By Kent Anderson and Joanne Barker


I.  Introduction

Vale Endeavour.  With the Government’s April 2019 budget, the long-standing Endeavour Leadership Program for supporting Australian students to study overseas and to bring the best and brightest here was axed.  The timing was interesting because, with an election imminent, many expected that this would be the Coalition’s final budget. The curious rationale was this money was better used to fund a scholarship program to regional Australian universities, Destination Australia.  The sleight of hand was so unexpected and hidden from sight that few picked it up on Budget Night and it was only discovered by a handful of Budget-mining policy geeks after the fact.

Regardless of the stealth by which the execution was called and surprise this caused stakeholders, the move is bad policy, on the education, foreign affairs, as well as economic fronts.  With Prime Minister Morrison now forming a new government, there is a chance for a reprieve.  We have an opportunity to return to core principles and holistic scope to build an intelligent program that will serve our students, our nation and our international partners, returning Australia to its status as world leader in international education policy.

Counterintuitively, Endeavour was partially victim to the success of internationalisation of higher education to capture policymakers’ imagination and to have impact across a variety of policy objectives.  Its cure-all elixir quality allowed it as a policy prescription to be spread too thinly to try to achieve everything.  The most widely heralded aspect of international education recently has been its economic policy success.  The selling of Australian degrees to international students has become our fourth largest export (behind mining iron ore and coal, but ahead of agriculture and tourism), spawned Australian global industry leaders such as Navitas, and generated $35 billion of annual economic impact.  Endeavour, however, was about an older more grassroots aspect of internationalisation, namely mobility, of sending our students overseas for a part of their degree—that is, for core educational objectives—and offering scholarships to bring in those students who would not otherwise be able to come—that is, for foreign relations purposes.

Recognising the opportunity presented by an election to reset policy, it is worth returning to the origins of Endeavour and parsing out its original policy objectives, how they became distorted and the pitfalls that left the program vulnerable to cancellation.  Given the overlap of Endeavour’s original ambitions and the increasing sophistication of Australia’s soft power agenda, it is also productive to not do the review in isolation of the education portfolio but to understand the overlap of similar programs with Foreign Affairs and Trade, such as the New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards.

This holistic approach is critical as one understanding of the budget axe fall is that Education vacated its traditional realm of study abroad and scholarships in deference to the leadership that Foreign Affairs provided, particularly under the former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who also was a former Education Minister in a previous government.  Adding some political spice and intrigue to the mix, it is important not to dismiss as merely manoeuvring the drivers of the Destination Australia policy and its concerns with regional Australia development and international student concentration, and infrastructure pressures, in Sydney and Melbourne.

Most importantly, this paper proposes a new framework for a future direction in developing a holistic program for supporting more Australian students to learn experientially about the world and Asia by studying there, and reciprocally to bring the best and brightest from our region and overseas here to learn from, but more essentially, learn about us.  That is a “New Endeavour Plan” in the Education portfolio to fill the newly created void and balance the success of the New Colombo Plan.  Delivering of this revised approached will provide the outcome Australian students, the community and our partners deserve.

II.  Historical Context of Endeavour

In the final version before its demise, the Endeavour program comprised two parts:  one that sent Australian students overseas either as groups through institutions or as individuals for specific projects, and one that brought the most talented from overseas to Australia to learn at our institutions.  The total budget for Endeavour waxed and waned, but in the final year was roughly $23 million, with some individuals getting up to $272,000 to do a PhD at an Australian university.

But where we ended is not where we began fifteen years—and three changes of government—earlier.  The Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships program was launched in the 2003-04 Budget during the Howard Government as part of a package of support for international education.  The program was created when privately-funded international student enrolments in Australia were growing exponentially. 

Michael Gallagher—notable education bureaucrat, university administrator, and later Group of Eight Executive Director—was one of the key architects of the Endeavour program.  He has commented that at the broadest level an observer could look in vain for a coherently evolving policy agenda for international education in Australia.  Nonetheless, he identifies “immigration, cultural-strategic and commercial” as the three major themes underpinning the Australian government’s engagement with international education since 1950.[1]

In the specific case of Endeavour, Gallagher suggests that it was created in recognition of the cultural-strategic dimension of international education.  It was intended to attract high-performing students from many countries around the world (not only those countries which were eligible for aid scholarships) and provide opportunities for Australians to undertake studies overseas. Importantly, the Endeavour initiative also served as a response to the pleas from the education sector for more government support for international education, which was increasingly perceived around the world as all take and no give.

At a time when responsibility for international education was still primarily seen as a broader education issue, not an economic export issue or diplomacy subject, it was natural for Endeavour to reside in the government’s education portfolio, rather than in foreign affairs, trade or aid portfolios. 

