Towards Harmonization of Higher Education in Southeast Asia: Malaysia’s perspective

Link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article, which enables better sharing and printing.

Editors’ note: today’s guest entry, by Morshidi Sirat (Universiti Sains Malaysia), Norzaini Azman (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) & Aishah Abu Bakar (University of Malaya), is designed to provide you with an up-to-date and insightful summary of the state of the Southeast Asian higher education region-building project. Regionalism — a state-led agenda to build up ‘regional coherence’ via the trading of goods and services, and the facilitation of human and non-human mobility (e.g. technologies, information, capital, the factors of production) – is a centuries old phenomenon. However, it was not until the Bologna Process (formally launched in 1999), which helped construct the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), that we witnessed the first substantial incorporation of higher education into regionalism agendas. For good and for bad it is also the Bologna Process that has helped stir up a series of subsequent ‘echoes’ (to use Pavel Zgaga’s term) in other parts of the world regions’ higher ed landscape.

For those of you interested in the theme of universities in a world of regions, please refer to this week’s content in our MOOC Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy.’ We’re up to Week 4 of 7 as of Monday 14 April (see the syllabus here), though the course can be engaged with in a pick-and-choose method for the ‘too busy’ but curious of our readers. Apart from the text and visuals we provided this week, you’re very fortunate (we think!) to be able to listen to and read what a number of key players in higher education regionalisms think about the process. We have a podcast Q&A with one of the architects of the Bologna Process (Pavel Zgaga, former Minister of Education and Sport, Slovenia), as well as with a key player in the African Higher Education and Research Space development initiative (Goolam Mohamedbhai, Former Secretary-General, Association of African Universities). Taken together, all of this content should provide you with an up-to-date and insightful (we hope!) summaries of what is going on with respect to this fascinating, albeit complex, development process.

Our thanks to Morshidi Sirat, Norzaini Azman & Aishah Abu Bakar for their many insights below.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson


 Towards Harmonization of Higher Education in Southeast Asia: Malaysia’s Perspective

by Morshidi Sirat (Universiti Sains Malaysia), Norzaini Azman (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) & Aishah Abu Bakar (University of Malaya)


Harmonisation of higher education is essentially a process that recognises the significance of regional education cooperation and the importance of establishing an ‘area of knowledge’ in which activities and interactions in higher education, mobility, and employment opportunities can be easily facilitated and increased. It is the process that acknowledges diversity of higher education systems and cultures within the region, while simultaneously seeking to create a ‘common educational space’ (Wallace, 2000; Enders, 2004). A region in a supra-national context, with different cultures, religions, languages and educational systems, must develop a harmonised system of education so that it can foster a higher level of understanding, a sense of shared purpose and common destiny in a highly globalised world. This system could be developed or constructed on the basis of a common, but not identical, practices and guidelines for cooperation in education.

A common space or higher education area does not intend to create a uniform or standardised system of higher education. The primary goal is to create general guidelines in areas such as degree comparability through similar degree cycle and qualifications framework, quality assurance, lifelong learning, or credit transfer system and so on (Armstrong, 2009; Clark, 2007). These general guidelines will facilitate and smoothen international student mobility, lifelong learning, and hassle-free movement of talented workers within the region, which will strengthen regional economy in the long run. The regional higher education area is the space in which students, faculty members and HEIs are the key players promoting similar standards of higher education activities. In other words, in a region with a harmonised system of higher education there will be continuous interactions and mobility for students, faculty members and talents.

The most important factor that contributes to the success of the process of harmonisation in higher education is the participation and consensus building at the level of national agencies, the public and also other stakeholders. The key element of the harmonisation in higher education will be the establishment of a mutually accepted roadmap that will consist of a vision of future goal (such as the establishment of a higher education space/area), areas to develop common frameworks (identified by key stakeholders such as credit transfer system, quality assurance guidelines, regional qualifications framework or comparable degree cycle and so on), methods and the key players who will be responsible for framework development and information dissemination to the public. According to Hettne (2004), harmonization is cyclical, and a policy process (functional cooperation) and policy tools (lesson-drawing, policy externalization, and policy transfer) anchors it.

Harmonization in Southeast Asia

The idea of harmonizing higher education systems in Southeast Asia was inspired by the development of regionalism in higher education in Europe, specifically the establishment of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The idea of regionalism in higher education in Asia or Southeast Asia is a very exciting idea, indeed.

Southeast Asia has been integrating rapidly mainly through trade and investment. The region is also witnessing increasing mobility of people in the region and between regions. This new context places higher education in a pivotal role in developing human resources capable of creating and sustaining globalized and knowledge-based societies. Harmonizing the highly diverse systems of higher education in the region is seen as an important step towards the regional integration objective. The most common measure is the step towards a greater degree of integration in higher education policies and practices through concerted regional efforts.

Regionalization of higher education has political, economic, social and cultural dimensions, similar to globalization (Terada, 2003; Hawkins, 2012). As a political lever, regional cooperation provides opportunities for regions and individual nations to contribute to international quality assurance policy discussions. As an economic lever, regional integration provides smaller higher education systems entrance to possibilities of competition and cooperation on an international or regional scale. As a social or cultural lever, regional activities build solidarity among nations with similar cultural and historical roots (Yepes, 2006). Therefore, higher education regionalization looks differently, depending on the dimensions, actors, and values involved in the process.

In recent years Southeast Asian countries have shown commitment towards deepening connections and interactions by looking at the rich regional diversity as important basis for regional cooperation and collaboration rather than as stumbling block. It is envisioned that the ASEAN Community 2015 would be the outcome of cooperation and collaboration in ASEAN in areas relating to regional understanding and economic integration. ASEAN, as a regional block comprising of 10 nations, namely, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is steadily moving towards achieving “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” aspiration by 2015.

ASEAN leaders set a vision to build an ASEAN Community with three building pillars: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), and the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC). The primary goal of ASCC is create an ASEAN Community that is people-centred and socially responsible based on shared values.Education, particularly higher education has been treated as the core action line in promoting the ASEAN-Socio Cultural Community and in supporting the continued economic integration of ASEAN by 2015. Higher education in the region has been mentioned in many official declarations as one of the important steps to enhance human resource development in the region. An ambitious plan was set up in 2009, aimed at creating a systematic mechanism to support the integration of universities across Southeast Asia. Student mobility, credit transfers, quality assurance and research clusters were identified as the four main priorities to harmonize the ASEAN higher education system, encompassing 6,500 higher education institutions and 12 million students in 10 nations.

The ultimate goal of the plan is to set up a Common Space of Higher Education in Southeast Asia. The strategic plan calls for the creation of the ASEAN area of higher education with a broader strategic objective of ensuring the integration of education priorities into ASEAN’s development. The education objectives aim to:

  • advance and prioritize education and focus on: creating a knowledge-based society;
  • achieving universal access to primary education;
  • promoting early child care and development; and
  • enhancing awareness of ASEAN to youths through education and activities to build an ASEAN identity based on friendship and cooperation as a key way to promote citizens’ mobility and employability and the continent’s overall development.

The declaration advocates specific reforms focusing on a harmonization in the higher education system with the objective of increasing the international competitiveness of ASEAN higher education.

Since then, individual ASEAN governments have increased public investment in universities to support the ASEAN Higher Education Area, and the region’s burgeoning knowledge economy. Measures have been set up to strengthen the performance of Southeast Asian universities across a wide range of indicators such as teaching, learning, research, enterprise and innovation. These initiatives also pave the way for further collaboration and integration between universities in the region, enhancing the overall reputation of ASIAN universities compared to their competitors in the West and elsewhere in the world. It is not surprising to see the improved performance of many ASEAN universities in this year’s QS University Rankings: Asia.

As one of the five founding members of ASEAN, Malaysia has played a very active role in the organisation with ideas and initiatives that has contributed to shaping ASEAN into what it is today and what it is going to be in the future. Malaysia also initiated in the of ASEAN Plus Three summit, namely ASEAN and China, Japan and South Korea, which was the other name in replacement of the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) for the East Asia Summit (EAS). Malaysia has also taken a leadership role in the harmonisation of the higher education systems through many initiatives. For example, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) played a crucial role of promoting harmonisation by encouraging active movement towards the development of quality assurance collaboration and sharing. The MQA spearheaded the establishment of the network of quality assurance agencies among Southeast Asian Countries, known as ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN). It was introduced to develop and recognize strength and commonalities in academic practices without losing individual country identity apart from ensuring compatibility of qualifications and learning outcomes within the ASEAN countries.


