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Catalysing Consensus on Common Higher Education Space

Article-2

A Changed Landscape
The seven-year period since the adoption of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Higher Education on 21 November 2015 has seen the landscape of higher education in Southeast Asia change utterly. From the inexorable disruption of the sector by the digital transformation to the catastrophic blow to teaching, learning and student mobility dealt by COVID-19, there have been few if any certainties for higher education practitioners to cling to.

 

Yet despite these turbulent times, it is worth noting the significant progress that has been made towards realising the vision of a common space for higher education in the region. This has been the result of partnerships among and concerted efforts by Southeast Asia’s member states, regional organisations, higher education institutions, students and international partners.

 

A key guiding principle of the KL Declaration was the acknowledgement of ‘higher education as one of the catalysts in accelerating ASEAN’s economic, political and sociocultural development agenda’. This recognition of higher education’s centrality to the region’s development has been transformative in the expansion of the breadth and depth of higher education policy development, and its inclusion in the context of wider societal development.

Yet despite these turbulent times, it is worth noting the significant progress that has been made towards realising the vision of a common space for higher education in the region.

The SHARE Programme
2015 also saw the launch of the EU’s flagship higher education initiative with ASEAN in the form of the Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (SHARE) Programme, which furthered the objective ‘to strengthen regional co-operation and enhance the quality, regional competitiveness and internationalisation of ASEAN higher education institutions and students’. The inaugural SHARE Policy Dialogue held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in August of that year would be the first of fifteen such dialogues up to the end of 2022.

 

From its inception the SHARE Programme has sought to convene regional fora to catalyse consensus on the way forward for a common higher education space in the region. In its first phase between 2015 and 2020 the programme engaged with more than 2,000 policymakers, member state ministry officials, higher education practitioners and students.

 

SHARE has worked with the higher education community in the region to establish frameworks and structures to allow great comparability and compatibility, and therefore exchange, between higher education systems and their institutions across the region. This has included the accreditation of the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network as an ASEAN entity, the development of the ASEAN-Europe Credit Transfer System, and the implementation of the SHARE Scholarship scheme for Southeast Asian institutions and their students.

 

The Programme’s contributions to the region’s higher education development were recognised in the Chairman’s Statement at the 31st ASEAN Summit on the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN in Manila on 13 November 2017, which ‘encouraged the development of higher education through internationalisation and quality assurance including the further testing of the ASEAN Credit Transfer System with support of the EU-SHARE Programme to allow all universities in the region to benefit from the evolving regional higher education space’. Following the endorsement of the 12th ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Education (SOM-ED) in Bangkok on 30 November and 1 December 2017, the EU and the ASEAN Secretariat signalled their intent to extend the first phase of the SHARE Programme.

 

Adaptation and Transformation
In early 2020, as the SHARE Consortium engaged with regional partners to develop the strategy for its extension phase, the world was waking up to news of a pandemic and a level of disruption that would upend the work of international higher education for much of the following two years.

 

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the SHARE Programme to adapt its strategy and implementation plans. SHARE sought to implement the digital transformation of its initiatives by working concertedly with regional partners and experts to build capacity and resources for Virtual Exchange and Collaborative Online International Learning (VE/COIL) Programmes and a new Digital Credit Transfer System. This would enable the continued internationalised exchange between SHARE Partner Universities across Southeast Asia.

 

If there was any positive outcome of the pandemic for the programme, it was the opportunity to further explore digital modalities of higher education, not as a temporary solution or a silver bullet but as an adaptive approach allowing higher education to keep pace with the developments and needs of society at large.

 

Growing Regional Cohesion
Following a short hiatus, the SHARE Programme resumed its work with regional stakeholders on 27 February 2021 through an agreement between the EU and ASEAN, which extended the programme up to the end of 2022. This was in the context of the now 45-year-old dialogue partnership between the EU and ASEAN, which was elevated to the status of a strategic partnership in December 2020.

 

Coinciding with the resumption of SHARE was the adoption by the region’s Ministers of Education of the ASEAN Work Plan on Education 2021–2025, to which SHARE contributed as part of a regional consultation process. In line with this new education work plan, SHARE held its 12th Policy Dialogue under the theme of ‘Creating a Resilient and Sustainable ASEAN Higher Education Space’ between 27 and 29 July 2021.

 

The ASEAN Working Group on Higher Education Mobility 2025 (AWGHEM 2025) was launched on the first day of the policy dialogue. The primary mandate of the group is to lead the development and implementation of a cohesive roadmap to realise a common higher education space for the region, fostering greater people-to-people connectivity and knowledge transfer within the framework of the Work Plan on Education 2021–2025. Composed of senior officials from the region’s ministries of education and regional organisations, it is the most representative group of the region’s higher education policymakers. The SHARE Programme serves as a technical and operational advisor to the working group.

 

In addition to increased participation by practitioners and students in SHARE dialogues, the programme was mindful of the need for their wider representation at policy level. To that end, SHARE established the Higher Education Harmonisation Community of Practice (CoP) in 2021, and more recently the Southeast Asia Student and Alumni Network (SEASAN). These practitioner-led platforms will address the opportunities and challenges brought by the harmonisation and internationalisation of the region’s higher education.

 

The 14th SHARE Policy Dialogue on ‘The Contribution of Higher Education Partnerships in Southeast Asia towards the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030’ saw the SEAMEO Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development (RIHED), the ASEAN Secretariat’s Education Youth Sports Division, UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, the ASEAN University Network, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and other members of the working group partner during a three-day hybrid dialogue in Bangkok.

 

Regional Ownership and Sustainability
The work towards the regional ownership and sustainability of a common higher education space in Southeast Asia took a big step forward with the launch of the Roadmap on the ASEAN Higher Education Space 2025 and its implementation plan at the 15th SHARE Policy Dialogue in Hanoi on 27 July 2022. The document was formulated by the ASEAN Working Group on Higher Education Mobility, the most inclusive, diverse and representative membership of regional higher education organisations ever to work on such an initiative. It establishes the context for further work on decisions towards the establishment of a collective vision and a cohesive Joint Declaration on a Common Higher Education Space for Southeast Asia.

 

The EU Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region Programme is proud to have contributed to the process of bringing regional organisations in Southeast Asia closer together, coalescing around the shared goal of developing an inclusive and diverse common space for higher education in the region.

DARREN MCDERMOTT

Darren McDermott is EU Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (SHARE).

NOVEMBER 2022 | ISSUE 12

Partnerships in Higher Education

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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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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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