The role of Higher Education Institutions in building the sense of an ASEAN identity and community during a pandemic

By Erika Marie Santelices, AUN Intern
21 September 2020

De La Salle College of St. Benilde’s School of Diplomacy and Governance (DLS-CSB SDG), in partnership with the ASEAN University Network, held the first part of the “Beyond SDG Webinar Series” last 10 September 2020 after being launched along with the school’s social media platforms on 30 July 2020. The webinar focused on the topic of the role of higher education institutions in ASEAN community building, inviting the AUN Executive Director, Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti, to talk about said topic.

The webinar was formally opened by Dr. Gary Ador Dionisio, the Dean of the School of Diplomacy and Governance, as he welcomed the students and staff of College of St. Benilde as well as participants from different ASEAN universities. He briefly discussed how the college introduced the course of ASEAN Studies back in 2018 and how it currently has the most subscribed students. Dr. Dionisio also mentioned an approach that is well known in the field of Public Administration and Governance called “Town and Gown” as it stresses the fact that the primary mission of higher education institutions is to deliver quality and practical education in order to make leaders realize the value of good governance. This was then followed by a message from the Chairperson of the Commission of Higher Education (CHED), Dr. Prospero De Vera III, highlighting the importance of networking in the various levels of educational institutions within the ASEAN region.

The main session was in the form of a panel discussion between the Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti and the moderator, Prof. Guill Marc Mariano. This started with Dr. Choltis giving an overview of the ASEAN University Network by presenting its 11 different end outcomes and success indicators in holding their activities. Some of the end outcomes include spreading ASEAN awareness for a stronger sense of ASEAN community, providing an avenue for lifelong learning and education, information and knowledge exchange, etc. He also mentioned the different thematic networks and how they collaborate with one another in order to achieve the indicators set.

Next, Prof. Mariano posed questions that revolved around how the AUN defines the notion of “community,” how students are left out in the process of building the ASEAN community, the challenges in pushing for student mobility within the region, and the role of Higher Education Institutions in the same process. The key message that Dr. Choltis put forth is how students are one of the most important actors in spreading awareness of what it means to be ASEAN, for them to come up with their own definitions of the community, and what they would like to see the regional bloc produce that would allow them to engage more. He also pointed out that the discourse within ASEAN and its identity has long been dominated by different sectors except that of the students within the region, explaining that students do not necessarily have the proper outlets in order for them to express their ideas.

Dr. Choltis then moved to the topic of the challenges that the AUN faces in promoting greater student mobility within the region. He enumerated that there is still an existing mistrust among all universities in terms of the quality and standards of education that they are offering. Along with this are the preferences that not only students but also parents possess in choosing a destination country to continue their education, saying that more often than not, most people would want to pursue a higher degree in other parts of the world besides Southeast Asia. He also reiterated that the AUN itself has suffered the consequences in cancelling programs that target the area of student development due to the ongoing pandemic.

Lastly, Dr. Choltis ended his talk by emphasizing the role of higher education institutions in building the ASEAN community as intermediaries between the world of work and the students and that they must effectively cooperate with both sides. Universities are expected to know the needs of society, industries, and the economy as well as listen and analyze the students in terms of what they are doing and the ideas that they can contribute.

After the main session, Mr. Robert Tang, the Chancellor of DLS-CSB, also gave his insights on the webinar expressing that the college upholds similar beliefs with the AUN wherein education not only serves as a way to obtain academic credentials but also to instill lifelong learning in its students. Mr. Tang briefly discussed the college’s initiative of requiring all students in DLS-CSB, regardless of degree, to take the ASEAN studies class in order for them to gain a further understanding of the region and to develop a sense of identity in being part of a diverse and dynamic ASEAN.

This was then followed by a short question-and-answer portion where the participants were able to raise their queries to Dr. Choltis. The webinar was concluded with a few closing remarks from the Vice Chancellor for Academics of DLS-CSB, Mr. Geronimo Ulayao.

The webinar may be accessed on Facebook through the link: https://www.facebook.com/benilde.sdg/videos/317099662694512/