Admittedly, there are benefits in creating a common higher education space in Southeast Asia. The more obvious ones are greater mobility, widening access and choices, academic and research collaborations, enhanced collaboration on human capital investment, and the promotion of ASEAN and/or Southeast Asian within the fast changing global higher education landscape. The immediate advantage of such harmonization in higher education system is presented as easier exchange and mobility for students and academics between nations within Southeast Asia apart from member countries availability to access systems, tools and best practices for quality improvement in higher education. For some countries, harmonization serves as a jump start for keeping up with globalization

Arguably, the model that is most desired and considered most feasible is that which does not require all higher education systems to conform to a particular model.  The general consensus is that a system that become a reference or one that can be fitted into without jeopardizing cultural diversity and national identity is considered most feasible and desired. This consensus is very much in line with the successful approach used by the early Muslim scholars where their methodology involved taking all ideas which were non-contradictory to their religious value and faith. The scholars only borrowed ideas from others but they went on further to expand and introduce innovative ideas (Abbas, 2011). This approach has led to development of unique learning culture, which is the basis of a stronger community. As a result of harmonization, differing national standards come closer together. However, it has been very difficult for nations to agree on common standards mainly because issues of sovereignty usually become points of contention and also because it is not, in itself, an easy process. In the recent discussion with other ASEAN country members at the ASEAN + 3 meeting, Malaysia has recommended the idea of finding commonalities in practices when developing standards and not imposing uniformity and that such initiative should be undertaken in stages taking into consideration the various level of higher education development in ASEAN.

Forms of Harmonization

The likely scenarios of higher education landscape in Southeast Asia as a result of such a harmonization of higher education systems are generally perceived as follows:

  1. Students from different countries spend at least a year studying in other countries
  2. Students in different locations are offered the same quality of education regardless of  higher education institutions
  3. Graduates from one country are recruited by the employment sector in other countries
  4. A multi-national workplace
  5. Close collaboration  between faculty in creating and developing new knowledge
  6. Close collaboration between students in creating and developing new knowledge
  7. Close collaboration between employment sectors in creating and developing new knowledge
  8. Larger volume of adult students in the higher education system
  9. Close collaboration between International Relations Offices who are the key player behind mobility program.

Plan of Actions

The following actions are deemed necessary in achieving the desired goal in harmonizing higher education among ASEAN community:

1. Regional Accreditation

Accreditation is very important in higher education. It is viewed as both a process and a result. It is a process by which a university/college or technical and vocational training institution evaluates its educational activities, and seeks an independent judgment to confirm that it substantially achieves its objectives, and is generally equal in quality to comparable institutions. As a result, it is a form of certification, or grant of formal status by a recognized and authorized accrediting agency to an educational institution as possessing certain standards of quality which are over and above those prescribed as minimum requirements by the government.

2. Unified Education Framework

Intergovernmental Organizations establish ASEAN standards for HEI’s including curriculum. Consequently, revising curriculum and delivery modes in all programs are still on the process to meet labour market needs. Thus, a unified curriculum in the ASEAN region is highly recommended to achieve the desired goal of one community. The focus should be on learning outcomes.

3. Improve Quality of Education

ASEAN countries need to improve the quality of their education systems as many graduates lack the skills needed in today’s rapidly changing workplace. The shortage of skilled workforce in the Asia-Pacific Region, male and even more so female, has been a major bottleneck in economic and social development. There is a need for greater emphasis on technical and vocational education and training (Liang, 2008; Kehm 2010).

4. Scholarship for students/Faculty Exchange

More programs on scholarships grant on students from all the regions are now being practiced in most ASEAN countries. The Scholarships aim to provide opportunities to the young people of ASEAN to develop their potential and equip them with skills that will enable them to confidently step into the enlarged community. Another medium of attaining the quality of education is by educating the teachers, academics and other educational personnel and upgrade their professional competency. Programs can be introduced that focus on talent management, leadership selection and review of teachers’ and lecturers’ workload. Various initiatives, from faster promotion prospects to awards can be introduced, to acknowledge the role teachers and academics play, and raise the image and morale of the teaching and academic profession.

5. Regional Skills Competition

Encourage the participation of higher education institutions and TVET institutions in skills competitions such as the ASEAN Skills Competition to support workforce development and to achieve regional standards competency. It will contribute towards the advancement of quality and skills of workers in all ASEAN Member Countries.

6. Increase Usage of English Language

Language is a key towards the development of a global community. Workers should realize the importance of being able to communicate in English as an important tool for the realization of ASEAN Community 2015 so that they will not face a handicap to benefit from the fruits of the ASEAN community.

Key Actors, Activities, and Progress

Over the past years, regional bodies have emerged as new and key actors in higher education policy making, offering the possibility of higher education regionalization (Wesley, 2003, Hawkins, 2012). Regional bodies introduce a new level to the local, national, and global spectrum of higher education policymaking and practice. Regional bodies can provide a smaller venue for national organizations to collaborate on norm-setting and policy harmonization that relate specifically to regional needs, values, and identity (a national-to-regional trend). Regional bodies can also give voice to smaller developing countries that do not have the economic status or ability to participate in international policy making discussions (a national-to-regional-to-international trend). Likewise, regional bodies have the potential for grassroots initiatives to gain a broader audience (local-to-regional-to-international trends) (Wesley, 2003, Hawkins, 2012). It is against this background that this paper turns to initiatives taken by regional bodies in their roles and activities in harmonizing the higher education sector in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia,the status of integration of higher education in ASEAN are being studied and promoted by three main bodies namely SEAMEO RIHED, ASEAN Plus Three and the ASEAN Universities Network (AUN). Their aim is to promote education networking in various levels of educational institutions and continue university networking and enhance and support student and staff exchanges and professional interactions including creating research clusters among ASEAN institutions of higher learning. Further actions are envisaged to strengthen collaboration with other regional and international educational organizations to enhance the quality of education in the region. Higher education systems in Southeast Asia are very diverse, and even within each nation incompatibility is to be expected.  But, it is important to appreciate that in the context of Southeast Asia, with its diverse systems, harmonization is about comparability; not standardization or uniformity of programs, degrees and the nature of higher education institutions.

ASEAN Plus Three

Beginning in 1997, the ASEAN community began creating organizations within its framework with the intention of achieving their goals. ASEAN Plus Three was the first of these organizations and the network was designed to improve existing ties with the People’s Republic of ChinaJapan, and South Korea. ASEAN Plus Three developed a Plan of Action on Education: 2010-2017 which emphasizes the need to develop and implement strategies related to quality assurance and the promotion of mobility. Subsequently, the ASEAN Plus Three Working Group on Mobility of Higher Education and Ensuring Quality Assurance of Higher Education among ASEAN Plus Three Countries was created. The working group main objectives are to analyze credit transfer systems within the ASEAN Plus Three region, and explore ways to improve student mobility programs in the ASEAN Plus Three region.


The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) is an international organization established in 1965 among governments of Southeast Asian countries to promote regional cooperation in education, science and culture in Southeast Asia. Members of SEAMEO included Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Socialist Republic of Vietnam. SEAMEO-RIHED (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization – Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development) was later developed under the umbrella of SEAMEO working for 10 Member Countries in Southeast Asia. Specifically, its mission is to foster efficiency, effectiveness and harmonization of higher education in Southeast Asia through system research, empowerment, development of mechanisms to facilitate sharing and collaborations in higher education (Yepes, 2006; Nguyen, 2009). Programs under SEAMEO-RIHED mainly serving 5 objectives

  1. Empowering higher education institutions: includes Study Visit Programmes to the US, the UK, Australia and China, training courses for International Relation Offices (IRP) in Southeast Asian HEIs and workshops on governance and management for HEIs.
  2. Developing harmonization mechanism: includes internationalisation Award (iAward), workshops on Academic Credit Transfer framework from Asia and Southeast Asian Quality Assurance Framework.
  3. Cultivating Globalized human resources : includes the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Programme.
  4. Advancing knowledge frontiers in higher education system management: includes Policy Action Research: Building Academic Credit Transfer Framework for Asia.
  5. Promoting university social responsibility and sustainable development : include seminar on University Social Interprise.

Out of the five objectives, the main focus being cultivating globalized human resources through AIMS students’ mobility program in which the Malaysian Education Ministry under the Department of Higher Education is directly and actively involved. It also includes the iAward program where Malaysia has participated under AIMS previously known as Malaysia-Indonesia-Thailand (M-I-T) Student Mobility Project.

AIMS Program

Student mobility has always been one of the key strategic elements of cooperation leading to the development of a harmonized higher education environment among countries in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) program commonly known asAIMS was started in 2009 to aid the drive towards European higher education harmonization. This program was designed to encourage student mobility through the multilateral collaborations among four countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Three objectives formed the reasons behind the promotion of student mobility and greater university cooperation:

  • enables students to hone their academic skills and intercultural understanding,
  • provides the critical knowledge needed to succeed in today’s globalised economy,
  • promotes regional cooperation between higher education institutions and helps to produce the international graduates that are attractive and necessary for an intergrated ASEAN Community to contribute to the development of qualified, open-minded and globalized human resources.

According to a report prepared in 2013, on the first three years of AIMS, the number of students participating in AIMS grew from a total of 260 students in 2011 to more than 500 students in 2013. The five disciplines involved were Hospitality and Tourism, Agriculture, Language and Culture, International Business and Food Science and Technology. Two additional disciplines were included in 2013 which are Engineering and Economics.

