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Why Australian Universities?

The continent of Australia is often thought to be very geographically isolated. Historically, to many people in Europe and North America, the idea of Australia being ‘down under’ was quite real. Even today, many people in the Northern Hemisphere think of Australia as somehow detached, or separate to the major land masses of the globe.

There may be debate in and outside of Australia on the question of where it fits into the world community. However, Australian universities have an unbroken tradition since the foundation of the first two universities in 1850 and 1851, of looking outwards in their teaching, research and staffing. In many ways, this early manifestation of internationalisation was a direct result of Australia’s geographical location. Until the late 1940s, the small number of universities, only one in each of the six State capitals, did not provide a domestic base large enough to sustain scholarship and research standards. International contact was therefore an essential ingredient in the programs of all universities.

The rapid growth in Australia’s population and economy in the last 50 years has been matched by an equally rapid growth in the number of universities. From six in 1946, the number has now grown to 38. With this growth has come an expansion and diversification of traditional international links. Those which historically involve scholarship and research co-operation with universities and research centres in Western Europe and North America have been maintained and expanded. However, in recent years there has also been quite dramatic growth in links with higher education institutions in the Asia Pacific region.

The most apparent change to the public face of Australian universities in the last 50 years has been the increasing number of international students. In the 1950s, Australian universities were partners with government in the widely known Columbo Plan Scholarships. These Australian Government scholarships which brought to Australia for university courses some thousands of students from Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Subsequently, many thousands of private overseas students undertook university courses free of charge in Australian universities. Those arrangements were changed in the late 1980s with the introduction of full fees for all overseas students. But, this did not diminish the demand by overseas students for an Australian university education. In 1997, a record 64,000 overseas students were enrolled in Australian university courses.

Less public, but equally important have been the other ways in which Australian universities have internationalised. A major area of change has been in the curriculum, with a wide range of courses now including, Asian languages, and a requirement for a period of study abroad. Another example has been in university administration, with the introduction of changes designed to recognise the cultural backgrounds and traditions of a very diverse body of students and staff.

Today, Australian universities are international universities, evident at all levels of curriculum, research, faculty and administration. They welcome international students at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and actively seek opportunities for international research collaboration. In the spirit of internationalism, enquiries about enrolments or co-operative activities will be warmly received.
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