I would like to welcome you all this evening to honour Alumni and future Alumni of Australia, under the Australia Awards in Africa scholarship program. We are fortunate enough to have with us this evening, H E Ato Wondwossen Kiflu, State Minister of Education, and H.E Ato Ahmed Shide, State Minister of Finance and Economic Development.
The Australian Government has been running scholarship programs in various forms in Africa since 1960 and has supported a total of around 5000 students from Africa to study in Australia.
In January 2009, the Australian Government announced the Australia Awards in Africa program, which seeks to build a new generation of Africans with strong links to Australia, and to equip them with skills and knowledge to lead Africa into an increasingly dynamic future.
I'm proud to say that the program has now delivered on its objective of a ten-fold increase of the number of scholarships to Africa — and we've done this a year before our target date. Australia Awards in Africa has expanded from a total of 96 scholarships provided to 12 countries in 2009 to over 1,000 in 50 countries in 2012.
This growth in the scholarships program is part of the expansion of our Australian development cooperation program in line with a commitment by our Government to increase the total global development cooperation budget to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2016 — a commitment under which we will significantly increase our engagement with Africa.
This year our development cooperation program with Africa will grow to over $500 million. The program includes strategic priorities for increasing agricultural productivity, building health services for mothers and children, improving water supply and sanitation, and natural resource management.
Our Awards are aligned to these priority areas, which are themselves strategically oriented towards challenges and opportunities shared by Africa and Australia — including droughts, remoteness, expansive drylands, and a rich natural resource endowment.
Australia recognises that education has a central function in development. As well as providing the foundations for economic growth, strengthening education also improves stability and security, and fosters effective states.
Scholarships support all these important outcomes as well as promoting reform and good governance; and importantly fostering deep links between Australia and Africa.
Ethiopia has a long standing relationship with Australia, and our scholarship program here began in the 1980s. The renewed Australia Awards in Africa Program was launched in Ethiopia in late 2010 — since that time Ethiopia has accessed a total of 65 scholarships including Master level awards, PHDs and short course awards, ranking it amongst the top ten recipient countries in 2012.
I'm very glad to be among some Ethiopian alumni from the 80s and 90s tonight, as well as some more recent returnees. I look forward to speaking with some of you about your experiences in our great country — and I'm particularly interested to hear about how you're applying the knowledge you gained in Australia.
And for the alumni, we will continue to look closely at what else we can do to support you and maintain and nurture our existing relationship and strive to make it a closer one.
We have already started with this work: over the last two years we have run a number of professional development workshops and networking opportunities for African alumni. We will maintain and expand these opportunities. I would like to encourage you to form an alumni association. Under the scholarships program, up to $A10,000 seed funding is available for this purpose and details can be found on the website.
Selection processes for the 380 Masters Award on offers for the 2013 academic year have been finalised recently. I am pleased to announce that 15 candidates from Ethiopia have been selected, some of whom are amongst us tonight.
Competition was high and we are confident that we have selected an excellent crop of current and future leaders who will return from their studies in Australia and make a difference to development in Ethiopia.
To all the scholarship awardees and alumni gathered here this evening, congratulations are in order!
To the departing students, I encourage you to remember always that you are travelling to Australia as ambassadors for your country and for the scholarships program. For studying hard you will be rewarded with both personal advancement and the knowledge that you are contributing to the development of Ethiopia.
I also want to say that you will have a very positive influence on every Australian you meet and, in the process, enrich their learning experiences and their lives. For this I want to thank you in advance. Make friends and keep them!
I wish you safe travels; I know you will enjoy our beautiful and friendly country, and I know you'll never forget your experiences there.
I would now like to invite the State Minister of Education to say a few words on behalf of the Government of Ethiopia — and as former Alumnus.
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