COVID-19 and Its Impact on Higher Education in the Philippines

Photo by Mara Rivera on Unsplash

The Philippines
COVID-19 and Its Impact on Higher Education in the Philippines


COVID-19 Pandemic in the Philippines and Governmental Response
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. Due to the nature of the virus, particularly how it is transmitted, it has altered human behaviours, relations and lifestyles, and had profound impacts on the economic, political and cultural landscapes of societies across the world. It has likewise exacerbated poverty, discrimination and inequalities in many parts of the world, not only through how COVID-19 appears to be affecting poorer communities more than the rich, but also as a consequence of the measures taken by states to control the spread of the virus, primarily by curtailing freedom of movement through the imposition of community quarantine, lockdowns and curfews in many parts of the world.

As of 7 May 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in the Philippines by the Department of Health (DOH) was 10,343 with 685 deaths and 1,680 recovered. With these figures, the Philippines ranks third, after Singapore and Indonesia, in the number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

After the DOH reported the first COVID-19 case in the country, acquired through local transmission, the Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Proclamation No. 922 on 8 March 2020, declaring the country under a state of public health emergency. This was to prevent the further spread of the disease and mitigate its effects on communities. On 16 March, the President declared a state of calamity throughout the Philippines for a period of six months, and imposed an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) throughout the island of Luzon, including Metro Manila. While originally set to last till 12 April 2020, the ECQ was later extended to 15 May 2020.

The ECQ instructed all residents to stay at home, and the closure of all non-essential business establishments, schools and universities, public transportation facilities, malls and shopping centres, churches and other faith-based institutions. Checkpoints were set up in various parts of Metro Manila and throughout Luzon as means to control movement of people throughout the island. In essence, the ECQ meant the suspension of the freedom of movement.

With people confined to their homes for almost two months, the most vulnerable residents, particularly the daily wage earners covered by the “no work, no pay” policy, and those employed in the informal economy, have borne the brunt of these measures. The loss of their income has forced these employees to rely on whatever assistance and social amelioration programmes that the national government, local government units and the private sector extend to them.

The ECQ instructed all residents to stay at home, and the closure of all non-essential business establishments, schools and universities, public transportation facilities, malls and shopping centres, churches and other faith-based institutions. Checkpoints were set up in various parts of Metro Manila and throughout Luzon as means to control movement of people throughout the island. In essence, the ECQ meant the suspension of the freedom of movement.

With people confined to their homes for almost two months, the most vulnerable residents,
particularly the daily wage earners covered by the “no work, no pay” policy, and those employed in the informal economy, have borne the brunt of these measures. The loss of their income has forced these employees to rely on whatever assistance and social amelioration programmes that the national government, local government units and the private sector extend to them.

The Impact of the Lockdown on Higher Education
Higher education institutions (HEIs), both public and private, have also had to adjust to the new situation where face-to-face interaction and mass gatherings are prohibited. Committed to their mandate, the leading universities and colleges in the Philippines, particularly those affiliated with the ASEAN University Network – such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and De la Salle University, found innovative ways to fulfil their three-pronged tasks of education, research and service. Everyone, from the operations and support service units, to administrators and teachers, adjusted to work-from-home arrangements.

From the confines of their homes, teachers and administrators were put to the task of revising and adapting course syllabi and requirements as they shifted to alternative or remote teaching modalities, both synchronous and asynchronous. Where students and teachers had access to electronic devices and reliable Internet connections, learning managements systems such as Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, and applications like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Skype, were used. But where students had limited access to computers or unreliable access to the Internet, teachers and students used smartphones to exchange messages, notes and materials, through text messaging, e-mail, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter.

In some instances, these arrangements became unsustainable and some universities had to suspend remote or online classes because the uneven socioeconomic status of students affected their access to these modalities of learning. Also, concerns regarding the mental health of both students and teachers affected by the uncertainty, became another reason to suspend online classes.

In some instances, these arrangements became unsustainable and some universities had to suspend remote or online classes because the uneven socioeconomic status of students affected their access to these modalities of learning.

Rising Above the COVID-19 Challenges
Despite all of these challenges, the ingenuity and resilience of the Filipinos were demonstrated in the midst of the pandemic. Societal demands to mobilise the contributions of various sectors to address the pandemic triggered HEIs to face these challenges head on. Researchers, scientists, and practitioners in the health, social and behavioural sciences, engineering, arts and humanities, intensified their collaboration and partnership to generate knowledge needed to produce timely and relevant policies and programmes, projections, strategies, products and inventions. Laboratories, clinics, offices, workplaces, and even homes were transformed into spaces of discovery and innovation, creativity and resourcefulness, giving credence to the saying “necessity is the mother of change and innovation.”

HEIs like the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, with funding support from the Department of Science and Technology, produced a COVID-19 diagnostic kit called GenAmplify COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit, a less expensive alternative to the imported testing kits. This made it easier to increase the number of tests conducted per day.

The “modified enhanced community quarantine” is currently being enforced in Metro Manila and several other cities from 16 May to 31 May 2020, in an effort to gradually reopen the economy after a two-month shutdown. Schools and universities are still not allowed to implement physical classes.

State and private universities and colleges, including those owned and operated by religious groups, actively designed, produced and distributed 3D-printed face shields, face masks, and personal protective equipment for healthcare and other frontline workers. Local versions of ethyl alcohol and sanitisers, sensor-enabled hand spray, mobile full-body disinfection chambers at entrances, and even an “Anti-COVID” drink named ExCite which stands for “Extinguishing Communicable Infection Through Edible Plant Source,” a drink made from carrot extract, moringa and calamansi (lime) juice, were among the inventions and products produced and distributed during the pandemic.

Furthermore, HEIs were involved in enhancing the capabilities and competencies of members of the academe, professional groups, and the general public by sharing their knowledge, skills and expertise on relevant topics. Training activities, mentoring sessions, and webinars were organised by various colleges and universities using Zoom and Skype. Topics covered in these activities include online teaching, biosafety, COVID-19 and emerging infectious diseases, and psychosocial first aid and support for students and faculty. Students, teachers, staff and alumni initiated various projects and activities to solicit, and extend support and resources to ensure the safety of healthcare workers, food producers and distributors, grocery and supermarket workers, and law enforcement agents manning checkpoints.

Cognisant of their education, research and service functions, HEIs in the Philippines certainly had their hands full in responding to the challenges of the time. The bayanihan spirit or collective community mobilisation very typical of Filipino culture in times of crisis and emergency, was strongly demonstrated by the different sectors in HEIs during the pandemic.

The bayanihan spirit or collective community mobilisation very typical of Filipino culture in times of crisis and emergency, was strongly demonstrated by the different sectors in HEIs during the pandemic.

Anticipated Challenges Under the “New Normal”
With the anticipated lifting or relaxing of the ECQ in many parts of the country after 15 May, sustaining the delivery of quality education continues to be a major challenge. With the restrictions on the movement of people, the need to practise physical distancing, and prohibitions on mass gatherings, face-to-face classes, community engagements, internships, practicum activities, and other forms of experiential learning methods can no longer be employed for as long as the pandemic persists. This presents an opportunity for the academic community to innovate and develop alternative teaching strategies that will allow for a more conducive learning environment, given these limitations.

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated the social, economic, political and environmental realities and phenomena from varying perspectives, and the unsustainble conditions that many of us have been living with; it has also produced new problems and challenges and changed the way we live our lives. HEIs also need to review and valuate their research agenda and priorities to respond to these realisations and changes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a new world full of challenges, dilemmas, as well as opportunities. It is up to us to adapt and transform the challenges and dilemmas to opportunities for growth and development for our nation and the global community.

NYMIA PIMENTEL SIMBULAN is Professor of Behavioral Sciences, and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of the Philippines Manila, Philippines.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #08. Click here to read the full, online issue.

Prof Nymia will be speaking as a panelist on The HEAD Foundation  “COVID-19 What Next…?” webinar series: Impact on Higher Education on 17 June 2020. Keep a lookout for our announcement coming soon.

read more

How is COVID-19 Impacting Higher Education? | HESB 8 Special Issue

HESB social media (1)

How is COVID-19 Impacting Higher Education?
HESB Special Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no aspect of life untouched. Higher education institutions, often and rightly seen as the harbingers of the future, have risen to the new challenges posed by the pandemic in various ways.

In this special issue of The HEAD Foundation’s flagship publication, HESB, we invite distinguished academics to discuss how global and local institutions are coping and adapting, and how higher education institutions might look in a post COVID-19 world.

In this issue:

  • E-learning and Higher Education in the Pre- and Post-COVID-19 Situation
    Prof Cham Tao Soon, the founding President of NTU and Chairman of The HEAD Foundation’s Advisory Board, shares his thoughts on the role of e-learning in Singaporean institutions and how he envisions the future of local higher education.
  • Monitoring the Impact on People and Places for Relevant Higher Education
    Wesley Teter, Senior Consultant for Higher Education at UNESCO Bangkok, and Libing Wang, Chief of Section for Educational Innovation and Skills Development at UNESCO Bangkok, discuss UNESCO’s response to learning inequality amidst the COVID-19 struggle.
  • The Philippines – COVID-19 and its Impact on Higher Education in the Philippines
    Professor Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of the Philippines Manila, shares about the bayanihan spirit of community mobilisation in higher education institutions in the Philippines.
  • Challenges and Opportunities for Vietnamese Higher Education
    Dr Thanh Pham, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University and Dr Huong Nguyen, Academic Manager & Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology, discuss online learning possibilities and their consequences for Vietnam and the global higher education scene.

… and many more.

Upcoming Webinar

Keep a lookout for our next webinar! Announcement coming soon:

read more

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

Photo credits: MD Duran

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

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.
read more

Strengthening Quality Assurance and Developing Global Standards in English Language Teaching Centres: Management in ASEAN and Australia

Photo credits: Freshh Connection

Strengthening Quality Assurance and Developing Global Standards in English Language Teaching Centres: Management in ASEAN and Australia

Wu Siew Mei

Quality Assurance in English Language Teaching Centres

Quality assurance denotes the adoption of management and professional practices that inspire confidence that requirements of the highest standards will be fulfilled in an organisational setting. Along with quality assurance, the notion of standard setting is pertinent; standards—high bars of performance in targeted areas—are set so that there are clear criteria and objectives to work towards and maintain operationally. The context of the ASEAN-Australian education collaboration sees effort invested among individual English Language Teaching (ELT) centres, including transnational campuses of Australian universities as well as Australian Quality Assurance bodies such as the National ELT Accreditation Scheme (NEAS), to ensure quality in education and training. NEAS’s framework provides for quality assurance in nine quality areas that identify quality principles and quality drivers to provide a clear guide on how ELT centres can strive towards best practices and student learning experiences in their respective settings.

