The coalition has promised $100 million for its so-called New Colombo Plan, with Tony Abbott promising the program will be a "two-way street", with more Asians studying in Australia and vice versa.

The original Colombo plan saw about 40,000 future leaders from Asia come to study in Australia from the 1950s to 1980s - and the opposition leader wants to start a similar new program to take advantage of the Asian Century.

Speaking at Melbourne University on Friday, Mr Abbott committed $100 million over five years to the policy, with a pilot program to be in place next year, and a full scheme to be up and running in 2015.

But unlike the original plan, Mr Abbott wants young Australian leaders to study in the Asia Pacific region, with scholarships to be offered to undergraduate students under the age of 22.

Once fully underway, support for 300 Australians will be provided each year, with students expected to undertake one or two semesters study at an accredited university in the region.

"That's what this New Colombo Plan is all about, it's about ensuring that we are a truly Asia literate country, it's about ensuring we can take the full advantage of the coming Asian Century," Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott said the original plan was a "triumph in Australian soft power" but this time the country must "reciprocate".

"It cannot be a one-way street. It must be a two-way street," he said.

"We have as much to learn from our friends and neighbours in the region, as they have to learn from us."


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