Dean Forbes



Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

Commission on International Education

Colorado Springs, July 2009

Dean Forbes1 and Stephanie Fahey2

1 Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) Flinders University

2 Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) Monash University

Australian universities have been navigating a third wave of internationalisation resulting in some important changes in their international activities.

The first wave of Australian university’s internationalisation commenced in 1951.  The Australian Government’s Colombo Plan was responsible for bringing around 40,000 foreign students to Australia in the period to the late 1980s (Auletta 2001).  The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT 2005) estimates that around 200,000 foreign students received Australian and other government support to study in Australia.

Internationalisation’s second wave commenced in 1987.  The government responded to the recommendations of the Jackson Report (1984) by enabling universities to introduce fees for international students, initially through an Overseas Student Charge, and later through fees determined by individual universities.  This led to a sustained growth in international students studying at Australian universities and in offshore programs and campuses.  In 2007 they totalled 273,000, of which 202,000 were studying in Australia.

The third wave of internationalisation is characterised by an increased emphasis on collaboration in education and research, and building more explicit and strategic knowledge transfer partnerships supporting community and regional development.  In particular it involves creating more mature relationships, without the asymmetry of past connections.  Idealistically, perhaps, it is about making increased efforts to more closely align with, and make a contribution to, the development goals of the countries in which Australian universities have a presence.give back to the international communities that have supported international education, especially those that have been further marginalised by the rapid growth of the global knowledge economy. The least idealistic rationale is that the current asymmetrical relationships which underpin international student recruitment are not sustainable and that a movre towards partnerships is essential.

Strengthening the commitment to international knowledge transfer partnerships demands that we scrutinise what universities are currently doing, think about what we might try to achieve in the future, and how best to go about it.  All but two Australian universities are public institutions.  Universities are autonomous and self-accrediting with regard to education awards.  They all have community engagement programs of some kind, but these are not funded through dedicated lines in the recurrent budget, which is directed at teaching and research.  Arguments have been put to government for dedicated ‘third stream’ funding, but have been rebuffed on the grounds that those activities are expected under current funding arrangements.

This presentation focuses on knowledge transfer (or knowledge exchange) initiatives that originate in universities and are primarily resourced by universities.  These initiatives are an important sub-set of third wave initiatives. A recent study sponsored by Universities Australia (2009) makes passing reference to the contribution of these initiatives to the public diplomacy benefits of the international education activities of Australian universities.  We have deliberately excluded programs run with substantial support from aid agencies, and research collaborations. 

The first half of this presentation describes two case studies of well-established programs that have some of the hallmarks of the third wave of internationalisation. Case study one looks at the Monash University campus in Africa, and the knowledge transfer development activities that it undertakes.  Case study two describes a cluster of health-related projects in eastern Indonesia initiated through Flinders University.

The second half of the presentation addresses four broad challenges arising as Australian universities increase their commitment to supporting knowledge-based community and regional development.


Monash University is based in Melbourne.  It is currently currently Australia’s largest university by student numbers, and also one of the most committed to internationalisation, with significant offshore campuses in Malaysia and South Africa. It also has a teaching, research and conference centre in Prato, north of Florence and a joint research academy with IIT (Bombay). In Australia the university has 12,500 international students and across the network of campuses, more than 17,000.

Monash South Africa (MSA) was established in Ruimsig, just outside Johannesburg, in 2001, as a long-term commitment by Monash to the future sustainable development of South and Sub-Saharan Africa, through the provision of education. 

The lack of economic growth, investment and the associated inability to participate more fully in the knowledge economy is reflected in the fact that Africa has the least per capita access to higher education in the world.  There are only 100 higher education students per 100,000 of population compared with 5,000 students per 100,000 in the USA.

MSA was established on a greenfield site, and is now a campus of more than 2,500 students.  The campus infrastructure and resources provide educational, recreational and support facilities not only for the students enrolled at MSA, but for members of the broader community and community groups who undertake short courses at the campus or use campus facilities for community-based activities. 

