Monday, July 25, 2016
ASEAN - Higher education in the ASEAN economic community era
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) provides a wealth of opportunities of integration, collaboration and competitiveness among higher education institutions within the ASEAN regions; yet challenges that need to be confronted abound.
The major consequence brought about by the free flow of goods, services and labor within the merging regions is certainly professional and skilled human resources that are poised to face economic competitiveness and to engage in a strategic partnership.
For this reason, education, especially tertiary education, is critical for supporting the missions of the AEC –political and economic stability, inclusive growth and shared prosperity, and equity to employability.
Tertiary education has been widely perceived as the core where knowledge-based economies are often sought. And, it is also used as an indicator for employability and for higher-income-jobs.
The merging of the ASEAN regions in the educational sectors is indicative of the exponential rates of the regional multinational education in the country. On a positive note, this offers plenty of opportunities for local higher education institutions in strengthening their quality standards and accelerating their ways to go international. For instance, research networking can be created between the centers of academic excellence in the country with those in the other fellow ASEAN countries. Student and teacher exchanges can be initiated to boost the quality of human capitals of local education institutions.
Also, academic cooperation in the forms of scholarship provisions, staff development, regional and international symposiums, and joint scholarly publication can be promoted to enhance the academic standards and services to the community.
Clearly, the benefit that can be reaped via this collaboration is the leveraging of skills, knowledge, and innovation among academia in both the country’s higher education institutions and those in the other ASEAN countries. No less important, academic collaboration can help raise cross-cultural sensitivity and awareness of different identities of the ASEAN members.
While these opportunities can be afforded through arduous efforts, strong commitment and political will, several persistent challenges confronted by the local higher learning institutions need to be addressed here.
To begin with, our quality education professionals are still low compared to those in such countries as Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. In terms of international research publications, for instance, we still lag far behind these countries.
Closely related to this is the lack of proficiency in communicating in English (both orally and in written form), which in turn impedes local education professionals to engage continuously in scholarly discussions with professionals from the other ASEAN countries. Considered as the language of international business, the language of technology and the lingua franca within the ASEAN regions, English ought to be learned and mastered for interactive communication to occur.
Another challenge is that most higher education institutions tend to detach themselves from society, and shy away from the ongoing social dialogue with social partners such as industry sectors and trade unions. This tendency can be seen in the design of curriculum, which is less integrative with the needs and demands of the private sector.
In the context of the ASEAN Economic Community, such a de-linking can eventually create a yawning gap between the skills and knowledge obtained in classroom and the skills and knowledge needed by private industries. Clearly, this is more harmful rather than beneficial for higher learning institutions.
It is important to note that qualification standards are not fixed and determined solely by learning institutions. Rather they are adaptive, in constant change, and are always informed by the private industries in terms of what skills are needed in the specific contexts.
It is not surprising to hear that many industry sectors often find higher education graduates not having the right skills needed in the real workplace environment. Due to these skill mismatches, they are not readily employable.
Thus, to keep abreast with the mutable qualification standards, higher learning institutions and training institutions need to align themselves with industry sectors. Through such an alignment, skill mismatches can be minimized and reduced.
Finally, the greatest challenge perhaps lies in the preparedness in building coherent regional qualification frameworks for assessing and comparing skill acquisition and regional quality-assurance frameworks. These two frameworks are needed in order to measure the success and failure of academic collaboration among the universities in the ASEAN region.
To overcome these challenges, local higher education institutions need to create viable strategic plans and to set up priorities that address the above challenges in their educational policy. To work effectively, both these plan and priorities should tap into the changing demands of not only local but also regional communities.
The writer teaches at the English Department, Faculty of Education and Language, Atma Jaya Catholic University,