In its first iteration, then Education Minister Brendan Nelson (pictured) explained the new Endeavour program, totalling just $7.9 million per year, was an out-bound program for training of Australian teachers and a non-aid in-bound scholarship program, to “boost the profile of Australia’s education sector in overseas markets” and to diversify away from traditional recruitment markets and disciplines. The in-bound 400 awards were primarily for postgraduate studies and mutually supported by the Australian government and the recipient country.  The out-bound awards for Australians was limited to 140 for Australian language teachers to do short-term in-country placements.

Subsequently, the Endeavour Scholarships and Leaderships Program, as it was known until 2018 reforms, evolved haphazardly through numerous iterations depending upon the government of the day’s interests and policy priorities.  Thus, Kevin Rudd’s government introduced the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Awards as an elite Asian Rhodes program, and Julia Gillard’s government created the AsiaBound program, a broad-based initiative to support short-term mobility to Asia for all higher education students including vocational students. The funding for both these programs was carved out of existing Endeavour funding without any new money, hence contributed to the tinkering with and shifting priorities of Endeavour.  While not always attributed, from the seeds of AsiaBound and PM’s Australia Asia Awards grew Julie Bishop’s New Colombo Plan launched in 2014.  The New Colombo Plan offered young Australians elite scholarships to Indo-Pacific countries, on the one hand, and support for broad-based short-term mobility for undergraduates to the Indo-Pacific, on the other hand.

The Department of Education and Training further had a number of other smaller internal and external initiatives sitting next to and sometimes rolled into and out of Endeavour.  These included the Short-term Mobility Program (STMP), which sent Australian undergraduates primarily on study tours to countries worldwide tiered depending upon interests and politics of the day, and the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), a legacy of the sector-created University Mobility in Asia-Pacific (UMAP), which supported semester and year exchange for Australian students to partner Asian countries.  Significantly, International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS)—a very competitive program covering all countries and all Australian universities—were for a brief time badged under Endeavour and eventually found a home with 2017 reforms and simplification within the research branch of the Department under the Research Training Program (RTP).

The most interesting internal niche program was the Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Awards.  This program leveraged generous personal funding by HL Kam of the Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Group, which owned a number of Australian utilities.  It started as a standalone program but was incorporated under the Endeavour banner in June 2004.  At a high-profile ceremony held at Parliament House and presided over by the then Education Minister Brendan Nelson and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, as well as the Chinese Minister for Education, the Cheung Kong Group and the Australian Government announced the matching funding totalling $4.5 million initially for three years (2004 figures). The program primarily was for Australian students to study in China, but evolved to include other countries and reciprocal hosting of foreign mobility students.

The Cheung Kong Awards were a flagship for Asia engagement until the introduction of the New Colombo Plan in 2014 with its higher profile under Julie Bishop’s patronage.  Endeavour never again attracted the high level political support it enjoyed in the days of Nelson and Downer, and this diminished its external profile.  It is fair to say that with the increased promotion of the New Colombo Plan, the Cheung Kong scholarships lost the lustre they once held, notwithstanding the ongoing dedication of HL Kam and the Cheung Kong Group.

In the last three years of its life the government sent very confusing signals as to Endeavour’s purpose and importance.  In November 2017, the Foreign Policy White Paper declared:

Endeavour Scholarships and Fellows and Endeavour Mobility Grants … build Australia’s reputation for excellence in the provision of education and research.

Yet, in the 2018 Budget the government announced that Endeavour’s budget would be cut by $62.9 million over four years, with an immediate cut of $7.2 million.[2] To achieve this, Endeavour’s mobility grants component would be merged with its scholarship component to create a newly named Endeavour Leadership Program.  The purpose, it was stated, was “to better target the delivery of the previous Endeavour programs to ensure that overseas study education, training and research opportunities for Australia’s highest-performing students, researchers and professionals are sustainable into the future and aligned with the Australian Government’s strategic priorities.”  This led to lengthy bureaucratic processes to bind the two components together, which emerged looking essentially like the two original separate components. These internal manoeuvres resulted in a later-than-usual call for applications to the 2019 round and presumably fewer scholarships to distribute.

The policy objectives became even cloudier and more confused midway through the 2018-2019 fiscal year when Education Minister Dan Tehan introduced Destination Australia.  This new initiative was to provide scholarships of $15,000 for 1,000 international and domestic students who studied at a ‘regional’ location.[3]  The rationale behind this program was sound in spreading the benefits of international education to more areas in Australia and in directly addressing the infrastructure pressures facing Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane due to its concentration of 78% of the international student population. What was not signalled at the time was the initiative did not come with new funding, but was provisioned by raiding Endeavour, and that the raid would be fatal.

Just after announcing the Destination Australia initiative, but just before Endeavour’s axing on Budget Night, Minister Tehan announced Endeavour’s 2019 winners of its scholarships for local and foreign students. The Minister’s press statement trumpeted its support for “2095 Australians with (international) study and research grants” and “387 international leaders (to undertake) education and research at Australian institutions”.  Enthusiastic tweeting from the Department of Education and Training about Endeavour followed, but presumably behind the scenes the axe was ready to fall.