Over half of MSA’s students are involved in voluntary activities. A major engagement, for example, is with the local informal settlement in Zandspruit, 2 kms from the campus. It has a population of over 60,000 people and is growing rapidly.  Students and staff work together with young people from the settlement who travel to the campus each Saturday in University buses. The young people participate in activities on the campus including learning basic computing skills, playing chess, Australia football training, and attending science and art classes.  They are given a basic meal. One young student from the settlement scored well in the final high school exams and was awarded a MSA scholarship.

Monash has also launched a three-year partnership with the Oaktree Foundation, an Australian, youth-led aid and development organisation which was established by a group of Monash students.  Its mission is to empower developing communities through education in a sustainable manner.  The innovative Schools 4 Schools program partners schools in Australia with schools in South Africa, aiming at empowering communities to deal with the challenges of poverty, HIV/AIDS, crime and drugs. It does this by partnering with the GoLD (Generation of Leaders Discovered) Program, which delivers peer-led education programs on the ground in South Africa on behalf of Oaktree.

Increasing opportunities to attend university, and providing a different educational experience for students, are critical elements of the MSA program.  A new scholarship program called the Monash University Fund for Education in South Africa (MUFESA) has been launched. With the help of businesses it is intended to raise $A10 million in scholarships to provide opportunities for South African students.  These scholarships will provide financial assistance to South African students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are committed to contributing to South Africa.

University graduates in Africa comprise 0.4% of the continent’s population, but account for 40% of its emigrants. Through MUFESA and other scholarships programs, MSA aims to foster an academic class of young leaders who remain in Africa and use their learning and skills to further the sustainable development of their home country.

Monash encourages and assists undergraduate students at MSA to travel to Monash Australia for a semester and Australian students to travel to South Africa. Mechanisms facilitating staff and student mobility include joint academic appointments between partner universities, standardised degree structures and mutual recognition of degrees and units within degrees.

The newest collaborative initiative is the Monash Africa Research Initiative (MARI).  MARI will be established as an initiative of Monash University in collaboration with other universities within Australia and Africa, and with universities beyond the borders of those two countries. The initiative will focus on research on Africa, initially with special emphasis on those areas with commercial, historical and migration ties with Australia.


Flinders University is located in Adelaide on Australia’s south central coast.  Over the last five decades Flinders University has built a range of significant links with Indonesia, centred around teaching programs, attracting government scholarship students, research activities, and collaboration.  University staff is engaged in a number of international knowledge transfer partnerships. In the last year or so changes to Indonesia’s legislation has forced universities to become more independent, and Flinders has been involved in an increasing number of programs to support the up-skilling of both academic and administrative university staff.

In the late 1990s a clinician located at the Royal Darwin Hospital, on Australia’s northern coast  became involved in providing support to a small rural hospital near the town of Kefamenanu in central West Timor in the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT).  His involvement in pro bono support continued when he moved to the Flinders Medical Centre (FMC), a public hospital located on the campus of Flinders University in Adelaide.  The Flinders Overseas Health Group (FOHG) was formed by FMC staff who are academic status holders in the School of Medicine, along with School of Medicine staff, to continue with the work commenced in West Timor.  The Group provides regular humanitarian aid support to the hospital in Kefamenanu involving regular visits by surgeons, anaethetists, dermatologists, paediatricians, obstetricians, and others.   They have a particular focus on maternal and neo-natal health care due to high levels of maternal malnutrition, anemia and malaria throughout NTT.

Two new initiatives have expanded the activities of the FOHG.

Work in Kefamenanu has resulted in growing collaboration with Universitas Nusa Cendana (UNDANA), which is located in Kupang, the main town in West Timor.  UNDANA is the only government university in south-eastern Indonesia.  The Rector visited Adelaide in 2007 to discuss Flinders support for the establishment of a medical school at the University and the region’s major referral medical centre, Professor Dr Yohannes Provincial Hospital in Kupang.  A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Flinders and UNDANA in October 2008 providing a formal umbrella for future cooperation.  The particular need is for assistance with the enhancement of clinical areas in the provincial hospital and the local health centre (puskesmas, or pusat kesehatan masyarakat) that will be needed by medical students in acquiring their clinical experience.

