Interns’ Passage To India

29 June 2013

By Bernard Lane

The Australian, 26 June 2013

INDIA as an emerging power was a hot topic of conversation when Mark Powles was an undergraduate in Perth. Now, he is immersed in the glorious, chaotic reality that is Mumbai, the country's commercial capital.

Powles is one of 20 young Australians on the first internship program run by the University of Melbourne-based Australia India Institute.

Powles, a masters of management student with the Melbourne Business School, will spend a month working on the magazine 'Autocar India', which trumpets its fame for "brilliant scoops and in-depth road tests".

Although he jokes that he wouldn't knock back the chance of a Ferrari tour of Mumbai, he'll actually be helping to drive some market research.

"I'm interested in pursuing marketing, so getting some real experience in a company will be really valuable," he says.

With family ties to the land, Powles also sees India, with its huge and youthful population, as a country of the future for agribusiness.

On the eve of his departure last week, he admits to a little apprehension about the "confronting contrasts" that await him in Mumbai, which quite apart from its slums has more billionaires than Paris or Los Angeles.

It's the cities of the US, Britain and Europe that attract most young Australians seeking study or placement overseas. China is catching up, and quickly, but India lags well behind. Students who go there tend to do so in ones or twos.

So, the group recruited by the institute represents a leap in scale, says Hayley Bolding, the Mumbai-based project officer.

Thanks to federal funds, the institute was able to attract students from across the country and a range of disciplines including pharmacy, media and communications, public health, business and international relations.

"I had over 250 people applying for this, so the demand is there," Bolding says.

The other mark of distinction, she says, has to do with the India contacts workable through the institute under director Amitabh Mattoo. For example, the pharmaceutical company Cipla, in the news for its low-cost anti-HIV drugs, has never taken Australian interns before, Bolding says.

She is passionate about the institute project because as a graduate she set up her own India internship the hard way: alone.

"The company I was with didn't know what to do with me," she says. But she went on to set up an education NGO in Mumbai and is drawing on her knowledge to ease her student charges in to their Indian experience.