In summary, the history of Endeavour over its 15 years is one of flitting within the blowing political and bureaucratic winds.  In policy alignment, it became a ‘dog’s breakfast’ or ‘grab bag’ doing a little bit of everything depending upon where one looked and at what moment of time. The result was an excessively complex and bureaucratic program without a champion.  From this perspective, perhaps its vulnerability in 2019 should not be unexpected.

III.  Rise of New Colombo Plan and Rebadging of Australia Awards

Given Endeavour’s demise is overlaid at the same time with the recognised success of the Foreign Affairs’ led New Colombo Plan, it is worth giving a rough background to it and highlighting some differences between the two.  Devised in Opposition under the sponsorship of Julie Bishop, the New Colombo Plan was a flagship initiative of the new Coalition government in 2014.  While conceptually born from her time as Education Minister and building on similar programs introduced by Rudd and Gillard into Education policy, the New Colombo Plan was firmly located with the Foreign Affairs portfolio as part of its soft power approach.  Bishop’s proposal of course also had educational objectives, namely to invest in a generational change of cultural attitudes by Australians to Asia.

Minister Bishop (pictured) was adamantly committed to a narrow remit, often times to the frustration of the sector; thus, the program was limited to young Australian undergraduates willing to study in designated Indo-Pacific countries, initially just Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia but expanded over time to include most Asian and Pacific nations. Based on stakeholder feedback and research, Minister Bishop did concede one aspect of her initial narrow focus to allow for both elite longer-term scholarships and broad-based short-term mobility programs to achieve scale.  Critically, the program put a priority on industry engagement for students which provided a platform to leverage the private sector not dissimilar to the Cheung Kong-HL Kam partnership of Endeavour, which she had renewed in 2007 as Education Minister. 

Australia Awards also deserve a mention alongside New Colombo Plan as both have foreign affairs objectives, are administered by DFAT, and came about under Minister Bishop’s leadership.  Australia Awards were previously AusAid Scholarships before an amalgamation of AusAid into DFAT in 2014, and are today’s equivalent of the original Colombo Plan that began in the 1950s.  Thus, while merit based these scholarships are directed towards students in aid recipient countries to study predominantly coursework masters degrees in Australian universities.  As such, most but not all Indo Pacific countries are included but so are other aid targets such as in Africa.  In short, while not new, the amalgamation and rebadging of AusAid Scholarships simultaneously with the launch of New Colombo Plan and erosion of Endeavour added a layer of policy objective fog to the landscape.

Contrasting New Colombo Plan and Endeavour, the following points are salient. First, both were consistent in their support for the international education sector as an industry.  However, Endeavour’s primary policy focus was education, with soft power benefits seen as an extra.  New Colombo Plan is the inverse with soft power being the primary support.  Eligibility was different between them with Endeavour focused entirely on academic merit, while AusAid Scholarships and later Australia Awards primarily focussed on aid and capacity building.  New Colombo Plan has been strictly limited to young undergraduates between 18 to 28, while Endeavour covered all higher education including vocational, post-graduate and research.  In addition, Endeavour reached beyond current formal students to provide international learning opportunities for professionals.  Reciprocity was supported differently with Endeavour being a balance of out-bound support for Australians and in-bound support for foreign students, while New Colombo Plan only supports Australians going abroad and Australia Awards only supports foreigners from aid countries coming to Australia.  Finally, Endeavour while creating a useful tiering system for priority countries remained open to the whole globe, unlike the New Colombo Plan which is limited to 40 countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

In short, while there is some overlap, New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards are consciously designed to address specific foreign affairs objectives and purposefully do not have the same generalist’s breadth of Endeavour.  Thus, the loss of Endeavour leaves Australia significantly exposed in the international education mobility space—an area we have traditionally led.  Australia is unique in vacating this space while other countries continue to see it as a priority such as the Fulbright in the US, the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships program in the UK, MEXT Scholarships in Japan and the DAAD in Germany.  China too has a significant two-way international education program in the One Belt One Road initiative. To better appreciate the policy void created by the loss of Endeavour, the following sections examine the two primary components of the initiative—scholarships to bring students to Australia and mobility support to assist Australian students to go overseas.

IV.  Endeavour as a scholarship program

Endeavour’s scholarships and fellowships component was the highly competitive arm charged with both bringing the exceptionally talented students who might not otherwise be able to come to Australia and sending a select few Australians to prestigious overseas research and study opportunities. The data on the DET website shows that over 6000 individuals—both Australians and foreigners—were selected for Endeavour Scholarships or Fellowships between 2008 and 2019.

The flip-flopping of the policy drivers for Endeavour are evidenced, however, by the 2019 round announcement.  Just 25 days before the whole program was junked, the 2019 announcement made clear the latest version shifted the core focus and spending from scholarships primarily for international students to mobility programs for Australian students. That is, both the ratio between international and domestic students in the scholarships program and a larger portion of the internal budget was shifted to domestic students in out-bound mobility programs.  As a result in 2019, individual scholarships fell to an all-time low of 107 individual awards, a reduction of 84% on the previous year. 

