Developing sustainable, reciprocal and interdisciplinary projects in Sabah (Malaysia) with PACOS Trust.

Dr Rebecca Bilous

Dr Rebecca Bilous, Macquarie University
rebecca.bilous@mq.edu.au

Over the past nine years undergraduate students at Macquarie University have been working on interdisciplinary projects with PACOS, an indigenous rights organization in Sabah Malaysia. Law, geography and social science research students come together in small groups to work on projects identified by PACOS, going both to Sabah (over the teaching breaks) or working from Macquarie University in an online mode (during semester). The relationship is one of reciprocity and the benefits to students, PACOS and the university have been clearly documented (Hammersley, 2015).

Full reference: Hammersley, L.A. (2015). “It’s about dignity not dependency”: Reciprocal relationships in undergraduate community-based service-learning. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation) Macqurie University.

Full author list: Rebecca Bilous, Laura Hammersley, Thanda Bennet, Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Jacqueline Mackaway, Debra Ronan.

All pics by Laura Hammersley.

Full details of 'Developing sustainable, reciprocal and interdisciplinary projects in Sabah (Malaysia) with PACOS Trust'

Disciplines included in the WIL activity

Law, Geography and Sociology

Model of WIL activity

Industry/community based placement, Industry/community based projects, Research activities, Site visits

Brief description of WIL activity

Over the past nine years undergraduate students at Macquarie University have been working on interdisciplinary projects with PACOS, an indigenous rights organization in Sabah Malaysia. Law, geography and social science research students come together in small groups to work on projects identified by PACOS, going both to Sabah (over the teaching breaks) or working from Macquarie University in an online mode (during semester). The relationship is one of reciprocity and the benefits to students, PACOS and the university have been clearly documented (Hammersley, 2015).

Full reference: Hammersley, L.A. (2015). “It’s about dignity not dependency”: Reciprocal relationships in undergraduate community-based service-learning. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation) Macqurie University.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

9 years

Who benefits from the WIL activity (include all relevant stakeholders)?

Students, partners and staff have benefited through their engagement in this activity. Students have remarked on the positive impact the experience has had on both personal and professional development, enabling them to put academic knowledge into practice by working on genuine projects. For PACOS Trust and the communities they serve, tangible benefits include research, report writing and the documentation of Indigenous knowledges; intangible benefits include staff development in cross-cultural communication, increased staff motivation and advocacy work. Macquarie staff have received opportunities to learn from PACOS’ approach to community development, co-create pre-departure curriculum and undertake research. Alumni are involved in the ongoing preparation of students, attending pre-departure workshops and contributing to a series of videos that provide student-to-student advice.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

Vital to the success is the work done with PACOS over many years, to ensure that the activities and relationships are respectful, caring, mutually beneficial and adhere to best practice community development principles. To do this well takes time. Professional and academic staff (from law, geography and social sciences) work together to understand the organisation’s needs over the short and long-term, and identify those projects that students might meaningfully contribute and learn from. Some of these projects will span many years, with different student groups contributing in different ways. In this way we are able to ensure that all stakeholders continually benefit from the relationship, ensuring it’s sustainability over the long term.

How adaptable is the WIL activity to other disciplines, sectors, teaching practices etc?

A three-year partnership plan has been developed which enables Macquarie staff to understand PACOS’ priorities and recruit the right students for each project. Projects have included the documentation of Indigenous knowledges, evaluating violations of Native Customary Rights, developing training initiatives and helping manage resources. The approach developed with PACOS is used with a number of international community development organisations who regularly host Macquarie students across a range of countries and with students from a wide range of disciplines.

How sustainable is the WIL activity beyond its immediate implementation?

