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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Global regionalism, interregionalism, and higher education

The development of linkages between higher education systems in a variety of ‘world regions’ continues apace. Developments in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Gulf, and Latin America, albeit uneven in nature, point to the desire to frame and construct regional agendas and architectures. Regionalism -– a state-led initiative to enhance integration to boost trade and security — is now being broadened out such that higher education, and research in some cases, is being uplifted into the regionalism impulse/dynamic.

The incorporation of higher education and research into the regionalism agenda is starting to generate various forms of interregionalisms as well.  What I mean by this is that once a regional higher education area or research area has been established, at least partially, relations between that region, and other regions (i.e. partners), then come to be sought after. These may take the form of relations between (a) regions (e.g., Europe and Asia), (b) a region and components of another region (e.g., Europe and Brazil; Latin America and the United States; Southeast Asia and Australia). The dynamics of how interregional relations are formed are best examined via case studies for, suffice it to say, not all regions are equals, and nor do regions (or indeed countries) speak with singular and stable voices. Moreover some interregional relations can be practice-oriented, and involve informal sharing of best practices that might not formally be ‘on the books.’

Let me outline two examples of the regionalism/interregionalism dynamic below.


The first example comes straight from an 8 July 2011 newsletter from the European University Association (EUA), one of the most active and effective higher education institutions forging interregional relations of various sorts.

In their newsletter article, the EUA states (and I quote at length):

The harmonisation agenda in Central America: ALFA PUENTES sub-regional project launch (July 07, 2011)

 EUA, OBREAL, HRK and university association partners from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Mexico gathered in Guatemala City on 27-28 June both to discuss and formally launch the sub-regional project ‘Towards a qualifications framework for MesoAmerica’, one of the three pillars of the European Commission supported structural project ‘ALFA PUENTES’ which EUA is coordinating.

Hosted by sub-regional project coordinator CSUCA (Consejo Universitario CentroAmericana), and further attended by the sub-regional coordinators of the Andean Community (ASCUN), Mercosur (Grupo Montevideo), partners discussed current higher education initiatives in Central America and how the ALFA PUENTES project can both support and build upon them.

CSUCA, created in 1948 with a mission to further integration in Central America and improve the quality of higher education in the region, has accelerated its agenda over the past 10 years and recently established a regional accreditation body. This endeavour has been facilitated by project partner and EUA member HRK (in conjunction with DAAD) as well as several other donors. The association, which represents around 20 public universities in Central America, has an ambitious agenda to create better transparency and harmonisation of degrees, and has already agreed to a common definition of credit points and a template for a diploma supplement.

Secretary General Dr Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria stated in a public presentation of the project that ALFA PUENTES will be utilised to generate a discussion on qualifications frameworks and how this may accelerate the Central America objectives of degree convergence. European experience via the Bologna Process will be shared and European project partners as well as Latin American (LA) partners from other regions will contribute expertise and good practice.

ALFA PUENTES is a three-year project aimed at both supporting Latin American higher education convergence processes and creating deeper working relationships between European and Latin American university associations. Thematic sub-regional projects (MesoAmerica, Andean Community and Mercosur) will be connected with a series of transversal activities including a pan-Latin American survey on change forces in higher education, as well as two large Europe-LA University Association Conferences (2012 and 2014).

This lengthy quote captures a fascinating array of patterns and processes that are unfolding right now; some unique to Europe, some unique to Latin America, and some reflective of synergy and complementarities between these two world regions.

TUNING the Americas

The second example, one more visual in nature, consists of a recent map we created about the export of the TUNING phenomenon. As we have noted in two previous GlobalHigherEd entries:

TUNING is a process launched in Europe to help build the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). As noted on the key TUNING website, TUNING is designed to:

Contribute significantly to the elaboration of a framework of comparable and compatible qualifications in each of the (potential) signatory countries of the Bologna process, which should be described in terms of workload, level, learning outcomes, competences and profile.

The TUNING logic is captured nicely by this graphic from page 15 of the TUNING General Brochure.

