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Sustainable Strategic Partnerships in ASEAN: What is Needed in Enhancing Regional Mobility

Article-12

Like most industries locally and globally the higher education (HE) sector has experienced a series of fundamental challenges in the past decade, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the few years before the pandemic the HE sector became ever more complex and was seen as a global service delivered in a competitive knowledge marketplace, instead of a sector that serves the societal mission. However, the pandemic has made many HE institutions realise the imperative of partnership and collaboration to address global societal issues.

 

To cope with these challenges, HE institutions need appropriate strategies to enhance their three basic missions: teaching, research, and public service. In general, education has always been considered a public good, the purpose of which is to disseminate knowledge and contribute to the development of society (Council of the European Union, 2014). However, in a globalised world knowledge, research and innovation are becoming increasingly important resources, and these developments are influencing the societal role of universities (Valimaa & Hoffman, 2008). Despite their national orientation, most HE institutions strive for internationalisation in terms of faculty, students and curriculum; as a source of opportunities and resources (Altbach et al., 2009). Moreover, for countries importing foreign students international HE is a lucrative business, not only in providing economic income to universities but also in enhancing research facilities to cater for international research work and providing an international landscape to local students and communities (Altbach, 2004; Lee, 2014). This trend towards internationalisation suggests that there is a need for each individual institution to conduct a strategic roadmap to enhance internationalisation at their home campus, and to clearly define their institutional interests and priorities in undertaking internationalisation.

 

Recognising the importance of globalisation and internationalisation, ASEAN established a Roadmap on the ASEAN Higher Education Space 2025 to contribute to the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 (ASEAN, 2022). The roadmap envisages a resilient and sustainable ASEAN Higher Education Space that enables greater harmonisation and internationalisation of the region’s HE systems. It is reflective of the new reality of education worldwide, and proposes adaptive and sustainable approaches in responding to the changing context of HE. A central plank of the roadmap is promoting the mobility of students, faculty, researchers and interns within the region, alongside the development of common quality assurance benchmarks and mutual recognition of HE credentials within Southeast Asia, which includes the 10 ASEAN members plus Timor-Leste. Hence, an ASEAN-wide digital Credit Transfer System (CTS) to support ASEAN mobility and an ASEAN branded scholarship scheme for all ASEAN member states are in the pipeline and will be launched soon.

Institutions may want to focus more on local and regional partnerships rather than reaching afield to the global north, since such local partners may bring more relevant and collaborative benefits to the home institutions

Notable programmes in SEA that support the robust mobility of students include the SEAMEO-RIHED Asian International Mobility for Students (AIMS) and ASEAN University Network (AUN) Mobility Programme. Both AIMS and AUN represent laudable models of regional mobility for talent development, research projects, programme assessments and network alliances. Both models engage with and build on cooperation between universities, students, faculty, national ministries, a regional organisation (SEAMEO) and AUN.

 

Although ASEAN has provided the platform to assist in the mobility effort, initial work is required by HE institutions (HEIs) in ASEAN. There is a need for individual HEIs to strategise their partnerships with international partners in order to enhance the mobility of their students and academics. In general, to succeed in the increasingly competitive field of internationalisation HEIs often partner with other international HEIs and formalise their cooperation to allow both institutions to expand activities and enhance existing offerings (Kinser & Green, 2009).

 

In ASEAN HEIs the practitioners working with strategic partnerships are faced with new, pressing challenges. Most HEIs are looking into the number of partnerships their personnel are involved with, as this can give an indication of the international presence of an institution; however, this is not by itself sufficient as a proxy for international engagement. What matters more is the scope and type of activities covered, as well as the sustainability of partnerships. Institutions are becoming increasingly cautious about who they partner with and are abandoning the practice of signing collaboration agreements without strategic consideration, which was common in earlier years (Deardorff et al., 2012). Therefore it is very important for HEIs, and ASEAN HEIs in particular, to collaborate strategically by being selective about whom they partner with to ensure more sustainable and enduring collaboration between institutions and organisations.

 

Building sustainable academic networks, facilitating exchanges among students and staff, and enhancing regular exchanges and transfers of knowledge and practice are the foundations of long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships. Hence, institutions may want to focus more on local and regional partnerships rather than reaching afield to the global north, since such local partners may bring more relevant and collaborative benefits to the home institutions. In addition, partnering with local sister universities (perhaps those which may not have a presence in the rankings but which show strength in delivering on public service and the public good) can benefit home institutions in that they can act as mentors or coaches to these sister universities, while the latter can share their challenges and local/cultural contexts to enhance the partnership. This kind of mutually beneficial and balanced collaboration will help both institutions to grow together and move forward for a mutually better future.

