The Places You’ll Go3 April 2019
The University of Melbourne has set a target for 25 per cent of students to participate in overseas study by 2020, reflecting growing national demand to study abroad. The new target, along with changes to the Study Overseas program, form part of a concerted national push to simplify the process for domestic exchange students.
These changes come as a much-needed update to the notoriously difficult application experience. Elliot Incerti went on exchange at Autonomous University of Barcelona (AUB), and described the application process as “lengthy and very confusing”. Despite spending a lot of careful time on his Study Plan, Incerti still encountered problems.
“Almost none of the approved subjects were available to me once I got to Barcelona, and there was so much delay on both the Melbourne and Barcelona end of things… I was scrambling to get subjects approved [before the deadline],” Incerti said.
Many overseas partner institutions have outdated and sometimes non-existent online handbooks, or poorly staffed international student advisors that struggle to meet the required University of Melbourne deadlines. With students needing to finalise their Study Plans shortly after arrival at their host institutions, any delays can be detrimental to the approval process.
“The administration at AUB was shocking, they had one office for exchange students that was meant to cover absolutely everything, but it was just one woman working there for three hours on Tuesday and Thursdays,” Incerti said. “Fortunately I had been documenting these troubles with the exchange [advisor] for Europe, and she’s been supporting me.”
The advisor in question, Anatoli Amanatidis, cares for between 150 and 250 outbound students per semester. She urges them not to be “afraid to ask the questions”, as some institutions may not have much information available online for inbound students.
“It is stressful. Students need to be prepared to navigate through that,” Amanatidis said.
“If there is a problem, come and tell me. If your visa is running late, or you don’t know what’s happening, if you want to check [you’re doing] enough credits, reach out.”
Jess* went on exchange in Scandinavia and reported struggling initially with her application. “I think I was at Stop 1 almost every week trying to get answers for something.”
Last year, Stop 1 had 4,300 drop-in visits for Study Overseas queries, a number which Davina Potts, Associate Director of Global Leadership and Employability, hopes to see reduced as the new changes roll out.
Shari Blanck, who works alongside Potts as the Student Programs Coordinator, said that the feedback of students like Elliot and Jess has been critical to updating the administrative systems. “There is real co-creation with students,” she said. “We are in the process of overturning—to make it more student friendly.”
Smaller changes include the renaming of Global Mobility to ‘Study Overseas,’ as well as simplifying the website, while more significant changes include increasing the number of overseas summer and winter intensives, resourcing more funding, and removing nomination WAM and GPA requirements.
“There’s no evidence to say that students will do better [on exchange] if they’ve got a higher WAM,” said Potts. Rather, she said, “it’s about maturity and how you’re able to adjust,” adding that students with lower WAMs who participate in an exchange, compared to their peers with higher marks, tend to benefit more academically upon returning.
Furthermore, the replacement of Google Doc forms with an online Study Plan has allowed data on subject selections to be gathered and analysed. In the future, some subjects will qualify for automatic accreditation, making the process smoother for applicants.
All students interviewed agreed that, despite administrative difficulties encountered, their exchanges were very worthwhile, giving them confidence and clarity regarding future study. As these improvements are implemented and expanded upon, the number of students studying abroad can only continue to grow. With the most recent data from the 2017 graduating cohort showing exchange figures at 22 per cent, the University is very close to achieving their 2020 goal.
*Individual’s name has been changed.