This is not the first time of a spinning of primary beneficiaries from international partners to domestic students.  The same thing happened in 2013. A Twitter post by @LiberalNewWorld provided an analysis of 12 years of data (in 130 pages of PDF on the DET website), giving a comparative table of individual awards by year.  It shows that the 2019 result of 107 individual awards compared to 689 in the previous year bears a striking similarity to 2013, when just 132 individuals were offered Endeavour awards, compared to 770 in the previous year. 

A notable feature of both the 2019 and 2013 Endeavour individual rounds is that in both these years, unlike any others, the usual rule of two-thirds international to one-third Australian allocation of places in the scholarship program was reversed.  In the round announced in 2019, 61% of the individual allocation of places went to domestic applicants, compared to only 28% the previous year.  In 2013 the domestic allocation to individuals was 62%, compared to just 16% in the previous year.  

What do the results for 2019 and 2013 tell us? In these two years the majority of Endeavour places were awarded to Australians rather than international applicants, and one suspects it is because international students do not vote in Australian elections.  The political parallels between 2013 and 2019 are striking.  As the 2013 awards were being finalised in late 2012, the then-Labor government was struggling in the opinion polls. Gillard was still PM in an unstable environment after having fought off the first Rudd challenge.  In 2019 we saw a strikingly similar scenario with a newly minted PM shoring up amidst uncertainty and key front bench resignations, an election looming, and the Endeavour program being tinkered with, apparently for political ends.[4]

The impact of the 2019 round on hopeful international applicants was devastating. On the incoming side, there were just two offers to incoming PhD scholars, two to masters, and two to VET programs – a total of six long-term incoming places to international applicants.  By comparison, in 2018 there were 52 incoming PhDs, 84 incoming masters’ scholars and 30 incoming VET places – a reduction of 96% across these three categories.

International applicants understandably felt that they were duped into applying for scholarships which essentially did not exist. A contributor to the discussion forum wrote:

I have spent about $1,900 for my IELTS test, for notary fee, and for my flight to get some documents from my home country. I’m totally fine if my application is not successful due to my lousy application, but seeing there are only two awardees I feel I should not put such efforts for this scholarship.

An email from the Department posted by an unsuccessful applicant stated that there had been 7049 applications for the individual awards.  If this is accurate, the 107 individual awards granted represent a success rate lower than 1.5% and an enormous amount of time and effort in selection.

This compares unfavourably with the American Fulbright program which had a success rates of around 22-24% in the period 2013-2016, and the New Colombo Plan scholars program which nominally has a 30% success rate, albeit after local vetting at the institutional level.  With a success rate of 1.5%, in 2019 an Endeavour award was almost as difficult to win as a Rhodes scholarship, which anecdotally has a success rate of about 0.7%.

And what of the more than 6000 individual scholars who constitute Endeavour’s distinct alumni network?  Gretchen Dobson, an Australian-based global alumni relations consultant who has worked closely with Australian government scholarship programs, comments:

“The Endeavour alumni umbilical cord is cut. The last class of 2019 scholars will inherit an alumni community full of esteemed professionals around the world but, without a program, all alumni will navigate their own networking and determine for themselves the value proposition for staying involved with an organisation with a shelf life of 15 years.”

“Even when global alumni programs are thriving with ongoing investment and support, a large part of their success is tied to alumni volunteer leadership. Out of the 6,000 plus Endeavour alumni, I would expect some are organising and making plans to keep their global Endeavour alumni ecosystem going. If they can, there is a better chance to continue to expand their personal and professional networks. But the notion of alumni being brand ambassadors is now moot.”[5]

V.  Endeavour as an outbound student mobility program

Endeavour also offered an outbound mobility program administered through institutions rather than being open to individuals.  Through outbound mobility programs institutions such as universities and TAFEs applied on behalf of a group of domestic students to subsidize a program that took them overseas for study purposes.  Successful institutions then distributed the funds to individual students, typically between $2500 to $5000 as a contribution to costs during their time overseas.

The comparatively low cost per student of the mobility programs coupled with the massive internal funding shift from the individual awards component in the 2018 reform enabled the government to offer more mobility places than in previous years.  Thus, the Minister could announce that 2095 Australians would be supported with international study and research grants in 2019.  But the corresponding very short list of names for individual scholarships brought a wave of indignation and confusion.

The blog entries from 8 March 2019 reveal the bewilderment of applicants, particularly the confusion around the definitions of “individual awards” and “institutional awards”.  The Minister’s announcement of 2095 places for Australians, coupled with just 65 names of Australian individual awardees, created a wave of hope that an expanded list was imminent.  Confusion was not confined to the applicants. On Twitter, Jason Lodge and Julie Hare responded to @LiberalNewWorld describing the numbers announced by the Minister as unexplained and bizarre.

