The Australian government is reviewing its scholarships following a budget deficit 

Education: While results of this year’s Australian development scholarships (AusAid) could be declared anytime soon, there could be a drop in the number of scholarships in the next two years.

Australian ambassador to Bhutan Patrick Suckling, who was in the country recently said this is mainly because of the Australian government’s decision to reduce its foreign aid globally.

“We’re going to have a pause in the review of Australian Awards scholarships in light of this adjustment in the aid budget,” he said.

However, he said that the scholarships would continue in the future.

Australia offers two types of scholarships to Bhutanese from all sectors annually – the Australian awards scholarship and the Endeavours scholarship. The Endeavour scholarships will however continue.

“Then we’ll see that AusAid scholarships pick up again in 2017,” he said.

Australian government slashed its foreign aid budget by AUD 4 billion this fiscal year.  Aid to most countries in Asia were brought down by almost 40 percent compared to its spending in the 2014-15 fiscal year. The Australian government earmarked AUD 11 billion in foreign aid cuts between 2014 and 2018.

Aid to Bhutan fell from AUD 3.5 million in 2014-15 to AUD 2.1M this fiscal, a drop by 40 percent.

Ambassador Patrick Suckling said that his government has reviewed the aid programme globally and aid has been cut significantly.

“That’s because we have a fiscal problem which is a structural budget deficit in Australia,” he said.

He said the cuts were not in foreign aid alone. “The government is looking in to all areas to cut spending,” he said. It also includes for instance a 15 percent cut on civil servants spending.

“But that doesn’t mean the aid support to Bhutan will stop, there’ll still be significant support coming in,” he said.

The ambassador said that there could be some development in vocational training and mostly in skills development for employment. However, education would remain at the centre of Australian assistance to Bhutan.

“The major part we think is in areas where we can encourage development of stronger partnerships and presence for Australian universities in Bhutan,” Ambassador Suckling said.

“We have had very good discussion about skills training and we have got an initiative where we would like to explore with the government of Bhutan on vocational education and skills training,” he said after his meeting with Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay.

The Australian government increased its development scholarships from 44 and 46 in the past two years to 51 for the 2015 intake. This excluded the Endeavour scholarships.

Today there are 101 Bhutanese on AusAid scholarship studying in various parts of Australia.

Australian scholarships began in 1950s through the Colombo Plan and have 480 awardees between 2007 and 2014 including 189 endeavour scholarships.

By Tshering Palden