The implementing partners are:

  • Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), Malaysia;
  • Directorate General of Higher education, Ministry of Education and Culture (DGHE, MOEC), Indonesia;
  • Office of the Higher Education Commission, Ministry of Education (OHEC, MOE), Thailand; and
  • Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam, recently joined in 2012.

The AIMS Program targets an expansion (set in 2009) as below.

By 2011 By 2013 By 2015
150 students 300 students 500 students
5 study fields 7 study fields 10 study fields
3 countries 5 countries 10 countries

The program aims to make temporary student mobility as a regular feature of higher education in Southeast Asia, as dedicated academic and administrative measures for internationalization of students’ experiences are generally viewed as essential for dynamic institution of higher education. As of December 2013, the progress of AIMS program is as shown in the diagram below.



(Source : Student Mobility: focusing on the globally competent human resources, Li Zhe (2013) presented at the First Working group on Mobility of Higher education and Ensuring Quality Assurance of Higher education Among ASEAN plus Three Countries, 30 September 2013, Tokyo Japan )

From the above projection, AIMS welcomes new members and the decision to join AIMS must come from the ministry responsible for higher education. The process for joining AIMS involved contacting RIHED, observing AIMS Review Meeting, reviewing AIMS handbook, assigning AIMS contact person, identifying participating HEIs, organizing In-country initiation meeting, allocating budget, organizing and attending policy meeting, attending further AIMS review meeting and consulting on student visa procedure (ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Program – Operational Handbook page 9-10).

So far, AIMS program has only involved undergraduates at degree level of any year in the program from fields of study (disciplines) that were determined collectively by participating countries. The duration of the mobility program awarded by Ministry is a minimum of one semester, but not more than six months. The undergraduate students that participate in AIMS are funded by each respective government. The HEIs involved in the AIMS program are nominated by the respective education ministries. Only flagship and leading universities are selected to aid credit transfer, matching of course syllabi, accreditation and attracting students to join the programs. The number of students involved in the exchange programs and the administrative arrangements of the AIMS is made through the HEIs bi-lateral agreements. However, while the AIMS Program marks the emergence of student mobility in ASEAN higher education institutions, it is the issue of recognition of periods of study and the recognition of academic qualifications obtained in another country that became highlighted and needed further review.

In ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of the AIMS program, semi-annual review meetings involving the government agencies and HEIs representatives from member countries are carried out each year. The review meeting updates member countries on the development of the program, shares experiences and good practices, exchanges policy making and verifies student mobility data, foresight, plan and arrangement for future mobility activities.

The Internationalization Award (iAward)

The Internationalization Award was established in the year 2012 to recognize the contribution and significance of the international Relation Office as a focal point for students exchange in mobility programs. It recognizes universities that are making significant, well-planned, well-executed, and well-documented progress toward student mobility activities especially those using innovative and creative approaches. In addition, the iAward was aimed to serve as an assessment tool for the AIMS Program as well as a mechanism for quality assurance of internationalization. The specific objectives are:

  • To promote good practices in internationalization by International Relations Offices (IROs); and
  • To provide a collaborative atmosphere for experience sharing.

The process of iAward involves each ministry to nominate at least 2 IROs from their country. The nominated IROs are required to submit a self-assessment report before a site visit assessment is carried out by the iAward Assessment Committee. The award is granted to IROs that has demonstrated a commitment to the internationalization of student experience through one or more of the criteria listed below:

  • The establishement of a system assessment (planning, controlling & follow-up)
  • The establishment of facilities & infrastructure
  • Excellence in services and feedback
  • Excellence in governance, organization, staff

iAward assessment measured three dimensions of inputs (the resources available to support IRO efforts); outputs (the work and activities undertaken in support of mobility) and outcomes (the impact and end results).

The three recipients of the 2012 were the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia; BINUS University, Indonesia; and Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand. The recipients were invited to present their good practices and experiences to participants from 7 countries at the 5th Review Meeting of the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Program. They highlighted initiatives that remove institutional barriers and broaden the base of participation in international mobility programs.

There are a number of challenges that the AIMs need to look into. The program is rapidly expanding from three countries in 2010 to seven countries in 2013 and this presents logistical challenges to the management of the next phase of iAward assessment. This scenario is expected to get worst in the future if all the 36 universities participate actively in the program. This would mean that the applicability of the concept of one award per country will have to be reviewed.

As the number of students increases, the AIMs needs to move their focus on numbers and percentages of students involved in each country to the content and quality of the regional experience. After all, student mobility and internationalization of higher education as such is not a goal in itself but a means to enhance the quality of the educational experience and the international learning outcome of the students.

The ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework

In order to facilitate student mobility, the region’s diverse higher education systems need more harmonized standards and mechanisms for permeable and transparent quality assurance and credit transfer among institutions. Encouraging and supporting students to study abroad is a major strategy to develop a well-trained regional workforce, which can improve the quality and quantity of human resources in the ASEAN economy as well as the national education sector.

The ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (QRF), a common reference framework, functions as a device to enable comparisons of qualifications across participating ASEAN countries while at the same time, support and enhance each country’s national qualifications framework or qualifications systems that are currently at varying levels of development, scope and implementation. The ASEAN QRF addresses education and training sectors and the wider objective of promoting lifelong learning. The framework is based on agreed understandings between member countries and invites voluntary engagement from countries. Therefore it is not regulatory and binding on countries.

The ASEAN QRF aims to be a neutral influence on national qualifications frameworks of participating ASEAN countries. The process for endorsing the ASEAN QRF is by mutual agreement by the participating countries. Countries will be able to determine when they will undertake the processes of referencing their qualification framework, system or qualification types and quality assurance systems against the framework. The purpose of the ASEAN QRF is to enable comparisons of qualifications across countries that will:

  • Support recognition of qualifications
  • Facilitate lifelong learning
  • Promote and encourage credit transfer and learner mobility
  • Promote worker mobility
  • Lead to better understood and higher quality qualifications systems. (AQRF, 2013)

Currently chaired by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), the ASEAN QRF will also provide a mechanism to facilitate comparison and transparency of and harmonise regulatory agreements. It will link the participating ASEAN NQFs or qualification systems and become the ASEAN’s mechanism for recognition of its qualifications against other regional and international qualifications systems.

To promote quality assurance of education and training across the region, the ASEAN QRF is underpinned by a set of agreed quality assurance principles and broad standards related to:

  • The functions of the registering and accrediting agencies
  • Systems for the assessment of learning and the issuing of qualifications
  • Regulation of the issuance of certificates.

The ASEAN QRF utilises the East Asia Summit Vocational Education and Training Quality Assurance Framework quality principles, agency quality standards and quality indicators as the basis for the agreed quality assurance standards. The East Asia TVET Quality Assurance Framework is to be used as the benchmark for evaluating the quality assurance processes (for all education and training sectors). The referencing process will include member countries referencing their education and training quality assurance systems against the East Asia Summit Vocational Education and Training Quality Assurance Framework (AQRF, 2013).

A board or managing committee was established by the ASEAN Secretariat for the maintenance, use, evaluation and review of the ASEAN QRF, including a mechanism for assessing whether the Framework is providing the enabling function for member countries. The board or managing committee responsible for the on-going management of the ASEAN QRF is to be made up of national representatives (from a NQF or responsible body) in each country and an independent expert. The board or managing committee shall also be tasked with providing a central repository for member country referencing documents, and with providing access to information and guidance to other countries external to the ASEAN region on the ASEAN QRF.

Based on the current status, the development of a comprehensive ASEAN QRF still has a long way to go. To move forward, there is a need to identify major obstacles including reaching a mutual understanding between the “sending” and the “receiving” countries and identifying key players to be in the taskforce. It requires strong and long-lasting commitment by the participating countries and entails strong collaborations within and across Ministries, and other stakeholders in the participating countries. Nevertheless, there have been significant steps towards an ASEAN QRF that will facilitate student and labour mobility in the region.

Credit Transfer System (CTS)

To date, there are two attempts at developing a credit transfer system in Southeast Asia. The first is by University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP), a network of voluntary association of government and non-government representatives of the higher education (university) sector in the region. UMAP’s major contributions to the formation of a harmonized regional approach to HE in the Asia region was the development of the University Credit Transfer System (UCTS), a mechanism to satisfy one of the key concerns of most proponents of a regional approach to higher education (mobility for students seeking transfer of credits within the region). Founded in 1994 with 35 countries and over 359 HEIs members, UMAP hasdeveloped a trial programme to promote student mobility in Asia Pacific. Similar to other endeavours in many parts of the world, the UCTS aims at creating a more sustainable mobility programme that enables students to earn credits during their studies in other universities. According to the UMAP, host and home universities are required to complete a credit transfer agreement in advance of the enrolments, both at graduate and post-graduate levels. Participating universities are now voluntarily taking part in the trial process of implementing the UMAP Credit Transfer Scheme (UCTS). According to Nyugen, 2009, very few institutions have utilized UCTS and know what the system is all about (in Japan, a major proponent of receiving students from Asia, had only 6 percent of their HEIs utilizing UCTS as a tool). She notes that the program has a lack of identity in the region as well as financial support.

