For those of us teaching courses for UTS students taking ‘outbound’ international programs, the Australian government’s international travel restrictions forced a rapid re-think of what we can offer. One theme of UTS’ Model of Learning includes ‘a focus on international mobility and international and cultural engagement’. How does this continue if our students are unable to leave Australia?

Of course, students do not have to leave the country for this experience: UTS is an international community in which to learn. Our community collectively speak more than 130 languages and have diverse backgrounds, traditions, world views and life goals; and the curriculum in UTS courses includes content and perspectives which draw from a range of international contexts. But the opportunity for students to engage in ‘learning abroad’ does provide unique experiences and challenges.  When these are appropriately scaffolded, students are better prepared for culturally and linguistically diverse workplaces either in Australia or globally.

One area of learning abroad which has grown rapidly in the past few years is short-term intensive programs offered in July (Winter) and Summer sessions. Our faculty – the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – includes these in open electives available to all UTS students who want to complete an international internship or study at one of UTS’ international partner universities full-time for 2-4 weeks. 

Until the changes brought about by COVID-19, students travelled independently to the international location to complete their chosen program. In addition, they completed coursework as part of the UTS subject with learning activities before, during (online) and after their international experience. The subject is designed, not only to prepare students for the intercultural experience, but also to guide their purposeful reflection on their international learning and application to their respective professions.

But what options do we have now with the international travel ban in place? Working with colleagues in UTS International, we initially thought we would have to cancel any July 2020 options for students. But, as all of us at UTS have had to do, we started thinking how we could continue in online mode. Our international partners who had previously offered face-to-face courses or internship placements also did the ‘pivot’ and realised they could offer online opportunities. After all, working remotely is what the whole world is now doing – so, why not our learning abroad programs too?

Therefore, for July session the pre-, during and post-experience teaching will all happen online for a group of students now preparing for their various courses or internship experiences they will complete from Sydney, with partners based in locations as diverse as Noumea, Barcelona, Ljubljana, Jakarta and Berlin. 

Our pioneer group of online international learning students is very enthusiastic about this opportunity. Some missed out on exchange experiences this year and want to immerse themselves more in their chosen language, while others have never had the opportunity to travel internationally so are grateful to bump up their CV with a virtual international internship

Dr Beate Mueller, School of International Studies and Education

While we look forward to a time when our students can travel internationally again, being forced to incorporate remote programs into our subjects is what many of us in the field of international education have wanted to do for years. Online international programs provide options for students who may not be able to travel internationally, so that they too have the opportunity to develop their international and intercultural capabilities. Our environmental impact is naturally also lessened if we increase student participation in international learning programs without sending all of them off in aeroplanes. 

Future sessions will hopefully include an expanded range of online international programs – even if, in 2021, some students can start boarding a flight once again.

  • These are such great opportunities for students, and hopefully will continue to be offered long into the future – providing the means to develop these essential capabilities for students who cannot, for a range of reasons, travel overseas. Congratulations all on getting this first tranche of programs up and running so quickly!

  • UTS again at the forefront of innovations and exciting initiatives. Great ideas, Susan and colleagues.

  • I can’t agree with you more that online is an important part of our offerings now and will probably continue to be in the future! I think it might be one of the determining factors that will make our university distinctive down the track if strategies can be put in places earlier on.

  • Awesome initiative. I want to do this myself! This is a great compromise in these difficult times to gain some intercultural development.

  • I encourage students learning languages to have a look at the short courses available. You can still get international experience virtually in a safe environment.

  • There are some lovely opportunities for intercultural engagement in this online mode where students can engage in real time with people in different parts of the world.

  • Indeed the international starts here! This is such a terrific way to enable more students to have an international experience, and it is also good for the planet.

  • It is great news that UTS students can still engage with international universities, even if remotely. I know many of our language students are keen to explore what is on offer.

  • Virtual experiences are an excellent idea and Health students would really benefit from these international opportunities. We are thinking about opportunities that provide a bird’s eye view of “a day in a life of a health professional” in different countries and contexts using a GoPro camera.

  • Virtual Global Short Programs (VGSP) are open to all students at UTS, with first programs also being trialled by Faculty of Engineering and IT, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation, Business School, Faculty of Science this Winter break. They provide participating students with the opportunity to build and expand on those important digital skills which will be increasingly important in the modern global workplace. It also allows increased options for students who are not able to travel overseas for a range of financial or life reasons. For students concerned about their carbon footprint, they are also a more ecologically sustainable option for real-life global engagement.

    After the trial this Winter, UTS International will work with all Faculties to create a sustainable, academically valid, scalable and successful range of VGSP into the future to increase the opportunities for all our undergraduate students to ‘Think Global’.

    For further information on all UTS Virtual Global Short Programs this winter, please check website and click on ‘Global Short Programs’ and then ‘Virtual Global Short Programs’.

  • A great initiative, and a wonderful opportunity to have a remote international learning experience.

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