The University Technology Sydney (UTS), a transnational Australian university campus, provides a quality assurance framework that UTS Insearch has developed for its ten ELT centres in the region, which include centres in Jakarta, Hanoi, Ho Chi Min City (HCMC) and Yangon. The required professional standards for ELT teachers at all ten centres, as well as the process for teacher development, are spelled out in the framework together with the test writing standards within their EAP direct-entry curriculum (UTS Insearch Academic English). In other settings such as the School of English and University Pathways (SEUP), RMIT Vietnam, the centre’s desire to have an impact on the quality of the ELT teaching community in Vietnam is achieved through their Teacher Talks seminar series. Teacher Talks was developed from the beginning as a joint project called TESOL Talks with other organisations, which evolved into an RMIT-led project that runs twice a year in all three of their locations in Vietnam: Danang, Hanoi and HCMC. The themes were in 2018: Innovations in Learning and Teaching and Extensive Reading, and in 2019: Learner Engagement, and Active Learning.

Quality Teacher, Quality Learning

One of the first quality areas mentioned in the NEAS framework is the quality of teaching, assessment and training. In the context of ELT centres, quality in this first area is intertwined with the quality of the ELT teacher as effective student learning is dependent on highly skilled teaching in a conducive setting that inspires the motivation to learn.

Unlike other professionals such as surgeons, whose practice knowledge may be recorded and analysed in detail, teachers’ practice knowledge tends to stay with the practitioner, who discovers and uses it and frequently, the teacher may not even be fully conscious of its significance and impact. Teachers tend to practise in isolation from other teachers and within their own classrooms. Unless in an appraisal or review situation, other teachers do not get to see each other’s tacit knowledge being manifested in the classroom context.

“Unlike other professionals such as surgeons, whose practice knowledge may be recorded and analysed in detail, teachers’ practice knowledge tends to stay with the practitioner, who discovers and uses it and frequently, the teacher may not even be fully conscious of its significance and impact.”

Systematic Inquiry into Teaching Practices

The process of doing systematic inquiry into one’s own teaching practices is called by different names. Action research, the scholarship of teaching and learning, lesson study are some such labels. Essentially, the aim of these professional development avenues is to investigate one’s pedagogical knowledge and its effectiveness on learning in the context of what other experts have been or are doing in their practice in similar areas. By doing so, the teacher may be able to assess how best to teach towards a goal, as teaching methods are being compared, contrasted, reflected upon and analysed within the framework of professional community practices for their impact on student learning. These insights are then publicly disseminated among relevant ELT teaching communities. This constitutes an important step in the process. It is through such communal reflection, discussion and constructive dialogue sessions that pedagogical knowledge and practices are further developed and shaped in the context of teaching the relevant discipline.

Action research experts suggest these four steps for a systematic inquiry into classroom teaching: planning an intervention, implementing the intervention, observing the results and finally, reflecting on the results—which leads to planning the next cycle. Various topics can be explored in such a systematic process, including the following: What is the role of progress and motivation in the university English classroom? How does a student-centric approach facilitate the development of communicative competence? To what extent is the flipped approach suitable for the teaching of academic writing? Inquiries into these relevant areas of ELT classroom methodologies provide insights to further inform practices to enhance learning.

Benefits of Systematic Classroom Inquiry

How does such a systematic inquiry develop teacher professionalism and ensure quality? Firstly, these areas of inquiry are motivated by an authentic desire to understand why some activities, methods or strategies may work in one’s classroom. It allows deep engagement in critically analysing one’s practice. Secondly, such a process compels the teacher to engage with relevant literature in the teaching of similar areas so that the context of the inquiry can be systematically developed. This engagement with theories and other practitioners’ scholarly insights contributes to the academic base of a teacher’s teaching practice. Thirdly, the process provides the possible connection with the ELT community that is keen on conversations and further investigations into best practices. In all, these benefits potentially shape the professional development of an ELT practitioner towards better quality teaching.

The question of what good ELT teaching is needs to be better understood, more open to inquiry, and better communicated. ELT teachers should develop professionally through adopting scholarly approaches to their teaching, and learn how to systematically collect and present evidence of good teaching practices as proof of their teaching effectiveness. Essentially, the processes of reflection, inquiry, evaluating, documenting and communicating about teaching will contribute to the development of better quality teaching and ultimately, assures quality learning at ELT centres.

Wu Siew Mei is the Director of the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC), National University of Singapore.

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

University Impact Rankings by SDG: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Photo credits : Alexander Abero

University Impact Rankings by SDG: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Julie Wilkens McMahon

The recent plague of bushfires that has swept across the Australian continent have drawn fresh scrutiny on global efforts to address climate change. New technologies and innovative research are needed to handle such a global crisis, and higher education has an important role to play in these endeavours.

However, higher education’s purpose in society is greater than its efforts to understand and curb damage to our fragile environment. The full role of a university has been debated throughout time, but few would argue against a version that incorporates a mission to positively impact the lives of its students and society overall. A university’s ability to succeed with such a comprehensive and wide-sweeping mandate is more difficult to measure than a simple tally of the number of students graduating or patents granted each year. The absence of many universally accepted methods of quantifiably measuring a university’s societal impact has added to the difficulty of assessing success.

University Rankings

The publication of the first US News and World Report issue introduced the concept of national university rankings over 30 years ago and global-ranking systems have risen in acceptance over the last decade. The most renowned of the global-ranking systems include Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, the Quacqarelli-Symonds (QS) rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Although all three of these ranking systems are measuring different aspects of a university’s performance, all three focus between 60 to 80% on research-related metrics.

Higher education rankings such as THE’s World University Rankings provide a relatively focused measure of university quality, utilising narrow parameters to emphasise specific performance metrics such as citations, research productivity and student-to-faculty ratios. These rankings are useful in order to assess particular areas of achievement as determined by the chosen metrics. While university rankings that focus on research-intensive performance have proliferated in the higher education sector, measuring impact is a less common, and an arguably more difficult, endeavour.

University Impact Rankings Methodology

In 2019, following over two years of consultation with industry experts and higher education leaders, THE created the University Impact Rankings (UIR), an innovative effort to measure actual performance of universities on a global level as they address complex developmental challenges. Recognising the inherent difficulties in measuring efforts to cure a myriad of social ills, THE utilised the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the framework for the rankings, adapting each SDG to a university’s activities.

Adopted by the United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a global rallying point to end poverty, protect the earth and promote peace and prosperity by 2030 and onwards. Organised into 17 separate goals, each one is a blueprint for a society that has eliminated poverty and other inequalities, while promoting efforts to preserve the environment. Addressing challenges from climate change to gender equality to health and well-being, the goals are simultaneously distinctive in their focus and comprehensively integrated with each other.

The UIR’s methodology measures four key factors of impact: Research, Stewardship, Outreach and Teaching. Firstly, while the UIR is less research-focused than the World University Rankings, research is still an integral aspect of the framework. An institution’s research impacts the world by providing direction: Why and how should changes in society be made? Secondly, a university’s abilities in using natural assets fairly and equitably shapes its impact on the world. Thirdly, the outreach efforts of an institution, whether on a local, regional, national or international level, amplifies the impact of its efforts. Finally, teaching has been integrated into the upcoming 2020 UIR as the ability to instruct the next generation to adopt sustainability is a natural extension of a university’s mission.

Institutions entering the THE University Impact Rankings have the option of selecting which of the SDGs to submit data for, and each SDG produces an individual ranking. Universities wishing to rank overall must submit data for at least four SDGs, one of which must be SDG 17, Partnership for the Goals. More democratic in nature than traditional world university ranking systems, the UIR allows universities with less resources to submit data and evidence for SDGs that align to their specific talents and goals rather than forcing them to submit across all 17 SDGs.

“THE created the University Impact Rankings (UIR), an innovative effort to measure actual performance of universities on a global level as they address complex developmental challenges. Recognising the inherent difficulties in measuring efforts to cure a myriad of social ills, THE utilised the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the framework for the rankings, adapting each SDG to a university’s activities.”

2019 Results

A new ranking is an untested system but the UIR’s comprehensive approach, as well as its adoption of the universally accepted SDGs, appeared persuasive and a large number of universities responded positively. Initial hopes for participation by 100 universities were met and superseded when 561 global institutions from all continents bar Antarctica submitted data for the inaugural year.

Southeast Asia was represented by a select number of high performers in the Impact rankings, including several Hong Kong and Taiwanese universities, with the University of Hong Kong ranking at number 10 overall. ASEAN highlights in the 2019 UIR included Universiti Sains Malaysia at number 49 and Universitas Indonesia, which tied at 80. In total, nine ASEAN universities were represented in the top 200, including Khon Kaen University in Thailand and Ton Duc Thang University in Vietnam.

Moving Forward

The submission period for the 2020 UIR has recently closed, with results to be released at the THE Innovation & Impact Summit at the Swedish university KTH Royal Institute of Technology in late April. Expanded to include all 17 SDGs from the original 11 used in the inaugural ranking, expectations are high for increased participation.

The initial success of the rankings has confirmed the idea that a system recognising the efforts of universities that may lack the resources and reputation to perform well in traditional global rankings is valued and worthwhile. Acknowledging a university’s achievements in improving society is only one part of the UIR. By providing benchmarks and a spotlight on various universities’ accomplishments in making the world a better place, universities can lead by example and open up possibilities for cooperation, collaboration and imitation. Ultimately, this sharing and promotion will lead to new innovations that can help the human race move forward in its efforts to solve complex global challenges. Regardless of whether these challenges include bushfires and climate change, gender equality or world hunger, the higher education sector has shown it can play an integral role in meeting them head on.

Julie Wilkens McMahon is the Regional Director (APAC) for Times Higher Education (THE).

