maybe for private enterprise or public education or maybe for something else entirely. Yet this was nothing really, nothing compared to the grim determination and drive of these youthful new Indian friends of mine.
They had a thirst for knowledge, recognition and success that many of us could barely dream of. These were people who had beaten out hundreds of other young Indian nationals for a place at this conference. Many of them already ran small businesses or had started an NGO. For them, this was but a stepping stone at the bottom of the huge ladder they would climb to become successful. And that's when I first understood how complacent we'd become.
The world faces global, polycentric issues that cannot be solved by one nation alone. Between anthropogenic climate change, famine and food crises, vast economic downturn and the prevalence of as-yet untreatable illness, we need people who can span cultures and societies. It's such a cliché, I realise, to talk ad nauseum of our ‘globalised world' but there's truth in it. The advancement of telecommunications and international travel has thrown down the gauntlet so if you really want to be successful today, you have to be competent at the international level.
The world needs graduates with the skills, networks and qualifications to tackle projects across all borders - geographic, linguistic and disciplinary. Australia needs to create such graduates so that we can strengthen our role in the international politic and compete in a market that demands such standards. Universities will need to build the environment that can make this happen.
Don't get me wrong, spending all our time and energy peering outside our borders is not the slip road to success. We need to own what we are, not be held to ransom by overseas expectations. Many challenges still stand in the way, not in the least concerns with the state of Federal funding. Yet with a return to decent indexing of Government education contributions around the corner and the recent passage ofthe Student Services and Amenities Fee legislation bringing a ray of hope back to student services around the country, there's quite a bit to be optimistic about.
We are undoubtedly a lucky country. But as my travels in India highlighted, we are at risk of becoming a very complacent one too. People of my generation looking to dream big will need a wealth of skills and qualifications to back them up and now, more than ever, that reflection should be a key motivation for the tertiary sector.
I say this not as a student representative, nor a staff member, nor a member of University Senate. I say this as an individual interested in education as a tool to bring about the best changes in our world.
We need to compete in the international arena and always strive to be better. The New Courses offer an opportunity to break some of the equity and access barriers that have held back some of our best from aspiring to professional courses such as medicine and law. They encourage students to explore outside their discipline, outside their country, outside their own context. They will offer young Australians a diverse range of qualifications to tackle the big international issues that await them and not be left behind. For me, that's a very reassuring thought.
Academic Policy Services
Published in UWA News, 31 October 2011