Business Newsroom sat down with Associate Professor Alison Parkes, Head of Department of Accounting & Data Analytics, to talk about her visit to Kuala Lumpur where she visited New Colombo Plan students.
What is the New Colombo Plan?
The New Colombo Plan (NCP) is an Australian Government initiative to increase knowledge of the Indo Pacific region by supporting undergraduates to study and undertake internships. Essentially the original Colombo Plan in the 1960s & 70s brought students from South-East Asia to Australia, while the New Colombo Plan takes Australian students to South-East Asia.
The Department of Accounting & Data Analytics applied for places in the first round of funding for this program and were awarded 6 places in 2016, 8 places in 2017 and 10 places in 2018. The places are only available to high achieving Accounting students who hold Australian citizenship.
The funding involves $3000 per student to go on placement in Malaysia for 4-6 weeks. The aim is to broaden students’ view of the world and to give them a taste of living and working in Asia.
Alison Parkes in Kuala Lumpur with New Colombo Plan students and alumni
Who are the students that went to Kuala Lumpur?
The eight students were all Accounting scholars, five from Melbourne and three from regional campuses. Scholarships seem to be taken up primarily by students from the larger campus in Melbourne but I wanted to ensure regional applicants were considered. Two of the regional students were from Shepparton and one from Bendigo, and for some of them it was their first time in Asia.
Where do NCP students go and how is it organised?
Once students have been accepted into the NCP program we provide workshops to upskill them in software use and the soft skills we know employers highly value. We also do some acculturation, providing them with information on living and working in Malaysia.
The placement details are arranged by a third party placement provider in conjunction with La Trobe staff. When students arrive in Kuala Lumpur, they are welcomed by Global Student, the third party placement agency. Global Student arranges the student’s placement and accommodation but also organises cultural and tourist activities. Several students went to the Australian High Commission for an event but there are also informal things like visits to Penang or a daytrip into the city. It’s a whole cultural and educational package and generally the scholarship funding ($3,000) covers most of these costs.
Global Student places students in a range of places, some go to the Big 4, like KPMG, while others experience working in smaller firms.
NCP students’ orientation in KL
What are the kind of tasks NCP students do?
The subject LBS students are enrolled in is the Accounting Workplace Program (ACC3AWP) which is a fairly standard Work Integrated Learning (WIL) subject. Out of the 23 students enrolled in the Accounting Workplace Program last summer 8 were NCP students and the other 15 were students doing local placements. The subject runs exactly the same whether you are in Melbourne or in KL.
The Accounting Work Placement includes several assessment pieces. Students write a reflective report that looks back on their experience. They write and submit a short journal entry each week talking about what happened that week, what they learned and the tasks they did. This is also useful to me as the Subject Coordinator, I can see how the placement is progressing and offer support and mentoring if any issues arise along the way. At the end of the program they put those entries together in a report and it provides them with a document they can look back at and reflect on what they learned. Students also write a placement report focused on the accounting work they did; this could be either a pre-defined project with a deliverable outcome or an operational role. We have had students asked to check whether data was correct, another group wrote an audit report including recommendations following up on stock that was disappearing within a company. We even had one student who went to a smaller organisation, whose accounting system wasn’t very well set up, so she re-built their accounting system from scratch. It really depends on the placement needs and the skills of the student.
What were you doing in Kuala Lumpur?
It is important to make sure our students have an instructive and enjoyable experience, so I went over to KL to see how everybody was getting on. I checked-in with Global Student staff and met with all the students, we had dinner together and I spent time making sure everybody was progressing okay. It is a sort of pastoral care-check combined with a review of the academic rigour attached to the placements. We need to make sure our students are undertaking meaningful work and are being supported appropriately in all our work placement programs.
The NCP is a really good program, we have 10 places available next year, but experience some difficulty finding the right students to partake. As already said, many of our students have not travelled much and going on an adventure like this requires an element of trust. We prefer to select students who are confident in their ability to survive and thrive in a totally different environment as the NCP takes students well outside their comfort zone.
For students who do take this opportunity you can see the difference when they come back. Their confidence, their work-readiness, they know better now what they are studying for, it just opens their eyes. There is something very brave about going to Asia for 6 weeks. They come back and can say to themselves “It went well, I did that, I made that happen!”
Associate Professor Alison Parkes is a researcher, educator, consultant, and author whose expertise relates to optimising information quality and decision outcomes via better design and control of accounting systems and processes. In her professional career prior to entering academia she held positions at Queensland Rail, Rio Tinto, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Her academic career has included positions at Massey University New Zealand (Associate Lecturer) The University of Melbourne (Lecturer, Senior Lecturer) and Taylor’s University Malaysia (Associate Professor and MBA Program Director). Alison’s research consists of two primary themes; (1) The task-technology-individual fit implications of accounting systems design choices, and (2) Strategic investment decision-making. Her research has been published in journals including Decision Support Systems, Behaviour & IT, the Business Process Management Journal, and the Australian Journal of Information Systems. She authors a leading Australian accounting information systems textbook and also designs and delivers specialised executive education and consulting. Alison has consulted internationally to the Governments of Malaysia and Iraq, and completed a variety of management accounting consulting jobs in the Australian not for profit sector.