Euro-Asia university cooperation as a means to enrich academic quality

Editor’s note: The speech below was given by Alistair MacDonald (pictured to the right), Head of Delegation, European Union Delegation Manila. Mr. MacDonald kindly allowed us to reprint his speech below, which was delivered at the Best Practices in University Development through International Cooperation conference, Baguio City, Philippines, 2-4 February 2010.

The conference rationale was framed this way:

Saint Louis University and Benguet State University are organizing an international conference to cap 10 years of fruitful partnership under the Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad (Flemish Interuniversity Council)-Philippines Institutional University Cooperation Program. The collaboration between SLU and BSU is the only one of its kind among all the Flemish IUC programs, in that it involves two universities in a single partnership. Despite the differences in structure and development objectives, SLU and BSU worked successfully together in various projects covering Institutional Management, ICT, Library Services, Socio-Economics, and Health and Environment. Thus in this conference, the VLIR, SLU and BSU aim to share best practices in university development cooperation based on the PIUC experience which could serve as a model for other institutions. This will also bring views from all over the globe on the opportunities and challenges of international university development cooperation.

The EU Delegation to the Philippines was established in 1990, as a “fully-fledged diplomatic mission, with the task of officially representing the European Union in the Philippines (in close cooperation with the Embassies of the EU Member States)”. Our thanks to Mr. MacDonald for shedding light on the logics and practices that are shaping the transformation of higher education systems within, as well as linkages between, European and Asian systems of higher education.

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University Cooperation as a Means to Enrich Academic Quality

Remarks by Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, European Union

Baguio, 3 February 2010

Chairman Angeles, Professor Supachai, Fr Hechanova and Dr Tagarino, our visitors from the Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad and other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen – good morning, magandang umaga, gooie morgen.

Thank you for inviting me to join you at the opening of your conference – a conference which is an excellent example of cooperation between the Philippines and Belgium, between the EU and Asia. Having been an academic before I became a bureaucrat, higher education remains a subject very close to my heart. Though I must say, having been out of academia for more than 30 years, that I feel pretty nervous speaking in front of such an audience of university presidents, deans, and professors.

At least that means that I don’t need to convince you just how important higher education is to the future of any country, and indeed how important a role higher education plays in building and cementing international relations and international cooperation. International partnerships are becoming increasingly important in the context of globalisation, and the EU sees higher education as a strategic sector for strengthening our partnership and our cooperation with Asia.

I would just like to look today at two main themes – how we have attempted to strengthen higher education across Europe, through the Bologna process, and how we have sought to promote cooperation with third countries in higher education.

1) The Bologna Process

I should underline first that in the EU, the primary responsibility for education rests with the individual Member States, and in some cases (like in Scotland or I believe Belgium, with the national or regional authorities within these States). But the EU has for many years sought to promote cooperation among European universities, through the exchange of students and faculty or the exchange of best practices, and through joint research and degree programmes. The European Commission, as the executive arm of the EU, has played an active part in developing such programmes .

The foundations of our current efforts in this field were laid back in 1999, when Education Ministers from 29 European countries met in Bologna, and committed themselves to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students can choose from a wide range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. Our Education Ministers were concerned to make European higher education more compatible and comparable, promoting free movement across the EU, and at the same time to ensure that it would remain competitive and attractive, both for Europeans and for students and researchers from elsewhere in the world. That was how the so-called “Bologna Process” was born.

Why was it called the Bologna Process? The simple answer is that this meeting was held in Bologna. But at the same time this recognised Bologna’s place in history, as the oldest university in Europe (though not the oldest in the world, which distinction is held in Morocco, I believe). The University of Bologna was founded in 1088, well before Paris, Oxford, etc. My own alma mater, Glasgow University, was a relative latecomer, being established in 1451.

The Bologna Process, from its birth in 1999, had the objective of  making academic degree standards and quality assurance standards more comparable and compatible across Europe, so that :

  • it will be easy to move from one country to the other (within the European Higher Education Area) – for the purpose of further study or employment;
  • European higher education will become more attractive to students and researchers from outside Europe
  • and in particular that the European Higher Education Area will provide us with a high-quality university network, helping to ensure Europe’s future as a stable, peaceful and tolerant community;

The priorities of the Bologna process are:

  • to introduce the three cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate) across Europe
  • to set standards for quality assurance and thus of comparability;
  • and to facilitate the mutual recognition of qualifications and periods of study
  • all of this through the creation of a European Higher Education Area

Twenty-nine countries signed the Bologna Declaration in 1999 (including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), but a total of forty-six countries have now joined the Bologna Process, ranging from Russia to the Holy See. The criteria for accession to the process are simple :

  • being a signatory to the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe.
  • and giving a clear commitment to the objectives of the Bologna Process, and presenting a reform programme for that country’s higher education system.

I should underline that the Bologna Process is not in fact an EU process, but an intergovernmental process, whose membership stretches far beyond the EU. Nevertheless, the European Commission is a full member of the Bologna Process, beside the 46 signatory countries. Consultative members include bodies such as the Council of Europe and UNESCO.

