Alumni Engagement in ASEAN: Where Are We Today, and Where Do We Need to Go?

by Gretchen Dobson, Shane Dillon, Wanamina Bostan Ali & Jennifer A. Freely


In 2020, sustainable alumni engagement across ASEAN requires investments unique to each country and to ASEAN-Australian partnerships.

There are a number of challenges in managing international alumni relations: The primary objectives are establishing good data and mutually valuable relationships. The distinction between “home” and “overseas” students has become much more blurred as a consequence of transnational education, the proliferation of academic exchange programmes and an increasing number of postgraduate students seeking higher qualifications outside their home country. As outbound mobility increases, another trend is the growing interest of international alumni to return to their homeland or build transnational careers.

Stakeholder relationships are central to strengthening alumni relations within ASEAN and Australia. Alumni, their institutions and their professional affiliations are integral to promoting 21st century cross-cultural skills and Work Integrated Learning (WIL) opportunities for students (and fellow ASEAN–Australia alumni). These need to be grounded in the practical application of academic theories and a successful transfer of the global educational experience to a regional or local context.

This article will draw upon recent research and diverse perspectives from education providers, industry and alumni to make a case for why strengthening youth and alumni networks and enhancing ASEAN graduate employability is important.


Research on International Alumni Transitioning Home to ASEAN

Cturtle is an employment network for international graduates who had studied in Australia and returned to ASEAN. Since 2016 Cturtle has surveyed over 33,000 international graduates. Cturtle is the market leader in tracking international graduates and their research focuses on how the international student experience, study destination, study mode and graduate employment outcomes affect international alumni’s likelihood to recommend their university and country of education to future international students.

Employment outcomes are the number one focus when deciding to study abroad, with 81% of graduates stating they chose to study abroad to improve their career opportunities. This is unsurprisingly also the main factor when it comes to alumni recommending Australia and their alma mater to future students once they return home after graduation.

The most important determining factor for international graduates in recommending Australia to future students is that they felt welcomed in the country as an international student. The next seven most important factors relate to: working in Australia; access to job opportunities as a student and after graduation; satisfaction with post-study work rights; equal opportunity to jobs; and the ability to obtain employment while a student.

When it comes to recommending their alma mater to future students, the number one factor is that their education had a positive impact on their career, followed by quality of lecturers, relevance of education to career, equal treatment as an international student, and receiving career guidance while a student.

The research shows a clear correlation between employment outcomes and international graduate satisfaction. Australian universities that leverage and promote data about their international graduate employment outcomes will succeed in gaining increased numbers of future international student enrolments.


Connecting ASEAN Youth and Volunteer Leaders

ASEAN created the ASEAN Youth Organization (AYO) to advance socio-economic understanding, respect and support across the region. Through AYO’s member network and programmes, students and young leaders increase their knowledge of different study disciplines while building critical thinking skills, an appreciation of other cultures, and awareness of issues impacting on their country and other countries. Overall, a major objective of AYO is establishing a shared sense of responsibility among members to contribute to the development of their respective countries.

The AYO strongly believes in community-based volunteerism, encouraging increased understanding of the ASEAN region and support of economic and social reform through not-for-profit and youth-led initiatives. AYO believes volunteerism promotes qualities that are essential for any global citizen and opens personal and professional pathways for today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders.

The AYO proudly boasts a community of 3,000 active members aged 17–27 and more than 500,000 followers on social media across ASEAN. This community is interested in and ready to contribute to the ideals and mission of ASEAN. AYO’s goals for 2020 are to sponsor a comprehensive volunteer programme that collaborates extensively with various community-based programmes and schools, and running training sessions and workshops aimed at promoting positive and tangible change in local communities. AYO’s leaders are actively seeking ways to increase real-time and virtual collaboration with education providers and industry. This collaboration will extend the opportunity for young leaders across ASEAN to participate and leverage their strong sense of volunteerism, charity and nationality.


Investing in ASEAN Alumni and Alumni Relations

Even in this global, interconnected world, networks are still the best currency to amazing opportunities and professional development. Mobility within and beyond ASEAN continues to be the goal for many regional students. These students, together with their Australian counterparts, are looking to the region to provide deeply enriching study abroad prospects. Both are targeting overseas experiences for the personal growth and marketability that will aid them in securing post-graduation employment. As alumni, they continue leveraging their networks in person and online. This means alumni relations and development efforts must keep pace to stay relevant for these expanding informal and varied communities.

The conventional method of managing databases, such as using Excel spreadsheets across an institution; relying on staff memory; and paying little or no attention to the alumnus as an individual, is no longer viable. What is required is developing a new client management system (CMS), because alumni are an important stakeholder in the growth of the organisation. The understanding that their importance cannot be overstated, together with the investment in better tools, sets the stage for improved deep and authentic connections. This enhancement of a better client management system leverages on rapid technology development. While alumni relationship building is essential, the CMS tools exponentially grow an institution’s capacity to network and communicate.

The other key ingredient required in the ASEAN region is to elevate alumni work through professional development and establish communities of practice across institutions championed by senior university staff. Advancement here is in its infancy, but the potential for rapid growth is on the horizon. Learning from the well-established programmes in the United States helps to create a model for alumni development. Those institutions that take the time and make the investment to tailor their alumni operation to the uniqueness of the region will be the brand names in education for decades to come.



The critical alumni-development themes for ASEAN are: employability, intercultural competence, leadership development, volunteerism, data-driven systems, and the professionalising of alumni relations. These critical themes are driving ASEAN–Australian dialogues and networks and will require investment today to sustain the goals of alumni relations tomorrow.

For more information, please visit:
ASEAN Australian Dialogue (www.aseanaustraliadialogue.com),
Cturtle (cturtle.co) and,
ASEAN Youth Organization (www.aseanyouth.net).

Gretchen Dobson is the Founder of Gretchen Dobson LLC, a leading global alumni relations consultancy based in Australia.

Shane Dillon is the Founder and CEO of Cturtle, an edtech platform focused on international graduate employment.

Wanamina Bostan Ali is a lecturer at the Faculty of Management Sciences, Prince of Songkla University, Thailand.

Jennifer A. Freely is the Director of Alumni Relations at Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Malaysia and an advancement services consultant.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #07. Click here to read the full, online issue.

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