Somewhat more successful in terms of usage is the ASEAN University Network’s (AUN) credit transfer system known as ASEAN Credit Transfer System (ACTS). AUN was established by ASEAN in 1995 to embark on a program of strengthening relations and activities among higher education institutions. As of 2011, it had about 26 members. According to ACTS, credit transfer is the award of credit for a subject in a given program for learning that had taken place in another program completed by a learner prior to the program he/she is undertaking or about to undertake. When the institution recognizes that a subject or a group of subjects that have been completed at a different institutions equivalent to the subject or a group of subjects in the program that the student is about to undertake, the credit from the subject or group of subjects is transferred to the program the student is about to undertake. The equivalence between the subjects completed prior to the subject to be taken by the student is assessed based on the credit value, the learning level and the learning outcomes of the two subjects in question (Asia Corporation Dialogue, 2011).

While the ACTS is opened to all HEIs in the region, the fact is it has become primarily an elite program, as “elites prefer to cooperate with elites” (Nguyen, 2009, p. 80). Therefore, it is somewhat self-limiting (Hawkins, 2012). More interesting was the AUN sub-regional networking on QA practices, which seeks to establish some common standards for the region. In particular, the AUN Quality Assurance program has the goals of enhancing education, research and service among its members. AUN-QA complemented with a set of guidelines and manual for implementation reaches out to all institutions in the region that wish to get the AUN-QA label. In the last decade, AUN-QA has been promoting, developing, and implementing quality assurance practices based on an empirical approach where quality assurance practices are shared, tested, evaluated, and improved.The AUN-QA activities have been driven through increasing collaboration among its member universities but also with ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN), SEAMEO-RIHED, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA). The collaborations efforts are expected to further hasten the harmonization of AUN-QA framework within and outside ASEAN.


The implementation of the harmonization idea is not without challenges. Steps should be taken in order to increase student readiness. Barriers to language and communication must be overcome and there should be serious efforts to reduce constraints that are very ‘territorial’ in nature. Admittedly, students involved in mobility program may be faced with adjustment problems particularly with respect to instructional practices, curriculum incomparability, and cultural diversity. Then there is the language problem: differences in languages post a great barrier for inward and outward mobility of students at the macro level. ‘Territorial’ constraint, whereby each country hopes to safeguard the uniqueness of their educational programs, which in turn, may ultimately constrain the implementation of regional harmonization efforts, is a major consideration to be factored in.

Generally, the stakeholders have favorable views regarding the credit transfer system for ASEAN. Nevertheless, there is the issue of quality as the role of AQA (ASEAN Qualifications Agency) as a reliable monitoring body is being questioned. The AQA needs to exist and links need to be built between the different national quality assurance systems. The number of significant issue associated with quality assurance would require resolution facilitated by the AQA so that the local, regional and national autonomy is not compromised by external credit system. However, ASEAN needs a system that guarantee the quality of credits associated with education gained under any national system. Most importantly, mutual trust and confidence between different systems have to be developed. Without more transparency and knowledge about the quality of each other’s system, the development of credit transfer system within ASEAN will be very slow.

In the context of the cooperation in QA, the region still possesses a few structural impediments, the most important one being the problem about disparity of QA development. One could not argue differently that the level of disparity of HEIs and QA development in this region is extremely high. It could be said that the current stage of QA development in Southeast Asia is more or less similar to those in other developing countries in a sense that most of the QA systems have been originated by or operated as national formal mechanism. Half of the countries in the region, including Cambodia (ACC), Indonesia (BAN-PT), Malaysia (MQA), Philippines (AACCUP, PAASCU, etc.), Thailand (ONESQA) and Vietnam (Department of Education Testing and Accreditation) have national QA systems operated either under the umbrella of the MOEs or partly funded by the government. Although the majority of Southeast Asian countries in this region have already established and developed their national QA mechanism such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, the rest is still in the stage of developing quality assurance infrastructure such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR. Such disparity has fundamentally contributed to the inefficiency in developing a formal or common QA cooperation within the region. However, this does not mean that Southeast Asia could not do anything to promote mutual development of QA systems within the sub-region.In fact, it has developed the ASEAN Quality Reference Framework as a guideline for effective quality assurance mechanism.

ASEAN countries are rich in culture, diverse in language and religion but have one common goal, to be united as one. Mostly, the language barrier has always been a constant problem among the people of the member countries. This is a great challenge to the ASEAN Community to further create programs on how to address this issue. The increase of usage of English language is one of the focal areas to be considered.

Regardless all those differences, Southeast Asia countries share a similar emphasis on human resource development as a key in developing the whole nation to enter the knowledge-based economy and global environment. It is realized that they are moving fast forward the situation in which all nations operate in a global market environment. In so far as Malaysia is concerned, it has to be recognized that harmonization is not about ‘choice’. It is a global movement that now necessitates the involvement of all Malaysian higher education institutions. There are benefits to the private players. Initially, we need a state of readiness at the macro level, whereby the aims and principles of harmonization have to be agreed upon by all stakeholders and players in the local higher education scene.


The drive toward harmonization of ASEAN higher education seems to be on track, and member signatories of the ASEAN community are determined to move forward. The increased cooperation in education evidenced by all of the combined actions detailed provides an important background for the next chapter in the process of ASEAN higher education integration. The ASEAN community recognizes the need to create a common but not an identical or standardized ASEAN Higher Education Area (AHEA) that would facilitate the comparability of degrees and the mobility of students and faculty within Asia. While recognizing the fact that national and institutional variations in curriculum, instruction, programs, and degrees, resulting from historical, political, and socio-cultural influences, are bound to exist, it has managed to create a common ASEAN credit transfer system (ACTS), degree structure, credit, and quality control structures.

In conclusion, familiarization with the idea and concept of harmonization, as opposed to standardization, of higher education system in Southeast Asia is indeed an initial but a critical step towards the implementation of a meaningful and effective harmonization of higher education system in the region. While managers of higher education institutions and academics are not ignorant of the idea of harmonization, they tend to talk of it with reference to the Bologna process in Europe and the creation of the EHEA. Other stakeholders (particularly students) however are not very familiar as to how this concept could be realized in the context of Southeast Asia, which is culturally and politically diverse. Generally, students failed to appreciate the positive aspects of harmonization to their careers, job prospects and, of equal importance, cross-fertilization of cultures.

The task of creating a common higher education space is insurmountable in view of the vast differences in the structure and performance of the various higher education systems and institutions in Southeast Asia. Admittedly, we need to harmonize the internal structure of the higher education systems in the first instance before attempting a region-wide initiative. More importantly, the determination to realize this idea of harmonizing higher education in Southeast Asia should permeate and be readily accepted by the regional community. Typical of Southeast Asia, directives should come from the political masters. Thus, the role of Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) is very critical to a successful implementation of this idea of harmonization of the higher education systems. Although other regional bodies such as AUN and UMAP play important roles, at the end of the day, it is the nations and the individual HEIs who are the deciding actors who will determine the progress of the idea of harmonization in the region. Equally important, national prejudices and suspicions need to be put aside if we are to realize regional aspirations and goals.

Morshidi Sirat, Norzaini Azman & Aishah Abu Bakar


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No MOOCs for Iran or Syria?

This entry is also available on Inside Higher Ed here.  Also see this new IHE article ‘Massive Closed Online Courses‘ for more information about this matter.


Yesterday’s news that Coursera and Udacity need to follow US sanction rules is a reminder that the forces shaping the evolving global geographies of MOOCs is an issue that needs to be grappled with more thoroughly and systematically.

In recent entries here on Inside Higher Ed, I’ve argued that the MOOCs phenomenon has helped deterritorialize higher education institutions and practices via their ‘global reach’ such that the American-centric debates about MOOCs (e.g., completion rates; their uses to resolve austerity-induced public higher ed challenges), are important, yes, but just the edge of much broader debates that need to be engaged in.

From the global reach of MOOCs, to the cosmopolitan nature of the labor force working at the offices for platforms like Coursera and EdX, we see glimmers of a post-national higher ed future emerging. Moreover, we also see a global MOOC development agenda emerging, one backed by international organizations like the World Bank. See, for example:

Nation-states are also using MOOCs to promote national higher education systems abroad to target markets (e.g., a taste of Britain in India, courtesy of FutureLearn; Francophone Africa courtesy of France Université Numérique, and powered by EdX).

But, as the economic geographer Peter Dicken has argued so eloquently over the course of his career, firms and organizations are placed – they’re born and grounded in locales, even when they aspire to operate at a genuinely global scale.