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


read more

Accelerating Education for Sustainability: Sunway University, Together with Others

Photo credits: Chris Barbalis

Accelerating Education for Sustainability: Sunway University, Together with Others

Leong Choon Heng & Cheng Mien Wee

Had universities incorporated sustainability in their education of business managers, scientists, technologists, engineers, marketeers, communicators, social scientists, government administrators and politicians in the last 100 years, we might have avoided this large-scale environmental mess that the world is in today and the wide social inequality that is tearing the social fabric of every nation to pieces. After all, the people who run and dictate matters in organisations and public institutions today studied in universities. They are not in high positions today because of some ingenious ability to tinker and discover without having to go through a university education. Universities are duty-bound to teach sustainability to the next generation to lead organisations, this time sustainably, to avoid catastrophe for humanity.

For sure, universities have always had faculty who taught sustainability but they were too few in number and far overwhelmed by curriculum and teaching content that emphasised optimal outputs, economic and material gains, and creation of products, infrastructures and services that have made our lives better while giving great returns to investors. Research, funding, publications and career promotion had not been in favour of those working on sustainable practices and development. We need to readjust and reprioritise university education to meet the needs of our time. Fortunately, the pace for this has accelerated since the adoption of the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.

“Universities are duty-bound to teach sustainability to the next generation to lead organisations, this time sustainably, to avoid catastrophe for humanity.”

A lot has taken place since Sunway University embarked in this direction in a systematic and whole-hearted manner. We wish to share some of the key features here to add to the variety of efforts undertaken in other universities so that together, we can further enrich and accelerate the sustainability process.

Accelerating sustainability education requires us to be part of a global effort and network. In December 2016, the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development (JSC) was established at Sunway University through a grant of US$10 million from the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation to be part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). JSC will play the role of a regional centre for sustainability education of SDSN in Southeast Asia. In the university, it serves as the focal point for promoting curriculum development and delivery and for faculty across different schools, departments and research centres to work together. The regular communication and sharing with SDSN members from all over the world as well as the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Academy, which is a part of SDSN, has helped to move things a lot faster than if JSC were doing it alone. JSC and Sunway University also gained access to a large number of learning materials and Massive Open Online Courses of the SDG Academy, in addition to having the opportunity to participate in numerous seminars, conferences, webinars, calls for papers, invitations to forums and workshops, and offers of fellowships, scholarships, research funding, sponsorships and travel grants around different themes of sustainable development.

By necessity, the teaching of sustainability is multidisciplinary and, in many cases, has to be
contextual even though the issues are global and of planetary scale. It will require many types of
expertise to help guide the learning process in order for students to understand the complex and
multifaceted nature of sustainability problems. The solutions are also complex and multifaceted.

Through a large number of conferences, seminars, workshops and training programmes, the narratives of sustainability gradually became embedded in the day-to-day activities of faculty members, researchers, staff, administrators and students. This spawned university-wide initiatives by the faculty of Sunway University to incorporate sustainability issues and solutions into their current syllabi and teaching, as well as developing new courses on sustainability in their fields of studies. Our Sunway experience demonstrates that the ability to catalyse university-wide adoption of sustainability in teaching and research is fundamental. Organisational and administrative structures and procedures will sooner or later respond.

JSC began by offering formal sustainability education at the postgraduate level, starting with the Master in Sustainable Development Management programme and soon a PhD in Sustainable Development. The programme is offered to both full-time and part-time students with the purpose of training a large number of people who will in turn help lead sustainability practices in their organisations or create enterprises and civil society activities with sustainability missions. In the first year of enrolment in 2019, the programme attracted more than 80 students, the majority of whom were working adults from private corporations and non-governmental organisations. There were also a small number from the government, international organisations, and owners of small businesses and social enterprises. Diversity is key, and it has helped made the teaching and learning lively and generated innovative solutions in and outside classes.

The efforts laid by the postgraduate programme helped create curricula and content for undergraduate education on sustainability. Core or general curriculum subjects on sustainability topics will be offered across all schools and departments to allow students from different majors and programmes to study together.

There is currently great excitement around the teaching and creating of class projects on sustainability themes, as the subject matter lends itself to the use of creative teaching tools. This ranges from blended learning platforms to software for interactive learning, including the likes of Blendspace, Socrative and Padlet. These tools and learning platforms allow faculty members to reach a larger audience, as well as fulfil the aspiration to make learning interactive, collaborative, engaging, practical, inspirational and reality-like. Augmented reality and virtual-reality tools are also used to demonstrate sustainability-related situations. Faculty members working with students with creative and engineering dispositions are experimenting with sustainability solutions using devices and software such as Arduino and Raspberry PI, without the need to create costly, high-end facilities. Students have the chance to invent and deploy simple sustainability solutions for the use of communities, social enterprises and individuals in project-based activities.

The opportunities and enthusiasm in a university embarking on the sustainability mission certainly help enhance the vibrancy of the academic ecosystem as felt at Sunway University. Student clubs and societies are all fired up and have a better understanding of their sustainability journeys each time they carry out their activities. Given that Sunway University is located in an urban township, on land rehabilitated from discarded tin mines, much of the sustainability activities are around urban themes such as waste management, responsible consumption, eco-mobility, efficient and renewable energy, recovery of water, “Think-before-Print” and “The-Last-Straw” campaigns, and the like. It starts in the university, but once sustainability has taken root in the university, the momentum for accelerating sustainability goes beyond the campus. Sunway University student volunteers, for example, have taken the cause to the forests, mountains, beaches, rivers, lakes, rural poor and indigenous people of Malaysia. We look forward to working together with other universities on this common journey.

Leong Choon Heng is the Deputy-Director of the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University. Cheng Mien Wee is the Director of Pre-University Studies at Sunway College and Executive Director of Sunway International School, Malaysia.

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

Admitting Humanity’s Exploitative Ties with Nature: Penang’s Pursuit of Sustainable Development

Ooi Kee Beng

Admitting Humanity’s Exploitative Ties with Nature: Penang’s Pursuit of Sustainable Development

Ooi Kee Beng

Globalisation’s Historical Consequence

The atypical ambition to make human development sustainable would not have come about in our time, if not for the pervasive sense we all feel that human insatiability has gone too far. Human interference—or disruption, to use a fashionable word—with the processes of recovery and resilience of the Earth’s ecosystem as a whole has been happening fast and furious over the last 200 years.

The crossing of the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian oceans in the late 15th century heralded an era of tumultuous clashes of civilisations, as peoples and systems not meant to meet in any immediate fashion were brought together—like the two ends of a sheet of paper folded together; like the two poles of a magnet curved to touch.

The exchange of goods which followed was more piracy than trade, the meeting of governments more conquest than diplomacy, and the movement of peoples more enslavement than exploration. The forces unleashed by these  painful meetings of humans from different ends of the Earth would begin the destruction of civilisations, and about 100 years ago, we saw the last of these ancient civilisations crash to the ground. By the middle of the 20th century, global  politics and economics had settled into a struggle between two poles of power, each propelled by its own ideology. After 1990, a unipolar world arose. Today, we seem to be entering a world with multiple poles—but this time, these are fully cognisant of the workings of each other, and more given to convergence than to divergence.

This fateful fusion of humanity is what we call globalisation. Getting here, humanity had pushed its capacity to unravel the mysteries of Mother Nature and to harness once-unimaginable sources of energy for its indiscriminate purposes, and forced a gathering of all humanity at the feet of overwhelming modes of production and of consumption unthinkable to anyone even a generation ago.

The means for creating this One-World, we must now admit, have also been highly destructive for Mother Nature. Species disappear today at a pace faster than we care to imagine, and the ecosystem within which humans can best survive is being destabilised by the processes sustaining modern human life. Air and water; coasts and continents; rivers and oceans; fowl and fish; there is nothing on Earth today whose processes of rejuvenation are not badly disrupted.

Sustainability is Not a Job for the Conservative-minded

As is their wont, humans talk most urgently about what is most glaringly missing. And it was just when the apparently unipolar world reached its apex that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were formulated, and by the United Nations, no less.

The question we need to ask is: “Can the modes of thought and of production which must bear responsibility for destabilising Mother Nature’s recycling processes—as much as they take credit for our heightened productivity and the development of human knowledge—be relied on to take us out of this global crisis?”

“Can the modes of thought and of production which must bear responsibility for destabilising Mother Nature’s recycling processes—as much as they take credit for our heightened productivity and the development of human knowledge—be relied on to take us out of this global crisis?”

Ensuring sustainability without revising our modes of production and consumption, without reinforcing our sense of agency and urgency, and without re-educating our young and ourselves seems rather superficial and disingenuous an undertaking. It certainly underestimates the problems we are facing.

To conserve the Earth and to keep it fit for life, human or otherwise, is not a job for the conservative-minded.

To be sure, the 17 SDGs are meant to be inclusive, and therefore holistic in approach. The first step being collectively taken in achieving these goals is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This simplifies the list to three goals (basically Goals 1, 10 and 13): the ending of poverty; minimising inequalities; and combating climate change.

In essence, most of the other goals can be sorted easily under the trio; and of course, in reaching for these goals, “Goal 17: Partnerships”, is achievable by default. What this last goal seeks is the coming together of “governments, civil society, scientists, academia and the private sector”, to quote the United Nations.

Public Agency in Achieving the SDGs: Penang2030

So what do the SDGs look like at the local level, when taken seriously as a platform for policy-making?

Using the SDGs as framework, the Penang State Government recently formulated the Penang2030 vision aimed at achieving a “Family-focused green and smart state that inspires the nation”. As stated in Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow’s introduction, Penang2030 is “an invitation, […] an opening of the door to the private sector, to civil society, to academicians and to individuals, to participate in discussions with the government and in the formulation of projects adapted to Penang’s special conditions”. In short, the goal is to democratise policy-making in Penang. Getting societal groups to rise to the occasion and to participate in forming the future of the state will be his greatest challenge. As Mr Chow noted:

“Democracy is something to be savoured on a daily basis—as empowering of the individual, and as an exercise in personal freedom. Its players are not political parties and politicians alone, but are people in general. In order to make Democracy a way of life, public space must therefore be widened, and not only through freedom of speech, progressive and scientific education, a competent and responsible mass media, and transparency and predictability in the rule of law, but as a cultural and gratifying experience.”

To be convinced, people need to act more, and by acting, they become more convinced. That is
perhaps the essence of Goal 17. Without that, the rest drifts apart.

This article is based on a keynote speech given at the ASEAN Australian Education Dialogue
conference held in Penang on 19 November 2019. An earlier version of this article was published in December 2019 in The Edge Malaysia. 

Ooi Kee Beng is the Executive Director of Penang Institute, Malaysia. His recent books include
The Eurasian Core and its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World.

