Yesterday in Washington Taoiseach Brian Cowen (Ireland's Prime Minister) announced a new program that will make 500 college places available at reduced fees to the children of the Irish diaspora. This is a tremendous idea, particularly because in a small way it acknowledges the debt this country owes to those 'lost sons and daughters' and their offspring.

Often, far too often actually, the diaspora is treated as if it's the not-too-bright-but-wealthy cousin who you can tap for a few bucks when you find yourself a little short (through no fault of your own, of course). It's about time that changed and Ireland took an active interest in offering a little something back to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those emigrants who scrimped and saved to send money home to Ireland even when money was tight.

The idea behind the Ireland Homecoming Study Programme (IHSP) is that students will be able "to take advantage of a high-quality educational experience in a leading EU member state while tapping into their Irish heritage." That sounds good.

The fees for the courses at the various institutions have been reduced by 40% for the IHSP and are €3,000 ($4,081) for a semester or €5,950 ($8,130) for a full year. The institutions taking part in this program are all members of the Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI) alliance. It's a pilot scheme and I hope it expands to include the alliance's five non-participating members and even the big universities (Trinity College, etc.), although that will probably require some serious pressure from the overseas alumni.

If this program is a success it will be oversubscribed and the number of available places will have to be increased above the current 500. If this program is a success it will be wildly popular and be a great win-win for the students and for Ireland.

The student will get time in Ireland and a decent education at a reduced rate and Ireland will get a new wave of unofficial ambassadors spread out across America, Canada, Australia, etc. These people will be the focal points for future collaborative business ventures and tourism promotions in our networked world.

The IHSP was launched on St. Patrick's Day and the deadline is the 4th of July. You couldn't bookend this better.

You can learn more and apply for the program here.