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Australian spirit of learning

Published on Friday, 25 May 2012
Australia’s multicultural society has proved a fertile ground for Patrick Chu’s PhD research topic.
Photo: Austrade
Elaine Wong
Linda Yan

For a country with a relatively small population, Australia boasts an impressive list of innovations that have made a positive contribution to the welfare of people around the world. This list includes the invention of the black box flight recorder, WiFi internet and the bionic ear, as well as the development of a vaccine for cervical cancer, the pioneering of IVF technology, and the discovery of penicillin.

Having also educated 11 Nobel Prize winners over the past century, in the fields of medicine, science and literature, it is easy to understand why Australian universities are renowned around the world for the quality of their teaching and research.

“Australia is a home of innovative thinkers. Australian universities are educating the leaders of the future. Our graduates and researchers are leading ground-breaking developments that are shaping today, and preparing us for tomorrow,” explains Linda Yan, trade commissioner at the Australian Trade Commission in Hong Kong.

“Our universities have strong links to institutions all over the world – especially within Asia – as well as active research collaboration, global alumni networks, and co-operative relationships between staff and students that enable postgraduate students to become globally connected, both personally and professionally.”

It was Australia’s international reputation as an educational leader in medical sciences that attracted Shirley Ngai, a PhD graduate from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to conduct her postdoctoral research into cardiopulmonary physiotherapy, at the University of Sydney.

“The well-developed healthcare hierarchy, exceptional patient education, disease management and research excellence in cardiopulmonary physiotherapy in Australia were the main reasons that attracted me to apply to do my research there,” Ngai says.

“Conducting a research project is not easy. But I received a lot of support from my host supervisor – a renowned scholar in this area – and the specialists at the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital who helped by referring patients and offering space and assistance for me to conduct my research project,” Ngai says.

“Both the staff of the physiotherapy department at RPA and the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney provided an excellent research environment and facilities for me,” she adds.

The high level of support generally offered to international postgraduate students by Australian universities both surprised and pleased Elaine Wong while completing a master’s degree in advertising at Edith Cowan University, in Western Australia.

“We were provided with our own office with security access, shared between two or three students. This 24-hour access enabled us to better manage our time between study and part-time work,” says Wong.

“Our lecturers were also really helpful and willing to provide us with feedback on our work at irregular hours. I don’t think I would’ve been able to have my last paper published if I hadn’t had that support,” she adds.

In 2011, 300 Hong Kong postgraduate students enrolled in Australian study programmes, with the majority choosing to study by coursework. There were over 260 enrolments at masters level and 25 for doctoral degrees. Most students chose to study in the three main states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

For students wanting to enrol in coursework programmes, Yan says they should consider their academic strengths, interests and career aspirations. They should also think about who is teaching the programme, what learning methods are used, the level of industry exposure provided, their prospective classmates and the networks that they will gain access to during their studies.

Course entry requirements and study and living costs are also important factors to consider, Yan adds. Major cities can be more expensive to live in than regional areas, but the quality of the education programmes can be the same.

For taught postgraduate programmes, students should apply directly to the institution via the internet or by mail at least six to nine months before the course commences. Students wishing to enrol in research-based postgraduate programmes should contact their target universities for details of the application process.

Accommodation options for international students in Australia include home stay, hostels, on-campus flats or dormitories and rentals. However, postgraduate students may prefer to rent to suit their personal and family needs.

While all universities provide support services to foreign students in locating suitable living arrangements, it may also be helpful to regularly check relevant websites.

To help meet the cost of living and studying in Australia, international students are allowed to work full-time during vacations and up to 40 hours per fortnight once classes start.

New visa arrangements proposed for introduction in early 2013 will enable Hong Kong students who graduate from an Australian masters or doctoral degree programme to have access to a post-study work visa, allowing them to get jobs in Australia for up to four years after graduation.

“One of the real benefits of an Australian postgraduate education is that students will meet both Australian and international students and live in a richly diverse multicultural society. In such a global environment, that experience is invaluable,” says Yan.

This multicultural nature of Australian society provided Patrick Chu with the ideal location to complete his research-based PhD on the recognition and perception of foreign-accented speech and to gain a greater understanding of different cultures.

“Australia offered me a good environment to pursue my studies further because of the huge number of people from diverse backgrounds speaking with different accents,” says Chu.

“The university organised activities for international students such as pizza and movie nights, language partner swaps, regular international postgraduate student meetings as well as beach and BBQ parties,” says Chu. “Through these activities, I learned a lot about people from different countries.”

To guarantee quality education, Australia has set up a national regulator for higher education as well as the relevant laws – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000.

To be able to accept international students, institutions need to meet registration requirements in the areas of marketing, education delivery, facilities and student support services.

“Australia is a young and vibrant country. We engage with the world with positivity, determination and a keen sense of what’s possible. It’s a resolute spirit that goes right through to our approach to teaching and learning and inspires confidence, create real-world skills, and encourage independent thinking, teamwork and leadership,” says Yan.

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