Macquarie has been partnering with PACOS since 2009 and will continue to do so, demonstrating its sustainability despite staff turnover in both organizations. It is clear that the relationship is mutually beneficial to students, staff, the partner organization and the communities they serve. PACOS staff have attended three Macquarie networking symposiums, in Bangkok, Sydney and Sabah. In Sabah, PACOS were hosts of an OLT-funded symposium (further details in Bilous et al. 2018) In addition, a younger PACOS staff member was given the opportunity to undertake an internship at Macquarie. The three-year partnership plan responds directly to PACOS’ organisational goals. This ‘living’ document is constantly reviewed, enabling Macquarie staff to ensure that student activities are impactful and sustainable. Routine survey data collected from students on their return to Australia and regular meetings with academic staff also ensures students’ personal and professional development needs are met.

Full reference: Bilous, R., Hammersley, L., Lloyd, K., Rawlings-Sanaei, F., Downey, G., Amigo, M., Gilchrist, S. and Baker, M. (2018) ‘All of us together in a blurred space’: Principles for co-creating curriculum with international partners, International Journal for Academic Development, 23:3, pp. 165-178.

How is the success of the WIL activity evaluated?

At the end of each intake, students complete a post-activity survey, where they provide feedback on the activity including the impact on their professional and personal development. Students also attend a re-entry workshop where they are given the opportunity to informally reflect on their experiences with staff. While in-country, students complete a weekly report that provides progress updates and highlights any issues that might have arisen. At the end of each intake staff work with PACOS to assess the success of the activity, updating the 3-year plan. Informal conversations with unit convenors occur throughout the year.

What are the wider impacts of the WL activity beyond completion?

Tangible outputs produced by students continue to positively impact PACOS. For example, a geography mapping project, originally produced by students for a land rights court case (successfully) is still being used in hostile negotiations with private companies illegally producing palm oil, and the communities PACOS work with are empowered to advocate for themselves using the posters, videos and reports produced by students. Students report an ongoing engagement with Indigenous rights on their return to Australia, clarifying their career goals, giving them experience that is beneficial to their future personal and professional development, and helping them to secure meaningful employment. One successful alumni, for example, is currently working in the Children’s Court of NSW as a research assistant.

How does the WIL activity approach the preparation, implementation and reflection phases of WIL?

All students on this WIL activity receive comprehensive pre-departure preparation for the placement. This pre-departure curriculum was co-created with PACOS staff and covers key areas including community development, reciprocity, cross-cultural communication, child protection, personal wellbeing and team building (for further detail see www.classroomofmanycultures.net). This is in addition to the discipline-specific support provided by academic staff in law, geography and social science research. Each of these academic units teaches reflective practice, scaffolding students before, during and after the activity. In each case, students are required to reflect on their personal and professional development as part of the units’ formal assessment. During the activity itself, students are supported by an in-country team leader.

What are the learning outcomes of the WIL activity and how do they link to graduate attributes?

The outcomes of this WIL activity are as follows:

  • Actively contribute to discipline specific work projects for a partner organization
  • Engage in key social, business and ethical challenges
  • Contribute to more just, inclusive and sustainable global societies
  • Experience life and work in a different country and culture
  • Enhance your resume and stand out to future employers
  • Explore future career options

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

In July 2018, a group of law students are travelling to Sabah in order to document a successful legal case that has just been won. Students will interview the lawyer who worked on the case over 15 years and talk to the community. Later, in October 2018 human geography and social science students will work with PACOS to document Indigenous resource use and knowledge systems.

Laura Hammersley working with PACOS Trust for her PhD dissertation, ‘It’s about dignity not dependency: Reciprocal relationships in undergraduate community-based service-learning’ (2015)

Representatives from Macquarie University and from 9 other international community development organisations at a ‘Co-creating Curriculum’ workshop, hosted by PACOS Trust

Representatives from Macquarie University and from 9 other international community development organisations at a ‘Co-creating Curriculum’ workshop, hosted by PACOS Trust

Macquarie University students learning about and recording Indigenous knowledges

Macquarie University students learning about and recording Indigenous knowledges