Up to 20 East Timorese students are to be given the chance to study in Australia as part of government plans to help rebuild the East Timorese education infrastructure, which has been devastated as a result of recent conflict.
Foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer released details of the scholarship programme for East Timorese students undertaking higher education courses in Australia. "This initiative will help provide the graduates necessary for East Timor's future development by offering opportunities for students in key areas such as health, education and administration," he said.
Wider plans for assisting the redevelopment of the East Timorese education system include collaboration with the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee to consider other ways for universities to contribute. Aid officials are considering providing customised distance education courses, English-language courses, employment-related skills training and support for East Timor's interim national education authority.
Federal education minister David Kemp said Australia was harnessing its available resources to help the East Timorese "get their education system back on its feet and students back into school and university".
As part of the assistance, Dr Kemp will chair a group established by all state, territory and federal education ministers to coordinate exchange of information on education assistance for East Timor. The group will also consult with a broad range of education organisations and liaise between Australia's aid agency, AusAID, and the foreign affairs department on education assistance to the island.
"To date, Australia has provided educational support to East Timor through the provision of teachers and a contribution of A$1.5 million (Pounds 560,000) to a Unicef project to assist with the reopening of schools, teacher remuneration and the provision of learning materials," Mr Downer said.
He said Australia planned to make English-language teachers available on short-term postings, provide scholarships and exchanges and assist with building education facilities.
Meanwhile, Geoffrey Hull, director of the Academy of East Timor Studies at the University of Western Sydney, said a dispute on the island over the official language was dividing the community. While the party, headed by Xanana Gusmao and the Catholic church, favoured reviving Portuguese as the official language, many students preferred Tetum, the main indigenous language of the 15 spoken on East Timor.