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The Shape of Global Higher Education: Understanding the ASEAN Region

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Recent geopolitical changes have created new challenges for international higher education (IHE). The rise of nationalist governments in different parts of the world, in particular the West, which may be less accommodating to migration, pushes higher education to justify the benefits of internationalisation where they were once self-evident. However, in the ASEAN region the support for IHE remains strong, and a distinctive ASEAN-centric approach to IHE may be emerging.

 

The British Council has recently supported an in depth investigation into the policy frameworks that underpin IHE in the 10 ASEAN nations. The study, delivered by researchers from Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur and Universiti Sains Malaysia, builds on work the British Council has done over the last five years, developing an assessment tool that looks at the strength of IHE policies in over 40 countries across the world. The “Shape of Global Higher Education: Understanding the ASEAN region” study points to a well-developed panregional infrastructure in ASEAN that is enabling greater student exchange, and harmonisation in approaches to the quality assurance of IHE across the region via the work of the ASEAN Secretariat and the South East Asian Ministers Organization (SEAMEO). Much of this vital work by these panregional organisations is well documented. It is through the activities of individual countries that the study identifies the innovatory work, which is at the centre of the ASEAN centric approach to IHE.

 

The study shows how the point at which the countries are in their IHE journey differs greatly. It confirmed that Malaysia and Singapore were not only well advanced in their IHE work in comparison to other ASEAN countries but in global terms too. Both countries rank very highly in terms of their openness, access and sustainability and quality assurance when compared to other countries across the world.

 

Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia are also still in the earlier phases of their IHE journey. Vietnam and the Philippines have specific agencies that have within their remit the promotion of international collaboration in higher education. The National Foundation for Science and Technology Development (NAFOSTED) in Vietnam funds basic research carried out by Vietnamese universities in social sciences and humanities and natural sciences and has a strong focus on supporting international engagement of Vietnamese institutions and researchers, including hosting and participation in international conferences and training of researchers overseas.

 

Within the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in the Philippines, the International Affairs Staff (IAS) has an overall responsibility for co-ordinating and harmonising all the international dimensions of CHED’s work. IAS strengthens international co-operation by joining international and regional bodies and networks, negotiating and facilitating bilateral and multilateral agreements on academic collaboration and linkages for local higher education institutions (HEIs) with their counterparts in other countries as well as with international organisations. The remaining ASEAN countries are at even earlier stages where the evolution of IHE is concerned; but amongst them evidence of commitment to IHE exists.

 

Higher Education institutions in Myanmar are working together to support those working on international higher education. The Myanmar Higher Education Association (MHEA) is a new network bringing together those from across institutions to develop and share practices in the international education field.

 

The big differences in terms of economics and culture that exist between the ASEAN nations apply as well to IHE. Given these differences it is possible to find an emerging ASEAN-centric approach in this area.

 

Such an approach has three main features. First, while student mobility is important to IHE, it is not its defining feature in ASEAN as it is in many other parts of the world. While mobility is important in the ASEAN region it sits alongside academic capacity building as the core part of this ASEAN-centric approach the IHE.

 

Second, research collaboration is a priority focus across the region even if the ability to support such collaboration is not distributed equally across ASEAN countries. Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore have dedicated units to further such collaborations, while in the other ASEAN countries, such infrastructures are not yet in place. It is the case in all the countries though, that research collaborations tend to be led by particular institutions that have the necessary capacity originating from their histories and size.

 

Third, IHE occupies a central position within broader strategic educational frameworks in countries across the region. Across the region, separate, distinct IHE strategies are not common. Rather, strategic approaches to IHE are embedded within existing frameworks, and linked firmly to a country’s socioeconomic priorities. This integration of IHE into a system-wide approach can enable the establishment of linkages to other streams of work, securing IHE within broader strategies related to education on the one hand, and international relations on the other.

 

Finally, the study also identified opportunities for the ASEAN region to take a global lead in two particular areas of IHE work: the use of data and the bringing together of IHE and equitable access to HE. By increasing the data available on student and staff mobility as well as systematically documenting the bilateral relationships across countries, there is the potential to develop a “data led” model of IHE in the region. Stronger linkages between IHE and work on promoting more equitable access to higher education could be made. Across the world, including Europe and North America, these two agendas are viewed as mainly separate. They need to be viewed as complementary. Policymakers could reap significant political and educational dividends in ASEAN if, as they seek to expand IHE, they do so in such a way as to include students and faculty from all social backgrounds.

 

The full report, “Shape of Global Higher Education: Understanding the ASEAN Region”, can be found at: https://www.britishcouncil.org/education/ihe/knowledge-centre/global-landscape/shape-global-higher-education-volume-3

GRAEME ATHERTON

Graeme Atherton is a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Higher Education Research at Sunway University, Malaysia.

JULY 2018 | ISSUE 4

Internationalisation Policies, Initiatives

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Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

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