University of Melbourne Magazine

Learning takes on a foreign accent

  • While self-funded international students have studied at the University since 1853, many more arrived after 1951 when the Commonwealth-funded Colombo Plan commenced and hundreds of students from across the Asia-Pacific region joined the institution. This ran until the mid-1970s.

    In the 1990s the Melbourne Abroad Office managed an outbound exchange program with a meagre annual budget of $100,000.

    Veterinary Science student Ainsley Sutton undertook work placement at the Elephant Nature Park, Thailand.

    Veterinary Science student Ainsley Sutton undertook work placement at the Elephant Nature Park, Thailand.

    In 1997 the University sent more than 90 students overseas and was a founding member of Universitas 21 (U21), an international network of 27 research universities in 19 countries. U21 members sign up for five years and agree to host an equal number of students over the life of the agreement. Students fund their own passage and accommodation but tuition is free and coursework completed is credited back to the student’s degree.

    Momentum grew, and in 2007 the MGM office opened, led by ex-student Cossar (MIntBus 2006) who at 28 had already been on two overseas exchanges and had worked in education abroad administration in Denver in the US.

    “We sent 365 students abroad that year, mainly to North America and Europe,” he says. “Back then student mobility only meant exchange. It was a rite of passage for a year abroad but the numbers weren’t big and students needed to source opportunities themselves.”

    Since then the number of institutions, funding options and the types of study options have swelled. According to the 2012 report Outgoing International Mobility of Australian University Students, 24,763 students undertook international study experiences across 38 Australia universities.

    “We aren’t alone; every Australian university is like this,” says Cossar, who credits an increasingly global community, the strong Australian dollar and the Commonwealth OS-HELP loan scheme for the surge in outgoing numbers.

    But it isn’t a free-for-all. There are minimum standards and competition for prestigious courses is steep.

    To be eligible, students must complete a year of study before they depart, complete a financial plan and have a weighted average mark of 65 per cent, “but it is usually higher, more like 70 to 75 per cent”.

    “If we have five spaces available for the Wharton School in Pennsylvania in the US then the top five will be offered the places,’’ Cossar says.

    “So we are finding that over time more students are open to going to Canada or the UK if they want an English-speaking destination.”

    MGM’s website lays out all of the courses, funding options, selection criteria and critical dates. The program also runs information sessions and offers personal service at the front counter at the MGM office.

    An array of funding options are available, including the Melbourne Global Mobility grant of $1000-$2500 to all students accepted into a course. Students with an ATAR of 98 or more are guaranteed a grant. OS-HELP offers loans of up to $7500, paid back with the HECS debt. Faculty funding is also available.

    Students are often choosing more than one experience. “If they plan enough they can do a short course overseas, a semester and an internship, all abroad,’’ says Cossar.


    – Angela Martinkus