From its very beginnings, Monash has been open to and actively embraced international influences – arguably more so than other Australian universities. Starting with the appointment of international academic staff members and the encouragement of international partnerships and exchanges, to the growing number of international students at the University, Monash has actively worked to establish itself as a globally competitive tertiary institution.
The involvement of Monash University in education across international borders dates back to the early 1960s when it began to sponsor students under the Colombo Plan. In general terms this scheme, initiated in January 1950, encouraged the flow of aid from various countries including Australia to developing countries in South and Southeast Asia. It is perhaps best remembered in Australia for sponsoring thousands of Asian students to study or train at Australian tertiary institutions. Seven students enrolled at Monash University in 1962 under the Colombo Plan. Just five years later, this number had increased to 103.
Colombo Plan students were not the only international students at Monash in the early days. As early as 1964 there were over 200 overseas students studying at the University. Almost ten years later, in 1973 there were over 600, the majority coming from Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
By the early 1980s, when talks of mergers dominated the tertiary sector in Australia, the trend of undertaking tertiary studies overseas was increasing worldwide. There were more than a million international students studying at universities outside their home countries. While it was clear by the late 1980s that the overwhelming majority of these students were choosing to journey to the United States, two per cent were selecting Australia. Of these, the majority were from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
It was around this time that Australia was becoming increasingly interested in forming an Australasian identity – industry, commerce and especially education were areas in which the government wanted to carve out a stronger presence in Asia. Monash University was very much a part of this process of ‘Asianisation’ as it was termed. Education was seen as a potential source of significant export income, with the then Vice-Chancellor Mal Logan particularly supportive of extending the University’s reach into Asia. ‘Education’, he commented, ‘is a business in its own right, but it also underpins everything else. That’s why it’s so important.’