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

Reflections on 40 Years of Doing Business in ASEAN

Photo credits: Austin Distel

Reflections on 40 Years of Doing Business in ASEAN

Peter Church

During my years spent in Indonesia and then Singapore in the 70’s and 80’s, I acted for many large Australian companies investing in the individual countries of ASEAN. In those early years, ASEAN did not have any of the current schemes to promote ASEAN manufacturing, such as letting a company manufacture in one ASEAN country and export tariff-free to the remaining ASEAN countries.

Australian Companies in ASEAN

Such companies included Monier, which dominated the roof-tile market in Australia; Rheem, which dominated the home and industrial water-heater market; EMAIL, which licensed many key products in the gas-, electrical- and petrol-metering sector; CSR, which had concrete “readymix” businesses; Boral, which produced building materials; Rocla, which made pipes; Australian Industrial Gases, which produced gas for industrial use; Transfield, which exported bridges to Indonesia; James Hardie which produced building materials in Indonesia; and BRC Lysaght, which established steel sheeting businesses in ASEAN.

And, of course, we had several forays by our big banks into Asia, with the likes of Westpac and ANZ. Our insurance companies such as MMI also explored the ASEAN markets and several of our large construction companies, such as Concrete Constructions, established businesses in ASEAN. Large mining companies, such as Rio Tinto and BHP, along with smaller Australian mining companies, invested in Indonesia and explored other ASEAN markets.

What happened to these companies? Many were taken over by multinational corporations (MNCs) or their local partners bought them out, but many, too, gave up and came back to Australia with their “tails between their legs”. But “why” these companies left or disappeared is a question that someone should research on and find the answer. Glen Robinson, one of my AFG colleagues, had a shot at exploring this, but it is a question which cries out for significant research.

Successes and Challenges Faced by Australian Companies

So which Australian companies have succeeded in ASEAN? I mentioned BRC Lysaght above.
It eventually morphed via BHP ownership into BlueScope, which produces its successful
“Colourbond” products in a number of ASEAN countries. I believe it has succeeded due to the longer term view taken by BHP, one of its key shareholders in the important early years when
it was growing the business. And importantly, it also had (and possibly still has) a significant Japanese partner that understood the importance of investing for the long term. Orica would also be another example of a successful long-term investor in ASEAN. Orica is a spin-off from the global ICI chemicals group so it inherited the Australian and many of the Asian markets. Another example of success would be Linfox, which has the benefit of a family shareholder that can invest for the long term.

Setting aside those businesses which were taken over by MNCs or their local partners, my own view is that many Australian-listed companies had fallen afoul of the quarterly reporting cycle, and their shareholders and particularly the stockbroking sector have shown little or no patience for Australian companies with long-term projects in Asia. A chairman of a large listed company, who himself was an Asiaphile, told me he could report an inferior project in Australia and the market would not react but if he reported making an investment in Indonesia, no matter how small or promising, the market would “cane” his share price. That said, it does seem Australian manufacturing presence in ASEAN is historical and the future of Australian presence lies more in services, such as the education sector.

Provision of Professional Services

The presence of Australian professional services companies and firms is growing significantly in ASEAN and most of those businesses are based in Singapore and run their ASEAN businesses from there. By way of example, lawyers based in Singapore often sell their services in other ASEAN countries on a “fly-in fly-out” basis. Service sector companies by and large have no large investment in fixed plant and machinery and can easily ply their services throughout the ASEAN markets. However, I would like to make two observations. Firstly, a number of the large Australian law firms failed in their ASEAN plans due to the investment patience and horizon of the Australian partners. In many cases this was resolved when the Australian firms merged with larger English or American firms. Secondly, a number of these professional service firms tend to be “fair-weather” friends; when the Australian market is depressed they head to Asia and, when it is booming, they reduce their Asian focus.

I would like to make one other observation and which particularly applies to lawyers and perhaps others in the professional service sector. And that is, time in ASEAN is not seen as a possible career move. I know of few lawyers who had spent significant time in Asia and have successfully returned to practice in Australia. This is not just limited to lawyers. A country manager of one of my manufacturing clients told me in his first week in the ASEAN country to which he was posted, he was already looking for the next role back home. I found that a rather depressing and sad outlook.

Australian Investment Presence in ASEAN

Australian foreign direct investment (FDI) is highly concentrated in three countries (Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia), which accounted for more than 90 per cent of Australian investments  in ASEAN in 1995–2017 in value terms. However, Australian companies are present across the region. Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam receive a proportionately small (less than $175 million annually in 2015–2017) but rising amount of Australian FDI. Among these countries, Vietnam receives the most. Australian companies operate in a wide range of industries in ASEAN but are concentrated in services (mainly in banking and finance) and mining activities. This concentration reflects the strengths and internationalisation aspirations of Australian companies in these industries. As mentioned earlier Australian manufacturing-oriented FDI in general is less significant. Other services industries such as healthcare, information technology, business-process outsourcing, and activities related to the digital economy are attracting growing attention from Australian companies.

Some 60 per cent of the 100 largest Australian companies have an investment presence in ASEAN, a testament to the importance of the region as an investment destination for these firms. Among the other 40 per cent, some have connections with the region through export or sourcing of materials. Of the 75 largest Australian MNCs with a presence in ASEAN, 46 have operations in two or more ASEAN countries. The list is dominated by mining companies (15) followed by banking and finance corporations (13). The latter group has the most extensive regional footprint in ASEAN. However, 29 of these top 75 Australian MNCs operate in just one ASEAN country.

While much of the commentary above relates to Australian presence in ASEAN from the “big end of town”, Austcham ASEAN makes the important point in its 2019 report that almost half of Australian investors in ASEAN turn over less than $5 million annually and one-third of these investors have fewer than 10 employees. Australia is a country of small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and it is not surprising our investments in ASEAN reflect that. I do not have evidence for who these small Australian companies are and why they invested other than my own experience. I believe they would fall largely into three categories: those SMEs who were exporting to ASEAN and saw by moving there they could make more profit, those individuals working for Australian and international companies who saw an opportunity to develop their own business, and those Australians who were traveling for business or pleasure in ASEAN and saw an opportunity. Owners of surf-and-dive businesses, restaurants, bars and smaller accommodation providers would fall into this category. An important side effect of this development is that an increasing number of Australian-educated ASEAN students are finding employment with Australian and regional SMEs and MNCs.

As mentioned at the outset, while ASEAN is and will continue to be a hugely important organisation to its member countries, to many Australian investors it is not ASEAN that is of prime importance. Rather, it is the individual markets of ASEAN that matter. Free Trade Agreements between ASEAN and Australia are all well and good but indirect tariff barriers often remain. Indeed Austcham ASEAN’s 2019 report observes that less than half of respondents to their survey believe ASEAN integration is important for them.

Engaging ASEAN: Australian Education Sector

I know ASEAN is placing emphasis on mutual recognition of education qualifications. I agree this is important, but from the point of view of employers in an ASEAN country, they can form their own view on the qualifications of a potential employee. In most cases the employer can find a way around the problem. Clearly this is not the situation where a trade or professional licence is required by the particular ASEAN country for an employee to perform the role.

So what does all this mean for the Australian education sector engaging with ASEAN?

  • Take a long-term view;
  • Make sure your market research is reliable, both in terms of which country and what courses you plan to offer;
  • Take a conservative view on the likely profits (undersell, not oversell, or it may “come back to bite you”);
  • Adequately resource the business. Don’t starve it;
  • Own the operation where possible and recruit good local people to run the business–this is where Australian-educated ASEAN students will likely play an increasingly important role;
  • Where this is not possible (and in many cases it may not be) make sure you do your due diligence on your proposed partner or licensee;
  • If transferring people from your Australian business send your best people, not those who are expendable or do not fit into the Australian business;
  • Protect your brand at all costs, which is related to building quality assurance, one of the key themes of this Dialogue;
  • Accept there is more than “one way of skinning a cat”. That is, just because you have done things a certain way in Australia does not mean that is the right or only way to do it in the country of your proposed operation;
  • Be aware of the importance of friends and relationships rather than just relying on a legal document.

Finally, despite what I have said about ASEAN being of less importance than an individual country for an Australian investor, ASEAN is an extremely important institution and of crucial importance to Australia’s future; not just from the macro view of being a market for Australian goods and services but, as H.E. Jane Duke, Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN, mentioned in her foreword to Austcham ASEAN’s 2019 survey: “Australia and ASEAN are critical partners at a time of historical change. Our close cooperation and warm people to people ties position our businesses well to maximise inclusive growth opportunities”.

Peter Church is the Chairman of the AFG Venture Group. AFG Venture Group organised the ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue, which The HEAD Foundation is pleased to support and from which arose this issue of HESB.

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

Higher Education in Southeast Asia and Beyond (HESB) Issue #07

Cover – HESB 7 – 02282020

The seventh edition of HESB is a Special Issue arising from the second ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue (AAED) held from 18 to 20 November 2019 in Penang, Malaysia. In this issue, we look specifically into the themes of sustainability and sustainability education, alumni engagement, and quality assurance in teaching and learning.

In this issue:

  • ASEAN and Australia: An Introduction
    • Interview with Michael Fay, Convenor of the ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue
    • Reflections on 40 Years of Doing Business in ASEAN
  • Sustainability and Higher Education
    • Admitting Humanity’s Exploitive Ties with Nature: Penang’s Pursuit of Sustainable Development
    • Accelerating Education for Sustainability
    • University Impact Rankings by SDGs: Sustainability Cities and Communities
  • Quality Assurance and Engagement
    • Strengthening Quality Assurance and Developing Global Standards in English Language Teaching Centres: Management in ASEAN and Australia
    • Alumni Engagement in ASEAN
read more

Taiwan’s Higher Education Governance: Support, Supervision, and Oversight

Taiwan’s Higher Education Governance: Support, Supervision, and Oversight

Warangkana Lin

The decentralisation process has substantially influenced the university-government relationship in Taiwan over time. Taiwan’s first university was established in 1928 during Japanese colonisation. When the Kuomintang Party retreated to Taiwan in 1949, its higher education system entered a new phase of reforms. With respect to institutional organisation, length of study, curriculum, degree structures, and graduation requirements, it has since been benchmarked after the American governance experience. Engraved in the constitution, the University Act was first promulgated in 1948. However, universities in Taiwan were part of a governmental body under direct bureaucratic control from the 1950s to the 1980s. After the revocation of martial law in the late 1980s, Taiwan’s higher education system began to pursue academic freedom and institutional autonomy. As part of the reform in 1994, the University Act was amended together with the Teacher Law and Private Education Law to empower academics and administrators with greater autonomy. A series of education reforms that promoted deregulation, university-based management, diversification of education provision, and autonomy of teaching profession and administration was subsequently implemented. While the Taiwanese government attempts to decentralise its higher education sector in order to promote the core values of modern universities, the Ministry of Education seemingly maintains its supervisory role in navigating the development of higher education to be consistent with government policies through its funding and quality assurance mechanisms.

