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Higher education in Southeast Asia October 29, 2006

Posted by genchan in Education, Government, Southeast Asia.
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education1.jpg Found an interesting report from UNESCO on the current status of higher education in some of the Southeast Asian countries. According to the report (dated 2006), there are some visible changes on how the countries are adapting to the challenges facing higher education in the region and trends at the global level.

To briefly summarize, some of the more advance countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are becoming exporters of education, helping to expand transnational education across borders. This is partly due to the english language used which makes it easier for foreign students to study but also the fact that overseas providers have been given access to set up branch campuses, giving students from poorer countries opportunity to obtain degrees from well-known institutions at a fraction of the cost. Some of these branch campuses also act as catalysts in raising the standards of local institutions.

In light of global trends in the increase of institutional autonomy, the report noted that there is a gradual move for governments to trade autonomy for more accountability. Some countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are showing more willingness in ceding autonomy which has led to institutional restructuring and changes in university governance. Some has gone as far as delinking academics from civil service.

But as these measures are introduced (bit by bit), rules and regulations will have to be made more rigorous and a corporate culture to be nurtured as universities would be required to compete for funding on their own and maintain competitiveness. The setting up of research universities in Malaysia and specialized research institutes in Singapore are noted in the report as innovative approaches.

The balance between autonomy and accountability, however, continues to be a torny issue for most countries as political involvement is unavoidable. While the report provides an interesting update on the health of higher education in the region, the changing trends mentioned are minor steps as more needs to be done to fully integrate into the global educational system that could be achieved through stronger international cooperative research, increased foreign faculties and students, up-to-date curriculum/courses, reduced bureaucracy and competitive salaries. Interestingly, faculty salaries, which are notably low, has not been mentioned or covered well in the report.  

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