Questioned the total value and selection process for scholarships awarded to Palestinian students to study Law in Australia.
There is an article, again in September, talking about scholarships that have been given to 50 students from Palestine to come here to study systems of law potentially to take back to their own country. What is the total value of the scholarships that have been awarded?
Whole interaction with Mr Peter Baxter (Director-General, AusAID) and Ms Catherine Walker (First Assistant Director-General, Africa, West Asia, Middle East and Humanitarian Division, AusAID) with additional questions from Senator Helen Kroger during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
Senator FAWCETT: Speaking of law there is an article, again in September, talking about scholarships that have been given to 50 students from Palestine to come here to study systems of law potentially to take back to their own country. What is the total value of the scholarships that have been awarded?
Mr Baxter: I will ask my colleague Ms Catherine Walker to answer that but it is, I think, 50 scholarships over five years.
Ms Walker: Yes, it is indeed 50 scholarships over five years, so there are 10 students heading to Australia shortly to commence their studies. Five of the students will come from the various law faculties in the Palestinian territories and the other five students are coming from ministries within the Palestinian authority. Those students have been selected, so they will be commencing their studies soon. I am just going to try to find you the details of the budget for the 50 scholarships—
Senator FAWCETT: Perhaps while you are looking for that, when you say Palestinian authority are you talking about the West Bank?
Ms Walker: The Palestinian authority based in Ramallah.
Senator FAWCETT: How were the people selected? Was that a joint process?
Ms Walker: Yes, it was a joint selection process that AusAID and DFAT head of post were engaged in of course with our colleagues from the Planning Ministry of the Palestinian National Authority.
Senator FAWCETT: Is this going to be an ongoing program such that there will be further scholarships announced? Ms Walker: At this stage we have committed to provide 50 scholarships over five years that will roughly translate to 10 a year.
Senator FAWCETT: Is this a continuation of an existing concept or program or is this a new thing that has been set up for an emerging legal system?
Ms Walker: This is a new program. We have not previously had a scholarship program with the Palestinian territories. The reason that we chose to provide scholarships to the legal area was due to a request that we had from Palestinians that this was an area where they saw that Australia could offer a comparative advantage in—an area of need. It is outside government. It is open to candidates who are already in lecturer positions or to master’s degree students who show a particular aptitude for having an ongoing legal career. Really the objective is to help the Palestinian universities, which provide studies in law, to improve the standard of their teaching.
Senator KROGER: What were the selection criteria?
Ms Walker: The program of 10 scholarships is divided into two. We are offering five scholarships to candidates who are engaged in legal education to further their studies in that area and five scholarships for essentially public servants who are employed by Palestinian authority line ministries.
Senator KROGER: I understand that but I was just wondering what the selection criteria were in choosing the individuals who were the successful candidates.
Ms Walker: I will take that on notice. I do not have that information with me. There is a detailed selection process that was gone through. It is very similar to the processes that we apply for scholarship selection in other countries, but I do not have the specific detail of the process and how people were nominated and assessed. What I can say is that it was advertised widely, there were discussions with a number of universities that offer legal education and of course there were discussions with the Planning Ministry of the Palestinian authority who are the principal counterpart for our aid program.
Senator KROGER: I am presuming that the candidates also went through a rigorous visa application process.
Ms Walker: Yes, that is a standard practice.