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ASEAN higher education policy: Towards Internationalization
The address was presented by Dr. Azmi Mat Akhir Special Asst. to the Secretary-General of ASEAN for Institutional Affairs & Special Duties, at the 2nd ASEAN - China Rectors’ Conference on 15 - 16th March 2007, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Dear Professor Tran Van Nhung, Vice - Minister of Education and Training of Viet Nam,

Dear Professor Dao Trong Thi, President of Vietnam National University, Hanoi,

Distinguished Rectors from the Universities of the ASEAN University Network and China,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed my pleasure and an honour for me to be here today in this distinguished gathering of academe of ASEAN countries and China. I recognize the importance of this Conference as an effort to reinvigorate ASEAN-China cooperation in higher education which was initiated at the First ASEAN-China Rectors Conference held in June 2002 in Bangkok.


ASEAN has committed itself to build an ASEAN Community by 2015 on three closely inter-related pillars, namely the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Basically, the first pillar is about Peace, the second is about Prosperity, while the third, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, is about People. And these three elements of Peace, Prosperity and People are at the core of a strong ASEAN Community. If we look at the ASEAN Security Community and the ASEAN Economic Community as the means through which we secure a brighter future for our younger generation, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, with its focus on people, is about grooming them to inherit this future.

The priorities of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community address a range of issues, including health, labour, the environment, social welfare, gender, culture and, of course, education. The overarching aim is to improve the lives of all ASEAN citizens. The principle is social inclusion. As such, the work of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community would also help ASEAN citizens understand the benefits of being in the ASEAN Community, fostering a sense of belonging, identification and commitment to the region’s shared goals. Only when the citizens of ASEAN are committed to the ideals of shared identity, shared responsibility and shared prosperity, can the region continue to flourish.

The schools and their teachers and the universities and their faculties all have a key role in building a successful and resilient ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Through formal education, the schools and universities ensure that the students have the knowledge and skills to be productive members of society. They also instill the shared values of the community in the students, fostering a bond to the community, so that they grow up and come out to become responsible and caring members of society.

ASEAN Education Policy

Education is ultimately a national responsibility and the bulk of policy planning will be done at the Member Countries’ respective ministries of education. However, on the regional level, ASEAN can help facilitate the exchange of best practices and acquisition of new techniques.

The senior officials and bureaucrats in ASEAN like to emphasize the importance of human resource development in the region. In ASEAN, we embark on a lot of “capacity building” activities. These include things like training workshops, knowledge-sharing and the promotion of life-long learning. Capacity building is about helping our people gain the different types and levels of expertise needed to contribute to our economy and society.

Photo by Viet An.

The critical groundwork in human resource development, and thus capacity building, begins in the classrooms and lecture theaters. The leaders of ASEAN recognise that. They have put the facilitation of universal access to education and the promotion of high standards in education as an area to focus on in the Vientiane Action Programme or VAP. The VAP is ASEAN’s work programme for the ASEAN Community. Specifically on education policy, ASEAN senior officials in education have been tasked to:

  • Develop collaboration on educational systems in the region through comparative studies with a view to ensure quality education in the region;
  • Promote education information networking in various levels of institutions in the region; and
  • Initiate collaboration with other regional and international educational organisations to develop a concerted effort in the provision of education in the region

ASEAN education policy is guided by the declarations of two ASEAN Summits, namely the 4th ASEAN Summit, held on 27-28 January 1992 in Singapore, and the 9th ASEAN Summit, held on 6-7 October 2003 in Bali, Indonesia. ASEAN cooperation in education, including higher education, started relatively late when compared with other areas of cooperation. It was not until September 1992 that cooperation in education was commenced as a field under cooperation in social development. And, it was as a follow-up to the decision of the 4th ASEAN Summit, held on 27-28 January 1992 in Singapore, which declared that:

The ASEAN Member Countries shall continue to enhance awareness of ASEAN among the people in the region through expansion of ASEAN studies as part of Southeast Asian Studies in the school and university curricula and the introduction of ASEAN student exchange programmes at the secondary and tertiary levels of education” and

ASEAN should help hasten the development of a regional identity and solidarity, and promote human resource development by considering ways to further strengthen the existing network of the leading universities and institutions of higher learning in the ASEAN region with a view to ultimately establishing an ASEAN University based on this expanded network”.

