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Scholar aims to enhance policymaking in Pakistan

Posted: 5 June 2024

Pakistan, Experience, In Australia, Scholar,

Usman Khan from Pakistan began studying a Master of Public Policy and Governance at the Australian National University (ANU) in 2022 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. We recently caught up with him to ask about his Scholarship journey and how it has affected his professional and personal growth. Our questions and his answers follow.

What is it like being an Australia Awards scholar studying in Australia?

Being an Australia Awards scholar has given me a unique opportunity to experience quality education, not only in the traditional sense but also in terms of life experiences. Living in a country with a culture different to one’s own gives one a distinct perspective. Additionally, the fact that Australia is a cultural melting pot with diverse cultures, including the Indigenous culture of First Nations people, provides a chance to experience and enjoy multiculturalism. Living on campus as an international student with other students (both domestic and international) is one of the most memorable things that has happened to me. All these different cultures expressed through food, dress and different points of view are an amazing opportunity to learn and see how civilisations come together.

Through my experience as a scholar at ANU, I have met people from so many different nations, learnt about them and made such great friends from across the globe. My academic learning experience was an eye-opener in the sense that it opened new avenues of intellectual discourse about policymaking and governance. But learning and knowledge are not just academic and confined to classrooms. They are multidimensional and experiential.

Usman (third from left) with other Australia Awards scholars in Canberra.

Outside of your studies, what opportunities have you pursued to further your knowledge and networks?

I received an Australia Awards professional development grant to attend the Developing Northern Australia conference in Darwin on 24-26 July 2023. Not only did I get to visit the Northern Territory, but it also allowed me to learn about the Australian policymaking paradigm—its issues, challenges and procedures, as well as policy instruments, specifically in terms of uplifting marginalised, underdeveloped areas of the country. This is a policy theme that I find is common between my home country and Australia. Therefore, it was a very rich experience in learning how Australian policymaking deals with these issues. The conference was a gathering of industry, academia and officials from different tiers of the Australian Government, where they exchanged ideas and feedback on how to attract investment and make sustainable cities in northern Australia. The conference provided me with an insight into how different policy actors use such events to advocate for ideas and solutions to different policy problems.

I also learnt about the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and how the government steps into the market to fill investment gaps in strategic projects such as airport building, mining or hydro projects by private entities, ensuring that they finance projects that have public benefit and Indigenous involvement. I also learnt about success stories of public–private partnerships (e.g. Marble Bar Airport). There were panel discussions about using Indigenous ecological knowledge to maintain environmental integrity.

It was enlightening to observe the networking between different stakeholders from industry and academia and how they interact in the heuristic policy cycle in Australian policymaking. The conference enabled a policy space that provided exposure to different and sometimes competing opinions on policy issues and the broader theme of development in the region. I interacted with a variety of stakeholders / policy actors working in different spheres.

The conference allowed me to engage with the academic discipline of public policy in my studies by linking the knowledge gained with the theoretical frameworks taught during my master’s degree. Furthermore, it helped me find contextual links between the machinations showcased in the conference and issues in Pakistan. Northern Australia is very similar to the Pakistani province of Balochistan in certain aspects. Both have arid climates and rugged terrain with a coastline and seaport, are rich in natural resources, are home to marginalised communities, and are the least developed areas in their respective countries. The specific policy instruments/tools engaged to uplift the socioeconomic development of the northern region may serve as a guiding tool to Pakistan on how to initiate and sustain investment and economic growth to socially uplift the marginalised Baloch people.

Participating in the conference also made me aware of the value of building a narrative, as the running theme throughout the event was that northern Australia is being left behind and the centre needs to concentrate more on this region. It also taught me the value of networking with different stakeholders. Attending this conference allowed me to explore a region of Australia and its culture that is not easily accessible to international students.

Additionally, I took courses during my degree on the underpinnings of international policymaking and learnt about Australia’s influence and development in the Pacific region. My perspective was developed further when I visited Fiji and Samoa to experience the island culture and how Australia is contributing to the development of these nations. The opportunity to learn about these beautiful countries and visit them was possible only because I am an Australia Awards scholar.

Usman (second from left) interacting with other scholars from South Asia based in Canberra.

What have you experienced in Australia beyond university?

Life outside the classroom has been full of opportunities to make new friends from different parts of the world, learn about new cultures and history, and hear their stories. I have been lucky to have made lifelong friends from Australia, South Asia, South America, the Pacific islands, etc. With them, I have had the privilege to travel and explore the length and breadth of Australia. I have made great memories with them doing different activities—from potlucks of different cuisines to karaoke, to hiking, to late-night discussions about history, philosophy and politics. By far the best of these memories were made while travelling and exploring this beautiful country under the guidance of my Australian friends. I will be eternally grateful to them for their help.

Having been an avid traveller all my adult life and having travelled a fair bit, it was natural for me to continue my wanderlust and explore this vast continent. For me, the most enjoyable part of my Australian experience was exploring the natural landscape and beauty of the country. Visiting cities is a great experience, but it is beyond these cities that you find the true essence and soul of a place. Australia is unique in the sense that due to its vastness, you can experience every geographical feature—from mountain ranges with snowy peaks to waterfalls, rainforests and deserts. And, of course, the beaches! While in Australia I have travelled to all six states (as well as the Northern Territory). Over the course of numerous road trips during my stay, I explored the southern regions of New South Wales and the eastern region of Victoria. There were week-long trips to Queensland along the east coast to Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay. I also went on a fifteen-day road trip around Tasmania and spent nights looking for the aurora australis (no luck there), trekking through Lake St Clair National Park and hiking across Cradle Mountain. It was an exhilarating experience. Tasmania is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in all my travels.

During one summer break, I went on a month-and-a-half road trip with my friends through New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory. I had the opportunity to go hiking, trekking and bush camping in the outback in true Australian style with some very good Australian friends I made at university. I had the good fortune of visiting Uluru. I drove through the whole of Victoria twice, exploring its amazing rainforests, hiking and trekking through multiple national parks across its breadth from the Grampians to the Yarra, and seeing the Great Ocean Road and the amazing countryside. One of my most abiding memories is exploring the New South Wales countryside, especially Kosciuszko National Park, where I saw some of the most striking sceneries I have come across. Visiting the underground caves in the Blue Mountains is another great memory. The thing I admired most during my travels was how Australia and its people preserve the ecological integrity and beauty of its landscapes. The numerous natural reserves and national parks are a testament to that.

How would you sum up your Australia Awards journey?

The quality of academia, learning and intellectual discourse of the Australia Awards Scholarship has allowed me to equip myself with the necessary skills to contribute to the development of my home country.  My life in Australia has given me lifelong friendships and great memories, and more than anything it has allowed me to go out travel and explore this beautiful country. My forays into rural Australia with my friends and the gorgeous landscapes I have explored will be my greatest and most treasured memories.