The Bologna process for ASEAN countries draws closer
Southeast Asia’s response to the Bologna process that would see institutions from 10 countries working more closely together could be operational within a few years, after regional leaders agree on steps to create their own “higher education space”.
A new roadmap lists the steps to harmonize the higher education systems of the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – including Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam – by creating a common framework of qualifications and a quality assurance scheme.
The vision includes mutual recognition of degrees and a digital credit transfer system as well as a collective approach to mobility in higher education. According to Libing Wang of the Asia-Pacific office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, this could see governments and private funders pooling their scholarship programs to create “the Asean version Erasmus Plus and Erasmus Mundus”.
A two-year implementation timeline is being developed to give ASEAN officials and national governments responsibility for putting in place key elements of the program, such as an ASEAN-branded scholarship and a ASEAN of the European Diploma Supplement, as well as mechanisms to ensure the financial sustainability of the programme.
The disparate nature of Southeast Asia’s higher education systems is seen as a barrier in a region with the third-largest working population in the world. The ASEAN countries have about 50% more inhabitants than the European Union and could economically rival it by the middle of the century.
The EU has been instrumental in bringing the new agenda to life since its articulation in the 2015 Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Higher Education. Since then, an EU program called Support for Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (Share) has been helping to develop the ASEAN higher education community.
When Share ends at the end of this year, the EU plans to transfer ownership of the program’s “assets and lines of action” to an ASEAN-designated entity, according to the roadmap.
EU Ambassador to Vietnam Giorgio Aliberti explained the “Team Europe” approach during a conference in Hanoi to launch the roadmap. He said educational cooperation had become “an indisputable instrument of soft power”, which favored the bloc’s foreign policies and promoted “a positive image” of Europe.
Wang told the conference that he researched the Bologna Declaration – signed in 1999 – while working at Zhejiang University in China and saw how its key features – including the system European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, the European Qualifications Framework and the Lisbon Recognition Convention – had proven “very practical and beneficial” and he “was really pleased to see this happening in South East Asia “.
Sharing team leader Darren McDermott said while Covid-19 had forced a rethink of his “work plan”, it had also sparked positive developments, such as hybrid lectures and virtual student exchanges. , which were “fully complementary with physical mobility when it comes down to scale”.
“A paper-based credit transfer system between institutions is being transformed into a paperless and verifiable system, digitally signed, stored in the cloud or a student’s digital wallet,” he added.
The program faces many challenges, including developing common quality assurance arrangements in a region with thousands of higher education institutions of varying standards.
Sydney-based international education consultant Michael Fay said the program would not be starting from scratch, with some features “already in place”. The ASEAN university network, which has member institutions in all 10 countries, already had an intra-ASEAN mobility program.
“The aspiration to formalize it further is good,” said Mr Fay, who added that Australia should take note of the EU’s “very strategic investment” in education in Southeast Asia. . By focusing its diplomacy at the ‘government-to-government level’, Australia had neglected the non-governmental ties that ASEAN ‘appreciated’.