Six Bhutanese Members of Parliament visited the University of New England last Friday in recognition of the Bhutanese Government’s long and productive relationship with UNE.
The delegation, led by the Speaker of the National Assembly of Bhutan, Mr Jigme Tshultim, included three other members of the National Assembly as well as the Speaker of the National Council (the Bhutanese House of Review) and one other member of the National Council. They discussed future developments in the Bhutan/UNE relationship with the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Alan Pettigrew, and their UNE host, Associate Professor Tom Maxwell, and met Bhutanese students over lunch.
“We have had a long relationship with this university,” Mr Tshultim said, “and we are looking forward to continuing cooperation.” That cooperation, he said, would see an increasing number of Bhutanese students studying at UNE.
He went on to point out that many important positions in the Bhutanese Government and civil service are already occupied by UNE graduates. These include Lyonpho Zangley Dukpa (Minister of Health), Dasho T. S. Powdyel (Minister of Education), Mr Tshering Tenzin (another member of the National Assembly), and Dr Jagar Dorji (a member of the Upper House). Dasho Pema Thinley, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal University of Bhutan, holds a First-Class Master’s degree from UNE and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Education degree in 2004.
Professor Pettigrew said that the University’s mutually rewarding relationship with Bhutan was, among other things, an example of the contribution that UNE – Australia’s oldest regional university – could make in countries facing the challenges of regional development.
About 40 Bhutanese people have gained postgraduate qualifications from UNE since the relationship began in the early 1990s, and more than 130 teachers at rural and remote schools in Bhutan have been trained in the UNE School of Education’s Bhutanese Multigrade Attachment Program, which ended in 2008.
There are currently five undergraduate students from Bhutan at UNE, majoring in subjects including physics and mathematics. There are four postgraduate students, three of whom are completing PhDs in the School of Education via mixed mode.
Mr Tshultim said UNE’s School of Education had provided particularly valuable training for Bhutanese teachers by giving them experience in rural schools.
Dr Maxwell said that, since the relationship began, at least 17 UNE staff members had worked in Bhutan. “Several consultancies and development projects with Bhutan’s Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan have taken place,” he said, “and more than a dozen scholarly papers in collaboration with Bhutanese academics have been published.”
He added that, while most Bhutanese graduates from UNE had been students in the School of Education, recent graduates had included several students from the School of Environmental and Rural Studies.
During their six-day program in Australia, the Bhutanese parliamentary delegation visited the Australian Parliament and met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The delegation also visited Charles Sturt University.
THE PHOTOGRAPH of Mr Jigme Tshultim and Professor Alan Pettigrew displayed here expands to include the other members of the delegation and Associate Professor Tom Maxwell (far left).