A grant from AusAID, the Australian overseas aid agency, has enabled the FOHG to undertake a second initiative.  They will provide support in 2009 and 2010 to the Ende District Hospital, and a puskesmas in the small town of Ende on the southern coast of the nearby NTT island of Flores.  The project will assist with upgrading the skills of local clinical leaders in assessment, early intervention care and contraception advice.

The curriculum of Flinders Graduate Certificate in Clinical Education will be translated into Bahasa Indonesia to enable three clinical leaders to do the course as non-award students over 12 months.  Delivery of the program will be supported by regular visits by members of the FOHG team and a local Indonesian doctor with an Australian medical degree.  It is intended that the revised curriculum will also provide the basis for the building of clinical capacity in West Timor, with the intention being to deliver the whole program as a formal award course in Bahasa Indonesian.  The proposal has yet to be formally considered by the University.

The strategic connection between the eastern Indonesia initiatives and Flinders health-related work in the Northern Territory is important.  Flinders Northern Territory Clinical School is located in the Royal Darwin Hospital.  Darwin is the closest Australian city to eastern Indonesia, and about 1,000 kilometres by air from Kupang, the administrative centre for NTT. In the 2009-10 Australian government budget Flinders received funding to expand the medical program offered at the Northern Territory Clinical School in Darwin, enabling students to complete the whole degree without leaving Darwin.   Flinders has other clinical schools in the Northern Territory in Nhulunbuy, 600 kilometres east of Darwin, as well as in Katherine and Alice Springs to the south. 

Each of these clinical schools have a significant commitment to health issues in northern Australia, particularly the challenges for indigenous people.  Their specialisation in rural and remote health will enable staff to strengthen their long-term links with the clinical activities in Flores, West Timor and in the new nation of Timor Leste.


Universities have a number of significant challenges in growing third wave international activities of the kind we have described.  Four are particularly important:

•    Connecting to strategy

•    Embedding good practice

•    Maintaining quality and managing risk

•    Dealing with small-scale initiatives

1. International knowledge transfer activities must have a clear strategic purpose and be embedded within the university’s internationalisation strategy and meet the strategic needs of the community with which they engage.

In the 2005 International Association of Universities (IAU) Global Survey Report universities were asked to rank the main growth areas of internationalisation in their institution and country.  University responses ranked ‘international development projects’ 4th in medium-low human development index countries and 6th in high human development index countries (Knight 2006 pp 79-81).

Universities were also asked to rank the key elements of their international strategies and in which their institutions were involved.  ‘International development projects’ ranked 8th out of 17 elements in their international strategies.  By contrast, the delivery of education programs abroad was ranked 16th, and branch campuses abroad ranked 17th (Knight 2006 pp 76-77).

Clearly international knowledge transfer activities are of growing significance to universities world-wide, not just in Australian universities third wave activities.

A knowledge transfer activity should fit comfortably within at least two strategic contexts.  It must be consistent with both the overall direction of the university’s internationalisation strategy, and it must also meet a local strategic priority in the place it is implemented.

It is expected that the initiative will benefit both the community and university.  On the one hand, knowledge transfer programs are oriented towards giving back, and making a contribution to communities that can benefit from university support. On the other hand, additional drivers include enhancing the university’s profile and reputation, supporting and creating opportunities for students to gain experience, the professional development of staff, and attracting students to the university. In many cases staff and student involvement is genuinely motivated by altruism.

Monash South Africa is an explicit part of the University’s international strategy to be a global university, and its community initiatives fit within its expressed interest in providing opportunities for its staff and students to support local communities. The university’s objective is to embed the campus within the communities in southern Africa through building strategic alliances with other universities, government, businesses, NGOs and the local communities. The campus in South Africa is seen as a platform from which Monash staff can conduct Africa focussed research and teaching.

The Flinders program has been considered a School/Faculty initiative.  However, it fits within the ambit of the 2010-2014 Flinders University Strategic Plan which has an explicit strategy to ‘support the building of educational and professional partnerships in targeted regions to increase skills and help build capacity in key institutions and regions’.  The potential synergies between the University’s capacities in rural and remote health, including indigenous health, and eastern Indonesia’s health problems, are of strategic value to the University.