Over time, lessons learned about integration and educational reform via these types of mechanisms/technologies of governance have come to be viewed with considerable interest in other parts of the world, including Africa, North America, and Latin America. In short, the TUNING approach, an element of the building of the EHEA, has come to receive considerable attention in non-European regions that are also seeking to guide their higher educational reform processes, and as well as (in many cases) region-building processes.

As is evident in one of several ‘TUNING Americas’ maps we (Susan Robertson, Thomas Muhr, and myself) are working on with the support of the UW-Madison Cartography Lab and the WUN, the TUNING approach is being taken up in other world regions, sometimes with the direct support of the European Commission (e.g., in Latin America or Africa). The map below is based on data regarding the institutional take-up of TUNING as of late 2010.

Please note that this particular map only focuses on Europe and the Americas, and it leaves out other countries and world regions. However, the image pasted in below, which was extracted from a publicly available presentation by Robert Wagenaar of the University of Groningen, captures aspects of TUNING’s evolving global geography.

Despite the importance of EU largesse and support, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the EU is foisting TUNING on world regions; this is the post-colonial era, after all, and regions are voluntarily working with this European-originated reform mechanism and Europe-based actors. TUNING also only works when faculty/staff members in higher education institutions outside of Europe drive and then implement the process (a point Robert Wagenaar emphasizes). Or look, for example, at the role of the US-based Lumina Foundation in its TUNING USA initiative. Instead, what we seem to have is capacity building, mutual interests in the ‘competencies’ and ‘learning outcomes’ agenda, and aspects of the best practices phenomenon (all of which help explain the ongoing building of synergy between the OECD’s AHELO initiative with the European/EU-enabled TUNING initiative). This said, there are some ongoing debates about the possible alignment implications associated with the TUNING initiative.

These are but two examples of many emerging regionalisms/interregionalisms in the global higher education landscape; a complicated multiscalar phenomenon of educational reform and ‘modernization,’ and region building, mixed in with some fascinating cases of relational identity formation at the regional scale.

Kris Olds (with thanks to Susan Robertson & Thomas Muhr)

From the big picture to close ups: in Zagreb and Vienna the week the European Higher Education Area was launched

Editor’s note: this entry has been kindly contributed by Anne Corbett, Visiting Fellow, European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Anne Corbett, author of one other entry in GlobalHigherEd (‘A European view of the new Adelman report on the Bologna Process’ 16 April 2009) is also author of Universities and the Europe of Knowledge (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).


As noted in a recent GlobalHigherEd entry by Kris Olds (‘The Global Bologna Policy Forum: a forum for the emerging global higher education and research space?‘ 13 March 2010), the development of the Bologna Policy Forum brings the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) firmly into the international relations domain. But I think it is instructive to know about the politics too, as a minimum to learn how the Forum idea emerged, and how Kazakhstan became the 47th Bologna member (see below); ideally to have a better understanding of what makes European universities tick.

Helped by some fortuitous travel in the Spring of 2010, herewith my snapshots of the recent events in and around the celebrations for the Bologna decade and the second meeting of the Bologna Policy Forum.

On assessing the Bologna decade: First stop Zagreb

When higher education ministers were packing their bags for Budapest and Vienna, I was at a conference at the University of Zagreb, along with Bologna’s most articulate philosopher, Pavel Zgaga (and occasional GlobalHigherEd contributor – see ‘Bologna: beyond 2010 and over the Ocean – but where to? On new Bologna reports and C. Adelman’s last essay‘, 11 May 2009). Further details on the conference (UNESCO Chair Round Table: “Processing the Bologna Process: Current Losses and Future Gains”, 5-6 March 2010) are available here.

At the conference, a former president of the Austrian rectors’ organisation who was a Bologna player in the early days, expressed astonishment at the progress towards a European higher education area over the ten years. ‘Whenever three or four rectors are gathered together, let alone rectors’ organisations, we sign a declaration. We don’t necessarily expect to hear more of it.’

