More than 10,000 Australian university students will receive grants to study in Asia and thousands more will have access to generous student loans as part of the federal government's strategy to strengthen engagement with the world’s most populous region.
An A$37 million (US$38.48 million) AsiaBound Grants Programme will offer students up to $5,000 to undertake short or semester-length study exchanges, as well as $1,000 grants for preparatory Asian language study.
Announcing the new scheme, Tertiary Education Minister Senator Chris Evans said eligibility for the government’s HECS-type loan scheme would be broadened and simplified to give more students access to increased loan amounts.
"AsiaBound will support more than 10,000 Australian students to enjoy the experience of living and studying in an Asian country," Evans said.
"This is a programme to give Australian students the opportunity to build lifelong professional networks and friendships. In addition, all Australian students, across all disciplines, will have greater support to take up part of their study in Asia.”
Evans’ announcement follows the launch by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a government white paper, Australia in the Asian Century, setting out a series of goals the government hopes to achieve to link Australia more closely with the rapidly developing nations of Asia.
The government will work with universities to substantially boost the number of students studying in Asia as part of its scheme to strengthen ties with the region.
This is a significant departure from the usual strong focus of destination countries on attracting international students to their shores rather than sending local students abroad. While nations such as Australia, the United Kingdom and United States have paid lip service to the need for more local students to study abroad, there has been little concrete funding support or policy to support this.
"Many of our institutions already have strong regional connections," Evans said. "Together we can build on these connections and encourage students to take up the opportunities to live and learn in Asia, and support our students to make the experience a great one.”
He said that through the white paper, the government aimed to have a larger number of Australian university students studying overseas and a greater proportion undertaking part of their degrees in an Asian country by 2025.
The maximum loan amount for students undertaking study in Asia would increase by $1,250 to $7,500 in 2014 and eligibility would be opened to postgraduate students in government-supported places. An additional $1,000 loan would be available to pay for intensive Asian language training prior to a student's study-abroad opportunity, Evans said.
Students would no longer need to be enrolled at an overseas higher education institution and instead they could undertake clinical placements or other study programmes that contribute to their Australian university course.
"The government is removing the barriers for Australian students to study in Asia," he said.
"For a long time, Asian students have enjoyed educational opportunities here in Australia but student mobility must go both ways. The next generation of Australian leaders will need to be increasingly Asian-literate and these are skills best learnt by experiencing Asia first-hand.”
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