ASEAN has taken initiatives to promote cooperation among educational institutes within the region. ASEAN plans to promote joint research projects, and encourage student (and faculty) exchanges through common credit systems and other enabling mechanism.
ASEAN also works to create ” Common space for Higher Education“. A common space in higher education for the region would involve harmonising 6,500 educational institutes across ASEAN countries, and serving about 12,000,000 students. The challenges are numerous and complex. This was discussed at a panel discussion on this topic held by SEA Junction Southeast Asia and Heinrich Boell Foundation Southeast Asia in November last year.
When students from the region consider studying abroad, they tend to opt for institutions outside Southeast Asia.
ASEAN students have traditionally chosen universities in the US and, Europe, Australia, and, to a lesser degree, Japan. They are now considering universities in India, China, and other Asian countries. Non-Southeast Asian Universities are keen to maintain this preference. Their marketing for student recruitment is expanding.
The data from the International Education Expo 2017 of the Thai Government held in Bangkok in November 2017 shows that the UK, the US, and Australia are among the most popular destinations for students (mostly Thais). Among the top 20, there were only two ASEAN countries: Singapore on the 9th position and Malaysia on the 20th.
China, as a potential educational center, was the second most represented country in terms of recruitment institutes.
The competition among educational institutions in Southeast Asia has been exacerbated due to the growing number of international universities that are coming into the region from other countries, including the US and Australia.
In order to reach a growing and attractive market, these universities establish “glocal” presences (global but at the same local) in Southeast Asia. They show “off-shore campuses” such as the Yale NUS College in Singapore.
Also, they offer academic programs like double degree programs or pathway programs. Students can study for up to two years in their own country and then finish their degree in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere.
These educational options are currently based mainly in Malaysia and Singapore. This further strengthens the position of Malaysia and Singapore as the educational hubs within the ASEAN region. They are also being developed more in other parts.
Virtual education is also part of the “glocalization” process. Digital platforms, which are easily accessible and available, have revolutionized education in the region. The digital platform allows youth to have unprecedented access to universities and world education without leaving their home countries or regions.
Students today are well aware of the fact that they can learn more than in a traditional classroom. They appreciate this. This is evident in their use of online platforms such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Khan Academy edX, and Coursera.
In addition, they expect an ecosystem of education (and employment) that allows them to be autonomous while also supporting their exploration of potential future business and career opportunities.
The traditional courses and approaches are no longer adequate. The educational institutes of the region have discovered that they must adapt quickly to meet changing student demands in order to retain and recruit them.
Students’ interest in new subjects is changing. For example, “Social Development,” “Social Entrepreneurship,” and “Computer Science” are now being replaced by “Application Development.”
Southeast Asian countries must present themselves to new generations of students as a viable educational option in this context of rapid change.
Students are increasingly concerned with finding employment in an environment that is becoming more competitive. Students are choosing not just the degree but also the experience of studying abroad.
As an example, the Thai Government has promoted Thailand as a resource for neighboring countries that have fewer educational opportunities. There have been an increasing number of international bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in English over the past decade. These degrees are available to international students as well as Thai students looking to get an international education.
The latest statistics of the Commission on Higher Education in Thailand for 2013 show that Thailand is attracting more students from neighboring countries. Ironically, this is despite reports that the educational system in Thailand was deteriorating and there were limited English-language teaching resources.
The top five countries where students study in Thailand today are China (7405), Myanmar (2252), Cambodia (1317), Vietnam (910), and Laos (909). These students are increasingly self-financing rather than relying on fellowships, as was the case in the past.
An informal survey conducted by the author and interviewing ASEAN students and parents revealed that these students have a wide range of motivations.
Thailand is a popular choice for international students because it is located close to their countries of origin. Students can easily travel back home after the study.
The tuition fees for international programs are also cheaper in Thailand when compared with Malaysia, Singapore, and other options outside the region.
They wanted to learn another ASEAN Language, as well as English or Chinese. They also enjoy the freedom of expression that Thailand offers.
The last and most important step is to build networks with Southeast Asians that will be an asset in the future for their employment and business opportunities as ASEAN’s economic integration continues.
Create a regional experience.
In order to better serve ASEAN’s interests and personal aspirations, the different levels of education must be linked so that the curricula at the high school level and the higher education level of each member state complement one another and help create better-equipped human resources in the region.