Looking just at the mobility outcomes, our enquiries to 14 Australian universities asking about their Endeavour mobility success rate revealed mixed results.[6]  It is clear that the majority of funded projects for 2019 were in the short-term (i.e. lower cost) category which tends to support groups of students undertaking a shared international experience.  Five universities were reasonably happy with the results showing significant increases over 2018 (possibly because they had not made many applications in 2018); five universities were unhappy with significantly reduced funding compared with previous year (including one which was unsuccessful in all ten proposals) and four universities were neutral having received about the same funding as the year before.  There is a sense of puzzlement over some outcomes, particularly where stated priority countries were not observed by the selectors, and many of the projects ranked by institutions as their highest priorities were inexplicably not funded.

The results of the final 2019 round of Endeavour funding were at best nearly impossible to explain and at worst masked a major shift in policy internally done behind a screen.  But, the overall policy confusion was the fertile ground that allowed the historically valued Endeavour program to be dumped less than four weeks later.  Its original balance between elite and broad, domestic students and overseas scholars, and educational and foreign policy objectives had been lost over excessive and successive tinkering for small political and pet policy gains.  Yet, with its axing a large policy lacuna emerges with just discrete policy initiatives remaining.

VI.  Endeavour’s Demise through Confusion of Purpose and Accreted Complexity

The money saved by cancelling Endeavour has been used to fund a new program of regional scholarships for international and domestic students to attend a regional higher education provider. Thus, money that had been earmarked for domestic students wanting an international experience and international students wanting to study at the best program in their discipline will shift to domestic and international students who want to study in regional areas of Australia.  Destination Australia is a noble program with good policy objectives but by stealing from Peter to pay Paul, the policy shifts from one that rewards excellence and merit to a five-year plan type program that favours one set of marginal seats over another.

A related issue is the shifting by the government of core responsibilities for international education — for ensuring our students are globally engaged and to support the attraction of the best international talent — from the education portfolio to the foreign affairs portfolio.  We always understood, and it made sense, for foreign affairs’ footprint to be “the frosting on the cake” — that is, high-profile additional initiatives that speak to our regional partners and deliver overseas development objectives. But it is fair to expect that the core mainstream responsibility of educating and equipping our broad population about the Asian century should be “business as usual” for the education portfolio.

The 2018 changes introduced a new level of ambiguity about Endeavour’s purpose.  The focus on the mobility component following the changes led understandably to comparisons with the New Colombo Plan.  Under the Endeavour mobility stream, places are for coursework students (including undergraduates) and are not available to research students, so it becomes more difficult to discern Endeavour’s unique purpose, other than covering different regions.  As we have said, Endeavour and NCP are funded through different government departments, but as the Endeavour program moved towards something which looked remarkably like NCP, and less like something which supported research excellence, it became more difficult to identify its unique value proposition. 

 The best policy response would be to isolate new funds to cover both the Endeavour Leadership Program and the Destination Australia program because they each deliver good outcomes efficiently, but in different areas. Universities Australia agrees, saying that Australia

shouldn’t have to choose between supporting students in the regions and tapping into the latest global knowledge that strengthens our own research… the two programs should exist side by side as part of Australia’s strategic education and research effort.

It is also important to flag the bureaucratic complexity created by the ambiguous objectives and constant accommodation of pet initiatives.  We know of at least one institution that in response to the ever lengthening program rules hired a consultant to try to digest the complex guidelines and summarise them back to the university and its academics, so they could appropriately construct programs that addressed the objectives.  Most significantly, this complexity resulted in a lack of an easily conveyed narrative as to its purpose and thereby a lack of institutional champions and cynicism among insiders (in bureaucratic jargon known as ILOs, or Institutional Liaison Officers). Stakeholder engagement with the ILOs or universities international leadership was poor. Unlike the New Colombo Plan secretariat, Endeavour staff did not engage with Deputy Vice-Chancellors International and Directors International or present at the major conferences. 

Adding to the complexity and inscrutability of Endeavour is the apparent lack of any rigorous evaluation of the program since its launch in 2003.  Past bureaucrats have said they are not aware of any formal evaluation (beyond the level of impact on individual recipients).  It is only relatively recently that evaluation processes have been included in scholarship design processes for programs such as the Fulbright, which have hitherto been heavily dominated by post-hoc review processes.[7] This reminds us that as the Cat said to Alice, if you don’t know where you want to get to, it doesn’t much matter which way you go.  A lack of rigorous evaluation contributes to the vulnerability of any program, since it will not have the evidence required to respond to criticism.