To cue, a Croatian professor with a big public reputation explained why so many policy initiatives in his experience are doomed. ‘We have lived under Moscow, Belgrade, Zagreb and now we have to live under Brussels. We know about sabotaging government initiatives’. He hoped that ‘this new policy for the management of knowledge’ which ‘infantilised’ true scholars would be ignored.

One plus one is never two in the light (Picasso)

So what does engagement with Bologna, rather than sabotage, look like? Recognising the challenge over recent months, some academics at the University of Zagreb decided to try and confront the grumblings. They formed a group which ranged from researcher to vice-rector level, working with the UNESCO Chair for Governance and Management of Higher Education, Pavel Gregorić (pictured to the right), who has a PhD from Oxford. They had the support of the rector, Aleksa Bjeliš.

The result: two days of discussions in Spring 2010 bringing together academics concerned with evidence of change as well as the arguments; politicians who had initiated Croatia’s Bologna law of 2002 and its subsequent amendments; some of the relevant officials; and a few of us foreigners.

Zagreb, Croatia’s largest and most scientifically productive university, has seen some painful confrontations in the past. Founded by the Jesuits in 1669, it was a player in the 18th century conversion to the secular and scientific values when Maria Theresa, Empress of Austro-Hungary broke with the Jesuits in the 18th century, and her despotic son, Emperor Joseph II went to promote the Enlightenment. In 2009 it was out-sitting sitting-in students who believe ‘Education is not for Sale’ – widely written  as ‘$A£€’. And in between it has faced such traumatic events as the break-up of Yugoslavia and (re-) establishing a nation.

Bologna confrontations in this conference were, however, of the fruitful kind. All recognised that they were engaged in a process which takes them into an EHEA. The questions were how and what they could do to shape outcomes. Some of the evidence was positive. Within the university, drop out rates have fallen significantly where newly structured courses have been introduced, and there appears to be benefits from a greater concentration on teaching, taking some quality-oriented thinking from Bologna. They made it sound like a demonstration of Cliff Adelman’s concept of an ‘accountability loop’ which emerges from a linkage of course reconstruction, quality assurance and credits (see my entry ‘A European view of the new Adelman report on the Bologna Process‘).

In another register, a music professor showed a film of students who were in no way selected musical geniuses, and how they had been ‘metamorphosed’ by the experience of preparing an opera. It was he who gave the wonderful quote from Picasso on the potentially creative nature of educational experience that ‘one plus one is never two in the light’.

But there are difficulties associated with mobility and recognition of foreign studies by universities, and scepticism among employers about new degrees.

Some of the academics in the audience blamed the Croatian government’s interpretation of Bologna, punning on the local word ‘bolonja’ which, linked to spaghetti, is junk food.

Under the Croatian law, the University’s Faculty of Law, which is respected across Europe by academic lawyers and political scientists, cannot establish a graduate school in the political sciences. Faculty and research candidates with masters’ degrees from Columbia and LSE, are turned away unless they do supplementary studies, to stretch the masters’ process to two years. The holder of a Yale doctorate avoided trouble when she applied for her post by producing a supplementary and longer thesis in Croatian.

But the politicians and some academics have their complaints too. Too many academics are not being responsible about making the new three-year bachelors degree work; they stay wedded to the long five-year structure.

These would, however, seem to be problems with solutions, given some time, some goodwill, more European exchange of ideas, and factors such as the demographic downtown, that will surely have universities begging for students, be they lifelong learners or foreign students.  What was impressive about this conference was the degree of apparent openness with which these issues were aired, and the evident interdisciplinary, intergenerational mix. It surely could not have happened without the existence of Bologna, or even bolonja.

Die Wissenschaft und ihre Lehre ist frei

Next stop Vienna. Though I have the necessary plastic card I’m not here to dress up in a ballgown to swing through the Imperial Palace, possibly alongside EHEA ministers. I’ve come in part to do some work with Elsa Hackl, a colleague in political science, and author of a pioneering study of how Bologna was born.

