Educators would be pleased to know that one of the most exciting trends in international student mobility is a rise in intra-region mobility – the increasing tendency of international students leaving their home country to study in a neighboring country within their home region.
We believe that the increases in regional student mobility are being charged by several factors: 1) overall improved quality and capacity of regional education hubs 2) boost by government with better policies and infrastructure 3) greater affordability of regional study destinations and 4) student preference to be closer to home.
A good example of regional mobility programs that understand this shifting demand patterns is the Erasmus programme in Europe. Now known as Erasmus+, this new programme for education, training, youth and sport will provide funding for 4 million people to study, train, or volunteer abroad till 2020. The programme greatly exemplifies how regional mobility patterns can be accelerated with the support of broader economic and political cooperation within the region. And with indications showing similar systems being established among ASEAN states, this is certainly positive and worth noting.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political and economic organisation made up of 10 Southeast Asian countries with a combined population of more than 600 million people: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company predicts that the middle class in ASEAN will exceed 100 million people by 2020 and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects annual growth between 5-6% through 2017.
The region is going through an exciting time to create the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), a dynamic model for greater synergy that will see free movement of goods, services, investments, capital, and talent. The vision of AEC lies on having:
1) A single market and production base (working similarly to a free trade zone among ASEAN countries)
2) Increased economic position (regulatory structures & policies for consumer protection, intellectual property right and taxation)
3) Achieve equitable economic development across the region
4) Increased competitiveness with full integration into the global economy
In 2009, ASEAN states created a plan to have 6,500 higher education and 12 million post-secondary students aimed to create what is themed the “Common Space of Higher Education” with 4 key pillars: 1) student mobility 2) credit transfers 3) quality assurance and 4) research clusters. Perhaps the most notable progress made towards AEC has been the elimination of intra-regional tariffs of ASEAN member countries. Many challenges however, still lie ahead to ensure the success of AEC – in particular academic links and student mobility – to promote increased trade between member states.
The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) recently noted, “The region is witnessing increasing mobility of people in the region and in between regions. This places higher education in pivotal role in developing human resources capable of creating and sustaining globalized and knowledge-based societies.” SEAMEO further adds that the region’s diverse education systems would need to have harmonised standards for transparent quality assurance and credit transfer among the region’s institutions.
“Encouraging and supporting students to study abroad is a major strategy to develop a well-trained international workforce, which can improve the quality of quantity of human resources. Similar to the European Erasmus programme, the region envisions a programme of its own to facilitate the mobility of university students within the region; taking advantage of its great diversity, which represents both potentials and challenges related to historical differences, cultural backgrounds, ideological gaps, development, languages, etc.”
Of the various challenges, we believe SEAMEO views quality assurance and cross-regional credit transfer systems as critical foundations to achieve greater student mobility within the region. That said, there are key challenges must be addressed before a fully region-wide credit transfer system can be effectively implemented. The first few that come to mind are gaps in the overall quality of education and low tertiary enrollment rates of below 50%. Innovation around the region is also generally weak in the region with the exception of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
There are several programs that the region has undertaken towards more widespread mobility programmes.
1) ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) programme – Started with Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian universities and has grown to 7 member countries, 7 study fields and 59 participating universities in ASEAN
2) Passage to ASEAN programme – provides virtual tours and game opportunities for students online and affordable study tours among ASEAN countries
These are some of the first steps ASEAN has taken toward greater mobility within the region and the future success of mobility programs will depend on member countries establishing a truly transparent regional systems for quality assurance and credit transfer.