However, universities are sometimes criticised for their failings with regards to strategies.  An Australian Universities Quality Agency report on university audits between 2002 and 2007 highlighted the diversity of international strategies in Australian universities, and remarked that ‘many [universities] do not provide a clear rationale or parameters for international activities’ (Stella and Liston 2008 pp 15-18).  The comment parallels the OECD’s (2007) conclusion that universities’ commitment to their service mission has been sporadic rather than systematic.

2.  In establishing projects abroad, universities should be guided by good practice knowledge transfer principles that are equivalent to those applied to local forms of community engagement.

Every Australian university has acquired experience of direct involvement in community development through domestically and locally oriented community engagement, outreach, and work-integrated learning initiatives. The Australian Universities Community Engagement Alliance (AUCEA) is the main forum for universities in Australia.  However, in many cases statements emanating from the university sector (eg AUCEA 2006, B-HERT 2006) assume that the community engagement (or third mission) activities of Australian universities are exclusively focused on local communities.  

The good practice acquired locally can be blended with experience of community and regional development that university staff have acquired through involvement in the implementation of government or international agency funded aid projects.  Both kinds of experience can inform university projects and increase their chance of success.

At the centre of good practice in engagement is:

‘… a relationship involving mutual learning and knowledge exchange, where roles and expectations coincide, and which addresses objectives that are important both locally and institutionally’ (Garlick and Pryor 2003 p 7).

In addition, international knowledge transfer partnerships should:

•    Ensure high quality leadership and engage in sufficient planning before launching

•    Be committed to sustainable outcomes, which means realistically managing within the limitations imposed by resources

•    Include sufficient measures of efficiency, effectiveness and impact

•    Recognise the significance of matching knowledge supply and demand

A couple of other issues are worth comment. 

International partnerships should build upon recognised research or scholarship strengths of the university, of which the most significant is the overall commitment to human resource development.  This means either providing support based on the strengths of universities as represented in their disciplines, or the experience of a university in the provision of teaching/learning, research and community engagement.  The two, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

The latter can be manifest in capacity-building with foreign universities through staff upgrading, research collaboration, joint/double degree programs and so on.  The new Africa-US Higher Education Initiative is a notable systematic example of this.  Some Australian universities use their membership in international networks (eg the International Network of Universities, of which Flinders is a member) to provide support for institutional capacity-building.

Finally, the increasing global mobility of academic staff means that Australian universities have academic staff from many of the countries where knowledge transfer partnerships are located. A recent study by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) explored ‘the contribution of diaspora faculty within Canadian universities to international research collaboration for development (AUCC 2009 p 4). 

In addition, as a result of the growth of international students, Australian universities now have significant numbers of international alumni, particularly in the Pacific Asia region.  An Australian Universities International Alumni Convention has been held, alternating between Australia cities and Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuching, since 1998, and provides a forum for universities to engage with alumni.  Alumni often say they want to be involved in activities that contribute to their home countries, in addition to the support they sometimes provide through fundraising and scholarships.

A more systematic approach involving diaspora staff and alumni is worth more consideration.

3.  Universities international knowledge transfer projects should be included in quality assurance and risk frameworks in order to monitor progress and impact.

Australian universities are regulated by a range of federal and state authorities.  Broader quality assurance frameworks and outcomes are audited by the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) on a five yearly cycle.  AUQA is an independent authority, owned and directed by the federal and state governments.  Following the recent Bradley review of higher education, AUQA will be replaced by an expanded quality and accreditation agency in the near future called the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

In a review of the AUQA audits of all Australian universities between 2002 and 2007 there was no explicit mention of the international knowledge transfer activities of Australian universities, and hence no broad conclusions about quality assurance frameworks (Stella and Liston 2008 pp 15-18).  AUQA teams during this period in most cases considered various aspects of internationalisation, and regularly visited universities transnational programs and campuses as part of their audits, but with a primary focus on students and teaching and learning activities. 

