Australia is under pressure to rejoin an Erasmus-style student mobility network that it created in the 1990s, only to abandon it during the following decade.
Shingo Ashizawa, deputy secretary general of the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) scheme, was due to lobby the sector to rekindle its involvement.
Professor Ashizawa, an international education expert with Tokyo’s Toyo University, said Australia could buy access to a ready-made community of more than 160 active institutions in Asia and the Americas for the princely sum of just US$3,000 (£2,300) a year.
The investment could spare Australian universities the workload of negotiating relationships on an institution-by-institution basis and setting the ground rules for multilateral exchanges.
This includes the administratively tedious task of calculating the academic credit that students earn for study in the various Asia-Pacific higher education systems.
Australia is among 35 countries that automatically qualify for membership as long as they establish national secretariats and pay membership fees. UMAP does not charge individual universities or their students for participating.
Australia relinquished its paid-up membership about a decade ago, even though the former Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee conceived the idea and organised the two 1991 conferences that gave rise to the scheme’s establishment in 1993.
The country’s international education strategy soon shifted focus from student exchange and regional development to revenue, as last century’s Colombo Plan gave way to the mass recruitment industry that has ballooned over the past two decades.
Professor Ashizawa said “commercial interest” was the main reason Australia had lost interest in UMAP, which fosters student exchanges based on tuition fee waivers and operates on a similar model to the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme.
He said Australian students also tended to favour short study abroad stints and practical internships over semester-long programmes. UMAP had been adapted to “accommodate those needs”, he said, with the scheme now offering shorter, internship and fee-based exchanges in addition to the fee-waiver arrangements.
Professor Ashizawa said the AVCC’s successor, Universities Australia, was the organisation best placed to host an Australian secretariat. Times Higher Education understands that UA was trying to arrange a meeting with UMAP this month.