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ASEAN Committed To A Harmonized Higher Education System

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PUTRAJAYA – With 6,500 higher educational institutions and 12 million students in 10 nations, ASEAN is committed towards improving quality in education to achieve a harmonized higher education system in the region, said Malaysia’s Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.

He said higher education played a vital role in enhancing human resource development, fostering cultural understanding, generating knowledge and promoting networking, all of which had an impact on ASEAN’s ability to be competitive globally.

He said four areas that needed focus in order to achieve a harmonized ASEAN higher education system were student and staff mobility, credit transfers, quality assurance and the promotion of research clusters.

Therefore, he said that all ASEAN members were working closely to ensure the goals were achieved and that there would also be enhanced collaboration on human capital investment and the promotion of ASEAN within the fast changing global higher education landscape.

“With the continued support (of all ASEAN member countries), we will see a strong and united ASEAN community by end of this year and beyond,” he told Bernama here.

Idris said higher education was one of the core focuses in promoting the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) which focused on nurturing the human, cultural and natural resources for sustained development in a harmonious and people-oriented ASEAN.

“The primary goal of the ASCC is to create an ASEAN Community that is people-centred and socially responsible based on shared values. Education is an important contributor towards achieving this goal,” he said.

However, Idris conceded that the 10-member bloc would face challenges especially in agreeing on common standards within the higher education systems.

“This is because the process would take time and there is a need to take into account matters such as language, history, culture and established practices,” he said.

In a recent discussion with other ASEAN member countries at the ASEAN + 3 meeting, he said Malaysia had recommended the idea of finding commonalities in practices when developing standards and that initiative be undertaken in stages, taking into consideration the various level of higher education development in ASEAN.

To harmonize higher education systems in the region, Idris said a plan was set up in 2009 to create a systematic mechanism to support the integration of universities across Southeast Asia and the ultimate goal was to set up a Common Space of Higher Education in Southeast Asia.

He said the objectives were to advance and prioritize education and focus on creating a knowledge-based society achieving universal access to primary education; promoting early childhood care and development; and enhancing awareness of ASEAN to youths through education and activities to build an ASEAN identity based on friendship and cooperation.

Besides that, he said the ASEAN Universities Network (AUN), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, would continue to play an important role to strengthen existing cooperative networks among universities in ASEAN and beyond to promote collaborative study, research and educational programmes in priority areas identified by ASEAN.

He added that AUN also aimed to promote greater cooperation and solidarity among scholars, academicians and researchers in ASEAN member states, and also served as the policy-oriented body in higher education in the ASEAN region.

“Beyond that, scholarships for students and faculty exchange programmes as well as regional skills competitions are part of ASEAN’s commitment towards educational pursuits,” he said.

Idris said Malaysia had taken a leadership role in the harmonisation of the higher education system through many initiatives, including introducing the Malaysia Qualifications Agency (MQA) to encourage active movements towards the development of quality assurance collaboration and sharing.

“The MQA spearheaded the establishment of a network of quality assurance agencies among Southeast Asian countries, known as ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN) and the ASEAN Quality Reference Framework (AQRF) to develop and recognize strength and commonalities in academic practices without losing the individual country’s identity apart from ensuring compatibility of qualifications and learning outcomes within the ASEAN countries,” he said.

Established on Aug 8, 1967, Asean groups Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. – BERNAMA

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