28 July 2023

The 14th AUN Rectors’ Meeting: Mapping the Big Picture of ASEAN Higher Education with AUN Leaders & the ASEAN Secretariat

Patitin Lertnaikiat
AUN Programme Officer;

Higher education in ASEAN exists in a large variety among the different countries of the association. Despite different approaches to higher education, AUN must find a way to unify AUN Member Universities towards a collaborative effort where all parties involved are winners. With AUN’s vast connections and well established partnerships, this initiative has already taken place for many years, but how can we push this further and do more? This leads us to the question of the first open session at the 14th AUN Rectors’ Meeting, “What is the big picture of Higher Education, and how can ASEAN and AUN be a better part of it?”. General coverage of this meeting can be found here.

To answer this question, four speakers took it to the open session to provide their greatest practices and share their latest initiatives. The four speakers were:

  • Dr. Roger Chao, Assistant Director/Head Education, Youth and Sport, Division, ASEAN Secretariat;
  • Prof. Dr. Yatimah Alias, Exercising the Function of Vice-Chancellor, Universiti Malaya;
  • Prof. Tan Eng Chye, President, National University of Singapore;
  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vu Hai Quan, Chancellor, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City.

The session was moderated by: Dr. Nopraenue Sajjarax Dhirathiti, Vice President for International Relations and Corporate Communication, Mahidol University.

Dr. Roger Chao - Roadmap, A Glimpse into the Future

Dr Roger Chao-min.JPG

Moving forward the development of ASEAN higher education is a tough and dense jungle to navigate. Without a clear vision, one is bound to get lost through each progressing step. To not get lost in where to go and what to do, much like navigation, we need a map. And in the case of continuously developing higher education, a roadmap! 

Dr. Roger shared on the development of the roadmap for ASEAN Education Higher Space which will move forward relations for regional integration and harmonization. Such a roadmap will mechanize the process and complement the development of higher education. The ASEAN Secretariat has already secured support with Europe and the British Council will be in collaborative efforts with the ASEAN Secretariat to develop a higher education programme. 

The key component to driving the development is to break the ice on the barriers that are holding universities back from agreeing to quality assurances, credit transfers, and mobility recognition. Another key aspect is to understand how higher education contributes to sustainable development. Global recognition is also another strong motivator that pushes universities to develop as well, encouraging them to look at other universities and think about internationalization.

Prof. Dr. Yatimah Alias - Unbound Mobility for Students and More

Prof Yatima-min.JPG

Let us not look at just the Big Picture of ASEAN Higher Education, but an even bigger picture! Why limit to just what is now? We can always look ahead further and push towards greater developments. In this case, we can push the mobility of students and more alike into greater heights than ever before.

Prof. Dr. Yatimah began by explaining that when it comes to mobility, we do not need to focus on only students. We can include staff, sharing information about education and research, go further with funding programmes, collaborative programs, and strategic partnerships. As for students, they should have the opportunity to study multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary education, develop skills for lifelong learning to continue their education post-graduation. In order for students to be able to develop such abilities, they need to be able to explore without limits. Global mobility and internationalization is key, there needs to be more value placed on mobility programmes and more strategic partnerships within ASEAN countries.

However, challenges are the main factors that prevent many ASEAN countries from improving mobility, universities have to find creative solutions even in constraints. Limited resources and infrastructure is possibly the most common challenge, as traveling and sending students overseas is a highly expensive procedure. In terms of sharing information and knowledge, digital infrastructure can still be a challenge for many ASEAN universities that may still be catching up. Hesitation when it comes to quality assurance and accreditation can impact legitimacy and limit opportunities for sending students abroad. 

So what can AUN do? Possibilities include creating a digital and open access institution that promotes the sharing of knowledge through open education resources that embraces the power of technological infrastructure. It should also be a sustainable development towards multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary education that promotes student and faculty mobility. Once student, faculty, and information is well mobilized, it can strengthen collaborative networks, facilitate capacity building and professional development, foster entrepreneurship; research; and innovation.

Prof. Tan Eng Chye - Nurturing Graduates and Building Bridges

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Thanks to the rapid development of communication in technology the human ability to connect with each other has greatly expanded, and even today the capabilities are always constantly being improved with newer and better tools. But in the end, it is up to the user on how they would like to utilize technology. 

Professor Tan Eng Chye explained there are two key roles of Universities in Southeast Asia, the bread and butter. The first is that universities have to nurture and develop graduates for the future. The second is that they have to build bridges and strengthen their networks within the industry. The two roles work closely together, one such way being that universities help students develop professional skills and also can expose graduates to the industry to help them get a footing in their career path. 

To fulfill the two key roles, universities in Southeast Asia can collaborate in innovative ways. Student exchange programmes will continue as usual, but we can try to explore different models. Go beyond just universities doing a lot of activities! For education there can be short courses, summer programmes, and internships to mobilize the students. Universities should open up to each other and collaborate for research, innovation, and enterprises.

He also presented examples from NUS such as the Temasek Foundation and NUS Fellows Programme. The Temasek Foundation is a programme for leadership in University Management. It strengthens ties at the leadership level and keeps leaders well aligned and connected. The NUS Fellows Programme promotes research mobility and aims to enrich the research intensity of ASEAN universities. Faculty members from universities across ASEAN can come to NUS labs to research with professors, NUS can share lab facilities and even provide funding for assistant professors. Working on research closely like this goes a long way towards building research ties within the region.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vu Hai Quan - Roles of Today’s Universities

Dr Vu Huy Quan-min.JPG

The presence of Universities should not be just starting and ending at providing education for graduates. They can also be the leaders of promoting sustainability and improving many elements of society in our world that are changing rapidly.

To understand how to commit to sustainability and to know what social responsibilities there are, Dr. Vu Hai Quan began with highlighting the roles of universities in today’s higher education. First, it is the acknowledgement of the impact of today’s advanced technology. One current trend taking a big form is the use of artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, and understanding the uncertainties, challenges, and opportunities that come along with it.

The second role is to make a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. First, we have to acknowledge climate change in order to prepare, educate, and act accordingly to aim for net zero emissions. Secondly, it is the university’s social responsibility to educate and prepare students well for the future, even with limited budgets from the government.

The third role is to enrich the student learning experience. Nowadays, there is high demand from students and the industry. We must adapt our curriculum appropriately to fulfill the needs that graduates and the industry are looking for.

The moderator, Dr. Nopraenue, concluded the session with these inspiring words, “Whatever we do, we don’t do for our personal achievements, but we do it for our future generations.” Indeed, universities serve to develop graduates that will impact the world in a positive way. And for this day, we took a step back to see it all as a big picture.