These have been further reinforced by the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II, or the Bali Concord II, for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. The part of the Declaration on this, among others, states that:

ASEAN shall ensure that its work force shall be prepared for, and benefit from, economic integration by investing more resources for basic and higher education, training, science and technology development, job creation, and social protection. The development and enhancement of human resources is a key strategy for employment generation, alleviating poverty and socio-economic disparities, and ensuring economic growth with equity. ASEAN shall continue existing efforts to promote regional mobility and mutual recognition of professional credentials, talents, and skills development.”

The (ASEAN Socio-Cultural) Community shall nurture talent and promote interaction among ASEAN scholars, writers, artist and media practitioners to help preserve and promote ASEAN’s diverse cultural heritage while fostering regional identity as well as cultivating people’s awareness of ASEAN.”

To reiterate what I have stressed earlier, a concrete human development strategy is essential in order to build a strong socio-cultural community, and a concerted cooperation in education among ASEAN Member Countries, particularly higher education, is indispensable. In other words, human development through education lies at the very core of a strong and resilient ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Promoting improved standards and access to education through networking and institutional collaboration in the region, as well as between this region and the outside world, is one of the concerns to be addressed under the ASCC Plan of Action.

Internationalization of Higher Education within ASEAN

The above Summits’ declarations charted the policy direction for regional cooperation in education. For higher education, ASEAN established the ASEAN University Network (AUN) Programme in November 1995, through a Charter and Agreement, to spearhead regional cooperation activities among ASEAN Member Countries. It was also, initially, to serve as a precursor towards the establishment of an ASEAN University.

The general objective of the AUN is to strengthen the existing network of cooperation among universities in ASEAN by promoting collaborative study and research programmes on the priority areas identified by ASEAN, while the specific objectives are to promote cooperation and solidarity among professionals, academicians, scientists and scholars in the region; to develop academic and professional human resources in the region; and to promote information dissemination through an electronic network of libraries and information exchange among members of the academic community, policy makers, students, and other relevant users.

The establishment of the AUN Programme has contributed greatly towards promoting a regional identity through the development of human resources in the region as envisaged in the Declaration of the 4th and 9th ASEAN Summits. As most of our ASEAN colleagues here are already well aware of, I am pleased to note that, since its establishment, the AUN has successfully undertaken several cooperation programmes which were and are in coherent with the aspiration of the ASEAN Leaders, both among ASEAN Member Countries and between ASEAN Member Countries and a number of ASEAN Dialogue Partner countries.

Indeed, the AUN has grown rapidly ever since it was established. The various collaborative projects that are ongoing among AUN Participating or Member Universities, as well as those between these ASEAN universities and institutions of higher education from ASEAN Dialogue Partner countries such as China, the European Union, India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (RoK), are reflections of ASEAN’s policy of internationalizing its higher education. In this regard, the AUN has been assigned as both the lead body and supporting body to the VAP – ASCC programme areas and measures in three main areas, namely: (i) facilitating universal access to education and promoting high standard, (ii) developing and enhancing human resources in the workforce through the development of joint certificate and accreditation of science and technology in the region, and (iii) fostering dialogue for a deeper understanding of ASEAN civilization, cultures and religions.