In parallel with the the Bologna Declaration, though, and just one year later, the EU also adopted the Lisbon Agenda, setting the objective that Europe should by 2010 become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth, with more and better jobs, and greater social cohesion.

Underlying these parallel initiatives were two main concerns – we needed to protect and promote European competitiveness, ensuring that our young people would be able to find their place in a caring, sharing and dynamic society – and we needed to encourage academic mobility across Europe, breaking down national barriers.

The Bologna Process has already achieved considerable results. There is clearly a strong commitment at national, regional and institutional levels to maintain this momentum, especially following last April’s Ministerial meeting in Belgium (in Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve), where the Ministers responsible for higher education in the 46 countries of the Bologna Process met to establish the priorities for the European Higher Education Area until 2020. They highlighted in particular the importance of lifelong learning, of widening access to higher education, and of mobility. And they set the goal that by 2020, at least 20% of those graduating in the European Higher Education Area should have had a study or training period abroad.

At the same time, I have to underline that our educational perspectives were not limited to internal European requirements. The Bologna Ministers also agreed upon an external dimension strategy, focusing on information, promotion, cooperation, recognition and policy dialogue. The EC supports the external dimension strategy through a number of policies and programmes, which I will come to later.

Indeed the international openness of the Bologna Process is a key priority for the EU, especially as there seems to be a great interest in the Bologna reforms from countries outside Europe. Twenty non-European countries attended the first ‘Bologna Policy Forum’, which took place last year in Belgium. This Forum serves as a platform for developing a closer relationship with other regions of the world, and provides an opportunity to promote global cooperation in higher education. The second such Forum will be held in Vienna in March (12 March), and I was very happy to hear that the Philippines has been invited to take part.

2) International academic cooperation

The second main topic I’d like to look at is the manner in which the EU works to promote international academic cooperation, whether through student or faculty exchanges, or through research cooperation, or through inter-university cooperation more generally. Indeed the EU’s policy work in the field of education and training is backed up by a variety of funding programmes implemented by the European Commission. I’m not going to try to be exhaustive here, particularly since I’m sure our colleagues from Flanders will be able to speak of their own experiences under EU-funded programmes in this area, so I’ll just comment briefly on some of our main programmes in this field.

Erasmus Mundus

Just as our flagship programme in the field of student exchanges within the EU is the Erasmus programme – commemorating of course the famous Dutch humanist scholar of the Reformation era, who himself studied and taught in Paris, Leuven, Cambridge, Turin and Basel – so our flagship programme for international academic exchanges is the Erasmus Mundus programme.

Erasmus Mundus was launched in 2004 with a view to promoting the quality, visibility and attractiveness of European higher education by supporting partnerships with non-EU universities in relation to the joint masters’ courses established under the Erasmus progrmme (and including more than one hundred such courses offered by consortia including over 230 European universities). The Erasmus Mundus programme offers scholarships to graduate students and academics from outside the EU to follow these courses, and so far some 6000 students and 660 academics worls-wide have followed these courses. The global budget for the first phase of the programme (2004-2008) was €230 million, 90% of which went into scholarships. In 2005, special regional windows were created under the Erasmus Mundus programme by using additional funds coming from the Community’s development cooperation budget.

Over the period 2004-09, there were about 100 Filipinos who have received such scholarships – and I am delighted to say that all who have completed their training have returned to the Philippines, as ambassadors for European education, just as they were ambassadors for the Philippines when studying in Europe. The returning scholars have also established a very active Alumni Association, with their own website, which also works  to provide information and advice to students thinking of studying in Europe.

Then in 2006 the Erasmus Mundus External Cooperation Window (EMECW) was established, building on the existing Erasmus Mundus programme to promote academic partnerships and institutional cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe and in partner countries, and including a mobility scheme addressing Erasmus-style student and academic exchanges. Under this programme, calls for proposals were organised in 2007, 2008 and 2009, with total funding for Asia amounting to almost €30 million.

A second phase of the Erasmus Mundus programme was adopted at the end of 2008, covering the period 2009-2013, and building on and extending the scope of the first phase. Erasmus Mundus II covers joint masters and joint doctorate programmes, including scholarships for EU and non-European students and academics (Action 1); partnerships between European universities and universities in specific world regions (former EMECW, now Action 2); and measures to enhance the world-wide appeal of Europe as an education destination (Action 3). New elements of the programme are the inclusion of non-EU institutions as full partners in Erasmus Mundus consortia, the offer of full study scholarships to EU students and the extension of Erasmus Mundus joint programmes to doctoral level.

Erasmus Mundus II has a budget of € 950 million, much higher than in the first phase of the programme. The first joint initiatives under the new actions of Erasmus Mundus II started in academic year 2009/10, but the mobility under the new actions will take place as of 2010/11.

Jean Monnet

Quite apart from the Erasmus programme, and established earlier (in 1990), is the Jean Monnet programme. This specifically supports studies in the field of European integration, and builds on the work of the network of 54 national European Studies Associations. Such associations exist in most of the EU Member States and in several non-EU countries (such as the United States, Canada, Japan, China, India, Korea, Brazil, Argentina …).