Dicken’s point – about the ‘placing of firms’ – was hammered home in ‘Online education platform Coursera blocks students in Syria and Iran’ in Wamda yesterday. Phil Hill and I chatted about this on Twitter yesterday, and he has a nice summary about the Coursera/Udacity/EdX sanctions story here.

While this issue is still being investigated, I see three initial take-home messages from what is a rather perturbing development.

First, it appears as if the output of MOOCs has been defined by the US state as tradable “services” versus “information” in the US Treasury sanction documents for Iran and Syria, and in this Coursera note. Given this, the content of MOOCs mediated and propelled by US-registered MOOC platforms cannot be transmitted into said territory for they break sanction rules. Keep in mind that the broader regulatory context here regarding GATS and the trade in services (including education services).

Second, and most obviously, this is a bizarre and depressing development. How can the US Government seriously deem engagement with this array of Coursera courses, or this array of EdX courses, as supporting the regimes that sanctions are designed to put pressure on? And, relatedly, do government officials and leaders really think preventing access to MOOCs and associated outcomes (e.g., certificates) will generate the types of internal political pressure they are supposedly designed to do? You decide:

EdXembargoeThird, what role are MOOC platform partner universities playing in these deliberations? Do they even know? I doubt it, though I hope someone proves me wrong.

In this new global higher ed landscape, it is not enough to establish bilateral relations with intermediary firms/organizations like EdX, Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn, France Université Numérique, et al, and just use their services. Some broader strategic/governance rules of the game may need to be established. After all, if universities are willing to cede some MOOC-related authority to an association like the American Council of Education (ACE) regarding which MOOCs are credit worthy, then surely they should work via their relevant associations to collectively ensure that some very important global access issues, principle issues, and key precedents, are handled in as strategic a manner as they deserve to be.

Kris Olds

Mapping Coursera’s Global Footprint

Over the last year I’ve been stuck by how most debates about MOOCs, and MOOC platform providers, are remarkably national in orientation. In the US, for example, a surprising number of politicians and select ‘disruptive innovation’ consultants have framed MOOCs as a vehicle to help redress the fiscal challenges facing public higher education. This (the MOOC as fiscal challenge solution) is a mug’s game, though, as anyone involved in developing and running online courses (as I am for both regular credit classes and a MOOC) will tell you for they are resource intensive to both develop and run well. MOOCs are great for some things, and worse for others, but they are not going to save universities money by functioning as a silver bullet for the legacy impacts of austerity.

While the politics of MOOCs are primarily national in orientation, the developmental agendas of MOOC platforms like EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, iversity, et al, are scaled beyond the nation, such that they incorporate multiple world regions with respect to partners and students. Select regions (East Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America), and select countries like China and India, are clearly being targeted by US- and Europe-based MOOC organizations and course developers, and they will be so more and more. This partially explains why international organizations like the World Bank have backed Coursera, why Coursera is working with translation services firms, and why Boston-based EdX is working with an increasing number of non-US governments. See, for example, these EdX press releases:

And see these Coursera press releases:

In order to make more sense of the emerging global footprints of MOOC platforms, I recently facilitated a mapping exercise with anonymized and aggregate (i.e. non-course specific) data regarding the location of students taking courses via Coursera. Fortunately, we have a wonderful Cartography Lab in the Department of Geography at UW-Madison. Coursera kindly provided the data in October and our cartographers went to work. What follows are two visualizations – one of the location of the 3+ million students (out of 5+ million) Coursera could geolocate, and one of Coursera’s expanding partnership base.



My thanks to Tanya Buckingham who worked on the above visualizations with GIS Certificate student Laura Poplett. I asked Tanya to provide some information about the first map posted above and this is what she had to say:

There are a two things about the data represented on the map that every reader should know. First, the participant data are represented using IP (Internet Protocol) address. A map of IP addresses will closely correspond to population density. Data are normalized to avoid creating a map of social phenomenon that simply reflects population density. In the experimental stages of this map, MOOC participants (as reported by IP address) were normalized with a denominator of global population information based on the LandScan dataset, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In the calculations, this resulted in areas that had a higher MOOC population than total population within a given area. This could be due to a handful of reasons, including how IP addresses are counted and aggregated for a certain area, or where people are living versus where they are participating in the MOOC in which they are enrolled. Considering the data by sub-country administrative units also resulted in a less than helpful map, since the area of these administrative units vary so widely. Ultimately, a hexagon tessellation was calculated to cover the earth’s surface, without considering total population within those units. Restricting the area provided a normalization of sorts–think of it as population by square kilometer rather than a population by state or province, where it is expected that the largest areas would have the highest numbers. While the map does look similar to a population distribution in Europe and the United States it does diverge in other areas of the world.

The second thing readers should be aware of is the number of participants shown on the map are just over 3.5 million people, when there are over 5.5 million people are registered as Coursera students. If the data are a representative sample, we would expect to see similar patterns as shown on the map now. However, if there is bias for a region in the world where it is not possible to geographically locate IP addresses, mapping those additional 1.5 million students could illuminate new patterns or clusters of students in areas where they are not represented on the map now. It is because of the missing data that the legend shows a qualitative value of “high, medium, low, no” participation, rather than exact numbers of participants.

The visualizations above thus represent the approximate global footprint of one MOOC platform generated by the students who sought to take courses offered by an expanding list of partners. Regardless of whether you like the idea of MOOCs or not, MOOCs are arguably post-national higher education platforms. Their names are almost uniformly placeless. As I have noted before, the founders of US-based MOOC platforms like EdX, Coursera and Udacity [undergoing pivot] are immigrants to the US from around the world, and many of the staff working in their offices are also recent immigrants. The platforms/courses also serve a growing number of students around the world. On the basis of the first map, Coursera could, arguably, be viewed as a defacto European and Indian MOOC platform for it has a major presence in both of these territories. The sames goes for EdX. Indeed I argued this point in Brussels at a recent ACA/EUA workshop, though the representative at the workshop countered that they were the “European” MOOC platform for they were born in Europe and operated by European rules with respect to the protection of student data. Indeed he went on to flag how they would be more protected from the prying eye of the NSA (a worthwhile objective, though technologically to be determined!).

In any case my point is this: US-based platforms like Coursera and EdX are serving more and more students around the world, and they will continue to do so as long as the platforms exist and partners provide courses. Mediating factors obviously include language, the nature of the courses, access to the internet (the latter of which is captured well by the World Bank and the OECD in the figures below), and access to YouTube (which is used in most courses).InternetAccess



Thus, while there is an evident national and regional (in Europe) politics to MOOCs phenomenon, it is important to recognize that these courses reach students around the world, including in countries far less well resourced than the origin country of most MOOCs. And given this, we may need to remember this point more often and open up/reframe practices, discussions, debates, regulations, intra-university governance pathways, analyses, and so on, to recognize this empirical fact. We’ve seen some magazine articles and blog entries on this issue (most recently Anya Kamenetz on ‘The MOOC Evolution‘), but the transnational dimension of MOOC provision and consumption has received remarkably little sustained attention considering how important it is.

My thanks to Coursera for providing the data, and to Tanya Buckingham and Laura Poplett for working so hard to creatively and effectively map Coursera’s global footprint (as at October 2013).

Kris Olds

Briefly Noted (reactions to Sebastian Thrun’s Fast Company hagiography)

Who is troubled by this week’s Sebastian Thrun hagiography (‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course‘) in Fast Company, as well as this announcement (‘Launching our Data Science & Big Data Track built with Leading Industry Partners‘) via the Udacity blog (both posted on 14 November 2013)? A lot of committed open education thinkers and practitioners, so it seems, and not merely because of the hype machine Thrun so evidently cultivates (I’ll leave aside the possible negative reaction to Thrun getting photographed in Lycra tights through a filter borrowed from a 1970s Swedish cinematographer, or the journalist’s attempt to throw in a clichéd Matrix reference):

I’ve compiled these reflective reactions as they are the only ones to emerge apart from a lot of supportive (of Thrun) tweets that are circulating said Fast Company article far and wide. Will we see some supportive articles and blog entries emerge next week regarding Thrun’s latest “pivot”? We shall see…

Kris Olds

Briefly Noted via @GlobalHigherEd

This is the first entry in a new weekly update series profiling interesting and periodically quirky reports, talks, or articles related to the globalization of higher education and research. These entries will typically be posted on Fridays on this site which is always mirrored on Inside Higher Ed. Today’s entry can be located at:

This series is being developed to bridge my daily use of Twitter @GlobalHigherEd to track and share resources with more traditional blog entries that will be emerging weekly. Briefly Noted, clearly inspired by the New Yorker’s Briefly Noted series on books, is designed to provide some filtered and hopefully useful leads on what to read for those of you who have no interest in coping with the torrent of periodically useful information flowing through the Twitterverse. As the author William Gibson (in his Twitter service Great Dismal) puts it “Twitter is like little animated hieroglyphics in the margins of a working manuscript, offering obscurely breaking news.” More recently, Gibson stated that he uses Twitter as a platform for “novelty aggregation.” The GlobalHigherEd version of Briefly Noted is being designed to provide selective material pulled out of my weekly aggregation process.

