Scholarship winners explore a world of educational possibilities

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

When Zoe Witowski relocated from South Australia to Tasmania in 2020, she was eager for a new adventure and a desire to learn about our changing ocean.

Now, as one of 150 Australian students named as 2024 scholarship recipients as part of the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship Program – an initiative that aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships at one of 40 host locations in the Indo-Pacific, from the Cook Islands to South Asia and Bangladesh – a new adventure is definitely coming, even it has meant an interesting educational evolution.

Studying a Bachelor of Marine and Antarctic Science with Honours at the University of Tasmania (UTAS), has, she told EducationDaily, “deepened my passion and understanding for the urgency of meaningful action to conserve the future of our oceans”.

As one of six University of Tasmania (UTAS) students who demonstrated outstanding academic achievements, leadership qualities, and a genuine commitment to building stronger ties across the Indo-Pacific region chosen as recipients of the NCP 2024 scholarships from a highly competitive field of applicants, the award allows her to attend a semester at Nepal’s Kathmandu University.

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Identifying opportunities – and pursuing them

“Throughout my time at UTAS, I have been proactive in applying for a range of local and global opportunities, recognising the importance of learning in different environments,” she says. “This has taught me to maintain a degree of flexibility with my goals, and that there are benefits to not having a set career path. In my case, I’ll be studying environmental science in a landlocked country far away from the ocean.”

Ms Witowski says the NCP scholarship will “support my goals of gaining broader knowledge about the environment”.

“My program will involve 12 months in Nepal, where I will study environmental science at Kathmandu University for a semester, followed by language training and an internship focused on environmental education in marginalised communities. After Nepal, I intend to spend six months interning in the Pacific, delving back into marine science,” she told EducationDaily. “I hope to have a rich cultural and social experience by immersing myself in both south-Asia and the Pacific, gaining knowledge about diverse environments. To achieve this, it will be paramount I create strong relationships with my peers, teachers and members of the community.”

She says she welcomes the opportunity to directly contribute to Australia’s relationship with Nepal by developing long-standing connections and told EducationDaily the prospect of it fills her with both excitement and a sense of responsibility.

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“I am fond of pushing myself outside my comfort zone and living in the Indo-Pacific for 18 months will be exactly that. I look forward to the challenges I will face, as I am confident they will foster growth personally and professionally.”

From ocean depths to dizzying heights

Kavin Akilan is one step closer to fulfilling a couple of his lifelong dreams – trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp and volunteering in the medical field.

He is one of eight Bond University students awarded the NCP scholarship and will also continue his 2024 studies in Nepal – with the support making tackling Mount Everest and gaining hands-on medical experience more accessible than ever before, while also “being able to form deeper engagements with the Nepali community”.

“I’m studying biomedicine right now, so I’d love to do a lot more medical volunteering, getting hands-on experience within Nepal who are still in dire need of medical assistance. They’re still recovering from COVID-19 and Australia continues to provide funding so it will be nice to be on the ground and see those tangible impacts,” he says.

“And at the same time, I’ll be gaining invaluable experience about tropical health.”

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Local students gain global perspectives

Another successful NCP scholarship candidate from the Queensland-based university is Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Psychological Science student, Clare Matijevic.

Ms Matijevic is also a Vice Chancellor Scholarship holder and plans to use her NCP scholarship to head to Japan for three months, and then Singapore for a further three months to take up an internship opportunity. After learning Japanese for over 10 years, she says it felt appropriate.

“I have had a long-standing connection with Japan, so I think going to Japan will allow me to strengthen my cultural connections a bit more and develop my language ability,” Ms Matijevic says.

With a career goal to work as an in-house council lawyer, she believes receiving the NCP scholarship will help fulfil that aspiration.

“The goals of the Australian Government’s NCP Program really align personally with what I am trying to achieve, and I’ll be able to bring back skills that are transferrable, from the Indo-Pacific region to Australia.”