The 2018 Budget cut presented the opportunity to scrape the accreted bureaucratic complexity, but unfortunately the revision merely bolted together two overly convoluted programs Frankenstein-like.  By March 2019, Endeavour’s constantly shifting purpose and complexity from accommodating a grab bag of initiatives left it without a core narrative or champion.  The lack of champion is particularly noticeable when contrasting Minister Bishop’s strident and high profile advocacy against the high volume of leadership turnover in Education ministers and senior public servants during Endeavour’s 15 years.  The multiple subtle name changes of the program, including at one iteration confusingly going by ‘Australia Awards Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships’, is indicative of the difficulty of creating a consistent narrative. Thus, complexity and champion-less, Endeavour was an easy target in the annual budget prioritisation bun fight.

VII.  A New Policy Framework for International Education Mobility

Taking on the lessons from the failure of the old Endeavour and success of the New Colombo Plan, what would a rational, effective, holistic international student mobility policy look like?  How might a ‘New Endeavour Plan’ balance and complement the successful New Colombo Plan?

A comprehensive approach would balance the national policy objectives for Education, Foreign Affairs, and Economics; it would be shared across government portfolios based on expertise or functional responsibility; it would balance between broad-based initiatives for general participation and targeted elite programs; it would be balanced between those initiatives that send Australian students overseas and those that bring overseas students to Australia; and it would be designed with the flexibility to test niche policy objectives and opportunistically leverage funding through partnerships with other countries, other private scholarship providers, and Australian institutions.

One of the challenges to initiatives in this space has been the blurred policy objectives that have sought to be addressed.  Even within the broad categories of Education, Foreign Affairs, and Economics there are sub-interests that policy makers have sought to push at different times.  Thus, one of the lessons from Endeavour is greater clarity regarding objectives and greater insistency on simplicity of purpose.

The primary policy objectives have been in the Education space.  Recently, the research has shown that there is a causal relationship, not just correlation, between study abroad and academic performance when measured by timely graduation and academic performance.[8]  Thus, mobility at the broadest level can be an effective policy tool to achieve core educational objectives.  Separate but consistent with this, historically study abroad has primarily been justified for the ‘transformative’ impact it has on individual students.  Davina Potts has shown empirically that this is reinforced with improved employability and social capital evidence.  As seen in the original Endeavour program, these types of programs have also supported foreign language acquisition and global skills initiatives.[9] In addition, scholarships beyond a narrow set of countries ensures our classrooms are sufficiently diverse for the best learning outcomes.

From the foreign affairs front, the original objectives such as with 1950s Colombo Plan were capacity building to support aid and development initiatives.  More recently, this was quantified to benefit soft power objectives that included the benefits of having Australians networked internationally, as well as having a number of positively inclined foreign alumni of Australian institutions in our neighbours.  This has been empirically supported by the Australian Council for Educational Research’s Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility. Furthermore, we have occasionally seen the importance of specific initiatives used in bilateral negotiations such as the Science and Innovation portfolio’s Australia-China Science and Research Fund and the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund’s young scientist exchange programs.[10]

The economic objective of international student mobility is more indirect but no less critical.  International education is dependent on relationships and those relationships are undermined when Australia is perceived to selfishly take without reciprocally giving back.  Minister Nelson’s 2003 Ministerial Statement on international education pointed out that Internationalisation is a two way process, and that there are significant benefits for Australians from the experiences and relationships developed through international education, yet less than one percent of Australian students travelled abroad for study at that time. Programs such as Endeavour allowed some of the enormous economic benefits Australia receives from educating those able to pay our international student tuition fees to circulate back in scholarships to those most meritorious but unable to pay full Australian prices.  In an ‘aid for trade’ sense as well, sending Australian students to institutions overseas supports institution building in a more mature and less paternalistic way than direct aid grants.  The scholarships also assisted with new market development and further diversification of inflows of international students.

Finally, a cornucopia of other niche objectives might be supported through international education mobility.  Thus, the Destination Australia program that unwittingly swallowed Endeavour’s funding was creatively supporting rural universities and communities by encouraging diversification of in-bound international students to study outside of Sydney and Melbourne metropolises. While this can be understood as a hedging strategy for the economic exposure of the international education sector that has a politically charged concentration of benefit within infrastructure challenged cities, it primarily addresses a regional development objective.  In this way it is not dissimilar to how the education objective supports the niche initiative for developing language skills and Asia literacy, particularly as seen in the AsiaBound program.

Addressing another niche, the Science and Innovation portfolio’s interest in developing a research infrastructure and network was also served by the Endeavour program through research scholarships.  While exceptionally worthwhile, the Endeavour research program produced a relatively constricted ‘bang for the buck’ in directing a disproportionate amount of limited funding to a small number of foreign PhD students.  Following the 2017 rolling of international research scholarships into the Research Training Program, it is arguable this mainstream program has addressed the former role of Endeavour in providing places to international higher degree students.  

