The Background of Joining the AIMS programme
The extent of a country’s internationalisation has a bearing on whether it can become a global power that expands its sphere of influence and gain leadership beyond its borders. Particularly in modern society, people-to-people exchange is considered to have a higher influence on internationalisation than material exchange, which was regarded as important from the traditional point of view. The importance of the exchange of human resources reflects an undoubtedly significant aspect in the field of higher education as well. From the political perspective, the ASEAN+3 Plan of Action on Education: 2010-2017 was adopted during the 1st ASEAN+3 Education Ministerial Meeting in July 2012.
One of the key contents of the action plan was “promoting university student mobility among countries in ASEAN+3 region and establishing a quality assurance system for higher education”. It was a notable step for the Republic of Korea (hereinafter referred to as ROK) to show interest in a student mobility programme with the Southeast Asian region. In addition, there were some suggestions that a clause about the Korea-ASEAN student exchange programme (“4.4. Enhance cooperation in education….to promote students and faculty exchanges and joint research in higher education”) should be included in the goals of the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit (December 2014).
In accordance with the Korean government’s policy direction to promote exchanges with ASEAN countries, the Ministry of Education and Korean Council for University Education (KCUE) examined the feasibility of participating in the Asian International Mobility for Students (AIMS) programme, which is a collaborative and multilateral student exchange programme among the ASEAN countries organised by the Southeast SEAMEO Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development (RIHED). Korea was officially accepted to as a participant in the programme at the 9th Review Meeting in October 2015.
National Point of View
The primary benefit seen in interacting with other partner countries is the enhancement of the quality of higher education and the promotion of the competitiveness of universities’ internationalisation. In education, cooperation with diverse countries has led to the valuable opportunity to learn good practices of foreign education systems as well as to share ours with other countries. In that sense, the quality of higher education can be mutually improved by forming a network of understanding and sharing of information through communication and cooperation activities with partner countries.
In addition, we can nurture global talents through interacting with other partner countries. The institutional engagement in academic mobility schemes provides a platform to broaden a multilateral cooperation among partner institutions and share sound practices and policies, which ultimately leads to the establishment of infrastructure to nurture global talents as well. Therefore, countries or institutions with these platforms can provide more opportunities for students to cultivate open-minded thinking and enhance their capabilities. Students who have experienced internships or academic exchange programmes abroad such as AIMS have higher chances of becoming global talents who can flexibly respond to the demands of change over time in social and economic paradigms, and can build the life they want.
KCUE had conducted a survey from 2017 to 2019 and found out that the greatest impact of the mobility programme on outbound Korean students was on their intercultural competencies. According to the result from the Semester 2, 2019/2020 survey, students’ average satisfaction with the programme was 3.93 out of 5.00 and the opinion was that the programme was a great opportunity to enhance expertise in their majors for their future careers. So, this survey proved that studying abroad has a substantial effect on students’ future careers and subject-related expertise.
Impact on Participating Universities
The impact of AIMS on universities in ROK is beyond description. ROK launched the programme with four consortia in 2016, and it has expanded to ten consortia as of 2019. Even though six universities joined the programme only from March 2019, during that relatively short period they have hosted and participated in various international activities and academic conferences to strengthen relationships among students and stakeholders. Essentially, the impact of AIMS on participating universities in the ROK can be summarised in three ways. Firstly, the most crucial determining factor for AIMS is “opportunity for interaction”. Participating in AIMS offers universities in ROK more chances to interact with universities in the ASEAN region. Student exchanges between ROK and Northeast Asian countries (such as China and Japan) or with North America have been active, but exchanges with the Southeast Asian region are relatively less active. However, thanks to AIMS, universities in ROK could get valuable opportunities to build networks and strengthen partnerships with the ASEAN region in the field of education.
Secondly, AIMS enables participating universities to develop academic curricula and extra-curriculum activities that reflect the local features of where each university is located. For example, Dongguk University in Gyeongju developed a curriculum specialising in hotel tourism as they are situated at a historical site which is famous for Korean cultural heritage and tourism. Similarly,
Gyeongsang National University has improved students’ practical skills by providing activities based on an academic curriculum about agriculture in the Gyeongsangnam-do province, with modules such as International Cooperation in Agriculture. Therefore, foreign students who visit ROK have the chance to experience the distinctive features of various regions beyond the capital city of Seoul.
Lastly, under AIMS, a community has been formed where the members of ROK universities can interact with each other. In fact, ROK universities have organised joint activities such as an international conference, cultural experiences and language camps. AIMS project managers and coordinators of various nationalities share their knowledge with each other at international conferences such as the Asian Business and Economics International Conference to enhance the expertise of AIMS’s participating study fields. Similarly, outbound and inbound students from various universities are given the opportunity to participate in ski camps, language exchange programmes and derive a better understanding of each other’s cultures. These activities naturally help students to build a common AIMS identity, exchange information with each other, see and learn good practices mutually, and ultimately improve the quality of higher education.
Taking a Step Forward
So far, AIMS has provided amazing opportunities for higher education institutions in ROK and their participating students to take on new initiatives as mentioned before. The impact that governments, universities and students can show through this programme is expected to be beyond simple cross-border movements. AIMS is related to the vision of ROK to enhance soft power. Interest about ROK has been on the rise recently. For example, Korean cultural industries such as K-pop, K-drama and K-beauty have become popular all over the world, and international students have become very interested in Korean language, culture, history and so on. Invigorating the existing curriculum, combined with ROK’s attractive pop culture, will also strengthen competitiveness in higher education.
In other words, universities, which provide excellent environments for education, including having diverse curricula that reflect national characteristics and strengths, active faculty exchange between academic institutions, sharing information through community activities and so on, will make it possible to attract talented students from all around the world. And I think this is the aspect of soft power in higher education. ROK will not stop at its current achievement but will continue to develop more actively to become an educational hub in the world.
DONG SEOK SEO
Dong Seok Seo is Director, Korean Council for University Education.
HYEON JOO KIM
Hyeon Joo Kim is AIMS Programme Coordinator, International Cooperation Team, Korean Council for University Education.