After a number of ground-work and preparatory activities, the ASEAN Studies Programme, was eventually commenced on 9 October 2006 at the Asia-Europe Institute (AEI) of the University of Malaya. It is the fulfillment of the AUN’s obligation to the core aspiration of the 4th ASEAN Summit’s declaration on education, specifically on enhancing awareness of ASEAN among the people of this region. The Programme offers International Masters degree in ASEAN Studies (IMAS) The IMAS provides an advanced level of understanding of the political, economic, social and cultural forces which shape ASEAN as well as the attendant policy process in a range of issue areas. I understand that, beside students from ASEAN Member Countries, there are also students from Japan and the RoK taking the Studies. And, I hope Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam (the CLMV countries), should grab the full scholarships that are being offered by the University of Malaysia for their students to pursue the IMAS in the next intake commencing September this year.

Being an important programme, I suggest that the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the AUN review the ASEAN Studies Programme regularly so that the contents of the courses offered to the students under the Programme are truly in-keeping with the developments in ASEAN, beneficial and attractive and, most importantly, serve the objective of the 4th ASEAN Summit’s declaration to promote awareness of ASEAN. In this regard, as the Secretary-General of ASEAN, I offer ASEAN Secretariat’s readiness, within our capacity, to assist the Asia-Europe Institute of the University of Malaya, in particular, and the AUN, in updating the syllabus and the course contents.

I am also aware that the AUN is implementing other programmes such as the Student and Faculty Exchange Programme, the Collaborative Research Programme; the Quality Assurance (AUN-QA); Information Networking; and the Sub-Networks on ASEAN Graduate Business/Economics Programme (AGBEP) Network and on Southeast Asia Engineering Education Development Network (AUN/SEED-Net), all of which are to enhance our policy of internationalization of higher education in the region. Undoubtedly, all these efforts will converge on promoting cooperation and solidarity among scientists, scholars, academicians, and students in ASEAN Member Countries; fostering a sense of ASEANess, mutual understanding and harmony within the ASEAN communities; deepening ASEAN awareness and understanding of the educational, social, cultural and geo-political environment of the ASEAN people; as well as exchanging knowledge, experience and expertise and enhancing cooperation between universities. The AUN Quality Assurance Guidelines that has been published for use, as well as the information networking, through the establishment of the AUN Library Online, will help facilitate and strengthen all the above-mentioned efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ASEAN University

Photo by Viet An.

You may recall that the 4th ASEAN Summit’s declaration, that I quoted earlier, also envisaged the possibility of ultimately establishing an “ASEAN University” based on the expanded network among leading universities and institutions of higher learning in the ASEAN region. I am aware that the Board of Trustees of the AUN has deliberated on this issue at a number of their previous meetings. However, since the matter needed clear policy directions from the governments of ASEAN Member Countries and that the ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting was only convened for the first time in March last year, the AUN has been devoid of policy guidance to follow-up on the ASEAN University issue all these while.

Now that the ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting has been institutionalized, I have been informed that the AUN will submit a Concept Paper on the ASEAN University for the consideration of the Senior Officials Meeting on Education (SOM-ED) and subsequently to the ASEAN Education Ministers (ASED). I understand that, essentially, the Concept Paper proposes that the ASEAN University shall incorporate both active learning and virtual mode of education to be delivered through the utilization of ICT based on existing network of collaboration and the currently existing resources and facilities among the AUN Member Universities. For the initial pilot stage, five core courses will be offered, namely: (i) Cultural Studies and Languages of ASEAN; (ii) Comparative Law in ASEAN; (iii) Environmental Studies and Other Cross-boundary Issues in ASEAN; (iv) Business and Economic Development in ASEAN; and (v) Comparative Public Administration in ASEAN; and this pilot stage is proposed to start before 2008.

Notwithstanding these, it is important to note that the Concept Paper clarifies that the anticipated ASEAN University would not duplicate or compete with the existing programmes offered by the AUN Member Universities, and that it would not be a new full-pledged campus. Moreover, it has been agreed at the level of the Board of Trustees of the AUN that the original concept of establishing a physical campus of an ASEAN University is no longer valid or necessary, as all Member Countries of ASEAN now have their own universities that are progressively developing. I support these views and strongly believe that ASEAN should focus on strengthening the network of existing programmes and collaborative linkages among AUN Member Universities in pushing forward with internationalization of its higher education.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Internationalization of Higher Education beyond ASEAN

As testified by this Conference today, the internationalization of ASEAN higher education has also gone beyond cooperation among ASEAN Member Countries. We have established cooperation programmes with some of ASEAN Dialogue Partners. Through the AUN, we are implementing cooperation programmes in higher education with China, the European Union (EU), Japan and the Republic of Korea (RoK); while initiating a similar programme with India.

