China will become the most popular destination for Australian students choosing to study abroad in a year or two, with the implementation and expansion of the New Colombo Plan, Australian officials said at a forum held in Beijing over the weekend.
"There's very strong interest from Australian students, and the NCP is part of that", said First Secretary of the Australian Embassy to China Christopher Lawson at the forum, which focused on transnational education and student mobility between China and Australia.
According to Lawson, China is the second most popular destination for Australian students choosing to study abroad, just behind the United States.
"With the expansion of the NCP, and the close cooperation we are seeing (between China and Australia), it may probably overtake the US in about a year or two," he said.
The NCP is an initiative by the Australian government to support Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in countries of Indo-Pacific countries, including China.
The plan was piloted in 2014, sending 40 scholars and more than 1,300 mobility students to live, study and undertake internships in four locations: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore.
In 2015, the plan intends to send 69 scholars and more than 3,100 mobility students to 32 locations. China is one of the new locations and is expected to receive 525 students from Australia.
Anne Baly, international group manager of the Australian Department of Education and Training, said they chose China because it's an important partner and a popular choice for Australian students to study abroad.
"In 2014, more than 4,700 Australians studied at China's universities, an increase of 37 percent from 2013," she said.
The figure is small compared with the number of Chinese students who study in Australia, she added.
She also said the NCP may bring a significant increase in the number of Australian students coming to China.
"Students will be able to apply for a number of different countries, but what we have seen so far is that China is very popular," she said.
Kate Duff, assistant secretary of the New Colombo Plan Secretariat in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that the students will be attending about 40 Chinese universities and institutions engaged in the mobility program, including Tsinghua University, Fudan University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Duff said the Australian government has committed A$100 million ($78 million) for the initial five years of the program, and will provide other elements of support to facilitate the students' study in the locations they choose.
The Ministry of Education voiced welcome and support to the Australian students coming to China under the initiative.
The Education Ministry's director of the Department of International Cooperation and Exchange, Cen Jianjun, said the ministry will pay great attention to the New Colombo Plan and will make efforts to support Australian students who arrive under the plan.
"We'll try to create more conditions, including providing more internship opportunities, to make sure that these students finish their study in China safely and smoothly," Cen said at the forum.