Creating a Higher Education Common Space in Southeast Asia?

I’ve asked the question before whether ASEAN was becoming like the EU. I agreed with former ASEAN Secretary General Severino who answered that it is “most likely not. At least not exactly”. Now we can ask another question: is the ASEAN starting its own Bologna process? It appears to be doing so…

The Australian reports on a meeting in Bangkok last week:

Arguing the case for an extensive overhaul of co-operation and compatibility involving 6500 higher education institutions and 12 million students in 10 widely differing nations is no easy task; and it’s particularly onerous if the deadline for implementation is 2015.

Five of its member countries were asked by SEAMEO RIHED to explore the possibility of a higher education common space in the ASEAN region. Summarising the findings, Malaysia’s Higher Education deputy director-general Yusof Kasim told the conference that:

there was broad agreement that harmonisation was beneficial, at least among those who were aware of the philosophy.

We don’t want to have one system but compatible and comparable systems. We can agree on certain standards, the most important thing is the outcome. Equivalency was crucial but it should be equivalency of outcomes rather than years spent earning a degree.

These initial discussions definitely sound similar to the ones at the start of the Bologna process. Considering the diversity of higher education systems in the ASEAN region – mixtures of English and American systems, sometimes with a Dutch, French or Spanish flavour and adapted to local  cultures and on top of that, a huge variety in terms of quality – it will be a considerable task. I do believe that in the end it can be very beneficial to the ASEAN member countries and their universities. Although I think that seven years might be a bit over-optimistic, I definitely welcome the initiative. Let’s see whether – in ten years – we’ll be talking about the Bangkok Process…

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