Comments and recommendations welcome! Kris Olds


ON THE OCCASION OF HIS INSTALLATION AS THE 16TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, by Meric Gertler (7 November 2013). Meric Gertler, one of the world’s leading economic geographers, was formally installed yesterday at the University of Toronto. His address highlights the role of the university as a “critical piece of social infrastructure” not just in the Greater Toronto region, but also at a national and global scale. While an installation address is by necessity a brief one, Gertler outlines the need to address some serious challenges via pushing down (by recognizing and better leveraging “our location” in the Greater Toronto region), pushing out (by strengthening our international partnerships,” especially in other world cities like New York, São Paulo, and Shanghai), and by pushing inwards (by “reinventing undergraduate education”). I’ve flagged his address as these three strategies reflect an attempt to both support and take advantage of Toronto’s now hyper-cosmopolitan context and associated multi-scalar networks. Gertler’s role in guiding the transformation of the University of Toronto will be worth watching for he is already voicing the need to link the university’s internationalization strategy to mission, context, and all other development strategies (versus functioning as an add-on, appendage style, or as PR rhetoric with respect to internationalization). Some interesting times ahead over the next five years in Toronto, I suspect.

THE EDUCATION APOCALYPSE, by Audrey Watters (7 November 2013).  Audrey Watters, an education writer and one of the more acerbic critics of the MOOC juggernaut, posted a very informative critique on the coming “education apocalypse:”

I want to talk to you today about narratives of the education apocalypse, about eschatology and mythology and MOOCs and millennialism, and I do so not just as a keen observer of education technology but as someone trained as a folklorist. As much as being an ed-tech writer compels me to pay attention to the latest products and policies and venture capital investment, I am fascinated by the stories we tell about all of this. I am fascinated by what I see as some of the dominant end-times myths of the business world, of the tech industry. I am fascinated by how these myths — these sacred stories —  are deployed to talk about the end of the world —or at least  “the end of the university as we know it,” as Techcrunch puts it with the fervor of a true believer.

Watters focuses on the tropes and narrative tricks that analyst-entrepreneurs like Clayton Christensen (Harvard) and Sebastian Thrun (Udacity) use to make a case that their narratives are relevant, worth paying attention to, and equally important worth paying for. Her wittily crafted argument reminded me, somewhat, of Nigel Thrift’s writings on the “cultural circuit of capital” in his book Knowing Capitalism in that both of them seek to understand how and why invented development concepts become “unassailably true,” or practices such as “blended learning” get taken up and get incorporated into new political-economic agenda (like austerity). As Watters aptly puts it:

The structure to this sort of narrative is certainly a well-known and oft-told one in folklore — in tales of both a religious and secular sort. Doom. Suffering. Armageddon. Then paradise.

But who’s paradise is it?

OCEAN SCIENCE IN CANADA: MEETING THE CHALLENGE, SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY, by the Expert Panel on Canadian Ocean Science (Council of Canadian Academies, November 2013). While the title of this report conveys a very Canada-focused study, the 200-page text does a wonderful job of positioning Canada in global context with respect to other spaces of knowledge production about ocean sciences. The charge framing the report was:

What are Canada’s needs and capacities with regard to the major research questions in ocean science that would enable it to address Canadian ocean issues and issues relating to Canada’s coasts and enhance its leading role as an international partner in ocean science?

This charge was addressed via an analysis of Canada’s “capacity in ocean science” via an assessment of: human capacity; organizations, networks, and collaboration; physical and information infrastructure; funding; policy and governance.

From a global higher ed perspective, Chapter 3 (Canada’s Output and Impact in Ocean Science) is fascinating. This chapter’s key findings

  • Canada ranks 7th in the world by number of ocean science papers published, and 11th in scientific impact of its papers, as measured by average relative citations.
  • Ocean science in Canada grew at a slower pace compared with other fields of science in 2003–2011, meaning that its share of Canada’s total research output declined during this period.
  • Although national organizations such as DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] and Environment Canada are highly connected hubs, collaborations in Canada are otherwise more decentralized, resembling a network of regional clusters.
  • Ocean science papers with international co-authors are cited more often than papers with authors from a single country, especially from Canada.

are bolstered by a variety of very well designed visualizations that identify the spaces and networks of Ocean Science knowledge production. Four of these images are pasted in below. Who knew that inland Alberta and Switzerland were key sites of knowledge production related to the world’s oceans!

This report reminded me of some other recent reports and documents:

that are also are attempting to understand, and visually represent, the uneven spaces of knowledge production and circulation. In many of these reports the associated visualizations play an integral role in conveying key analytic messages. Thus, even if you are not interested in the ocean sciences, Ocean Science in Canada is still worth a read and could provide a model of sorts for assessments of other forms of research output and impact.









Making Sense of Euro MOOCs

Note: please link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article should you with to print it or share it more broadly.


Our European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop (19-20 June 2013 @ UW-Madison) went very well, in my biased opinion.  The event was kicked off by a provocative and well-crafted keynote lecture by George Siemens of Athabasca University. As I noted in the workshop webpage:

Siemens developed and taught (with Stephen Downes) the first ever ‘MOOC’ in 2008, and is one of the world’s leading experts on MOOCs. Siemens is an educator and researcher on learning, networks, analytics and visualization, openness, and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. He is the author of Knowing Knowledge, an exploration of how the context and characteristics of knowledge have changed and what it means to organizations today, and the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning. Knowing Knowledge has been translated into Mandarin, Spanish, Persian, and Hungarian. Siemens is the Associate Director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, leading the learning analytics research team. Previously, he was the Associate Director, Research and Development, with the Learning Technologies Centre at University of Manitoba. Siemens is also the co-founder of the newly established MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) which is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

An integrated slide/video (with captions) of Siemens’ keynote is available here for your viewing pleasure:


See below for those of you interested in Siemens’ slides, minus the audio/video element:


Siemens is a very informed analyst/practitioner/interlocutor regarding MOOCs, and it is a pleasure to engage with a person who clearly sees the pros and cons of the fast evolving MOOCs phenomenon, and especially the importance of viewing them from multiple perspectives (from the pedagogical through to the political-economic). I also recommend that you take a look at his reflections on his talk (‘Neoliberalism and MOOCs: Amplifying nonsense’) via the elearnspace blog, which includes this statement:

In recent presentations, I’ve been positioning MOOCs in terms of the complexification of higher education…. The argument is simple: Much of today’s economy is knowledge-based. In a knowledge economy, we need to be learning constantly. Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.

Following a perfectly timed (weather-wise) reception on the rooftop of our Education Building, we spent a full day engaging with the MOOCs phenomenon from a range of perspectives.  Michael Gaebel of the European University Association (EUA) and I laid some context for the day’s discussions. Michael’s slides are available here:


It’s worth noting that Gaebel is in charge of the EUA’s task force on MOOCs.

We then heard from representatives of EdX (Howard Lurie) and Coursera (Pang Wei Koh) about the ‘Place of Europe’ in their emerging global strategies. While there was a lot of information conveyed in these two informative talks and Q&A sessions, it is clear that Europe plays a very important part in the global strategies of EdX and Coursera. European universities are increasingly interested in engaging with these two platforms, and in so engaging with the platforms European universities are simultaneously altering the DNA of said platforms.  European universities bring with them particular understandings and approaches to online education, lifelong learning, credit transfer, inter-institutional cooperation, outreach/public service, governance, and capacity building. The linguistic dimensions of the MOOCs on offer have helped these two platforms grapple with multiple language matters both in Europe, but also in the vast post-colonial worlds Europe has footprints in. Indeed there is a structural logic for engaging with European universities in the early phase of truly global platform development as US universities are unilingual.

DillenbourgJune2013We then dug deep into the Euro MOOCs theme via a fascinating talk by Pierre Dillenbourg who spoke about the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Experience with MOOCs (Situated in the European Context). While we never recorded his talk, see below for his informative slides, as well as another of his presentations from an early June Euro MOOCs summit:



Linda Jorn (UW-Madison) and Pang Wei Koh (Coursera) ably responded to Dillenbourg’s informative presentation. Dillenbourg and others at EPFL are active and critically engaged practitioners regarding MOOCs. Their work with MOOCs seems to be situated in historic perspective, and taken very seriously regarding course vetting and development and learning analytics. It is no surprise, then, that EPFL is an emerging centre of dialogue and debate regarding European MOOCs. As noted in the photo of Dillenbourg above, their philosophy regarding MOOCs is it is “Better be an actor than a spectator.

