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ASEAN joins Australia’s New Colombo Plan

All 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will join Australia’s New Colombo Plan (NCP), which funds Australian undergraduates to study and train in the region, from 2015, it was announced this month.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaks to ASEAN members during talks in Burma.

More than 1,300 Australian undergraduates are currently studying under the programme's pilot phase

The Australian government has committed AUS$100m to fund the project over the next five years, which will enable thousands of students to study in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam.

“Given the long history of cooperation, it is appropriate that young Australians will now have greater opportunities to learn from our Southeast Asian neighbours”

Speaking at a meeting with ASEAN leaders in Burma, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that the NCP will “not only build friendships and networks, but understanding between Australia and the ASEAN nations for generations to come”.

The funding will provide scholarships for study and internships of up to a year, as well as a flexible mobility grants programme for both short and longer-term study, internships, mentorships, practicums and research.

More than 1,300 Australian undergraduates are currently studying in four countries in the region throughout the pilot phase of the project, including Indonesia and Singapore, two ASEAN states.

“Given the long history of cooperation and close ties between ASEAN members, it is appropriate that young Australians will now have greater opportunities to learn from our Southeast Asian neighbours,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.

“There are many world class and emerging universities in Southeast Asia, and Australian universities and undergraduates will increasingly build linkages with them,” she commented.

The meeting, held at the fringes of the annual ASEAN Summit, marks the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-Australia relations, which Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said provides “an important opportunity… to chart a new strategic direction to our partnership, complementing ASEAN’s focus on strengthening regional integration through the ASEAN Community”.

Australia stands to gain from this increased cooperation within ASEAN as it moves towards a single market Economic Community for 2016, which will bolster trade and help to safeguard existing economic partnerships by promoting peaceful resolutions to internal disputes.

It has taken strides to deepen ties with Association members in the last year, including appointing a resident Ambassador to ASEAN last September.

Two-way trade between Australia and ASEAN countries totalled around AUS$92bn in 2012

Two-way trade in goods and services between Australia and ASEAN countries totalled around AUS$92bn in 2012 through the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, and both parties are in talks about a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which also includes Korea, Japan, China, India, and New Zealand.

Announced in 2013, the NCP is a revamped version of the original Colombo Plan, which brought some 40,000 students from Southeast Asia to train and study in Australia between the 1950s and 1980s.

Announcing the initiative, which formed part of the Liberal party’s election campaign platform, Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year said he could ”think of nothing that will, over time, make a bigger improvement to our country than a more genuine meeting of minds between ourselves and the people of our region”.

The announcement was welcomed by Burma, ASEAN’s current chair, which also welcomed Australia’s recently announced AUS$30m funding commitment to its Australia Awards Fellowship programme, which funds domestic organisations to host “current and emerging leaders” from developing countries.

“ASEAN Ministers also welcomed the Australia Awards program, which provides ASEAN youth long-term and short-term study and professional development opportunities in Australia,” it said in a statement.

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