What do former US President Bill Clinton and Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey have in common? Well, one thing is that they both got scholarships to study abroad.
As the number of Lao students, aiming for foreign qualifications, keeps rising, our cover story explores the increasing range of options available to them, either on full scholarships or discounted prices. While studying abroad is possible in a number of languages, we focus on those countries where the medium of instruction is English.
With the world becoming increasingly competitive, everybody is looking for that edge that will put them ahead of the pack. And what better way to go about this than with an overseas education.
For students in Laos, there’s never been a better time than to get that much prized foreign degree with all its promises of better jobs and higher salaries in the future. More than a dozen countries offer all kinds of scholarships, from diplomas to doctorates for disciplines as diverse as development and dentistry and for periods ranging from two months to several years.
The main countries offering large numbers of development scholarships for people in work are Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The Australian Award Scheme is open to those in the public and private sectors and includes technical, undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships. The New Zealand ASEAN scholarships and Japanese Development Scholarships are more generally for postgraduates, but other scholarships at different levels are sometimes offered on different schemes. These countries routinely award dozens of scholarships a year, but they do tend to be very competitive, require very high levels of English and target specific fields. However, they often provide the opportunity to upgrade your English with some pre-departure training to enable you to reach the required level. The U.S. and the U.K. offer Fulbright, Humphrey and Chevening scholarships respectively, while South Korea and Germany have courses for study in English in a range of areas.
Younger people with less experience might consider scholarships for study in Singapore. The ASEAN scholarships for Lao PDR are a wonderful opportunity for grade 10 students over a four-year period to achieve a Singapore GCE Advanced level qualification. The scheme also offers undergraduate scholarships at Singaporean universities. Other opportunities such as the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program, now in its 42nd year, brings together young people from Southeast Asia and Japan. The Study of the U.S. Institutes for Scholars is aimed at mid-career professionals in the NGO or university sector and tend to involve a month-long academic residency followed by a short study tour. Scholarships from India, especially in IT, are much in demand and can range from a few weeks to a few years.
But not all opportunities to study abroad are free. Education is a big money spinner (foreign students accounted for a whopping $15 billion to the Australian economy in 2014) and with Laos’ rising economy, foreign educators are beginning to take note. An increasing number of universities from abroad are conducting education fairs and one-on-one interviews with potential candidates, offering lower level entry requirements or fast-track degree programs. For those desperate for that overseas qualification and ready to pay for it, beware of the scams though. Make sure to check the legitimacy of the university and read the small print. The websites of local embassies are the best starting point to get more detailed information on the wonderful range of life-changing opportunities out there just waiting for you to grab them.
By David Fairhurst