After the calm around the Zagreb rectorate, the shabby 1970s political science building of the University of Vienna exudes political buzz. Free coffee is on offer to those who will demonstrate against neo-liberalism. They need to shout ‘Bologna burns’ at ministers, who will be driven past in buses heavily protected by police escorts and helicopter surveillance. Next to coffee vending machines are those ‘spag.bol.’ references in English: ‘Bologna is Junk Food’.

In all the bustle, you might be forgiven for not seeing the brass inscription on the staircase with that great Germanic statement of academic freedom, Die Wissenschaft und ihre Lehre ist freiScience and its teaching are free. That comes from the Austrian constitution of 1867, alongside the constitutional guarantees of religious toleration and the right of all citizens to hold public office. It’s their birthright. So it’s unsurprising that these days ‘free’ applies to cash as well as to conscience and academic freedom. You have to salute the intellectual creativity of protestors in Austria in some universities where variable fees are being discussed of up to 30 000 euros p.a. in coming up with the slogan: ‘We want rich parents for everyone’.

We want rich parents for everyone

Next day by clean and uncrowded U-bahn and bus for the European Student Union (ESU) Summit. The venue provided by the Austrian government is well away from the hectic city centre. Not, I think, that there was much danger of these ESU students joining any wild or unelected crowd.

The ESU Executive, currently led by Ligia Deca (pictured to the left) from Romania, has a reputation for producing the knowledgeable and sophisticated student politicians who are the generation who will make the European Higher Education Area a bureaucratic reality. There are already a number of ESU alumni well placed as officials in national ministries, including at least one director general of higher education. Others have passed through the Council of Europe. Several are on the way to producing good PhDs on higher education in Europe so maybe they are among future philosophers of education. Difficult to imagine they will sink into invisibility.

This year these elected members have had to negotiate between their potentially conflicting positions as key policy players with the Bologna Follow-up Group, and as representatives of national unions. The question has become more acute after weeks in which student protesters in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Croatia showed some signs of coalescing on criticisms of university working conditions, and national unions themselves have been wavering between turning the other way, and support. The considerable ESU achievement was to dampen down a celebratory mood within the arcane structures of Bologna, and to have ministers say in the Vienna Declaration:

Recent protests in some countries partly directed against developments and measures not related to the Bologna Process have reminded is that some of the Bologna aims and reforms have not been properly implemented and explained. We acknowledge and will listen to the critical voices raised among staffs and students, We note that adjustments and further work, involving staff and students are necessary at European, national, and especially institutional levels to achieve the EHEA as we now envisage it.

I’m speaking on a panel at this ESU meeting with Barbara Weitgruber (pictured to the right), Senior Adviser on International Relations in Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung (Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research). She has been an influential figure in the Bologna Process over the whole decade, not least for chairing the working group which produced the Bologna policy forum idea in 2007. Those who have worked with her say her attention to detail has been remarkable in keeping the show on the road.

But maybe what makes her special is that she is a doughty exploiter of the geography which has made Vienna – rather than London or Paris – a natural centre for Bologna.  Shades of The Third Man and the Austrian ability to live in a very complex world: Austria, and Weitgruber in particular, appear to have been favoured interlocutors with many of the small Bologna states, especially the newer entrants to the Process.  They often complain about being shut out or misunderstood by the EU ‘bigs’.

Being proud of the European tradition

My last appointment is back at the University of Vienna. This time I see the university in all its Austro-Hungarian grandeur, with the grandest rooms of all set aside for the European University Association (EUA) to present Trends VI. This is the latest and most ambitious of the surveys the EUA and its predecessor have undertaken since 1999 on how Bologna is perceived at institution level. For the first time the EUA is able to include Russia and Serbia in its site visits.

The proceedings are opened by Georg Winckler (pictured to the right), Rector of the University of Vienna and president of the EUA from 2005-2009. Winckler has been portrayed in an academic trade union postcard (as pictured below and to the left) as Louis XIV with the inscription L’Université c’est moi’. But as I’ve noted before, Winckler has an impressive ability to project a long-term vision of the European University [‘Six to be reckoned with at the Bologna conference‘, Guardian, 21 April 2009] and to make Europeans proud of their university tradition.  He is able to synthesise the Humboldtian vision of the research base of the university, the American conception of post-doctoral research as a resource to be nurtured, and the European Commission rhetoric of innovation, opportunity and autonomy, with the condition it is counter-balanced by the Bologna conception of intergovernmental and stakeholder governance.

