VALUE & NEED FOR THE PROJECT

 

The New Colombo Plan signals that the Australian government has identified value in supporting university students to participate in OMPs to connect with the Asian and Indo-Pacific region for the long-term national goals of developing regional perspectives. The Plan foreshadows a shift away from an exclusive focus on inbound students from our region as a generator of export earnings and outbound mobility to Europe and North America as a value-adding dimension of tertiary education. The New Colombo Plan puts greater emphasis on outbound internationalisation of our future leaders as a response to the growing importance of Australia’s relationship to Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and the opportunities that our region

presents.

 

The EPITOME research corresponds to the OLT’s stated goals of promoting mobility, in part by understanding what makes students reluctant to take up these opportunities, both in terms of active obstacles, but also because the potential transformative effect of OMP may not be adequately or appropriately communicated to them. Case studies of transformation will help us to provide program designers with methods to leverage students’ positive experiences to recruit, prepare and debrief later cohorts. Moreover, detailed case studies of positive transformation will improve the design of programs,

maximise the outcome of international programs, and serve as a resource to share with students to shape expectations. Our case study research on students who opt out will be as valuable especially when it comes to designing recruitment activities.

As mobility programs scale up, especially due to growth in funding and our national educational priorities, staff inexperienced in OMP will be given the responsibility for developing, implementing, and leading study tours. We hypothesise this situation could potentially lead to the magnification of adverse transformational experiences. The development of OMP teaching resources will facilitate the transfer of the skill to design and direct these programs, and training of mobility-facilitating personnel will be made more explicit and expertly scaffolded. The need for program training will be equally applicable for OMPs developed by the universities themselves and for those that universities may choose to outsource through a growing host of private organisations offering to organise and coordinate international study tours on their behalf. The experience gained by project leaders through previous OMPs is that successful programs require careful planning and consideration of all aspects of the development of the itinerary, pre-departure activities, incountry programming and student re-entry and reintegration processes.

 

Team member experiences with OMPs has led us to theorise that stronger channels to communicate lessons learned by those designing, providing and leading study tours are a timely prerequisite to advance the field. The life-cycle of program leaders can be quite short; these roles can be difficult to maintain, due to both burnout and changing life circumstances that prevent demanding travel schedules. Turnover in international program offices can be high, and international study programs emerge and get closed down with changes in international conditions, university financial situations, and student interest. This understandable institutional ‘churn’ can be bridged with better resources for program designers, bootstrapping program start-up with lessons learned from other programs.

 

Lastly, with an anticipated increase of OMPs on offer over the next decade or so, we speculate there will be a major recruitment drive for new or less experienced staff to manage these programs. Based on this premise it is timely to generate robust evidence-based resources. EPITOME fills a void in OMP design by providing staff with an industry best practice resource for new staff developing itineraries for the first time, whilst also assisting more experienced staff wanting to benchmark their existing programs.