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University of Auckland maximises international opportunities

University of Auckland students maximise international opportunities

In 2013, the University of Auckland set a goal for at least a quarter of all students receiving a bachelors degree to have an overseas learning experience. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s Scholarship, the target was achieved this year.

The scholarships – for international study, research or internships – are funded by the New Zealand Government, administered by Education New Zealand, and enable students to study with institutions and intern with organisations in Latin America and Asia. Sixty-nine University of Auckland students (from a total 252) received scholarships in the latest round announced by the Minister of Education earlier this month.

Since the launch of the Prime Minister’s Scholarships in 2013, more than 500 University of Auckland students have had their overseas learning supported this way. Others have funded themselves to participate in internships, short courses led by University academics, semester study, or other learning opportunities. Reaching the target means that last year more than 1,300 had an academic ‘OE’ (overseas experience) during the course of their study.

University of Auckland Director International Brett Berquist said that this generation of students was thinking about their OE differently to their parents.

"Students today want to start their OE while they’re still at university," he said. "It’s a new era of study abroad and the University has been working hard to add international experience opportunities to degrees.

“Taking up an opportunity to study or research at an overseas university as part of a degree means students can get credit academically, experience overseas life, and really differentiate themselves in the labour market when they pursue their first graduate job. Learning abroad provides exposure to different team work cultures and perspectives, which will equip them for the future of work whether that is in the super diverse city of Auckland or elsewhere in the world.

“The Prime Minister’s Scholarship programme is integral to ensuring a wide range of students can participate, and also helping us develop strong partnerships in Asia and Latin America, reciprocating student learning and deepening institutional relationships through the movement of students and staff."

The scholarship covers individuals, who use the funds to support semester study or internships, as well as shorter-term group scholarships of 4 – 12 weeks for study, internships or language programming.

Last night (Thursday 19 December) the University hosted a reception to celebrate the current student cohort back from global internships and to acknowledge the most recent recipients of the scholarship.

Speakers included medical student Thomas Swinburn, who has completed an internship in Mumbai, working with an NGO working with prostitutes, children, and people living with HIV.

“Within an hour of arriving at my first day of work, I was walking through bustling brothels of the city’s busiest red-light district, encouraging people to come to our mobile clinic for medical care and condoms,” he said.

“Another day I scrubbed in for a C section — something I would be lucky to see in six years of medical training here. The chance to spend an extended period paired with this organisation confirmed my passion and vocation to work in the public or global health spheres; medicine is not limited to clinical practice in New Zealand.

“This internship allowed me to burrow deep into the culture and connect with people in a way that is becoming increasingly more difficult. Travel is relatively easy these days, but it is rarer to have the opportunity to become intimately involved with a local community over such an extended period.”

The Prime Minister’s Scholarships have been invaluable in the University of Auckland’s mission to encourage all New Zealand university students to include an overseas study experience in their degree programmes, Brett believes.

“Because of this funding, a whole world of short-term learning abroad opportunities has been opened up. For many of our students, the traditional semester exchange away from their family or employment responsibilities is not a viable option, so these scholarships genuinely broaden access to learning abroad by making short-term funded opportunities available.

“The scholarships strengthen our ability to connect with the world through building people-to-people ties as well as growing our understanding of our neighbours,“ he said.

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