Internationalization of higher education has been prominent at national, regional and international level. It can be seen in the many policies and programmes that universities and governments implement to respond to globalization. In general, this would be the impartment of knowledge, skills and values that have universal appeal and application and the adoption of an international and multicultural outlook to meet global market needs. Internationalization efforts would also involve the acquisition of international skills including programmes for sending students to go abroad, setting up branch campuses and engaging in inter-institutional partnerships.
In Europe, the Bologna Process can be considered an example of international engagement and has become a reference for similar efforts elsewhere like in ASEAN and Latin America. In ASEAN itself, mobility is seen as a way to cultivate a skilled ASEAN workforce to aid labour mobility in the region for the exchange of globalized knowledge, talents/skills and values among the ASEAN people.
Challenges still, however, exist within the region. There are different education systems, different levels in the systems, different languages used as medium of instruction, a lack of awareness of the harmonisation process and its benefits, various credit systems, qualifications from countries not easily compared, varying degrees of economic maturity, multiple and complex stakeholders and enforcement at the regional level.
Student mobility is increasingly seen to be quite crucial in ASEAN universities. Ways of facilitating mobility include leveraging on the ASEAN University Network (AU) and adopting the ASEAN credit transfer system (ACTS). In addition, there is the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS), a programme of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Regional Institute of Higher Education and Development (SEAMEO-RIHED) which aims to create a vibrant student mobility for countries in ASEAN.
Benefits for the nation and for ASEAN include an increase in the number of academics teaching at ASEAN universities, an increase in capacity to operate at the ASEAN level, and strengthening ASEAN’s connectivity and reinforced cooperation with partners from other countries. For institutions, they would benefit through improved processes of recognition and validation of competencies and qualifications, enhanced employability and improved career prospects as well as better awareness of ASEAN and ASEAN values, to name but a few.
Mobility would result in flow of talent across the region, diverse student population, improve employability of the workforce, thereby enhancing ASEAN’s competitiveness and attractiveness and better position ASEAN to be the growth engine in the region and globally. However, we need to be aware of different levels in the educational sector among the different ASEAN countries.
Azirah Hashim is Professor of Linguistics, and Executive Director of The ASIA-EUROPE institute and Centre for ASEAN Regionalism, at The University of Malaya.