Funding mechanism
The central government plays a significant role in financially supporting higher education development. In fiscal year 2017, the central government allocated 12.2 percent (NT$243.3 billion or approximately US$7.83 billion) of the national budget to the Ministry of Education in which 41.07 percent (NT$99.9 billion or approximately US$3.21 billion) was set apart to support higher education development. The allocated amount represents the second highest after the Department of Homeland Security (16.1 percent). Based on the Macro Planning Committee established under the Executive Yuan in 2002, Taiwan’s higher education institutions are classified into four types: research, teaching, professional, and community on the basis of their missions and responsibilities. The funding schemes allocated to universities have also been classified accordingly.

Under the former Kuomintang Party government, the policy was geared towards research, infrastructure, and resources to support research and development. There were two continuous financial phases to support research universities: Plan to Develop First-Class Universities and Top Research Centre (2006–2010) of NT$50 billion in five years for 11 and 12 universities (two sub-phases) and Aim for Top University Plan (2011–2015) with five years of NT$10 billion per year for 12 universities. These two plans aimed to uphold academic excellence and to improve the international competitiveness and visibility of Taiwan’s universities. In parallel, the Programme for Teaching Excellence Universities was implemented in 2005–2017, with total funding of NT$21.87 billion. It was a significant project initiated by the Ministry of Education to uplift teaching quality in higher education. Across 13 years, 48 universities were granted this fund. Under the current Democratic Progressive Party government, the policy has been amended to diversely support teaching-related affairs, social responsibilities, and resources for disadvantaged and vocational students.

The most recent five years initiative entitled the Higher Education Sprout Project has been launched in 2017 with a funding of NT$86.8 billion in total or NT$17.37 billion per year under three major goals: (1) to comprehensively improve the quality and to promote a diversification of higher education institutions (NT$8.8 billion), (2) to assist research universities and research centres to quest world-class status (NT$6 billion – 4 billion for four flagship universities and 2 billion for research centres), and (3) to promote social responsibilities and support disadvantaged and vocational students (NT$2.57 billion). More funding has been relatively relocated to promote social equity. Among the total of 157 higher education institutions in Taiwan, 71 universities and 85 technical colleges received support through this funding scheme in the first fiscal year.

“Among the total of 157 higher education institutions in Taiwan, 71 universities and 85 technical colleges received support through this funding scheme in the first fiscal year.”

Quality assurance mechanism
In 1995, when a high-level advisory board to the Executive Yuan was established, the board advised that the higher education sector be free from political constraints. In addition, accountability is upheld through an introduction of quality assessment in order to improve institutional performance. To develop a mechanism of quality assurance, the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan (HEEACT) was jointly established by the Ministry of Education and all higher education institutions in Taiwan in 2005. Initially, some scholars were concerned with the potential compromise of institutional autonomy and academic freedom because of HEEACT’s close association with the Ministry of Education. One-third of HEEACT’s Board of Trustees were assigned by the government and 99 percent of the funding was from the government.

After more than a decade of its operation, HEEACT has gradually managed to strike a balance to achieve its professionalism, independence, and internationalisation. This statutory accreditation body has adopted peer review measures with the American accreditation model. Nevertheless, to support government policy, HEEACT has professionally amended its accreditation criteria to be consistent with the government direction. While HEEACT accommodates the government policies, it insists on being independent in the accreditation process. For example, given the focus on equity set by the current government, HEEACT has accordingly strengthened some evaluation criteria such as student financial aids, communication with stakeholders, and stakeholder’s engagement in university governance.

Concluding remarks
Taiwan’s government maintains its supervisory role to support and oversee universities through funding allocation and commissioning accreditation agents. At a system level, the fiscal budgetary plan allocated to support higher education is substantially associated with state policies. To maintain a balance between the quest for world-class status and serving local needs, the current government has relatively regulated its policy from promoting excellence to ensuring equity. The financial mode with high dependence on government funding allows the state to maintain its ascendancy towards universities, while universities are held accountable for performance and comply with the expectations of the government when they spend public monies. In addition, HEEACT, commissioned by the Ministry of Education, has been established to accredit universities. This principal-agent model with strong state presence and reliance on government sets yet another example of the government’s intent to decentralise the system while recentralising its supervision.

Under the designed funding and quality assurance mechanisms, the supervisory power of the state holds universities accountable for performance. At the same time, universities are encouraged to become more autonomous. On one hand, a series of education reforms has been implemented to promote deregulation and institutional autonomy. Universities have seemingly been given autonomy in some aspects of their operations. On the other hand, the state extends its oversight of universities’ efficiency and effectiveness. It draws institutional accountability by requiring universities to fulfil their commitment. The role of the state remains prominent, resulting in a system with decentralised approaches and recentralised state control. This reflects the longstanding Chinese tradition of a strong drive from the state and close supervision of educational agendas and priorities. Decentralisation and democratisation do not mean a total withdrawal of the government in Taiwan.

Warangkana Lin is Senior Consultant in International Relations, Office of International and Cross-Strait Affairs, I-Shou University; Executive Consultant, I-Shou International School, Taiwan.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

Public Diplomacy and the Internationalisation of Higher Education


Public Diplomacy and the Internationalisation of Higher Education

Fazal Rizvi

In its traditional registers, the idea of diplomacy has mostly been associated with relations between nations through their appointed representatives. In recent decades, however it has increasingly become evident that the relationships that ordinary citizens are able to forge across national borders are equally important in the exercise of diplomacy. In the context of globalisation, as more people become globally mobile, they are able to develop and sustain close links transnationally. Through these links, positive international relations can now be advanced by a wide array of actors and activities and not only by government representatives. Not surprisingly, nations have begun to consider how people-to-people relations can be used to influence others and promote national interests. The idea of public diplomacy captures this possibility.

Of the many institutions through which public diplomacy can be enacted, higher education
has the potential to play a pivotal role. It is a site where academic exchange can promote intercultural dialogue about complex ideas and contrasting interests and build effective international relations through the exercise of what is referred to as “soft power”. Soft power involves the use of non-coercive means through which to influence the thinking and disposition of others. Its purpose is to steer people — and through them their communities and nations — towards a preferred set of cultural values and political ideologies.

“Of the many institutions through which public diplomacy can be enacted, higher education has the potential to play a pivotal role. It is a site where academic exchange can promote intercultural dialogue over complex ideas and contrasting interests and build effective international relations through the exercise of what is referred to as ‘soft power’.”

The idea that higher education can be a vehicle for public diplomacy is however not entirely new. Universities and centres of learning have always attracted globally-mobile scholars and students in search of new knowledge. Over centuries, European scholars, for example, travelled far and wide, bringing back with them an understanding of other cultures and the ways in which the world worked. Buddhist and Islamic scholars took their knowledge to various parts of the world, modifying their religious beliefs in line with local conditions and traditions. The notion of intercultural communication and understanding has thus always been a goal of the academies of advanced learning.

In recent decades, however, this view of public diplomacy has been institutionalised, made into an object of governmental policy, coordinated through programmes, and managed by organisations especially set up to promote national interests. The United States has, for example, long promoted its interests through the Fulbright Program, the principal aim of which is to foster mutual understanding between people and nations, though the programme barely hides America’s hegemonic interests in its efforts to develop people-to-people relations. Similarly, the British Council describes itself as an international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations, but seldom masks its view that through academic exchange between universities it wishes to exercise soft power, especially over countries that Britain once colonised.

The German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, plays a similar, but less targeted, role. Other European countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, have followed the British and German examples and have set up their own agencies to promote public diplomacy through education. The Australian government admits readily that it has benefitted greatly from its programmes of overseas aid for education, such as the Colombo Plan, and more recently, initiatives such as the Australia Awards. Before its collapse, the Soviet Union too offered a large number of scholarships to students from the developing countries in an effort to garner their support within the context of the Cold War.

More recently, countries from the Global South have also established their own programmes to exercise soft power. Most notably, in 2004, China emerged with an idea for its own brand of public diplomacy through education. Its Confucius Institutes are designed to promote Chinese language and culture abroad. There are now almost 350 Confucius Institutes in over 100 countries and regions. China also offers a large number of scholarships for international students to study at its universities and colleges, in an attempt to extend its geopolitical influence. Though still at an early stage, India too is in the process of developing its public diplomacy efforts, most notably through the work of its very large and influential diaspora.

What these examples show is that when nations sponsor the mobility of students and scholars across the world in support of initiatives in public diplomacy, their own national interests are invariably involved. Not surprisingly, as geopolitical conditions change, so do the nature of their interests and the forms of their support for international education. For example, as countries in Asia and Africa became independent, colonial powers needed a new rationale for supporting international scholars and students at their universities. This came in the form of the ideology of “developmentalism”, couched in a language that suggested that colonial powers had a responsibility to develop the knowledge and skills newly independent countries needed to realise their national goals of social and economic development.

However, this act of public diplomacy was seldom based in altruism, but in the interest that economically advanced countries had in finding new markets for their goods and services and in promoting their own geopolitical interests. During the Cold War, these interests took centre stage, as the politics of educational aid became inextricably tied to the competing programmes and practices in public diplomacy. Both the Soviet Union and the United States viewed their investment in international education through the prism of their attempts to generate ideological support from the international students they sponsored, students whom they expected to become future political leaders.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new understanding of international higher education has emerged. This understanding is located within the assumptions of a market rationality through which the mobility of students across national borders is increasingly viewed in commercial terms. Encouraged by their governments, universities around the world are increasingly looking to the emerging transnational elites as a source of much needed revenue. Transformed also is the way that many students now regard international higher education — as an economic investment in their futures, especially in a fast globalising economy and the emergent global labour market. In this way, the relationship between higher education and its ends has become tied to logic of the market.

