The prestigious Australia Awards (AA) scholarship is for Bhutan and not for individuals, according to AA’s team leader for South and West Asia, Tony Crooks.

He said this during an AA scholarship’s pre-departure briefing for 28 awardees on November 21 in Thimphu. “The AA is a scholarship granted as Australia’s long-term commitment to Bhutan.”

Tony Crooks emphasised that AA’s main objective is to contribute to national development and to strengthen linkages between Australia and Bhutan. “You are the link to obtain these objectives.”

He said that the Australian government is investing its taxpayers’ money in the education of the awardees so that there is development in Bhutan and it is the responsibility of every awardee to prove that the investment was worth. “The programme fails when awardees do not make any contribution to the country after returning from Australia.”

The team leader also said that the awardees are ambassadors for Bhutan in Australia and for Australians who will not be able to come to Bhutan, they will judge the Bhutanese through the awardees’ interaction with them. “It is important that you remember why you are there and what are the expectations of you.”

Australian ambassador to Bhutan, Harinder Sidhu, at the keynote address on the Australia-Bhutan education partnership, said that Australia remains focused to work with Bhutan to strengthen its human resource capacity, which includes their support to the Royal Institute of Management (RIM) and long-standing scholarship programmes like the AA and Endeavor scholarship and fellowships.

“This year alone, we offer 28 Australia Awards and 12 Endeavour Fellowships. In 2018, there will be 15 more Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships offered to Bhutanese,” she said.

The ambassador said that Australia is also a destination for Bhutanese students outside the scholarship programmes. “It is the second most popular foreign destination for Bhutanese students, after India. There are currently 1,450 Bhutanese students in Australia, a number which continues to increase each year.”

She said that through the success of the alumni, she feels Australia has contributed to Bhutan’s national development in ways that they could never have anticipated. “Our alumni are doctors, politicians, judges, and teachers. They are also leaders in many aspects of business and civil society.”

Harinder Sidhu said that education is a two-way exchange and Bhutan has a lot to teach in Australia as well. “Gross National Happiness is a model to other countries, including Australia, to ensure sustainable, holistic development.”

She said Bhutan is a champion for progressive environmental policy and Australia is inspired by the fact that Bhutan is not only carbon neutral but carbon negative. “Bhutan is a role model for transitioning peacefully to democracy globally.”

She also said that Australian students now have the opportunity to study in Bhutan under the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan. “There have already been 88 students that have undertaken study programmes in Bhutan at the Royal University of Bhutan, and 120 more will come in 2018.”

The ambassador said she is sure that the Australian students will do them proud and the students will make lifelong connections that will make the bilateral friendship even stronger.

She said that tourism presents another opportunity for stronger and richer ties between the two countries. “Bhutan, as a global leader in sustainable eco-tourism stands well placed to benefit from Australians’ love for travel, exploration and the environment.”

Foreign minister Damcho Dorji said that as Bhutan gears towards graduating from the least developed countries (LDC) category, many development partners are gradually phasing out their assistance. “But Australia has remained consistent and continue to provide support in Bhutan’s socio-economic development.”

Australian ambassador to Bhutan, Harinder Sidhu and foreign minister, Damcho Dorji, launched a book, “An Alumni Perspective: Celebrating 15 years of Bhutan-Australia diplomatic relations.”

The book tells the stories of 15 Australian alumni and how their experience in Australia helped shape their life.

Tashi Dema