Higher education in Southeast Asia has entered a new phase in its long journey towards regional harmonisation and the building of a common higher education space as regional bodies prepare to take over the steering of the project from 2023.
Until now the harmonisation process has been supported by the European Union through a special €15 million (US$15.8 million) programme known as EU Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN region (EU-SHARE). The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The EU-SHARE programme began in 2015 and acted as technical advisor to groups in the region to help build capacity, strengthen regional cooperation and improve internationalisation, drawing on its considerable experience in creating and sustaining a higher education area with the Bologna Process.
Harmonisation has been a long-term goal to promote internationalisation of universities in the region and increase both student and academic mobility within Asia, while also attracting international students from other regions through higher quality courses, credit transfer and other region-wide mechanisms.
Igor Driesmans, EU ambassador to ASEAN, said this week the EU-SHARE programme “made significant contributions to a harmonised higher education … and has contributed to the roadmap on the higher education space and various frameworks in the ASEAN higher education sector”.
But with the EU-SHARE programme coming to an end at the end of this year, Southeast Asian ministries of education and the higher education sector in the region will steer the ambitious process alone, led by regional intergovernmental organisations – the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, and Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization’s Regional Centre specialising in Higher Education and Development (SEAMEO RIHED) in Bangkok.
Delegates acknowledge that after seven years of the EU-SHARE programme, there is more cohesion between major higher education organisations in the region and greater consensus on the way forward compared to even a few years ago.
“The major challenge was bringing all the stakeholders together because there were so many initiatives that had been carried out by many different partners. And it was quite difficult to bring them together,” said Rodora Barbaran, director of human development at the ASEAN Secretariat, representing the ASEAN Working Group on Higher Education Mobility.
Barbaran told delegates at the 6 December EU-SHARE closing ceremony in Jakarta that when the programme started “we were just expressing our ambitions, looking after the model that the EU has developed for so many years, so many decades – one is the Erasmus programme. And now, here we are, celebrating what we have collectively accomplished.”