Beginning with the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, Australian government scholarships have been a long-standing component of strong bilateral relations.

Today, the Australia Awards Scolarships continue this legacy.

For more than 25 years, they have provided educational opportunities at the postgraduate level to talented Cambodians, with almost 850 students having benefited under the programme.

These returning alumni are using their experiences and the skills they acquired during their education to assist the Kingdom in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and boosting social and economic development.

“Alumni are making policy, helping drive economic growth, opening doors for businesses, building industry links and strengthening Cambodia’s health institutions,” Australian ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang told The Post.

One example of an Australia Awards alumna contributing to the Covid-19 response is Lengsea Eng, who completed a Masters in Infectious Diseases at the University of Western Australia.

After returning to Cambodia in 2018, Lengsea became assistant head of the Diagnostic Laboratory at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, and she is now overseeing a range of crucial laboratory functions related to the outbreak.

Scholarship recipient Lengsea Eng.

Lengsea acknowledged that the skills and knowledge she gained through her education in Australia has enabled her to conduct effective Covid-19 research, to better understand the principles of testing and to provide advice, as well as give support to the community, her staff, and her friends and relatives on how best to protect themselves.

Ambassador Kang also noted that in view of Lengsea’s outstanding academic performance during her Masters, she has been offered a further scholarship to undertake a PhD with a focus on Infectious Diseases in Cambodia.

She was due to take up her PhD studies earlier this year, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she has delayed the commencement of her research in Australia.

“Lengsea’s story is a practical example of how the Australia Awards Scholarships is helping the Cambodian health sector respond to Covid-19 and how the programme is making a real difference in the lives of Cambodians.

“Her decision to delay the start of her scholarship due to circumstances surrounding Covid-19 provided an opportunity for her to assist in Cambodia’s fight against the pandemic.

“Lengsea’s sense of duty is testament to her high calibre as a person and as a scholar. We are proud to call her an Australia Awards alumni.

“I recently heard a proverb which says: ‘If your plan is for five years, plant rice; if your plan is for 50 years, plant trees; if your plan is for 100 years, invest in educating people.’ That is what the Australia Awards Scholarships programme is about – investing in Cambodia’s human capital,” said Kang.

The Ambassador added that demand for Australian education has continued to grow in 2020.

There are currently some 2,500 Cambodians enrolled in Australian institutions — a 15 per cent increase on the same period last year. Australia also remains the number one English-language destination of choice for self-funded Cambodian students.

However, the flow of students is not one-way – over 2,500 young Australians travelled to the Kingdom to undertake internships, training opportunities or studies since 2014 under the New Colombo Plan.

“When Cambodians and Australians live and learn together, they create connections for life – they develop a deeper understanding of our respective cultures and are more likely to work together in the future to advance our shared interests.

“Australia’s relationship with Cambodia is built on generations of people-to-people links, which are stronger than ever before, thanks to educational exchanges,” said Kang.

The deadline for applications for Australia Awards Scholarships has been extended until June 30 to accommodate applicants affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.