With China, we are implementing the ASEAN-China Academic Co-operation and Exchange Programme which aims to promote higher education collaboration between ASEAN and China through 4 major activities, namely: ASEAN-China Rectors’ Conference; Round-table Meeting; Joint Research and Training Grants; and the ASEAN-China Distinguished Professors and Lecturers Exchange Programme. In this regard, I understand that this Second Rectors’ Conference will review the results of the First Rectors Conference, exchange the status of the academic cooperation as well as to discuss the possibilities and most practical ways for future cooperation under the ASEAN-China framework.

With the EU, the ASEAN-EU University Network Programme (AUNP) was implemented aimed at creating mutual understanding and to promote human resource development in higher education between ASEAN and the EU. The major activities include Partnership Projects, Round-table Meetings, Rectors’ Conferences, and Technical Assistances from EU universities to the AUN. In addition, the EC-ASEAN Intellectual Property Rights Cooperation Programme (ECAP II) is the EU supported programme aiming to foster trade within ASEAN and between ASEAN and the EU, and covers the full spectrum of Intellectual Property Rights; while the ASEAN European Engineering Exchange (ASE3) Programme is an exchange programme among AUN Participating Universities, European educational institutions in engineering and a few European industry partners. Unfortunately, the AUNP itself has ended in April 2006. Hopefully, some other forms of academic cooperation could be initiated to further cooperation in higher education with the EU in the future.

With Japan, the cooperation is being indirectly implemented through our cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which finances and provides technical and expert supports to the AUN Sub-Network on Southeast Asian Engineering Education Development (AUN/SEED-Net) that has been going on over the past four years.

A comprehensive cooperation in higher education is being pursued with the RoK. This includes the ASEAN-ROK Academic Exchange Programme, the International College Student Exchange Programme between Korea and ASEAN Nations, the Promotion of ASEAN and Korean Studies, and the AUN-Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) Cooperation.

Under the ASEAN Plus-Three cooperation framework with China, Japan and Korea, ASEAN is initiating the Promotion of East Asian Studies in the East Asia Region and the formation of a Network of East Asian Studies (NEAS). The preliminary activities proposed for the Programme are: (i) Holding of a workshop on teaching East Asian studies in East Asia focusing on curriculum development, resource sharing and development, student exchange and other training issues, preferably during the third quarter of 2007; (ii) Holding of two research workshops in 2007, one dealing with the movements of people and ideas in East Asia, and the other with the critical issues facing East Asia in the 21st century; and (iii) Creation of an on-line directory of East Asia research, starting with a database of researchers in the humanities and social sciences on East Asia in the ASEAN+3 countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Indeed, the convening of this Second Rectors Conference, signifies our earnest effort to sustain the noble venture in ASEAN-China academic relations. The Conference should endeavour to come up with concrete and practical recommendations and strategies to strengthen the network of collaboration among respective institutions of higher learning in ASEAN and China. The outcome of this Conference, I hope, will increase the present momentum of collaboration in topics of mutual interest and also deepen the existing awareness students in ASEAN countries have regarding China, and vice-versa.

The ASEAN Secretariat stands ready to provide its assistance to facilitate the mutual desire to enhance future collaboration in higher education between ASEAN and China, building on existing ASEAN Studies programmes in the Chinese universities and Chinese studies programmes in the AUN Participating Universities.

I wish the Conference every success in its quest for further knowledge-sharing among ASEAN and Chinese institutions of higher learning.

Thank you.

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