Hong Kong signs up for Australian undergraduate study and internship plan

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has signed up the fourth and final destination, Hong Kong, for next year’s trial of the government’s New Colombo Plan, which will send Australian undergraduates into the region for study, internships and long-term diplomacy.

“Australian students will benefit from the opportunity to study at Hong Kong’s world-class institutions and the ‘East meets West’ culture,” Ms Bishop said in a joint statement with Hong Kong Education Secretary Eddie Ng.

An outward-looking version of the postwar Colombo Plan, the scheme hopes to interest a new generation of young Australians to look to the Asia-Pacific for study and work placements, not just holidays. The idea is to form lifelong links in the region between professionals, companies and institutions, thereby serving Australia’s strategic interests.

On the latest figures, more than 80 per cent of the select group of undergraduates who go abroad for six months or more of study choose Europe and the Americas.

Indonesia became the first to join the New Colombo trial last month, following Tony Abbott‘s trip to Jakarta. Ms Bishop announced Japan’s agreement last Tuesday after a visit to Tokyo.

Although Singapore had welcomed an invitation from Australia on October 3, its public position appeared tentative. Yesterday Ms Bishop’s office said Singapore was happy for Australia now to confirm its agreement to take part in the trial, which is to start in mid-2014 with all four destinations.

“To have four so quickly is a good thing — it bodes well for 2015, when they’re trying to get others on board (for the full plan),” said Monash University‘s Trevor Goddard, who is convener of a student mobility group in Australian education and a member of the New Colombo Plan steering committee.

Singapore and Hong Kong are important because they are more likely to have English language courses. Weak language education in Australia means not many undergraduates can study in local languages.

The government hopes to send “a couple of hundred” undergraduates to each of the four trial destinations next year.

Final numbers in each destination will depend on where students want to go, the number of university places and internships available, and any local protectionist sensitivities to do with visas and work rights.

It has been difficult for young Australians to secure “work and holiday” visas to Indonesia, and Singapore has capped international student numbers to protect opportunities for locals.

But Ms Bishop said there was enough goodwill to resolve any problems at a government level, and Singapore regarded the New Colombo Plan as an exception to the cap.

The plan, with $100 million in funding over five years, goes into full operation in 2015, when other countries will be invited to join.

Ms Bishop said she hoped Labor would support the scheme so it continued “in perpetuity”, allowing numbers to increase until study and internship in the Asia-Pacific became “a rite of passage” for undergraduates, rather than something exceptional.Source: The Australian – Hong Kong signs up for Colombo scheme

Tony Simon

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