A large panel discussions was then held regarding Emerging European Institutional Perspectives on MOOCs. Minister Antonio de Lecea (European Union), Michael Gaebel (European University Association), and Fernando Galán Palomares (European Students’ Union) spoke about the MOOCs phenomenon from their particular standpoints, and then Roger Dale (University of Bristol), Susan Robertson (University of Bristol), and Barbara McFadden Allen (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) responded with insight from equally diverse perspectives.

The final session involved Revisiting ‘Disruptor, Saviour, or Distractor: MOOCs and their role in higher education.’ Some time to digest Siemens’ keynote talk the night before, to get to know each other a little more, and to learn along the way, generated a variety of fascinating (I’m biased, I know, but they were!) reflections on the theme of European MOOCs in Global Context.  Amongst the many important points raised, three stand out in my mind a few weeks later while writing this summary up.

The first is that there is genuine interest in the MOOCs phenomenon in Europe. MOOCs have captured the imaginations, for good and for bad, of key European higher education stakeholders. This interest is partly driven by the US-led MOOCs juggernaut which is generating some angst and concerns in Europe. So yes, there is some concern about an initial U.S. domination of the MOOCs landscape, and the discourse about MOOCs. This said, there are many other reasons the MOOCs juggernaut is generating interest in European quarters. There is, for example, a long history of online/distance education in Europe and the MOOCs phenomenon both supports and destabilizes this movement and these historic players. European institutions of higher education also have advanced digitalization (for lack of a better word) and open education resource agendas underway on a number of levels and the MOOCs agenda has potential to sync in well with these. And European HEIs are being asked to do more and more to enhance opportunities for lifelong learning, and to build ties with alumni, and MOOCs have some potential uses on these two fronts.

Second, the global dimensions of the MOOCs phenomenon articulates in fascinating ways with the both the intra- and extra-dimensions of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). MOOCs have some potential to encourage virtual mobility across European space, to build understandings of how different European universities approach teaching and learning, and to share research expertise and strengths via open online courses. MOOCs, be they offered via European or non-European platforms, also enable European universities to reach into other world regions, often in languages other than English. In other words, MOOCs have some untested potential to enhance the building of interregionalisms – an agenda that has been underway since the global dimensions of the formalization of an external dimension to the Bologna Process was spurred on, in May 2005, when the Bergen Communiqué was issued. The Communiqué included the following statement:

The European Higher Education Area must be open and should be attractive to other parts of the world. Our contribution to achieving education for all should be based on the principle of sustainable development and be in accordance with the ongoing international work on developing guidelines for quality provision of crossborder higher education. We reiterate that in international academic cooperation, academic values should prevail.

We see the European Higher Education Area as a partner of higher education systems in other regions of the world, stimulating balanced student and staff exchange and cooperation between higher education institutions. We underline the importance of intercultural understanding and respect. We look forward to enhancing the understanding of the Bologna Process in other continents by sharing our experiences of reform processes with neighbouring regions. We stress the need for dialogue on issues of mutual interest. We see the need to identify partner regions and intensify the exchange of ideas and experiences with those regions.

The Bergen Communiqué then led to the development of a more formal 2007 strategy document titled Looking Out: The Bologna Process in Global Setting: On the External Dimension of the Bologna Process, from which the above quote is taken. And while this statement was issued before George Siemens and Stephen Downes taught the first MOOC in 2008, a read of the Bergen Communiqué and Looking Out will help you see how and why MOOCs might matter to select European higher ed stakeholders. Indeed, just last week the European Commission released a Communication titled ‘European higher education in the world.‘ [For the non-European readers of this entry, a Communication is a paper produced by the European Commission (EC), most often to the key institutions (e.g., Council of the European Union or the European Parliament). It is generally the outcome of a series of initiatives that might follow this sequence: the production of (i) a staff working paper, (ii) the development of a consultation paper that asks for wider inputs and views, and then, if it keeps proceeding it is in the form of (iii) a Communication. The decision to move to this stage is generally if the EC thinks it can get some traction on an issue to be discussed by these other agencies. This is not the only pattern or route, but it does register that issue has wider internal EC backing (that is in the nerve centres of power), and a sense that it might get traction with the Member States.]

As the EUA put it in their summary of ‘European higher education in the world‘, the new Communication:

places emphasis on the broad range of issues that are important for the internationalisation of European higher education. The document, which references the EC’s recent Communications “Modernising Europe’s Higher Education Systems” and “Rethinking Education”, places specific emphasis on how member states and higher education institutions can develop strategic international partnerships to tackle global challenges more effectively.

Among the key priorities outlined is the development of comprehensive internationalisation strategies at national and institutional level. The Commission states that such strategies should cover the following areas:

  • The promotion of international mobility of students and staff (for example through enhanced services for mobility, tools for recognition of studies, better visa procedures for foreign students and emphasis on two-way mobility – into and out of Europe).
  • The promotion of “internationalisation at home” and digital learning (including language learning, using ICT to internationalise curricula).
  • The strengthening of strategic cooperation, partnerships and capacity building (with emphasis on joint and double degrees, partnerships with business and also international development cooperation partnerships).

The EC aims to contribute to the realisation of this strategy through stronger policy support and financial incentives for internationalisation strategies in particular through the future EU programme for education that will be called Erasmus+ (formerly called Erasmus for All). It said the programme, which still needs to be formally approved at the EU level, would integrate external funding instruments and put an end to the fragmentation of the various existing external higher education programmes. It would also link these closer to intra-European cooperation, as the EC said it would provide increased support for mobility to and from non-EU countries through Erasmus+ and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (under Horizon 2020). The Commission also outlines measures in the areas of quality/transparency, cooperation and policy dialogue.

It is worth taking note of what is stated on page 7 of ‘European higher education in the world:

While online courses and degrees are not a new phenomenon, the exponential increase in the supply of online education and digital material, as well as the increase in the provision of assessment, validation and academic credit by selected MOOCs (an emerging trend particularly with many HEIs in countries such as the US and Australia) has the potential of transforming higher education radically. New trends in digital education and the emergence of MOOCs should be an incentive for HEIs to rethink their cost structures and possibly also their missions, and engage in worldwide partnerships to increase the quality of content and of the learning experience through blended learning.

Europe must take the lead in the global efforts to exploit the potential of digital education – including the availability of ICT, the use of OER and the provision of MOOCs – and to overcome the systemic obstacles that still exist in quality assurance, student assessment and recognition, as well as funding. This potential and obstacles will be addressed in a future Commission initiative. [emphasis in original]

Third, it is clear that while in some ways MOOCs are a post-national phenomenon given their multiple identities and citizenships of their visionaries, albeit propelled by well resourced U.S. MOOC platforms, the institutionalization and governance dimensions of MOOCs in Europe are only just unfolding in a complex and different (in comparison to the U.S.) state-society-economy context.

For example, we were pleased that Antonio de Lecea, Minister and Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs Delegation of the European Union to the United States, was able to join us for the entire workshop. Minister de Lecea provided some fascinating insights on the EU’s emerging views regarding MOOCs and broader contextual factors regarding politics, regulatory systems, and debates about important issues like data privacy (a rather topical issue right now!). As de Lecea, Michael Gaebel, Mark Johnson, Fernando Galán Palomares, Roger Dale, and Susan Robertson all pointed out, Europe is inevitably going to take a broader and more strategic approach to MOOCs than what we see unfolding in the U.S. Given this it is important to critically deliberate about the nature of the MOOCs phenomenon so wise decisions can be made by key European institutions.

Indeed it is clear that the message that MOOCs are no silver bullet for revolutionizing higher education, and resolving all sorts of crises and tensions, is being recognized. In short, proselytizing and the hype factor is evident in Europe, as it is here in the U.S., but given what I witnessed with respect those representing the EU, the EUA, and the ESU, not to mention specific European universities (Bristol and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), the MOOCs phenomenon is being grappled with in a relatively informed and critically engaged manner. And in doing so, we here in North America, and at UW-Madison, are learning much about MOOCs, as well as Europe, at the same time.

My thanks to all of the participants for their many inputs, and to the many UW-Madison units (the European Union Center of Excellence with additional support via Education Innovation, Division of Continuing Studies, Division of Information Technology, L&S Learning Support Services, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, Department of Geography) that made this Euro MOOCs event possible.

Kris Olds

European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop (19-20 June 2013 @ UW-Madison)


Schedule Summary


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were ‘invented’ in Canada in 2008, and then became transformed, institutionalized and scaled up via the efforts of people, universities, and firms, in the Boston and San Francisco Bay Area city-regions. In the process debates about MOOCs have blossomed, entangled as they are in discussions about online pedagogy through to longer-standing debates about lifelong learning, internationalization, austerity, ‘disruptive innovation,’ public service, deterritorialization, education reform, and many (many) other issues.