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While some 19-year-olds many find independent travel daunting, Ms Matijevic says she’s forward to the challenge – and expanding her possibilities.

“I loved being a part of the VC (Vice Chancellor) community at Bond, it’s given me a lot of different friends, a lot of connections, allowed me to develop as a person…. NCP really complements that, by giving me an international basis,” she says.

Helping talent shine

In the eligibility criteria for the 2024 round of NCP scholarships, it states:

Each Australian university may nominate up to 15 students enrolled at that university, without ranking them. Each Australian university determines its own process for selecting nominees but should consider the eligibility requirements and assessment criteria.

EducationDaily asked ACU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Global and Education Pathways, Chris Riley, how that nomination process happens.

“When NCP applications open, we post a callout through faculty and student networks. Students are selected based on meeting the minimum eligibility requirements, with preference to students who have selected an internship and/or language training in addition to their mandatory semester/year abroad,” he says. “We do encourage students to also consider ‘non-traditional’ destinations to deliver a greater impact across the region.  Nominees are then supported through the application and interview stages. “

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For the winners, Mr Riley says “the students undertake a variety of academic experiences and studies whilst overseas”.

“These are credited to their degree at ACU, often either as professional placement or as work-integrated learning. As well as the activities associated with their internship, the experience of spending time in another country provides students with employability and intercultural skills that stand them in good stead in their future careers. Some students may take longer to complete their degree when the NCP experience is added to the program, however the experience they gain adds quality and depth to their studies and to their overall university journey,” he told EducationDaily.

This year, one Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Global Studies student from Australian Catholic University was named as a 2024 New Colombo Scholar and will study at Catholic University of Korea during semester two. She also plans to complete a Korean Language program and has an ambition to intern with United Nations in South Korea.

Since 2018, 13 ACU students have been awarded an NCP scholarship, Mr Riley told EducationDaily – including five in the 2023 round.

“Last year, ACU students were able to travel to places such as the Philippines, Mongolia, Fiji, and Maldives.”

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UniSA scholarship recipients celebrate significant firsts

Four high-achieving students from the University of South Australia (UniSA) are also NCP scholarship recipients in 2024.

They will travel to Cambodia, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand to study at university, as well as undertaking industry internships and language training.

This year’s UniSA NCP cohort is unique because they are all UniSA Online students – based in London, Brisbane, and regional Western Australia – so their face-to-face experiences on Asian campuses will be particularly memorable.

The group represents another first for UniSA, with its first Aboriginal NCP Scholarship winner.

Morgan Budgeon, a Kabi Kabi man (south-east Queensland), is a Bachelor of Construction Management student. He will undertake a semester of study at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and plans to enhance his construction industry experience with an internship at an industry-leading multinational construction or mining firm.

Mr Budgeon hopes his experience will inspire other Aboriginal students to apply for the prestigious scholarship.

“I’m very proud that I am the first Indigenous NCP scholar from UniSA, and hope to be an excellent role model that other Indigenous students can look to as an inspiration when applying for future NCP rounds,” he says.

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With 15 years’ experience in the construction industry, he says the opportunity to study and work in the Indo-Pacific is a logical step, given the number of Australian construction companies contributing to Malaysia’s mega-infrastructure projects.

“As a construction management student, the NCP Scholarship provides me with the opportunity to study and intern in a country where the buildings being constructed are much larger than in Australia,” Mr Budgeon says. “This will provide me with knowledge that I just wouldn’t learn on projects in Australia.”

Helping humanity benefits from a broader world view

Former Australian Army Lieutenant Sarah Stone is a UniSA Bachelor of Health Science student with career aspirations in the foreign aid sector and will use her NCP scholarship to undertake her studies at Taylors University in Malaysia.

Having already spent time volunteering in Haiti, she is passionate about strengthening health security in the Indo-Pacific and is keen to engage with stakeholders in the health and humanitarian sectors, with plans to apply for multiple internships in humanitarian organisations in Cambodia to help fine-tune her professional goals.