Here he and Eric Froment, his predecessor as EUA president (2001-2005), do a double act on the dynamics of a European knowledge space.   Mobility remains a priority, especially between degrees (vertical mobility). Taking Commission figures they say that at present 97% of European PhDs have not been employed outside their PhD country, not a recipe for innovative thought. There needs to be closer cooperation between the EHEA and the European Research and Innovation Area. Winckler is concerned about employability. Few attempts are being made to sharpen the profile of the bachelor degree. Froment takes a more cultural stand. The EHEA needs to be recognisably European. If he is saying that Bologna is part of a package, which implies some solidarity, and not a set of tools to enhance higher education global trading, he may have some attentive listeners.

The Trends report itself deserves a serious analysis for which there is not space here. I simply comment that its optimistic conclusions should remind us that these are the views of university leadership. The finding that almost 60 per cent of respondents think Bologna has been ‘very positive’, and 77 per cent say ‘all departments’ have reconsidered curricula, are not necessarily the views of academics at large. Those willing to struggle with teaching and learning issues à la Zagreb too often find the going is tough, especially when resources for extra work are lacking.

But the big message that the Trends survey, and my trip to Zagreb and Vienna convey is that over the Bologna decade, very different local interpretations about what really matters do co-exist with a common vocabulary on European higher education objectives. However since there is a vast diversity of ways in which the Bologna reform is being implemented in different countries, different universities and different departments within the same university, how issues pan out depends on particular dynamics. Success requires strong political commitment within each and every signatory country (see ‘My, how you’ve grown‘, Times Higher Education, 11 March 2010 for a fuller argument).

From a distance what’s happening might seem typically European in its lack of clarity. But the rich mix of cultures, languages and national experience within Europe are generating an intellectual energy which runs counter to much of the doom-mongering about the poor state of European universities outside those at the top of the Shanghai Jiao Tong league, among economists, in particular.

As to the questions I left unanswered above: The Bologna Policy Forum, in addition to its known characteristics, is a neat way of avoiding the definition of Europe’s boundaries. In a first step, in face of persistent requests from Israel and others to join, the Bologna Process relied on the Council of Europe definition of signatories to its Cultural Convention to exclude those outside the continent. At a second stage, the organisers saw that there was not only a demand for membership, but even more a demand for dialogue from others, including the US and Australia and yes, including Ethiopia, so much the better. Hence the Forum.

And how has Kazakhstan got in under the wire?  I can report that at the Magna Charta ceremonies in 2009, ministers and rectors were present with a map showing that they have more landmass than Turkey, long-time Bologna member on the continent of Europe, as calculated west of a certain longitude. I am not quite sure which, and by my map the claim would probably make Iran eligible too.  Who knows? Bologna continues to serve up surprises.

Anne Corbett

Bologna Policy Forum Keynote Speech – Building the global knowledge society: systemic and institutional change

Editor’s note: the speech below was written by Juan Ramón de la Fuente, President and Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary General, International Association of Universities (IAU).  It was presented by Juan Ramón de la Fuente at the Second Bologna Policy Forum, Vienna, Austria, March 12, 2010.

As noted in a recent entry (‘The Global Bologna Policy Forum: a forum for the emerging global higher education and research space?‘), the Bologna Policy Forum is becoming an influential forum for “intensifying policy dialogue” (a phrase used in European Higher Education in a Global Setting. A Strategy for the External Dimension of the Bologna Process, which was approved by the Bologna Process ministers in 2007). Juan Ramón de la Fuente (former Rector, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and Eva Egron-Polak crafted this speech to focus discussion for representatives of the 73 countries attending the Forum.