EUBldgThe European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop, a free and open access (i.e. no RSVP) event will be held in the Wisconsin Idea Room, Education Building, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 19-20 June 2013, This workshop is designed to engender discussion and debate about the MOOCs phenomenon from a European perspective, as well as about the implications of the MOOCs juggernaut for European universities and students. We seek to learn about MOOCs by contextualizing them, speaking about their histories and geographies, their technologies and aspirational futures, as well as their uneven geographies and power geometries. In doing so we hope that participants will become more astute thinkers about potentials and limits of MOOCs, not to mention how to situate the fast changing MOOCs phenomenon. Given this workshop attendees need not be Europeanists; you simply need to be interested in MOOCs, online learning, and the transformation of higher education more generally.

gsiemens_unesco-1The workshop kicks off with a 5:00 pm keynote talk on Wednesday 19 June by George Siemens (Athabasca University, Canada). George Siemens developed and taught (with Stephen Downes) the first ever ‘MOOC’ in 2008, and is one of the world’s leading experts on MOOCs. Siemens is an educator and researcher on learning, networks, analytics and visualization, openness, and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. He is the author of Knowing Knowledge, an exploration of how the context and characteristics of knowledge have changed and what it means to organizations today, and the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning. Knowing Knowledge has been translated into Mandarin, Spanish, Persian, and Hungarian. Siemens is the Associate Director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, leading the learning analytics research team. Previously, he was the Associate Director, Research and Development, with the Learning Technologies Centre at University of Manitoba. Siemens is also the co-founder of the newly established MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) which is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

The title of Siemens’ keynote talk at UW-Madison is ‘Disruptor, Saviour, or Distractor: MOOCs and their role in higher education.’ An open reception on the Education Building’s rooftop terrace will follow.

The remainder of the workshop will be held on 20 June from approximately 9:00 am to ~2:00 pm. A detailed schedule is under development and will be posted here in early June. Additional visiting speakers and panelists include:

  • Roger Dale (University of Bristol, UK). Roger Dale is Professor of Education. Until 2002, he was Professor of Education at the University of Auckland. Prior to moving to Auckland, he had been involved in producing courses in sociology of education and education policy at the UK’s Open University for almost 20 years. He conducts research on the EU and education policy, complementing and extending qualitatively his earlier work on the state and education policy. He was Scientific Coordinator of the EU’s Network of Experts on Social Science and Education (NESSE), and Academic Coordinator of the EU Erasmus Thematic Network, GENIE (Globalisation and Europeanisation in Education) which was based in the University of Bristol’s Centre for Research on Globalisation, Education and Societies.
  • Pierre Dillenbourg (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL, Switzerland). Pierre Dillenbourg is academic director of EPFL’s Center for Digital Education and head of the Computer-Human Interaction for Learning & Instruction Lab. He is lead organizer of EPFL’s European MOOC Summit (6-7 June 2013; see slides below), and one of the world’s leading thinkers about the nature of MOOCs and learning analytics. He started his research on learning technologies in 1984, and conducts research on MOOCs, computer-supported collaborative learning & work, learning technologies, and human-computer interaction.
  • Michael Gaebel (European University Association, EUA, Belgium). Michael Gaebel is the Head of the Higher Education Policy Unit, which focuses on the Bologna Process, lifelong learning, internationalisation and global dialogue. When he first joined the EUA in 2006, he was in charge of developing EUA’s international strategy and global exchange and cooperation. Mr. Gaebel is in charge of the EUA’s task force on MOOCs. The EUA represents and supports over 860 higher education institutions in 47 countries, providing them with a unique forum to cooperate and keep abreast of the latest trends in higher education and research policies.
  • Fernando M Galán Palomares (European Students’ Union, ESU, Belgium). Mr. Galán Palomares is incoming Vice-Chair of the ESU Executive Committee with responsibilities including quality assurance. The European Students’ Union (ESU) is the umbrella organisation of 47 National Unions of Students (NUS) from 39 countries. The aim of ESU is to represent and promote the educational, social, economic and cultural interests of students at the European level towards all relevant bodies and in particular the European Union, Bologna Follow Up Group, Council of Europe and UNESCO. Through its members, ESU represents over 15 million students in Europe. It is also worth noting that the ESU adopted a new policy about MOOCs in their last General Assembly.
  • Mark Johnson (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Mark S. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was previously associate professor of history and education at Colorado College. His research and teaching interests focus on education in Russia and Central Eurasia, especially post-Soviet higher education; and comparative studies of soft power and public diplomacy programs. He has worked as a consultant and evaluator for organizations including the U.S. Department of State, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Bureau of Asian Research, the Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Civilian Research and Development Foundation, the World Bank, the National Research University HigherSchool of Economics in Russia, and Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.
  • Linda Jorn (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Linda Jorn serves as Associate Vice Provost of Learning Technologies and Division of Information Technology (DoIT) Director of Academic Technology (AT) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently leads a team of 80 academic technology professionals that provide a suite of 22 services to campus; several AT team members co-lead, with other campus partners, the campus-wide MOOC pilot. She is passionate about designing academic technology services and developing key partnerships that take a scholarly approach to advancing learning and research through the innovative and thoughtful use of technology. In her day-to-day work, she draws on her academic and work background in curriculum and instruction, rhetoric, communication, nursing, qualitative research, and leadership. Linda regularly serves on review committees for national learning technology grants and advisory boards for national and regional organizations.
  • Pang Wei Koh (Coursera, USA). Pang Wei Koh is Head of Course Operations at Coursera, where he oversees the design, implementation, and support of all online classes on the Coursera platform, and works with faculty and staff from nearly 80 partner institutions to push the envelope in digital pedagogy. Before joining Coursera, Pang Wei worked on computational biology and machine learning in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab with Professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera’s co-founders; his work on computational cancer morphology was recently recognized by several awards, including the Ernest Walton Medal for Computer Science, awarded by the President of Ireland.
  • Antonio de Lecea (Delegation of the European Union to the United States). Antonio de Lecea is Minister and Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs Delegation of the European Union to the United States. Prior to joining the Delegation, Dr. de Lecea served as the Director for International Affairs in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, steering analytical and policy support for the Commission’s economic relations with non-EU countries and multilateral and regional economic institutions including the IMF, the World Bank, the G-20, the G7/G8, and the OECD. From 1999 to 2004, Dr. de Lecea was the economic advisor to then-European Commission President Romano Prodi. Before joining the European Commission, Dr. de Lecea served in the private office of the Spanish Secretary of State for Finance in Madrid and in academia (at Basque Country University (UPV), in Bilbao, Spain).
  • Barbara McFadden Allen (Committee on Institutional Cooperation, USA). Barbara McFadden Allen is Executive Director of the CIC (a consortium made up of members of the Big Ten Athletic Conference and the University of Chicago). She is responsible for the overall conduct of the CIC headquarters’ staff and programs, and works with the Members (chief academic officers) to define and implement the consortium’s mission and agenda. CIC universities co-own and operate a multi-million dollar fiber optic network; have partnered with Google to digitize our university libraries; and develop and coordinate innovative academic & research collaborations.
  • Howard Lurie (EdX, USA). Howard Lurie is Vice President of External Affairs, EdX. He has taught and designed online courses and managed digital content collections for internationally known educational non-profits, including Facing History and Ourselves. These experiences leveraged a 15-year teaching career, during which Howard taught history and digital humanities. Prior to joining edX, Howard served as the Managing Director for PBS LearningMedia, a nationally recognized digital learning platform produced by the Public Broadcasting System, and also served as the Associate Director for Education at the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston, Mass. Mr. Lurie will be speaking via Skype on Thursday morning.
  • Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Kris Olds is Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Geography, UW-Madison. Olds’ research focuses on the globalization of the services industries (including higher education, architecture, property) and their relationship to urban and regional change. He has played a variety of strategic service roles for UW-Madison, as well as for organizations including the OECD, NAFSA, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the International Association of Universities, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. He is currently developing a MOOC (Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’) with Susan Robertson (University of Bristol).
  • Susan L. Robertson (University of Bristol, UK). Susan Robertson is Professor, Sociology of Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She is also Director of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies, and co-editor of the journal Globalisation, Societies and Education. Robertson’s research focuses on the political economy of the education sector, and how education is the object and outcome of converging and diverging policies and practices around the globe. These include creating education as a services sector, the commercialisation of education, and the increased role of for-profit actors in the sector. An important aspect of this transformation has been the growth of international agencies and transnational firms in shaping these processes. She is currently developing a MOOC (Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’) with Kris Olds of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UW-Madison Sponsors: European Union Center of Excellence with additional support via Education Innovation, Division of Continuing Studies, Division of Information Technology, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, Department of Geography.

Further Information: Please note that this is an open and free event – all are welcome, regardless of your affiliation, and there is no need to sign up as an attendee.  All sessions, apart from the 19 June reception, will happen in the Wisconsin Idea Room, Education Building, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Contact: Kris Olds, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Email:

Note: The slides below were presented at EPFL’s European MOOC Summit (6-7 June 2013) and are worth perusing before our workshop.



Also see these entries on related themes in Inside Higher Ed:


Madison, WI June 7th, 2013 (pic taken by Katie Hermsen)