The responsibility for these overlapping policy objectives does not sit equally within the Australian government portfolios.  Thus, Department of Education and Training is expected to take a lead on primarily education initiatives.[11] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has lead on foreign affairs objectives. And, Austrade might be understood to have a primary concern with international education as an economic or trade initiative.  Other portfolios will also have secondary interest; thus, the Council for International Education uniquely reports to Ministers for Immigration, Vocational Education, and Science, as well as the Ministers for Education, Foreign Affairs, and Trade.  Indeed, the Council’s cross-cabinet example is a strong precedent for greater cross-portfolio coordination of policy initiatives for international student mobility.

Another complexity that has not been fully understood or capitalised on to date is the opportunity that international mobility presents for leveraging with partners.  The Endeavour Cheung Kong Scholarship is the best example whereby combining a private scholarship body’s efforts with the Australian government produces more than either would have on their own.  One could imagine similar opportunities with entities such as the Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship, the Sir John Monash Scholarships, the Schwarzman Scholarships, Mitsui Education Foundation Study Tours, among others. 

Similarly, Australian universities presently contribute $27.3 million per annum in out-bound mobility support and even more for in-bound international student scholarships. [12]   Leveraging this spend with the government commitment—for example, as matching funding—can produce broader and deeper results both for institutional and governmental objectives.  It also covers the risk of institutions stepping back from their current commitments in response to increased government support.

In addition to this type of private and institutional leveraging, government-to-government leverage is possible between sending and receiving countries that will deliver more to both countries.  For example, Japan’s Tobitate and JASSO programs support Japanese students to study across the globe and foreign students to study in Japan; thus, in cooperation with Australia a portion of both of our programs might be aligned and leveraged to not only prioritise key relationships but to get more through coordinated efficiencies. The US Fulbright, German DAAD, Chinese Ministry of Education, and so forth are just a small sample of other countries presently going it alone in an area that has unrealised bilateral synergies. Indeed, the Universities Australia’s creation of UMAP was an early, ambitious example of extending this kind of leveraging on a multilateral scale.[13]

These overlapping objectives and portfolio responsibilities expose tensions within this space.  Thus, it is understandable that Department of Education and Training will place priority on broad-based initiatives that impact as many Australian students as possible, while DFAT will prioritise soft power initiatives that help place Australians within elite Asian networks or support key bilateral relationships and aid efficacy. Moreover, other portfolios and sub-cliques will be keen to subvert part of the initiative to support their personal objectives, or given the proven effectiveness of scholarships and the like, simply to deploy an available tool. These tensions are not fully resolvable, but they can create a structure of responsibility for different aspects of the multifaceted, comprehensive mobility initiative. 

From this discussion some basic principles may be distilled to inform future debate on Australia’s international education mobility policy.  Our modest ambitions rest there.  Nonetheless, to advance the conversation and debate we expose ourselves in the Addendum with a rough skeletal outline that moves from the theoretical to the applied.  The draft framework tries to create a balanced, holistic coherent approach across government portfolios that seeks to rationalise and optimise Australia’s outbound student support programs and inbound scholarship programs.  We hope this will provide a starting point for the new government to consider both the New Colombo Plan and hopefully a New Endeavour Plan.

VIII.  Conclusion

We do not live in a Utopian world where government policy always aligns comprehensively and holistically.  Nevertheless, when government policy pulls in opposite direction and results in worse outcomes for individuals, the community, the bureaucracy and government intentions we should reassess.  Sometimes this situation comes about because of accretion over time, rather than any one specific act.  This is especially true of policy levers that are as effective and obvious as international education mobility, that is, support of Australians studying overseas and supporting high performing foreign students to study in Australia.

Endeavour was overly successful in providing an easily understandable mechanism that could be tweaked for pet initiatives.  Thus, multiple new initiatives were added to the skeleton, producing administrative complexity.  The complexity, however, resulted in loss of a comprehensive narrative of its purpose and thereby a political or public service champion to ensure its overlapping policy integrity.  Moreover, Endeavour’s weaknesses were particularly exposed when contrasted with the clarity of narrative and policy champion seen in the New Colombo Plan.  In such an environment, it is not surprising Endeavour collapsed with the latest policy additive.

The loss of Endeavour, however, leaves Australia exposed.  The niche foreign affairs programs are asked to carry the heavy load of education and trade objectives.  The result is to reposition Australia from a leader in international education mobility to a global laggard. Regardless of the loss of prestige, this is problematic because fewer Australians will gain the broader educational benefits of overseas studies, it makes our third largest export more vulnerable through lack of reciprocity, and it limits our ability to compete at the highest level in the market place for the best international research and development talent.

The cancellation of Endeavour in the 2019 Budget and the recent re-election of the Coalition government provide an opportunity to reassess and rebuild a holistic policy that balances objectives and responsibilities.  In doing so, we advocate for educational and broad public initiatives sitting within the Education portfolio, niche and elite initiatives sitting within Foreign Affairs, and economic imperatives being supported by the Trade portfolio. For the crucial issue of budgetary responsibility, we suggest the largest portion being borne by Education while a significant but focussed element sitting with Foreign Affairs.  We also advocate for a rough balance between initiatives that support out-bound Australians and in-bound foreign students.  Perhaps most difficult in implementation we seek a program that allows for flexible leveraging of private, institutional and foreign sources of matching funds.

