Speech at the SEAMEO-Australia Education Links Award ceremony

Simon Birmingham: Well thanks so much, Karen, for your welcome and introductory remarks. Your Excellencies and representatives of various diplomatic missions from the various SEAMEO nations; Karen, of course, the Minister in charge of – particularly our vocation, education and skills activities, but also a very important partner with me in our international education efforts; and most importantly today, of course, Nguyen Bui, thank you for coming and joining us today and letting us all bask in your success a little bit through this celebration.

International education, exchange of students from different countries, the mobility of students from different nations, and the celebration of successive students all plays a very important role in terms of strengthening of our country, the strengthening of countries within our region and the strengthening of the relations and activities between our countries. And these links we have with other nations go back a long time in terms of the mobility of students, the original Colombo Plan, those types of investments that have looked to ensure high quality educational opportunities and stronger links between nations.

They also go back, in a formal sense, quite some time. SEAMEO, as I understand, was founded in 1965 to promote regional cooperation in education, science, and culture and Australia then joined it some 42 years ago in 1974. And of course, the 11 members of SEAMEO are amongst Australia’s closest neighbours and most important friends in South East Asia. We were thrilled, and are thrilled, that last year around 100,000 students from SEAMEO nations chose Australia as a location to study. We’re thrilled to have supported some of those students to come to Australia through the Endeavour Scholarships program and our efforts in student mobility. We’re also thrilled that we increasingly see Australian students choosing to and supported to – through Endeavour, through New Colombo Plan scholarships – to go and study in SEAMEO countries, that close to 4000 such Australian students travelled through the supported efforts of the Australian Government to ensure that student mobility is truly a two-way street and that we are delivering the type of richness of experience and opportunity that people expect.

SEAMEO has been a real policy leader in South East Asia, establishing some 23 specialist institutions throughout the region; undertaking research, training and activities across various fields of education and science and culture. Importantly, a number of institutions focus on issues relating to lifelong learning, innovation and education technology, the development of STEM education programs for example. Priorities around sharing skills and best practices across technical vocational education and training, early childhood care and policies, teacher education and the adoption of 21st century curriculum; all of those are topics that, for Karen and I, they dominate our time, our discussions, together with our department and of course with our states and territories. They reflect the fact that we have shared priorities, as they dominate the work of senior member states in terms of your work, cooperatively, to help ensure progress across all aspects of the lifelong journey of education.

We are pleased to have supported the Education Links Award since 2013, and before that a press prize since 2007. The Education Links Award seeks to reward innovative projects that improve education linkages in the SEAMEO region and bilaterally do so between SEAMEO member countries and Australia, just as all of our efforts in student mobility help to encourage such stronger bilateral links. The winner is supported and receives a significant grant funded by the Australian Government, but of course what’s more important is the recognition of high quality work and research and effort that the reward gives. Proposals are evaluated based on their innovation, their practicability, their originality, their scope for replication and expansion, and their value for money in terms of their ability in a sustainable sense to be able to be implemented in the improvement of education.

This year’s proposals had to align with the SEAMEO priority theme of ‘addressing barriers to inclusion’ and demonstrate how it is that they relate to the concept of inclusive education and education where barriers are removed in terms of attitude, physical challenges, language, communication and education that is accessible to all within a country.

Ms Nguyen’s winning project is titled IT-HELPS: Australia-Vietnam Telecollaboration for Intercultural Language Education. A slightly wordy title.

IT-HELPS is the abbreviation of the seven discussion themes, as I understand it, therefore giving some sense to the nature of the title. And those themes that will help people build intercultural capabilities: identities, taboos and stereotypes, holidays, education and employment, language, people and places, social issues and distinctions. The project, as I’m advised, uses an online collaboration model to build the English language skills of Vietnamese teachers, and will connect university language classes in Vietnam and Australia with the aim of improving learners’ language proficiency and helping to prepare them for global engagement. It draws on expertise from An Giang University, Vietnam, and the ANU, as well as RMIT. And I also want to acknowledge the project’s collaborators, who are present today, Professor Jane Simpson from ANU, where are you Jane? There you go, excellent, and Dr Chantal Crozet from RMIT. Thank you both for joining us today but also for joining us in particular in this celebration and for your work in terms of this project.

This is a great example how we can use new technologies to help build skills and experiences and how we can embrace together as nations in our region innovative education training and research practices that can really ensure that, in what is an increasingly a borderless society, that applicability of such borderless society translates in particular to education and learning.

Our universities, our education institutions, just as yours are increasingly able to connect with students in any part of the world at any time, to connect with researchers and collaborators in any other part of the world at any time. Technological innovation can offer us some valuable opportunities to continually enhance that international collaboration to get the best possible jobs from it; and in this instance to make it as accessible as possible to all the citizens in our nations.

I understand the big award was officially presented in Jakarta in July of this year. I want to offer sincere congratulations to you for your work, your efforts and the acknowledgement this reward provides. Three years into your PhD at ANU, we’re thrilled that you’ve been supported by an Australian Government Endeavour postgraduate scholarship and these are clear examples of the types of mobility assistance that we are providing to help enhance that richness of relations between Australia and countries in our region to ensure that the skills development that takes place is one which provides benefits to countries like Vietnam, but also leaves a lasting legacy of stronger cultural ties, of stronger diplomatic ties, of stronger security ties, of stronger education ties, and stronger business ties that come from such support and mobility.

Fifty-two students from SEAMEO member countries have been supported to study in Australia on Endeavour Scholarship or mobility grants this year alone, and of course we’re sure there will be many more in the future.

So congratulations again. Thank you, as I said at the outset for letting us share in your success, in your glory a little, but thank you more so for what is a valuable piece of work and it can hopefully help to provide better, stronger, more inclusive education opportunities for more people, not only for Vietnam or Australia, but across our region and ultimately learning can apply across the world. Well done, congratulations.