A new international academic and student exchange network has been established by 19 countries whose shores are washed by the Indian Ocean.
University and government representatives from the nations involved met in Perth last week to set up the network. It will be called University Mobility in the Indian Ocean Region, or Umior.
The conference was organised by the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee and delegates came from nations as far apart as Yemen, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, to Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa, and across to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The creation of the network follows the establishment in 1993 of the University Mobility in the Asia Pacific scheme (Umap).
Umap was also formed with the aim of improving relationships between universities and countries through academic and student exchanges.
Almost 30 countries are members of Umap, although not all are active participants. More than 10,000 students across the Asia Pacific region take part in Umap exchanges each year.
The Japanese government recently announced it would allocate $35 million to the scheme to encourage more students to study in Japan.
The Perth conference agreed that universities in the Umior scheme would offer free tuition so that students from one country can study for a semester or more at an institution in one of the other countries.
Academic exchanges will also be encouraged.
Michael Osborne, chair of the AVCC's international standing committee, said university staff and student exchanges had been an important stimulus in many parts of the world in generating stronger ties between institutions and all-important collaboration in research and scholarship.
This had certainly been the case in Australia, where education exchanges had broadened people's understanding of the Asia Pacific region, Professor Osborne said.
"The AVCC believes the time is now right for a staff and student exchange for the Indian Ocean region," he said.
"We believe this for several reasons: the need to strengthen understanding of cultures and societies in the region, the growing interest among universities in developing cooperative links, the importance of human resource development and the growing interest among governments in the region to work more cooperatively."
Professor Osborne told the conference that Australian universities would offer more than 100 places for Umior students next year and that for each of the one-semester places, all tuition costs would be waived.