Depending upon one’s viewpoint, the emphasis will differ slightly in these balances.  We leave those fine tunings to be resolved by the key stakeholders.  But we assert through this rebuilding, a clear narrative of the New Endeavour Plan may sit comfortably with the narrative of the New Colombo Plan and both the Minister for Education and Minister for Foreign Affairs can be equal champions for the policy.

Most critically, a new policy framework for international education mobility—a New Endeavour Plan—will deliver better results for Australian students, the Australian public, and our global partners.



Draft Framework for Out-bound Student Support and In-bound Scholarships:

New Endeavour Plan and New Colombo Plan



New Endeavour Plan

  1. Objective: Broad Based Educational Programs
  2. Responsible Portfolio: Department of Education and Training
  3. Programs:
    1. New Endeavour Out-Bound Mobility
      1. Semester and Exchange Programs as currently funded under NCP
      2. Short-term Mobility Programs as currently funded under NCP
    2. New Endeavour In-Bound Scholarships
      1. Small grants for ‘sandwich programs’ to support overseas PhD candidates and Early Career Researchers to conduct up to one year of Australian fieldwork
      2. Small grants for overseas professionals to spend up to six months in Australian institutions to conduct comparative research
  • Acknowledge Research Training Program (RTP) within DET to continue to be available for international PhD and research masters scholarships.
  1. New Endeavour Special Initiatives
    1. Support for international student diversification into Regional Australia.
    2. In-country Language Acquisition Programs (open to both Australian students and teachers)
  • This category allows time-limited pilot initiatives sponsored by relevant portfolios such as Austrade, old AusAid, Regional Development, PM&C for niche policy objectives, but administered by DET International Education experts


New Colombo Plan

  1. Objective: Strategic Foreign Affairs Programs
  2. Responsible Portfolio: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  3. Programs:
    1. NCP Out-Bound Scholarships
      1. Out-bound undergraduate scholarships as currently funded under NCP
      2. Out-bound graduate and vocational scholarships of limited number
    2. NCP In-Bound Scholarships
      1. In-bound scholarships as currently funded in Australia Awards
    3. NCP Alumni Network
      1. NCP Scholars Alumni Network as currently funded under NCP
      2. In-country Alumni Networks for Expatriates and Overseas Alumni

[1] Davis D &  Mackintosh B (2011) (Eds) Making a Difference UNSW Press, Sydney, p 116

[2] Australian Government Budget Overview 2018-19, p 36 accessed on 15 May 2019

[3] In addition to the scholarship portion of Destination Australia, the initiative modified the existing post-study work rights so that those students who studied and subsequently worked in a ‘regional area’ (notably a different definition of region than the scholarships) could get a one year extension on their visa, similar to the program for working holiday visa holders who work in the regions.  See

[4] As Gallagher notes, no government has been consistent in its policy towards international education.  Thus, while critical of the 2019 government for cutting the Endeavour program, it is worth acknowledging that that government, albeit under different prime ministers, supported international education with the creation and promotion of the New Colombo Plan, a short-lived but world-first minister for international education, creation of a comprehensive national strategy for international education, and empanelling the Council for International Education, which had been called for under the previous Labor government’s Chaney Review.

[5] Personal interview with authors on 6 May 2019.

[6] Results on file with authors.

[7] Mawer, M (2017) ‘Approaches to Analyzing the Outcomes of International Scholarship Programs for Higher Education’ in Journal of Studies in International Education 2017, Vol. 21(3) p 235

[8] Anderson K & Potts, D, Times Higher Education, June 2019 (forthcoming)

[9]  In the Schools sector, such a program was seen in the Keating to Howard era National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools (NALSS) resurrected in the Rudd era as National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP).

[10] While both of these programs are run out of the Science and Innovation portfolio it is understood they were developed out of the bilateral diplomatic negotiations.  See and

[11] Even within this basic structure it is worth highlighting that with the reforms to the Research Training Program within Department of Education and Training primary research training for both domestic and international students sits with the Research Policy and Programs while international cooperation such as mobility sits with the International group.

[12] Australian Universities International Directors Forum, Mobility Survey for 2017 (2018) (capturing 37 universities’ contributions).

[13] Other multilateral leveraging examples that Australia does not presently benefit from exist including Europe’s ERASMUS Programme; China, Korea and Japan’s CAMPUS Asia program; and the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) program.



Professor Kent Anderson is Strategic Advisor to the Vice Chancellor at University of Newcastle.  He was previously Deputy Vice Chancellor (Engagement) at the University of Western Australia, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) at the University of Adelaide, and Dean of the then Faculty of Asian Studies at Australian National University.




Joanne Barker is a PhD candidate at RMIT University and an education consultant specialising in international scholarships. She was previously Director International at the University of Adelaide from 2006 to 2016.