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The Tokyo Convention on Recognition – A New Era of International Higher Education in Asia-Pacific

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Last year, UNESCO staff identified a master’s candidate studying at a major research university in Thailand. What made this special was that despite being a master’s candidate in human rights the student did not have a bachelor’s degree or prior formal qualification.

 

Coming from a former conflict zone in the global south, the student had vast experience as an NGO manager, but no regular access to formal schooling. Given the student’s professional experience and an assessment of prior learning, the university was still able to offer enrolment as a degree-seeking master’s candidate on a full scholarship.

 

This type of flexible learning pathway demonstrates an innovative example where a university in the Asia- Pacific region was able to admit and fully fund an international student from a least-developed country. This was possible based on effective strategies for assessing and recognizing prior experience, even if the knowledge, skills and competences were gained outside a formal education system.

 

Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) and UNESCO’s recognition conventions are powerful tools that embody these same principles as part of a vision to build a stronger global community.

 

REGIONAL TRENDS AND PERSPECTIVES FROM UNESCO BANGKOK

As the only United Nations agency with a mandate in higher education, UNESCO is well positioned to promote high-quality and inclusive lifelong learning opportunities for all. Legally binding conventions, such as the Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education (also known as the Tokyo Convention) reflect a common understanding of, and joint commitment to, the principles and international norms that have been developed and agreed upon by UNESCO Member States in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

In terms of both inbound and outbound mobility of international students, the Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing region in the world. Given the rise of diverse training providers, fair and transparent procedures for the recognition of qualifications are significant concerns for students, institutions and quality assurance providers. The internationalisation of higher education is linked with initiatives such as Global Citizenship Education and Education for Sustainable Development by its contribution to the development of cross-cultural understanding and tolerance. Collectively, cross-national perspectives on global issues such as poverty, water, food security, the environment and climate action are essential in achieving the SDGs, in which internationalised higher education plays a pivotal role.

 

LINKING RECOGNITION WITH QUALITY ASSURANCE AND QUALIFICATIONS FRAMEWORKS

The harmonisation of quality standards and mechanisms in higher education across the region
is of fundamental importance. Many quality tools have been developed within the Asia-Pacific region to enhance mobility and employability. As a result, it is increasingly important to promote fair and transparent recognition of competencies and qualifications earned in higher education. The Tokyo Convention came into force on 1 February 2018 following the ratification by five countries — Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, and later by the Holy See. All other countries in the Asia-Pacific region are eligible to join as State Parties.

 

The Tokyo Convention provides renewed opportunities for recognition authorities in the Asia-Pacific to harmonise mobility policies and practices to ensure all qualifications are treated ethically, including qualifications earned by refugees and other vulnerable populations. Efforts are underway to raise awareness and build capacity so that everyone can benefit from the Convention. Ratification by a given country requires a concerted effort among diverse stakeholders who understand the benefits of internationalization for their students, institutions and country.

 

THE TOKYO CONVENTION FACILITATES MOBILITY

Through an integrated and holistic approach, the Tokyo Convention on recognition enables authorities at institutional and systems levels to harmonise different quality assurance systems. The aim is to ensure that qualifications from different countries are more compatible and comparable based on a shared understanding of learning outcomes, including through the recognition of prior learning.

 

The Tokyo Convention serves two primary functions: One is national coordination of recognition authorities, which develop and maintain authoritative information on national higher education systems. The other is regional coordination and monitoring that aims to build a network of National Information Centres (NICs) and promote the visibility and implementation of the Tokyo Convention throughout the region.

 

The Seoul Statement that was agreed by more than 30 countries at the First Session of the Committee of the Tokyo Convention in October 2018 in Seoul, Republic of Korea noted that the Convention’s entry into force was part of a “new era for mobility and internationalisation of higher education in the Asia-Pacific through qualifications recognition.”

 

The new statement by the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee also recognises the importance of the forthcoming Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications as a platform for collaboration between world regions.

 

In a vast and diverse region with growing numbers of inbound and outbound international students, the Tokyo Convention on recognition in Asia-Pacific helps to facilitate the recognition of higher education qualifications based on common principles, increased information sharing and transparency, which demonstrates countries’ commitment to improve the mobility of students and academics.

 

The Convention reflects important trends on the recognition of higher education qualifications, including flexible assessments based on learning outcomes, partial studies and qualifications earned through non-traditional modes of learning. Collaboration with diverse stakeholders is necessary to raise awareness of the Convention’s benefits and to promote mobility and employability at national and regional levels. To foster an inclusive dialogue, UNESCO will lead and coordinate the Tokyo Convention’s Secretariat in support of the SDG4-Education 2030 agenda.

 

To explore opportunities for collaboration with UNESCO, please contact us anytime (eisd.bgk@unesco.org).

WANG LIBING

Wang Libing is Chief of Section for Educational Innovations and Skills Development (EISD) and Senior Programme Specialist in Higher Education, UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, Bangkok, Thailand.

WESLEY TETER

Wesley Teter is Senior Consultant at UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, Bangkok, Thailand.

XU BINGNA

Xu Bingna is a PhD student from Zhejiang University, China, and an intern with UNESCO Bangkok (2018).

FEBRUARY 2019 | ISSUE 5

Developing Responsible Leaders and Entrepreneurs in Asia

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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. 

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About

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

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

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