Within the context of this historical shift, the nature of the relationship between international education and public diplomacy is also changing. While international students are still assumed to be the agents of international understanding and cooperation, their relationship to the institutions of higher education abroad are no longer disconnected from their own personal interests. They can now be expected to make decisions that are strategic and instrumental, and regard themselves as global consumers of education, rather than representatives of their communities or nations with a responsibility to promote national interests abroad. For them, the calculations of what counts as relevant educational experiences are often linked to the values of economic exchange and to their job prospects within the globalising labour market.

“While international students are still assumed to be the agents of international understanding and cooperation, their relationship to the institutions of higher education abroad are no longer disconnected from their own personal interests.”

Nation states and universities have also begun to think differently about the relationship between internationalisation and public diplomacy. While countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia continue to offer scholarships to international students, the number and duration of such scholarships have declined markedly. Furthermore, many scholarship programmes are now linked to the possibilities of trade or the instrumental concerns of security. Australia, for example, has developed a New Colombo Plan that offers its students a scholarship to spend a period of time at a university or a corporation in Asia, in order to develop a better understanding of the rapidly growing Asian markets.

Universities have similarly linked their efforts to what they perceive to be the requirements of the global markets. While they have entirely abandoned some of their more traditional goals, such as learning for its own sake and learning as a means to make a broader contribution to society, they cannot be surprised that many international students view this rhetoric with a great deal of cynicism. When they couch ideas such as global citizenship education in the narrower logic of the markets, the high ideals that these ideas often represent are invariably diminished, becoming secondary to instrumental objectives.

So, the older understanding of how international education might contribute to public diplomacy — the role of higher education in working towards modernisation, the social and cultural development of poorer countries, and building their capacity and promoting international understanding and intercultural relations — has not entirely disappeared; it is now incorporated within a broader market rationality. This has resulted in precedence being given to such policy imperatives as generating revenue and building an international profile and reputation. In relation to curriculum, precedence is being given to developing human resources for a globalising economy; and in the area of research, to transnational collaborations for sharing resources to create commercially useful knowledge. These developments have clearly weakened the potential that international education might have once had as an effective tool of public diplomacy.

Fazal Rizvi is Professor of Global Studies in Education, University of Melbourne, Australia.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

Educational Diversity, Social Learning, and Multicultural Citizenship — The Malaysian Experience


Educational Diversity, Social Learning, and Multicultural Citizenship — The Malaysian Experience

Johan Saravanamuttu

Malaysia has been a unique site of cultural and linguistic diversity in education. Educational diversity occurs from primary to tertiary levels of teaching and learning. But do such educational policies help to advance values of multicultural citizenship? This essay focuses on the role of universities in advancing such a project. Notably, student bodies in most public universities have ethnically mixed students based on ethnic quotas, but despite the prevalence of common sites for social interaction — such as libraries, cafeteria, recreational facilities and the like — ethnic groups tend to find their own exclusive comfort zones. While it could well be argued that top-down multicultural policies of enhancing ethnic rights have been largely embraced and practised, it is not clear that Malaysian public universities constitute adequate sites of social learning for the values of multicultural citizenship. Early years of vernacular education have tended to reinforce a tendency of separate ethnic and social interaction up until the tertiary level of education.

Multiculturalism and Citizenship
The notion of the “multination state” or “polyethnic state” was propounded by Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka. The concept refers to the presence of distinct ethnic groups and migrant communities in states. In Malaysia, groups with territorial presence are the dominant Malays on the peninsula and other indigenous groups (Bumiputera) in the Borneo states. Chinese and Indians, who were migrants during colonial times, are distributed across the whole country.

For a country like Malaysia, advancing ideas of multicultural citizenship could in theory lead to the following progressive practices: recognition of the equal worth of citizens and equal rights of individuals; protection of distinctive cultures of minorities; protection of small first nations such as Orang Asli; acceptance of the special status of Malays and other Bumiputera.

Malaysia already recognises minority languages, as primary education is conducted in Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil in vernacular schools. A major controversy arose over the rejection of the Chinese language Merdeka University project in 1982, and the 1987 protest over the  appointment of non-Mandarin speaking senior assistants in Chinese schools that led to political detentions. With the promulgation of the Education Act of 1996, the liberalisation of higher education eased ethnic tensions caused by educational policies. It also led to the mushrooming of private colleges, including the New Era College, which uses Mandarin as a medium of instruction.

Universities and Multicultural Learning
Let me now address the issue of universities as sites of multicultural learning in enhancing multicultural citizenship. Ethnic mixing occurs within all universities but is severely constrained because of the lack of common interactive zones and social spaces. Ideally multi-ethnic social interaction should occur within residential colleges, through sporting activities, cafeterias, societies, and associations. However, there is general tendency for ethnic groups to find their own comfort zones within universities or outside campuses, such as in monocultural restaurants, mosques, churches, temples, and other mutually exclusive spaces. In a study of multi-ethnic social interaction, Guyer (2002) observed that there were few common spaces for students to socialise. Guyer found that attempts to address ethnic segregation were not successful and that affirmative action policies for Bumiputera students tended to entrench ethnic differences.

A major top-down policy in the early 2000s was the introduction of an ethnic relations module or university course as an instrument of cross-cultural learning. However, the first module used by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in 2006 sparked controversy because of its biased narrative on the 1969 Race Riots and the 2001 Kampong Medan incident of ethnic violence. Professor A. B. Shamsul of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was tasked to edit the ethnic relations module and with the support of academic colleagues produced a well-crafted module which is now used by all universities. Shamsul also established the Ethnic Relations Institute at UKM which helps to coordinate and receive feedback on the course. A study conducted by UKM lecturers on 320 students of the ethnic relations module found that it had led to some ethnic mingling and social learning (Khalim et al., 2010). However, critics have argued that the module had too many students to be effective and that it was hard to find competent lecturers to teach it well. A medical student intimated to me that most students aimed to just pass the exam and that the lecturer showed little passion in conducting the course. The student said the only appealing part of the course came from watching the movie Sepet (directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad) about interracial romance.

Some Observations
In some 35 years as a university lecturer and  professor at USM, I have seen a decline in multi-ethnic student interaction and social learning because of unresolved and deep ethnic divides. In the 1970s, students were small in numbers and came from mostly English-based schooling. The different ethnic groups showed a great propensity to mix in the common sites of interaction. There was a better environment of social learning because of moderate attitudes and fewer religious strictures especially on Muslims.

By the 1980s, a shift occurred with large student numbers from two overall sets: those from more rural settings and those from the more urban environments and, moreover, students tended to polarise socially according to ethnic schooling streams. University associations reflected this. Cafeteria mixing became less evident. University policies premised on religious strictures also made mixing increasingly monocultural. Non-Malay students would go outside the campus for their food and recreation. The ethnic mixing among lecturers also seemed to mimic the student pattern.

Since the mid-1990s, private universities saw a large enrolment of the affluent non-Bumiputera students, while public universities became the predominant domain of Bumiputera students and lecturers. The divide between public and private universities mirrored Malaysian ethnic divisions, and universities are hardly important sites of multicultural social mixing and social learning.

The ethnic relations module aimed at bridging ethnic differences through formal learning does too little too late. Social learning has to start at least at the secondary school level, if not earlier. A social studies course stressing the value of multicultural citizenship needs to be introduced in all national schools. Alongside this, other policies of enhancing social interaction could also be introduced as suggested by many studies on multicultural education.

Guyer, Ellen D. Understanding Multicultural Relations: Lessons from the Malaysian Student Experience. Malaysia Crossroads of Diversity in Southeast Asia, Macalester International. 12 (Autumn 2002): 161–169.

Khalim Zainal, Datuk Taip Abu, Zulkifli Mohamad. The Effect of Ethnic Relations Course on the Students Perceptions towards Ethnic Relations among First Year Students of One Public University in Malaysia Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010): 3596–3599.

Kymlicka, Will (1995). Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Amrita Kaur, Rosna Awang-Hashim, and Mohammad Noman. Defining Intercultural Education for Social Cohesion in Malaysian Context. International Journal of Multicultural Education 19, no. 2 (2017): 44–60.

Johan Saravanamuttu is Adjunct Senior Fellow, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

Will China Tighten Constraints on Hong Kong Universities?

hong kong

Will China Tighten Constraints on Hong Kong Universities?

Futao Huang

The recent massive demonstrations in Hong Kong to protest against attempts to pass a law allowing people there to be handed over to mainland China have drawn a lot of attention worldwide.

Because large numbers of academics, researchers and students also participated in or supported the protests, especially those that ended in the occupation of the Legislative Council building on 1 July — the day mainland China celebrated the 98th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party — deep concerns have been expressed about whether mainland China is likely to impose more restrictive control on Hong Kong universities, academics and students.

My view is that, although the central government will inevitably increase its influence on and control key aspects of higher education in Hong Kong in the future, the Chinese government will not impose immediate political or ideological constraints on Hong Kong’s universities, including their academics and students, or interfere directly with institutional governance arrangements and teaching and research activities.

However, that does not necessarily mean that mainland China will adopt a laissez-faire policy or that there will be no ramifications for the territory’s universities. In contrast to its policies towards universities, academics and students after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the central government will probably adopt more indirect and gradual ways of tackling dissent at the territory’s universities. There are several reasons for this:

  • First, legally, the principle of “one country, two systems” and the semiautonomous status of Hong Kong after its handover to mainland China in 1997 are still officially respected and accepted by the central government. It would be extremely risky and would bring severe criticism from the international community, especially the Trump administration and the United Kingdom government, if it abandoned the principle and changed the current status of Hong Kong.
  • Second, despite huge differences between Hong Kong and Taiwan, there is little doubt that the central government’s ability to successfully “solve” the problem of Hong Kong, including how it reacts to the territory’s universities, academics and students, academic freedom etc., significantly determines how successfully it deals with the problem of Taiwan and its ultimate goal of unifying China. In a major sense, the model of how it handles issues in Hong Kong could have enormous implications for managing the situation with Taiwan.
  • Third, several Hong Kong universities, especially the University of Hong Kong, are still ranked among the top 50 in the main global university ranking tables like Times Higher Education or QS. For Western academics, Hong Kong’s universities are still considered as the best places for understanding and researching mainland China. At the same time, albeit to a lesser extent than before, researchers in Hong Kong’s universities are still playing an important role in introducing China to Western countries and bridging the higher education gap between Western universities and mainland Chinese higher education institutions. Both sides are well aware of the significant role Hong Kong’s universities and their academics play in enhancing the quality of mainland Chinese universities, internationalising mainland Chinese higher education and, in particular, boosting its international competitiveness. At least for the moment, the central government needs to use the model of Hong Kong’s universities to reform and improve mainland Chinese universities.
  • Fourth, in reality it would be extremely difficult for the central government to launch any radical or revolutionary strategies to change the core value or intrinsic character of Hong Kong’s universities. For example, with regard to institutional governance arrangements, it would be impossible for Hong Kong’s universities to allow the Communist Party to establish the Chinese governance model, including absolute leadership over all aspects of university life, as it does in mainland China, even in the near future. It would be extremely difficult for mainland China to impose a similar national-level curriculum as in mainland Chinese universities on any universities in Hong Kong.
  • Finally, if the central government takes any radical measures against students or academics at Hong Kong’s universities or sets clear limitations on academic freedom in any official way, it would have a potentially significant impact on Hong Kong universities’ ability to attract the best talent from other countries. This would surely result in the loss of their international prestige, academic attractiveness and position as a regional hub.

