Revisiting 20 years of Australia’s bilateral aid to Bhutan  

This year marks 20 years of the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between Bhutan and Australia. Reflecting on this two-decade-long bilateral relationship, the Australian government’s main assistance to Bhutan has been in the area of human resource development.

It has provided unstinted support in grooming Bhutanese professionals through its various educational programmes including the prestigious Australia Awards Scholarships.

A total of 21 Bhutanese professionals from the civil service, corporate bodies and tourism bagged the Australia Awards Scholarships for intake 2021 and 2022.

At the pre-departure briefing, organised by the Australia Awards country office in the capital yesterday, BBS caught up with 37-year-old Sangay Phuntsho. He is one of the recipients of the scholarship, which is the most desired ex-country scholarship by many white-collar workers in Bhutan.

After waiting for one whole year due to the covid travel restrictions, he is excited that he will soon be leaving for Australia to attend face-to-face learning at a world-class university.

Sangay will be doing Masters in Strategic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Working as a Senior Programme Officer with the Department of Public Health under the health ministry, he is acutely aware of how critical human resource is in the public service.

“Unlike other scholarships, with this scholarship, the thematic area of requirement or the priority has been done by the labour ministry and the RCSC. So, we are very much aware that we should feel that gap of a critical human resource requirement in the country,” said Sangay Phuntsho.

He further went on to say that getting the opportunity to pursue a master’s course in Australia will be a life-changing experience personally as well as professionally.

“As a recipient, I am very much aware that I need to build that capacity, build robust networking with Australian and other international students and acquire newfound skills and return to the country to fill the gap of critical human resource needs.”

Another recipient is 41-year-old Kuenzang Lhamu, a teacher from Sakteng Lower Secondary School in Trashigang. Having served in one of the most remote schools, she considers this scholarship a pivotal tool to empower rural students, especially girls.

“Girls in remote places tend to quit schooling after primary level. So, I will strive to boost their confidence and instil that education is key to women empowerment. Actually, rural women have a lot of depth and substance. It is just that they lack the confidence to be at the forefront,” she said.

Her aspiration of nurturing future women leaders is in line with one of the priority development areas of the Australian government- the women empowerment.

Other recipients also shared their professional endeavours after completing their masters and returning to the country.

“I would like to commit to Australian and the Bhutanese governments that we will be mindful of their expectations and come back to serve with improved professional aptitude,” shared another Australia Awards Scholarships recipient, Samdrup Norbu.

Including the present cohort of awardees, about 2,000 Bhutanese from diverse professional backgrounds underwent long-term and short-term courses under Australian government scholarships to date.

One of the commissioners of the Royal Civil Service Commission stressed that the scholarship will be an influential role in refraining civil servants from becoming obsolete.

As Bhutan stands at a critical juncture, where the investment in human capital is accorded utmost importance, bilateral aid in human resource development such as Australia Awards Scholarships will be greatly helpful.

Pema Lhaden

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