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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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