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A bond built through learning – Australian alumni in Sri Lanka


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01By Bryce Hutchesson

As High Commissioner, it’s my job to shine the spotlight on the great examples of cooperation that exist between Australia and Sri Lanka. This week we’ll be launching Australia-Sri Lanka Alumni (ASLA) to add a new dimension to our bilateral education relationship.

The links between Australia and Sri Lanka in education go right back to mid-last century. More than a thousand young Sri Lankans have received scholarships to study in Australia under the Colombo Plan, and more recently through the Australia Awards. 

Alongside those scholarships there has been tremendous growth in the number of Sri Lankan students choosing to study in Australian institutions under their own steam. Indeed right at this moment there are over 7,500 Sri Lankan students studying in Australia.

That makes education one of the core pillars of our people-to-people relationship – perhaps even more significant than the healthy rivalry between our cricket teams. As I go around Colombo and more broadly in Sri Lanka, I’m struck by how many talented, motivated, energised people I meet who are graduates of Australian institutions. From cabinet ministers, to hoteliers, senior bureaucrats, businesspeople, scientists, café owners and doctors. These are people who have chosen to invest in their futures, and entrusted Australian universities to help them do so. 

We know international education is a big financial commitment for families, and one that shapes the lives of students in a very profound way. But it pays off. When they return to Sri Lanka these students contribute actively to the growth and welfare of this country. They also return with a real appreciation for Australia as a country and Australians as a people. And they find ingenious ways to sustain the links they’ve built, through business, through culture, through lasting friendships and many other ways. But sadly, not many of them choose to support the Wallabies in rugby. 

We don’t want the relationship with Australia to end once students return to Sri Lanka. We want to find ways to stay connected with students who experienced our country and to support them in their careers. That’s why I’ve established a new body – the Australia-Sri Lanka Alumni (ASLA). We want ASLA to provide a platform for Sri Lankan alumni of Australian universities to connect, through valuable professional networking opportunities. 

The very first ASLA event will be held at the Movenpick Hotel in Colombo on the evening of 26 April. I will be leading a discussion on the future ingredients for a successful and sustainable tourism industry in Sri Lanka. I’ll be joined by the Deputy Chair of Tourism Australia, Andrew Fairley, who can impart some of his knowledge of Australia’s vibrant tourism sector – now our largest services export industry. And we’ll be graced by two illustrious Sri Lankan alumni who are leading Sri Lanka’s preparation for the tourism boom. And after the chatter there’ll be some drinks and time to get to know each other. It should be a great night, and I welcome alumni in Colombo to join us – RSVP essential to colombo.alumni@dfat.gov.au (with your name and the Australian course you studied). Please follow ASLA on Facebook for updates on future events.

We know that education is the pathway to success in the century ahead. And that many of us are now committed to lifetime learning as the global economy changes. We hope ASLA can make a contribution by translating international education experiences into practical networking opportunities that boost your career back home, and we can have an interesting and fun time along the way. 

(The writer is the High Commissioner of Australia to Sri Lanka.)03


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