However, as mentioned earlier, all of this does not mean that the central government will not take any action with regard to the demonstrations. It is likely that the following policies and measures might be implemented in a strategic way:

  • First, the central government and neighbouring local authorities, such as that of Guangdong province, might create more favourable policies to facilitate a closer and direct collaboration between universities, academics and students in Hong Kong and those from mainland China.
  • Second, central government, academia and even industry representatives from mainland China could allocate more funding to encourage universities in Hong Kong, their academics and students to be involved in a wide variety of academic activities. For example, building more branch campuses of universities in Hong Kong in collaboration with mainland universities, developing more collaborative and exchange programmes for academics and students from Hong Kong to encourage them to come to the mainland, and so forth.
  • Finally, the possible decrease in the number of local or Western academics in Hong Kong’s universities could bring more academics from mainland China to Hong Kong and see them hired at Hong Kong’s universities. This would absolutely influence the administrative and academic climate of universities in Hong Kong. It is impossible to predict exactly what changes might occur with regard to Hong Kong’s universities, academics, students and academic systems — but some trends are apparent.

While the central government might introduce more rigid monitoring and stronger supervision of Hong Kong, it will probably not take full and complete control over the territory, including its universities, academics, students and institutional governance and management, as it does on the mainland.

This article was originally published online in University World News at

Huang Futao is a professor in the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, Japan.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

Education Hubs in Southeast and West Asia: (Un)intended Consequences of Reforming Higher Education and Research


Education Hubs in Southeast and West Asia: (Un)intended Consequences of Reforming Higher Education and Research

Marvin Erfurth

A broad range of actors such as businesses, nonprofits, and governments alike currently attest a coming time of rapid economic change, which may spur corresponding, profound social change. While the degree and impact of economic and social change may differ between geographic regions, sectors, and so forth, higher education currently emerges as a central topic in debates about competitiveness in today’s and the future economy. Though the content of such debates, mostly originating from the global West, might be worth a separate discussion, one can nonetheless already see how the use of artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, and analytics impacts industrial production and service work across the world today, with business processes being automated and new production and service models emerging. In global debates about competitiveness in today’s and the future economy, experts therefore invoke education, and higher education in particular, as one of the most important instruments to achieve — or sustain — competitiveness, as well as to create new business and production models. Education takes centre stage in global debates because of such invocations by experts and politicians alike, arguing that better qualified people will be the ones capable of driving necessary change, and that qualified people are also needed as such change requires skills like critical and analytical thinking, complex problem-solving abilities, or also creativity.

In some countries, such debates relating higher education to economic competitiveness are conducted in particular vigour, especially because the skills mentioned above are believed to require what one could call western style higher education and research involving some time and conditions to develop.

In some countries, such debates relating higher education to economic competitiveness are conducted in particular vigour, especially because the skills mentioned above are believed to require what one could call western style higher education and research involving some time and conditions to develop. specific category here are countries labelling (or having labelled) themselves as education hubs — countries which are often also known as hubs in other areas. These countries are particularly keen on partnering up with foreign knowledge partners to import and apply the desired styles of education, mostly to address gaps in their own systems. For instance, you might have heard of Hong Kong, Singapore, or the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular) as hubs in the context of business, finance, or air travel already. This is because the meaning of a “hub” boils down to a central node with a certain pull factor in a global or regional network, often of a specific kind such as the financial industry. These hubs and their pull factor(s) are then the area-specific central destinations in which exchange is being facilitated at a higher rate in comparison to other, peripheral locations. The idea of an education hub, which concerns all three countries, is then to replicate such an effect within the area of higher education and research — becoming a central location for teaching, learning, and research. The creation of an education hub as the pursuit of becoming a global centre for higher  education and research, however, signals some implications for higher education policy and also for higher education provision more directly.

When realising a hub project on a national or regional scale, the magnitude of this project — if deliberately intended or not — most likely embeds higher education in a larger geostrategic project. For instance, viewing policy in Singapore from an analytical perspective, Goh Chok Tong’s “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation”, or also Tony Tan’s “Boston of the East” speeches in 1997 can be regarded as the starting point of one larger, ongoing project of this magnitude, later connected to the Global Schoolhouse and SkillsFuture initiatives. Today, however, the term “hub” is not so deliberately used in the foregoing contexts anymore. In the UAE, the starting point of a project attempting to achieve a comparable improvement in the higher education and research sectors such as has happened in Singapore, or another East Asian hub, Hong Kong, may be seen in Vision 2021. Vision 2021 as a larger project attempts to strengthen the UAE’s position as a global hub for business by the year 2021 — to a great extent by establishing strong higher education and research sectors, and by advancing industrial and service sectors through absorbing potential graduates and making use of research. Though the embedding of higher education in geostrategic projects might not be regarded as problematic per se, (or some might even argue that this has been the case for a very long time in history), policy makers should be aware of some consequences, of which I will articulate only a small number below due to the scope of this article.

…questioning whether the sheer pursuit of education hub strategies that we see today — mostly partnering up with foreign knowledge partners and believing that this will causally generate the desired effects — will actually address the existing or emerging needs of local communities, and importantly, learners and researchers.”

When comparing developments in the higher education and research sectors across multiple education hub countries in Southeast and West Asia, such as Singapore and the UAE, one sees that these geostrategic projects are (un)intendedly related to wider, global (economic, social, cultural, political) relations, the centre point of which appears not to be higher education policy, though, but rather economic, regional, or industrial policy. Through these relations, higher education becomes a direct component of international or inter-regional competition; so the rationales for governing higher education often shift from social or educational categories (such as accessibility, affordability, equity, quality, mobility, open research, progress, and so forth) to economic categories (such as revenue generation, the production of patentable, non-open research and knowledge, as well as economic competitiveness). Content-wise, we see a concentration of disciplines and study programmes related to business, law, engineering, or technology, and we also see for-profit, private offerings increasing across countries, putting more financial pressure on learners who are not aided by government funds. Though there are a large number of questions left to ask, I like to close this short piece by questioning whether the sheer pursuit of education hub strategies that we see today — mostly partnering with foreign knowledge partners and believing that this will causally generate the desired effects — will actually address the existing or emerging needs of local communities, and importantly, learners and researchers. A good start might be to develop a coherent model of an educational system that specifies how achieving social and economic progress for a country or region is possible, and to then think about  whether a hub strategy — as a means, not an end, and a later step in an iterative process of deliberate decisions — might be the best way to achieve medium- to long-term progress.

Marvin Erfurth is Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Research Department, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

The Role of Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan in Shaping the Future of Malaysian Education


The Role of Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan in Shaping the Future of Malaysian Education

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

The focus of an education philosophy is a quest for truth to give a deeper meaning to life. It allows for the nurturing of self-consciousness in embracing life that can serve as a beacon for illuminating the philosophy of education. This is becoming increasingly important given the myriad demands exerted on education today (including by the Education 2030 framework), beyond the logic of economics alone in articulating the true purpose of education. The lack of concern in providing the “right” perspective so that education is not alienated from its rightful role must therefore be addressed. Otherwise, we face a huge risk of jeopardising the future especially in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

The National Philosophy of Education (NEP, Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan, 1996) is well-placed to deal with many of these issues, but only if it is keenly followed through as discussed in this paper, in which several existing gaps that could impact the goals of the NEP are highlighted. The aim is to create a certain level of awareness in ensuring that its noble intentions are firmly entrenched, if not further enhanced, in meeting current challenges and future demands. Even more important is to prevent the aims and purposes of education from being eroded both in letter and spirit. And these aims should be aligned as much as possible to the new demands of the 21st century, namely that of the Sustainable Development Goals so that the desired targets are fully met and NEP continues to be relevant.

To achieve this, it is imperative to arrive at a new worldview that will secure both the future of the nation and humanity as a whole.

NEP at a glance
As a general framework, the NEP captures at least five major premises:

  1. Ensuring education is a perpetual endeavour and a continuous, holistic,
    and integrated process;
  2. Improving individual potential comprehensively to nurture an individual
    who is balanced and harmonious, based on the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual (PESI) nexus;
  3. Deepening faith and submission to God;
  4. Achieving kesejahteraan diri — an indigenous concept of complete state
    of being (sejahtera) in learning a sejahtera way of life; and
  5. Contributing back by creating a harmoniously developed family, community, and nation.

Implicit in the above are the following universal targets:

  1. Access to education
  2. Equal opportunity (equity) in education
  3. Quality of education
  4. Efficiency and effective delivery of (sejahtera) education.

In other words, the NEP also supports the above universal targets with emphasis on sejahtera as its core concept and worldview.

First established in 1988 and later revised in 1996, the NEP reads as follows:

Succinctly, education in Malaysia is a perpetual endeavour (continuous, holistic, integrated) towards the development of individual potential as a whole and their integration in efforts to create individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, founded upon faith and submission to God. These efforts are to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable, virtuous, responsible, and capable of achieving personal well-being (kesejahteraan diri) and able to contribute towards the harmony and development of their family, community, and country.

The revisions do not alter the intent of the original understanding of the NEP, but instead they strengthen it even more by adding the “competent” aspect in the revised version. At the same time, the revisions broaden the idea of citizenship with the use of the word “people”. The result is to push the boundaries of education to be more global and to encompass humanity in meeting the new demands of the 21st century, demands that include globalisation, (neo-)liberalism, internationalisation, climate change, and global warming. Revising the NEP involved scrutiny of planned programmes and projects so that they could be prepared, renewed, strengthened, restructured, or reformed, while ensuring that the humanistic aspects were kept intact, namely the five premises of the NEP to nurture people who are not only educated but also of virtuous character and balanced.

