Australia is encouraging its university students to cultivate ties with Asia under a plan that supports their studies or work placements in Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.
Brett Mason, the country's parliamentary secretary to the minister for foreign affairs, said the New Colombo Plan underpinned a foreign-policy shift that recognised the importance of nurturing ties with Asia.
"We … believe our future lies in this region. That is a cultural shift in our policy," said Mason, who was in the city last week for the launch of the plan's pilot phase, under which 15 University of Wollongong students are studying at Hong Kong's Institute of Education.
Ten Macquarie University students are also lined up for Chinese University and a group of Charles Darwin University undergraduates will take on teaching practicums at the city's international schools.
A total of 1,300 Australian students are expected to study or work in the four cities this year.
In Australia, 38 universities and two university groups have been offered total funding of A$4.72 million (HK$33.8 million) to be used as grants for students.
The plan will be expanded next year to cover the mainland, India, South Korea and Malaysia, and up to 40 scholarships would be awarded to allow top Australian students to spend a year at Asian institutions, Mason said.
The universities in Hong Kong already have a total of 120 formal agreements with 31 Australian universities.
"Over the years, thousands of Hong Kong students have had the opportunity to learn about Australia by studying there. The New Colombo Plan will ensure this is reciprocated," Mason said.
In the 1950s, Australia initiated the Colombo Plan to bring talented students from other countries to Australia.
Mason described the plan as a soft diplomacy success, but said the time had now come for Australian students to explore outside their own country.
"The New Colombo Plan will not only transform the educational experiences of Australian undergraduate students, but will also transform Australia's engagement in Asia," he said.
Mason said he expected a strong take-up for placements at mainland Chinese institutions as it was the most popular destination for Australian students to do short courses.