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New Colombo Plan to attract Australian students to Asia-Pacific region

THE Federal Government has launched the New Colombo Plan, a scholarship scheme to attract Australian undergraduates to the Asia-Pacific region. Catherine Yen reports.

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The Federal Government launched the New Colombo Plan last month, a $100 million scholarship scheme giving Australian undergraduates the opportunity to study for up to a year within the Asia-Pacific region.

The Plan aims to increase the number of Australians studying in the region, and therefore attract students in the region to Australia as well.

The pilot phase of the scheme will begin this year, with plans to officially implement it from 2015 to 2019. Countries involved include Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore.

Acknowledging of the heightening influence of South Asian and South-East Asian states, the programme also aims to improve the capacity of young Australians to engage with the region, by fostering firsthand understanding of its cultures, languages and history.

The Plan will see 40 annual scholarships being offered to Australian students, covering the fees, travel and living costs associated with international study. Recipients have the option of living in one of the countries for periods between one semester to a year.

By sending undergraduates from Australia to be educated within the Asia-Pacific, the New Colombo Plan essentially reverses the original Colombo Plan first framed by the Menzies government in 1951.

Launched by seven Commonwealth nations, the original Colombo Plan – officially named Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific – emphasised the role of developed states in strengthening developing states.

As part of the original Plan, the Australian Government funded over 40,000 international students to study in Australia, with the hope that future Asian-Pacific leaders would reap knowledge and expertise held within Western tertiary institutions.

While reconsideration of Australia’s overseas aid during the mid-1980s saw the introduction of full fees for international students, Australia’s diverse international student population – 80 percent of which hails from the Asia-Pacific – signifies the continuing legacy of the Colombo Plan.

Complementing Australia’s international student population, the New Colombo Plan intends to finance the study of up to 300 young Australians per year when fully operational. The scheme adds, “an outward-bound component to the original one-way street”, according to the Coalition.

At the launch of the New Colombo Plan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop emphasised the importance of foreign relations with the Asian-Pacific region.

Speaking on the proximity of Australia and the Asia-Pacific, the Minister argued the stability and prosperity of the nation depends on the cultivation of genuine understanding, and friendly relations, with neighbouring Asian states.

“Geographically, Australia is next door to Asia, and our destiny as a nation is irrevocably conditioned by what takes place in Asia,” she said.

Scholarships under Colombo Plan the will be awardable to Australian citizens under 22 years of age, who are enrolled in an undergraduate degree at an Australian university. Universities will be requested to conduct internal selections and nominate students for the program in February 2014.

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