Students from Federation University Australia (FedUni) have received a grant to travel to India over the next two years as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Mobility Grants.
A sum of $55,000 has been provided for twenty students to undertake an educational experience there. The first group of seven students travelled to two collaborative universities in Jaipur and Chandigarh in India, recently.
The FedUni students were accompanied by Dr Harpreet Singh Kandra from the University’s School of Science, Engineering and Information Technology. This is the first time that engineering students have travelled to India under a DFAT Mobility Grant.
“This was a fantastic experience for our students. The course is designed to help students sit under one roof to learn and share the knowledge and expertise available in the areas of water management,” Dr Kandra said.
The advanced engineering course on ‘Management of Water Resources’ at Amity University and Chitkara University involved site visits, guest lectures and group assessments to enhance knowledge sharing, according to the lecturer of Water Engineering.
“Both India and Australia struggle with the effects of climate change, such as floods and drought-like conditions, so it is important that we share the knowledge and experience between the two countries, which will have solutions to various environmental problems,” Dr Kandra added. He applied to DFAT on behalf of his students to ‘internationalise the curriculum’ so that students get to learn a different perspective and solution.
Hayden McArthur, a final year student at FedUni, said the grant enabled the students to experience the cultures and traditions of Delhi, Jaipur and Chandigarh and create friendship and networks with other universities. “The university course we’re studying has brought together different technologies and approaches from two countries to highlight the good work that has already been done,” he added.
Dr Kandra came to Australia from Chandigarh in 2008, on securing a Fellowship. He completed his PhD in Water Management from Monash University in 2014 and has been associated with FedUni since.
Both Dr Kandra and his students believe that these educational trips must be encouraged. Apart from building a network with peers, these trips are an eye-opener. The students are shaken out of their comfort zones, and learn to appreciate what they already have.
“We do take a lot of things for granted in Australia,” Patrick Kennedy, another student who travelled to India, told Indian Link. “India has many water related problems like water pollution, little access to clean drinking water, and so on. That was a big learning for us.”
A big takeaway, he revealed, was the relevance of the topic in the Indian context. He added that he was impressed with his Indian peers who were well aware of the issues and had much to share about strategies for solutions. Patrick felt this trip was a study of many contrasts. “For instance, the baseline knowledge of Indian students when it came to resolving say mathematical questions, was higher than ours. But they enjoyed the way our lecturers taught in a more collaborative way,” he informed.
The other major outcome for the students was the chance to increase intercultural understanding. Both groups developed soft skills to be able to communicate better with their peers. Being patient and accepting, understanding each other’s dialects and style of functioning, was a bonus for these students.
Visits to the markets, both in Jaipur and Chandigarh, will remain memorable, especially as it gave the students opportunities to shop and enjoy some spicy street food, as well as observe the society up close. “There was a huge social contrast we observed in these cities. Both cities had huge slums on the one hand, and swanky shopping malls like the Chandstone Shopping Centre on the other, with brands like Marks & Spencer and Zara,” Patrick remarked.
He added that his group preferred bargaining at old city markets to shopping at the malls. The Australian students also saw historical sites, temples, and cultural theme parks on their India trip.
Earlier this year, nine students studied a course on Hydraulics and Hydrology with Dr Kandra at the Zhejiang University of Technology, Hangzhou, China. This was also funded by the DFAT New Colombo Plan. “This program is a fantastic opportunity for our students to develop a greater understanding of international challenges and undertake collaborative learning with students studying equivalent topics in our partner universities,” Professor Steve Wilcox, Deputy Dean, School of Science, Engineering and Information Technology, said.
Under the 2019 round, DFAT is providing approximately $28.7 million to support 2019 student mobility projects, as per its website. The New Colombo Plan Mobility Program provides funding to Australian universities and consortia to support Australian undergraduate students to participate in semester-based or short-term study, internships, mentorships, practicums and research in 40 host locations across the Indo-Pacific region. Undergraduates, usually aged 18 to 28, can travel for one week to two years in the host location, depending on the grant allowed. For instance, DFAT usually gives $2,500 per student for one week of travel.
The next batch of 13 students from FedUni will travel to India in October-November 2019.