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Parks partnership

by Katrina Kalleske

UniSA and UiTM students view initiatives to conserve high biodiversity mangroves near Singapore. Lecturers from the School of Natural and Built Environments took a brave step last year in organising 18 students to travel to Malaysia on a field trip for a park management course. The hard work paid off with the students - from sustainable environments, tourism and geographic information science programs - gaining a global perspective to their study and future work; and now the early stages of an international partnership are forming, with 10 Malaysian students currently at UniSA.

The visiting students, who study at Universiti Teknology Mara (UiTM) Malaysia in Shah Alam, are spending seven weeks learning about parks in the region and comparing the management of Malaysian parks.

UniSA’s Dr Barb Koth, Senior Lecturer in the School, is one of the drivers behind the exchange and she hopes it will pave the way for collaborative research down the track.

“Environmental problem-solving quite often needs to be international in scope, especially to address some of the tougher ones,” Dr Koth said. “So exposing the students to cross-cultural approaches and global strategies will help give them the tools and network that are required for cutting-edge environmental professionals.

“We believe our competitive advantage at UniSA is that the environmental programs are field based, but taking the students overseas was a big venture. It was an enriching experience for the students to learn in a different country, with face-to-face time with their peers.”

And when it comes to landscape, Malaysia and Adelaide are very different. The land size of Malaysia would barely cover Australia’s eastern seaboard but its population is bigger than Australia’s by about 10 million people. With that many people occupying the country, it’s little wonder that urbanisation is a big issue for park management in Malaysia.

UniSA is hosting 10 students from Malaysia, pictured here with UniSA graduate Katelyn Ryan who went to Malaysia last year (front row); and Denni Russell, final year sustainable environments student (4th left, back row). Saharuddin Bin Sabtu is one of the students currently visiting Adelaide and he helped to organise details for both the exchanges so far. He explains a difference between park management in the two countries that has stood out for him.

“I have found that people in Adelaide care about their parklands and have pride in them,” Saharuddin said. “There is a different mind-set in Malaysia.”

Another student, Nawfal Bin Kamarul Bahrain, explains one potential reason for this difference.

“In Malaysia there are only government owned and managed parks – other people are not involved,” he said. “In Adelaide we have noticed that there is a lot more cooperation with other groups and non-government organisations and ‘friends of the park’ groups.”

Fellow UiTM student, Nurul Ezzatee Yusoff, has noticed another difference in park management is that once a park is declared in Malaysia, it strictly prohibits the facilities that can built within it, so they have been surprised to see features such as roads and bbq facilities in Adelaide parks. However in Malaysia, there is often industry or urban sprawl in close proximity to the parks.

After an initial two weeks of field trips to local parks with UniSA Field Support Officer Robert Aebi, and taking part in lectures, the students will spend the rest of their time researching five topics that span both countries – building an environmental ethic in society; human-wildlife conflict; development planning; prevention of vandalism; and designing educational exhibits for visitors.

“The issues we are looking at are the same issues that we have in Malaysia so we will compare how they are handled here and we may be able to apply that back in Malaysia,” Saharuddin said.

The students report back to UiTM’s Dr Kamarul Shuib, a recent UniSA PhD graduate who was supervised by Dr Ian Clark in the School of Natural and Built Environments.

“We are slowly building this relationship person-by-person, and have a strong basis for ongoing cooperation based on this reciprocal visit,” Dr Koth said.