The Jean Monnet Programme is intended to enhance knowledge and awareness on European integration, increase the visibility of the EU in the world, stimulate academic excellence in European integration studies, and allow policy-makers to benefit from academic insight. The programme is now part of the Lifelong Learning Programme and funds Jean Monnet chairs, centres of excellence and teaching modules, as well as information and research activities.

Such programmes now exist in 61 countries around the world, with more than 100 Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence, and more than 750 Jean Monnet Chairs. They reach an audience of 250.000 students every year. The highest number of Jean Monnet teaching projects outside the EU can be found in Canada, China, the United States and Turkey.

Research cooperation

Turning to more research-orientated cooperation, the EU has for many years devoted significant resources to supporting applied and pure research in many fields, both within the EU and externally. We are currently implementing the 7th Framework Programme in Research and Technology, covering the period from 2007 to 2013, and with a total budget of over €50 billion. This funding is used to support research, technological development and demonstration projects. Grants are determined on the basis of calls for proposals and peer review, and the selection process is highly competitive. A number of Philippine universities have participated in such programmes, as members of consortia under FP7 and its predecessors – I’m thinking for example of UP, Ateneo, DLS, San Carlos and Siliman.

Apart from our funding possibilities under the Framework Programmes, we have also funded some specific research activities under our classical development cooperation budget. One example is the Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN), addressing the digital divide by connecting universities and research institutions in Europe and Asia by means of high-capacity dedicated Internet networks. Currently the third phase of this programme, TEIN3, covers 19 countries in Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea in East Asia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam in ASEAN, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia, and Australia). TEIN3 receives an EC grant of over €11 million covering some 60% of the project costs; the remaining funds are provided by the partners on a cost-sharing basis.

3) Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, it is evident that a growing concern of policy makers in Europe and around the world is to ensure that our higher education institutions and systems are “fit for purpose” for the 21st century. This is as much a concern in Asia in general, and the Philippines in particular, as it is in Europe. Globalisation makes it essential for universities to open up to international cooperation, to send and receive more students from abroad, and to ensure that the quality of their teaching and research meets domestic needs and international standards.

These concerns are at the heart of the move to establish a European Higher Education Area in the context of the Bologna process, ensuring that higher education in Europe is fully competitive in the global context, and is able to meet the teaching, research and employment needs of the 21st century. Within the EU, the Lisbon Agenda of 2000, and its likely successor the “EU 2020” programme which the Commission will shortly present, have these concerns at their core. Here in the Philippines, with its long tradition of academic excellence, it is no less essential that the Universities are able to respond to society’s needs – producing the teachers, researchers, skilled workers and entrepreneurs that will drive the country forward, at the same time as the Universities keep alight the value of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. And now more than ever, international university cooperation has a key role to play in promoting mutual understanding, mutual cooperation, and mutual respect.

Thank you for your attention, maraming salamat po, en hartelijk bedankt.

ANNEX

Past Programmes in Asia

  • The Asia Link Programme supported regional networking among higher education institutions in Europe and Asia from 2002 until 2006 (and has since been integrated in the Erasmus Mundus). It included support for joint research work, for curriculum development, and for staff and student exchanges. Nine AsiaLink projects have been implemented in the Philippines, with EC funding totalling some €2.6m (PHP 160m) – in sectors as diverse as mathematics teaching, urban planning, agro-forestry, and biomedical engineering.
  • In past years, we have also funded the EU-ASEAN University Network Programme (2000-06) supporting research and teaching cooperation between universities in ASEAN and their counterparts in Europe, and including two substantial projects with Philippine universities, in mariners’ education and in spatial planning.
  • I can even stretch my mind back to earlier programmes in the 1990s, such as our support for the establishment of a European Studies Consortium in Manila, and for an EU-ASEAN Scholarship programme.

Programmes in other regions

And since this is an international conference I would also like to mention very briefly the international cooperation programmes for higher education and training the European Commission implements in the other regions of the world:

  • Tempus contributes to the building of cooperation in the field of higher education between the EU and partner countries in neighbouring regions, namely in Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. The latest phase of the programme, Tempus IV, started in 2008. The annual Tempus budget amounts to around €50 million, and individual projects receive funding between €0.5 and €1.5 million.
  • Edulink fosters capacity building and regional integration in higher education in the Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific region and countries. It also promotes higher education as a means of reducing poverty. This programme is addressed only to institutions, hence individuals can not apply. Between 2006 and 2008 the total funding amounted to €14 million.
  • Alfa is a cooperation programme between higher education institutions in the EU and in Latin America, having as objectives to improve the quality, relevance and accessibility of Higher Education in Latin America; and to contribute to the process of regional integration of Latin America, fostering progress towards the creation of a joint Higher Education area in the region and exploiting its synergies with the EU. The third phase of the programme, ALFA III (2007-2013), has an EU budget of €85m.
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One thought on “Euro-Asia university cooperation as a means to enrich academic quality

  1. Pingback: A Southeast Asian perspective on university development cooperation as a means to enrich academic quality « GlobalHigherEd

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