To ensure strategic partnership lift-off, at the institutional level it is necessary first to develop an international strategic policy and strategic planning. Sandström and Weimer (2016) outlined some considerations for international strategic partnership policy development and managing alliances, which cover a lot of facets. These considerations have been further enhanced by new deliberations in order to gain a better mechanism for strengthening strategic alliances. Therefore, in developing international strategic partnerships HEIs need to take account of these matters:

 

  • conduct an existence audit of policy related to internationalisation and strategic partnerships; if they are non-existent, develop policies to ensure active implementation of existing partnerships and/or discharge inactive or out-dated partnerships

  • execute an inventory count of existing
    partnerships, their output, impact and level of activity

  • perform an evaluation exercise on what constitutes a strategic partnership to the institution, classify which are strategic to the achievement of institutional objectives in terms of internationalisation, and align with institutional strategy

  • identify the degree of existing partnerships, and if necessary increase the depth and breadth of identified partnerships

  • recognise the right partners, which will grow together with the home institution to ensure a win-win partnership for both

  • determine local and global regions that have not been looked into to locate new potential partners and collaborations, which will provide a wider network and collaborative benefits for the home university

  • secure faculty interests and initiatives in existing/established institutional policies on strategic partnerships (Matross Helms, 2015)

  • include safety protocols for exchange students and academics and the institutional assessment of virtual learning

  • undertake exchanges, mobility and projects on multi-modal platforms, both on-site, virtual or hybrid-flexible, to be included in the policy. This is needed because in the light of the challenges brought by COVID-19, the partner institution must have the creativity, capacity, capability and willingness to use various platforms, and this needs to be stated in the policy.

Once the above considerations have been examined, the HEI needs to establish plans to manage its strategic partnerships. The HEI needs to look into these matters:

 

  • establish an internal institutional approval process for international strategic partnerships

  • authorise a specific unit or staff to develop and implement strategic partnerships

  • develop well-defined descriptions of partnerships, including: a mission statement; programme goals and objectives; competencies of the students, staff and faculty involved; the educational services provided; the operational policies and procedures of all HEIs involved; financial relationships; and record-keeping policies (Matross Helms, 2015)

  • monitor and communicate that partnerships must be built on trust, effective communication and ongoing demonstration of the relationship (Hefferman & Poole, 2005), as well as the sharing of benefits, respect and fairness (Egron-Polak & Hudson, 2014)

  • consider cultural context (including institutional context) during all phases of the partnership, from initial negotiations to monitoring and maintenance of the relationship (Matross Helms, 2015). It is important to have candid conversations about administrative and academic culture, as both involve different aspects. Administrative culture involves reporting structures, institutional leadership, decision-making, communication, negotiation practices, relationship management and dealing with crises. On the other hand, academic culture encompasses pedagogy, grading and evaluation, use of technology, process for determining curriculum, and research culture. Identify any possible ethical dilemmas that may arise

  • perform regular evaluation of partnerships, their intended and actual output, and their strategic relevance to the institution

  • be aware and alert that partnerships and the priorities of partner institutions evolve over time.

 

As conditions, challenges and opportunities evolve rapidly in our globalised world, in order for HEIs partnerships to remain relevant and transformational HEIs must be agile and responsive in adapting to change and expanding their engagement with governments, ministries, communities, industries and regional organisations, working together towards a shared vision of accelerating regional growth and community-building in ASEAN.

REFERENCES 

  1. ASEAN (2022). Roadmap on the Higher Education Space 2025 and its Implementation Plan. https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Roadmap-on-the-ASEAN-Higher-Education-Space-2025.pdf
  2. Altbach, P. G. (2004). Globalisation and the university: Myths and realities in an unequal world. Tertiary Education and Management, 10(1), 3-25.
  3. Altbach, P. G., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. E. (2009). Trends in global higher education: Tracking an academic revolution. Report prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. UNESCO.
  4. Council of the European Union. (2014). Conclusions on efficient and innovative education and training to invest in skills – Supporting the 2014 European semester. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/ docs/pressdata/en/educ/141138.pdf
  5. Deardorff, D. K., de Wit, H., Heyl, J., & Adams, T. (Eds.). (2012). The SAGE handbook of international higher education. SAGE Publications.
  6. Egron-Polak, E., & Hudson, R. (2014). Internationalization of higher education: Growing expectations, fundamental values. International Association of Universities (IAU).
  7. Heffernan, T., & Poole, D. (2005). In search of “the vibe”: Creating effective international education partnerships. Higher Education, 50(2), 223-245.
  8. Kinser, K., & Green, M. F. (2009). The power of partnerships: A transatlantic dialogue. European University Association and American Council on Education.
  9. Lee, J. T. (2014). Education hubs and talent development: Policy-making and implementation challenges. Higher Education, 68(6), 807-823.
  10. Matross Helms, R. (2015). International higher education partnerships: A global review of standards and practices. American Council on Education.
  11. Sandström, A.-M., & Weimer, L. (2016). The EAIE Barometer: International Strategic Partnerships. European Association for International Education.
  12. Valimaa, J., & Hoffman, D. (2008). Knowledge, society, discourse, and higher education. Higher Education, 56(3), 265-285.

YAZRINA YAHYA

Dr Yazrina Yahya is Associate Professor, Faculty of Information Science & Technology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

LILY FREIDA MACABANGUN-MILLA

Attorney Lily Freida Macabangun-Milla is Officer-in-Charge, Office of the Deputy Executive Director IV, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Philippines.

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

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