In 2007, the National Higher Education Strategic Plan (Pelan Strategik Pendidikan Tinggi Negara, PSPTN) was launched by the then prime minister. In general, the strategic plan concentrated on implementing and achieving seven core thrusts, but unfortunately made no mention or reference to the FPK. They are:

  1. Widening access and increasing equity
  2. Improving the quality of teaching and learning
  3. Enhancing research and innovation
  4. Empowering institutions of higher learning
  5. Intensifying internationalisation
  6. Enculturation of lifelong learning
  7. Reinforcing the delivery systems of the Ministry of Higher Education

These core values were formulated based on the contents of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), and they took into consideration the desire to achieve Vision 2020 and the need to increase capacity in innovation. It was a recognition that the ecosystem needed to keep abreast with global trends and the social landscape of tomorrow. However, when the higher education blueprint was crafted in 2015 (PPPM-PT, 2015–2025) embracing six student aspirations, the NEP was reinstated as the basis for the proposed transformation. This put in place the primary attributes of ethics and spirituality, leadership skills, national identity, language proficiency, higher-order thinking skills, and knowledge. The emphasis on the balance between both knowledge and skills, as well as good character, ethics and morality, became the main thrust.

The challenge

The main challenge therefore is to ensure that the fundamental objectives of the education system, as initially intended by the NEP, remain intact, namely to nurture a balanced individual. An example of a challenge comes when we look at the term “human capital”, which in fact suggests the opposite idea. Perhaps there are those that would like to recognise “human capital” as a trait of a balanced individual, but the context is probably different. The economist Theodore Schultz introduced this term in the 1960s, attempting to reflect the value of human ability as another model that was no different than any other market model. He believed that education and training could improve this ability and enhance quality as well as output. However, this takes a toll on nurturing a balanced (sejahtera) individual as understood from the perspective of the NEP, more so from that of the 17 SDGs. In both cases, the ultimate focus is to cultivate a balanced way of life beyond the logic of the market and to give equal emphasis to the environment as well as to the society.

This is especially relevant in understanding the dimensions of the human soul and heart, which function as main pillars in balancing human nature on several different levels. On one level, the heart becomes a mirror of the sincerity of the individual, comparable to an attentive compass in providing decisions and interpretations of being human. This aptly mirrors the saying that the “soul to education is in the education of the soul” in deepening faith and submission to God, as per the NEP. Unfortunately, concerns of this nature do not receive the necessary attention they deserve from the market.

In conclusion, we are reminded of what R. Miller, the editor of a well-known journal the Holistic Review, once wrote, as quoted by David Orr:

Our culture does not nourish that which is best or noblest in the human spirit. It does not cultivate vision, imagination, or aesthetic or spiritual sensitivity. It does not encourage gentleness, generosity, caring, or compassion. Increasingly in the late 20th century, the economictechnocratic-statist worldview has become a monstrous destroyer of what is loving and life-affirming in the human soul.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is Rector of International Islamic University Malaysia.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

Disruptions and Higher Education: The Coming Crunch


Disruptions and Higher Education: The Coming Crunch

Gerard A. Postiglione

It has become important to consider the long-term impact and disruption that accelerated technological change and intensified economic globalisation will have on universities, as well as on social and economic life. As the world becomes more interconnected and interdependent than ever imagined, it has generated enormous amounts of wealth, higher incomes, rapid urbanisation, and reduced poverty. But it has also sharpened and intensified social inequalities and created political disruptions that threaten to tear societies apart. Technological acceleration and economic globalisation have yet to significantly address global issues such as climate change and the larger common good as represented by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Populist movements in several Western societies around the globe continue to divide societies with a fear of the “other” and a denial of selected scientific truths. Universities push back by doing what they do best — building trust through free enquiry, ensuring that impersonal criteria are used to establish scientific facts, promoting the open communication of ideas, supporting the next generation of critical thinkers, placing value on a diversity of types of intelligences, and working for the common good and growth of an enlightened public.

Universities are facing the challenge of how to realign their core missions with the rapid emergence of technological innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data and algorithms, facial recognition, biosensors, augmented reality, gamification, blockchain, cloud computing, and other yet-to-be-created technological innovations. These are disruptive innovations, but they can also be tapped for their potential to improve how students are selected, how courses are offered, how student learning is programmed and evaluated, how higher finance is managed, how knowledge networks are organised, accessed, and expanded, and how more graduates can be prepared for entrepreneurial jobs, smart cities, and sustainable development.

Blockchain applications have already made their way into the higher education sector and improved the international portability of credentials. The application of digital data repositories for college and university qualifications is a good example. In Europe, digital student data portability and digital student data depositories are a reality and will facilitate the global mobility of graduates who are credentialed for specific skills. Blockchain enables digital certificates to address qualification fraud in higher education. For example, Singapore’s Government Technology Agency has a solution called OpenCerts — an open source plan that issues and verifies education credentials on a blockchain platform. Higher and further education institutions can issue graduates and their employers with independently verified digital certificates.

Much of the impetus behind AI grew out of places like California’s Silicon Valley with the support of scientists at universities like Stanford and Berkeley. However, Asia and its universities, science parks, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have begun to wrestle that lead away.

Much of the impetus behind AI grew out of places like California’s Silicon Valley with the support of scientists at universities like Stanford and Berkeley. However, Asia and its universities, science parks, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have begun to wrestle that lead away.The direction of technological copying has reversed itself as China’s internet giants’ super apps, social commerce, and other key technology models are being copied in Europe and the US.

China has invested in new technologies on a massive scale, and AI is a core element of that country’s strategically planned future. All leading research universities are establishing AI institutes and engaging with business, industry, and government locally and globally.

The Greater Bay Area Initiative (that includes Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau) will create a new global centre for technological innovation. The area already generates a greater proportion of the national GDP of China than Tokyo does for Japan and New York does for the US. The initiative will increase university collaboration between South China and Southeast Asia. There is already a rising demand for new courses. Universities in the region have begun to offer an array of courses to anyone on AI and robotics, blockchain, data science analytics, e-commerce, virtual reality, and the internet of things.

Colleges and universities in Asia have begun to realise the changes in store for the labour market and workplace. A 2018 Microsoft study found that, driven by digital economy and AI, 85 percent of the jobs in the Asia-Pacific will change by 2021 (Microsoft 2018). According to the study, half will become higher value work roles and require massive reskilling. A study of economic and technological disruption by McKinsey and Co. showed how technological change reshaped and will reshape Asia in the years 2010-2020. These two major global companies, Microsoft and McKinsey, highlight disruptions, but not as disinterested parties. The future growth and survival of these organisations depend heavily upon an unlimited digitalisation of higher education and the economy in Asia.

McKinsey and Co. is disingenuous to declare that Asia’s current disruption is historically extraordinary. Asia has overcome civil wars, ethnic conflicts, foreign invasions, trade embargoes, starvation, social instability  and collapse, terrorism, as well as climate disasters such as typhoons, tidal waves and earthquakes. The McKinsey 288-page report, based on “years of research” by a company worth US$10 billion with 27,000 employees, failed to give any mention to economic inequality in Asia. The Bank of America and the economist Thomas Piketty have shown that Asia will continue to be the most unequal part of the world in terms of income. The World Economic Forum puts widening inequality on record as “one of the key challenges of our time.” The McKinsey and Co. report mentions the word “consumer” 10 times, “productivity” 19 times, and economic “growth” 48 times. It mentions “climate change” only three times, “women” twice, and “education” only twice.

It may not be surprising that colleges and universities in Asia lead the world in the implementation of liberal studies curriculum. The core values and mission of the university as an institution have a greater responsibility in a world in which there will be 4.7 billion Internet users, 75 percent of whom will be from emerging economies, even as opportunities for higher learning are also increasing.

AI innovations like facial recognition technology may improve safety at schools, universities, and workplaces. Biometric data can be used in addition to test scores to allocate students to the “appropriate” courses of study. AI algorithms may also provide split second cognitive data via a teacher’s cyber-linked eye glasses, even while a student is considering how to address the class with an answer to a mathematics question.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma may be correct when he stated last year on 18 September that “AI will transform the way we perceive and think of the world.” How it will transform our thinking is a question that has only begun to be studied. Yuval Noah Harari poses a key question: “What will happen to society, politics and daily life when nonconscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?” Will that mean the end of intuition? Like any other technology, questions arise about power, control, and intention. Do universities have a responsibility to set out principles that “disrupt the disruptors”, ensuring that AI technology does not lead their fundamental mission astray?

At the very least, there is a question of balance in the realm of the higher learning between algorithms and human-rhythms. The culture of AI carries with it a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). It encompasses an ability to track and monitor everything. It values explicit, verified data feeds and facts. It prioritises information efficiency, econometric logic, and human capital. Human-rhythms, as a culture of higher learning, focuses instead on humanity, ethics, creativity, and intuition. Human-rhythms engage only with what matters. Human-rhythms encompass what is implicit, holistic, and sentient. Human-rhythms prioritise embodied cognition, emotions, meaning, relationships, wisdom, and spirituality.

Economic and technological disruptions in higher learning are addressed by such a balance. Universities can engage effectively with these disruptions by remaining mission-focussed, not mission-fuzzy; by remaining market-smart, not market-led.

Economic and technological disruptions in higher learning are addressed by such a balance. Universities can engage effectively with these disruptions by remaining mission-focussed, not mission-fuzzy; by remaining market-smart, not market-led. As AI embeds itself within higher education, colleges and universities will become more margin-conscious, and less margin-whimsical, in making decisions about the programmes they offer, in the way they assess academic staff, and in the way they are held accountable.

Gerard A. Postiglione is Honorary Professor and Coordinator of the Consortium for Research on Higher Education, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong.

This article first appeared in the print version of HESB Issue #06. Click here to read the full issue.
read more

Higher Education in Southeast Asia and Beyond (HESB) Issue #06


In this special issue, we feature articles arising from the 6th Global Higher Education Forum 2018 (GHEF 6.0) held from 8 to 10 October 2018 in Putrajaya, Malaysia. We also look at China’s influence and relationships in higher education, among other topics.

In this issue:

  • Keynotes from 6th Global Higher Education Forum
  • Education Hubs in Southeast and West Asia
  • Taiwan’s Higher Education Governance
read more