“I hope to form lifelong connections that will line up with my career prospects and hopefully propel me towards a career in international human rights, humanitarian work, and health sciences,” she says.

Connecting with community and culture

Three Charles Darwin University (CDU) students have been awarded NCP scholarships in 2024, with plans to gain a deeper insight into their chosen fields.

CDU Bachelor of Public Health student and First Nations woman Isabella Burton was named the 2024 New Colombo Plan Fellow for Indonesia, securing the highest ranking among the 11 scholars visiting the country.

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“This is an incredible opportunity that will shape my academic and professional growth,” she says.

“At Udayana University in Bali, I’ll be studying public health with a focus on opportunities in neonatal and women’s maternal health, as well as craniofacial disabilities. I believe impactful change begins at the community level. Over 18 months, I hope to contribute to grassroots initiatives within local organisations that help create better health outcomes.”

Ms Burton says she is excited to represent CDU but also advocate for increased First Nations participation within the competitive scholarship program.

“This experience will not only broaden my academic knowledge but also provide valuable insights into addressing public health challenges both in Australia and on an international scale,” she told EducationDaily.

“I am confident that leveraging these connections upon my return to Australia will contribute to enhancing bilateral ties between our nations and facilitate collaborative efforts in tackling shared health challenges. Having had the privilege of meeting fellow 2024 NCP scholars, I am already inspired and motivated to continue striving towards my academic and professional goals.”

A passion for public health

Her initial interest in public health was sparked during Year 12 when she made “a somewhat last-minute decision to switch from pursuing law to a career in medicine, specifically aspiring to become a paediatric/neonatal surgeon”.

“As I researched the path to achieving this goal, I came across a TED Talk discussing the importance of doctors having a background in public health. The speaker emphasised how it enables a broader perspective beyond the biomedical lens. This revelation prompted me to pursue my goal by completing a Bachelor of Public Health first, rather than directly entering an undergraduate biomedical degree.”

In the next five years, Ms Burton told EducationDaily that she envisions herself “immersed in the third year of my Doctor of Medicine degree, passionately delving into the realms of healthcare and expanding my medical knowledge”.

“As an active member of the NCP alumni network, my goal will be to share the valuable insights and perspectives I gained from my international endeavours, cultivating a supportive atmosphere for prospective scholars,” she says. “Additionally, I am committed to sustained collaboration with the public health sector, working on initiatives aimed at improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, while also contributing to broader healthcare endeavours in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Largest cohort of UOW scholarship winners ready to take on the world

Eight outstanding students from the University of Wollongong (UOW) will also soon find themselves immersed in the culture of the Indo-Pacific as part of the NCP scholarship programme.

Jasmine Safadi (Bachelor of Conservation Biology), Tiarna Williams (Bachelor of International Studies/Bachelor of Law), Katherine Corbett (Bachelor of Communication and Media/Bachelor of Economics and Finance), Alinta Maguire (Bachelor of Creative Arts), Samantha Shepherd (Bachelor of Primary Education), Jadzia Wolff (Bachelor of Western Civilisation/Bachelor of International Studies), Mallee Smith (Bachelor of Sustainable Communities), and Selin Gulez (Bachelor of Science – Physics) will spend part of this year in their chosen countries in the region, from Bhutan to South Korea – and represent the largest cohort ever selected from UOW.

Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Academic and Student Life) Senior Professor Eileen McLaughlin congratulated the students on their success as NCP Scholars.

“I am delighted that eight of our exceptional students will have the chance to expand their minds and their experiences through travel and to immerse themselves in the magnificent culture of the Indo-Pacific region,” Professor McLaughlin says.

“These students will be amazing representatives of UOW and of Australia on an international stage. The New Colombo Plan is a tremendous opportunity for students to gain a once-in-a-lifetime experience studying and working in a new place and new culture.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]