Education a priority in bilateral relations: Australian FM

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Australia has pledged to continue supporting Vietnam in higher education, which is among the key priorities in bilateral relations between the two countries, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday.

"I know Vietnam has already set itself an impressive objective: to improve its education system and make it comparable to world standards by 2020 across the full spectrum of learning - from early childhood, to schooling, to technical education, tertiary education and ongoing adult education," Rudd said in a speech at RMIT University in Ho Chi Minh City.

"I am proud of Australia playing a key role in supporting this higher education revolution," he said during his first visit to Vietnam as foreign affairs minister.

Vietnam's higher education goals are to train 20,000 PhD students by 2020, half of them overseas.

Rudd said Australia will continue to grant 400 higher education scholarships every year, under the Australia Asia Awards, for Vietnamese students to study in Australia.

In addition to 26,000 Vietnamese students, mostly self-funded, enrolled in schools, technical colleges, English education and universities in Australia, more than 15,000 Vietnamese students are studying Australian courses in Vietnam.

Rudd said that 2011 is a milestone as RMIT University marks its tenth anniversary in Vietnam, the first foreign university to do so.

During his time in HCMC, Rudd inaugurated RMIT Vietnam's Recreation and Events Complex and Residential Center.

The foreign minister also visited the Ho Chi Minh City Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center, and earmarked a donation of A$4 million (US$4.2 million) over four years for the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Special Fund for the Disabled in Vietnam and other landmine affected countries.

"Vietnam is one of the most mine contaminated countries in the region with an estimated 100,000 mine survivors. This  new investment in the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled will help centers such as this assist more men and women with prostheses and rehabilitation, giving them the opportunity to work, support their families,  and fully participate in their communities," Rudd said.

During his visit, Rudd also met with senior government officials including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, in Hanoi, to discuss strengthening regional architecture through the East Asia Summit (EAS) and supporting measures to increase stability and prosperity in the region.

"This year, we want to further strengthen political, economic and educational engagement with Vietnam," Rudd also told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"Vietnam is fast becoming one of our most important partners in the Asia Pacific, and as we consolidate the bilateral 2009 Comprehensive Partnership, our growing trade and investment relationship will be front and center of discussions," Rudd said in a press release by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

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