REGIONAL universities around the country could play a key role in a return to the Australia-Asia education exchange as part of a new Colombo Plan, a report from a conservative think tank revealed on Wednesday.
The report, from the National Party-affiliated Page Research Centre, outlines how such a program would work, what it would cost, and the need for a central role of Australia's regional university in the plan.
In the 1950s, the Colombo Plan played a vital role in Australia's foreign relations in Asia, and led to thousands of Asian students attended universities here.
A major report on the first years of the plan released in 2005 revealed about 2000 Asian students came to Australia between 1949 and 1957, a figure which grew to more than 20,000 by 1980, before the scheme was superseded.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has previously announced his plan to create a similar plan, but with two-way exchanges for Australians to study abroad as well.
A pilot scheme, the report shows, would cost the taxpayer about $9.3 million in the first year, providing 250 Asian and Australian students the chance to study abroad.
Of those, there would be 100 students on foundation courses, including a cultural and language bridging program, a further 100 bachelor students and 50 post-graduate students.
Key countries for the scheme would include China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, among several others.
The report proposes the scheme would be run by the Department of Foreign Affairs, with universities to create purpose-designed and accredited courses.
Foreign students would be able to study courses in health, education, agriculture, business and technology in regional areas, at the same time soaking up the Australian culture.
The report also recommends redirecting $1.1 billion in foreign education aid to such a plan, if the pilot was successful.
While the government has no plans to return to the Colombo Plan; the recently released Asian Century white paper did outline the need for "stronger relationships" with Asian nations, including in the education sector.
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