No teams have yet visited international knowledge transfer projects, and would only do so if they were of particular significance to the university.  Only one Australian university has ever identified community engagement as a significant theme for an audit, and that had an Australian focus.  The second cycle of AUQA audits that commenced in 2008 almost all have an explicit focus on internationalisation

Monash South Africa was audited by AUQA in 2008 as part of the Monash University audit.  Campus activities are also audited by South Africa’s Council on Higher Education through its’ Higher Education Quality Committee (HECQ).  The HECQ has an explicit criterion on community engagement.

Universities often claim to be providing effective assistance through their international programs.  However, asserting the value of their contribution is not sufficient.  Evidence needs to be provided.   Knowledge transfer partnerships need to demonstrate the quality of the delivery of the program and evaluate the impact through a range of university and external processes. These include:

•    Regular written reports based on agreed data on performance against defined benchmarks

•    Regular review and monitoring visits

•    Accountability to external agencies, such as funds providers or host governments

•    Independent ex post evaluation of the contribution to the community and to the university

4.  University staff are engaged in a range of international knowledge transfer and development projects, including a number of small-scale initiatives that must be incorporated in university frameworks.   

Monash has four categories of international institutional collaboration:

•    Comprehensive engagement which covers education, research and management in as many disciplines as possible

•    Project specific multilateral collaboration

•    Study abroad partnerships

•    Capacity building (ie curriculum development, staff training, etc) in institutions in developing countries (eg. East Timor Leste, Botswana, Eastern Indonesia, Tibet). Where possible these activities are done with the support of a comprehensive partner.

In addition, Monash is now placing a major emphasis on international volunteering (in some cases for credit) as part of the Monash Passport model.  It is considered consistent with the University’s vision to make a contribution to improving the human condition and to produce graduates who have this as a major driver.

Flinders categories of international institutional partnerships include:

•    Transnational education programs in China, Singapore and Malaysia

•    Partnerships supporting student and staff mobility

•    Collaboration with partners in the International Network of Universities

•    University capacity building collaborations involving curricula and staff skill upgrading

Flinders also supports a number of small-scale projects, including initiatives connected to the former home village or community of a staff member (a toy library and child and maternal health care in Assam, India), spinoffs from collaboration with student placement programs (public healthcare and social work in Tamil Nadu), a spinoff from a transnational education program (support for schools in Beijing), or staff and student initiatives (scholarships for women in Nepal). 

As is often the case with local small-scale community engagement activities that they are driven by individual university staff, or a small group of staff.  Frequently they have ambiguous links with the university.  They therefore fall outside the strategy, or the quality or risk frameworks. Ensuring quality and managing risk with any kind of community-based knowledge transfer project presents a challenge for universities.  When the projects are run internationally the problems are significantly greater.

But does it matter?  Can the risks be managed through Faculty or School processes?  Or do the benefits outweigh the risks? 

An AUQA audit director was asked this question recently.  His answer was that the university should systematically identify all the small knowledge transfer projects in which staff are engaged, and develop a plan to assess and review them. This is easier said than done.


The strengthening of Australian universities commitment to new internationalisation agendas brings a need to develop more sophisticated methods of engaging globally, either in conjunction with offshore campuses and programs, or through direct engagements.

Australian universities have much to learn from the experience of US, and, indeed, Canadian universities in engaging internationally in community, knowledge transfer and regional development initiatives.  We have no equivalent of the Higher Education for Development (HED) organisation, or of programs such as the Africa-US Higher Education Initiative (Buchere 2009).  The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) claims that Canadian universities have engaged in over 2,600 international development projects since the 1970s (AUCC 2007).

Australian universities need to explore how to strengthen human resource capacity especially in the Asia Pacific region. To be effective Australian universities should collaborate in these endeavours, either with each other, or with partners overseas. These endeavours are not commercial and therefore should not be competitive.

One can see engagement as a continuum starting from training undergraduates and postgraduates in Australia, through to strengthening undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum in-country, to engaging in joint research projects in-country which address the local development priorities. The form of engagement matures as the capacity of the institutional partner develops. The pace of this change provides a barometer of the degree of success of the partnership.


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