Craig Wallace knows about the importance of global connections, and his work is paving the way for Indigenous students to access life-changing experiences through international education.
Figures from 2018 show that 24 per cent of undergraduate students in Australia complete an international study experience as part of their degree, and this number has continued to rise over the last 5 years.
Whether it is an internship with an overseas company, a 6-month university exchange program or a two week short-term program, these experiences are proven to increase students’ employability after graduation, build confidence and create connections with other students from across the world.
These valuable benefits demonstrate that international experience play a role in ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. However, the participation rates of Indigenous students in international experiences do not match those of their non-Indigenous peers.
This is why Craig is passionate about making a difference for Indigenous students at Monash University.
Born in Niagara Falls, Canada, Craig is no stranger to the benefits of working or studying abroad. While he still considers Canada to be home, he has been living and working in Australia for over 8 years.
“Gaining Australian citizenship was a really special thing for me.”
Thanks to his first-hand experience, Craig is passionate about helping more students explore new cultures and understand different perspectives.
“It’s a real privilege to connect my knowledge and experience to create innovative and life-changing programs that connect people from around the world.
“When I came back from my own study experience in India, I immediately started volunteering for the Centre for International Programs at the University of Guelph.
“I remember saying to the International Director, you have my dream job, and I have been in international education ever since.”
Craig’s role as Development Manager, Learning Abroad at Monash University puts him in a unique position.
With Monash University sending one of the largest cohorts of undergraduate students abroad of any university in Australia, the opportunity to increase access for Indigenous students was clear.
“Beyond volume, Monash is committed to increasing access rates in learning abroad.”
“It’s important to understand who is accessing Monash abroad programs to identify groups of students who may benefit but are not currently taking part. In addition to making existing programs more accessible, there was also an opportunity to develop something new for our Indigenous students.”
He focuses on identifying the reasons why Indigenous students may be unable or hesitant about participating in an international experience.
“What gives me the greatest satisfaction is removing barriers for students to participate in learning abroad. I’ve become so passionate about working with my colleagues to make opportunities possible.”
“Wherever possible, I hope we can integrate an Indigenous perspective or Indigenous programming into inbound and outbound learning abroad experiences.”
Monash University has proven an ideal place to do this, with the university recently launching the Monash Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Framework (2019-2030).
Through this plan, Craig recognised that student mobility could support the university’s broader aims of advancing Indigenous engagement.
Craig says he was very conscious of his role in the process as a non-Indigenous person, and there was a collective understanding about the importance of the program being Indigenous-led.
“I knew who to reach out to so that we could connect the right people for the ideas process.”
Central to the development of this program was the expertise of Craig’s colleagues at the William Cooper Institute, which is Monash University’s hub for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, learning and engagement.
“It was really important that Global Engagement staff worked side by side with our colleagues in the William Cooper Institute to build a program that achieved their goals.”
“In order for us to send students abroad who aren’t normally accessing our programs, we have to foster relationships based on trust internally,” he said.
Professor Jacinta Elston, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) at Monash was key to the development of a new study tour for Indigenous student leaders.
“She understood the value of international education, and was on board with the concept right from the beginning,” he said.
“Global learning was incredibly relevant to her. I didn’t need to convince her. It was just the question of how, because there were so many ideas and so many options for program development.”
After much planning and collaboration, Professor Elston, the William Cooper Institute, and Craig approached the University of British Columbia (UBC), who were a natural choice of partner.
“UBC and Monash have a really longstanding partnership with strong research and mobility linkages.”
“It’s about collaboration and trust. You can’t undervalue the professional connections that people have.”
Together, the institutions developed the international pilot program. It saw seven students and two staff leaders from Monash travel to Canada in 2019 to share their knowledge and experiences.
“The program allows students to learn more about and connect with the First Nations people of Canada through a variety of activities, including sharing and reflection,” Craig said. “My counterparts at UBC Go Global and other Indigenous leaders on campus made incredible contributions to the development of the program. They were able to arrange meetings and visits with the UBC community”.
Over one week, Monash students participated in a program that allowed them to connect with First Nations scholars with expertise in treaties and reconciliation. They visited the Museum of Anthropology, the First Nations Longhouse and UBC’s Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.
Professor Elston has embedded the study tour to British Columbia as a component of Monash’s Indigenous Student Leadership Program.
He says that this is just one of the many opportunities available that will enhance the value proposition and attractiveness for Monash as a study destination for Indigenous students from across Australia.
“We also want Monash to be a destination of choice for international students, for First Nations people from around the world to become part of our community.”
Craig believes that the work of Monash University and the University of British Columbia highlight the unique opportunity that higher education institutions have to incorporate practices that are inclusive and advance Indigenous reconciliation for students, staff and the greater community.
“We are striving to expand the learning abroad programming we have for Indigenous students.” Planning is underway for Monash to reciprocate by hosting UBC Indigenous students on a study tour to Melbourne.
Craig hopes that in the future, the program will continue to expand, especially between Canadian and Australian universities because “our values are aligned and we are striving in a lot of ways in true partnership.”
“This programming will see further linkages made for both staff and students. We are also exploring staff exchange and developing stronger Indigenous connections with another partner, Western University in London, Ontario.”
“Reconciliation is a constant process of learning, and acknowledging that it is an ongoing journey,” Craig says.
Craig’s influence, passion and leadership has allowed him to bring people together to develop a high impact program with life changing outcomes and connections.
“Being part of a reconciliation process is about connecting learning with relationships. For me, it’s about making as much effort as possible to create relationships with my Indigenous colleagues and students.”
Reflecting on these words, it is clear that Craig is committed to being a part of this journey for years to come. He is however, quick to acknowledge that when working with his Indigenous colleagues and students, “they are the ones who are blazing all the trails”.