The IAU (whose motto is IAU: For a Worldwide Higher Education Community) contributes to the development of the ‘global dimension’ of the Bologna Process by acting as a member and resource for the Bologna Process Follow-up Group (BFUG) tasked with implementing the European Higher Education Area in a Global Context work programme/action line.

Our sincere thanks to Juan Ramón de la Fuente and Eva Egron-Polak for permission to post their illuminating speech here.



1. Introduction

It is a pleasure for me to take part in this Forum.  On behalf of IAU, I thank the three co-organizing countries – Spain, Hungary and Austria for opening a direct window on the construction site of the European Higher Education Area for the outside world.  Allow me also to congratulate the architects and craftspeople building the Bologna Process on its 10th anniversary and for launching and continuously advancing a truly historical transformation in higher education.  May the European Higher Education Area fulfill all of its promise and may its successes and difficulties serve as valuable lessons to others.

I am also grateful to be making these remarks on behalf of the IAU for a second reason.  Of course, many of us are always pleased when this unique international association is given an opportunity to share its views at gatherings of policy and decision makers in higher education.  To do so in this Forum, though, is especially important since it extends the reality of the multi-stakeholder approach taken throughout the Bologna Process to its dialogue with others.  Perhaps more than anything, the process adopted in this regional initiative, must be underlined and applauded for its unique qualities of inclusiveness and consultative nature.

2. The Forum Themes

The overarching theme of Building the Global Knowledge Society – systemic and institutional change and the three themes of multiple expectations, competition and cooperation, brain drain or brain circulation – that have been chosen for this second Forum pose a real challenge.  Each of them is of great importance but in addition, they are intrinsically interconnected and difficult to unpack.

I will focus on only a small portion of the vast and rapidly changing canvas that is frequently called the global higher education landscape, highlighting just three aspects that I believe pose major challenges everywhere.  I will also sketch out briefly how the regional, international and global dimensions are influencing trends and developments for higher education institutions in vastly different circumstances.

IAU, a global association, has about 40% of its Members in Europe, which means that  60% come from outside of Europe with approximately 23% in Asia and 11% in Africa as well as others in North America, the Middle East and in Latin America.  As our Members are from the richest as well as the poorest nations in the world, since they use a variety of languages and following various higher education traditions, IAU is particularly sensitive to the implications of the various trends and developments for these culturally, linguistically and economically diverse constituents.  In our view this diversity represents the world’s greatest resource and history’s most important legacy.

a) Importance of Higher Education and Research

It can be stated without much doubt that everywhere, countries face the same imperative: to raise higher-level employment skills, to sustain a globally competitive research base and to improve knowledge dissemination to the benefit of society.  (OECD, 2009).

Hence, perhaps the most important development in the last couple of decades and a key driver of change is the very importance assigned to higher education as a sector today and the expectation that it can provide solutions or respond to society’s challenges.  There is general consensus that no state, indeed no society, can afford to ignore how well its higher education and research sector is performing.  In an increasingly competitive, globalized economy, nations with the most knowledge-intensive economic base, the greatest capacity for innovation and the most educated population are the most likely to succeed.

It is this link to innovation and knowledge-intensive economic development that explains, at least to some extent, the current love affair with global rankings.  They offer simple answers about research performance of universities, though so far, they generally tend to neglect or fail to measure how well the non-research related mission of higher education is being carried out.

Since 2003, when the first Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranking was first published, the global context has become the reference and research performance the undisputed measure of quality, despite continuous criticism.  The failure, so far, for the most frequently used rankings to recognize that higher education fulfills other goals, is a real danger.  Such goals as the provision of equitable access to enhance social cohesion, or the institution’s commitment in other efforts such as poverty alleviation, conflict prevention, cultural awareness and many other challenges often expressed within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals, cannot be ignored in any dynamic and context-sensitive measures of quality.  Yet, that is indeed the case today.

Building the Global Knowledge Society must be synonymous with building a diverse higher education and research system within and between nations.  It is imperative that we ask ourselves whether our policies, actions and goals serve to push for ever stronger convergence in the higher education and research sector around the world or whether we are preserving diversity and nurturing alternatives.  Can we, given the state of higher education around the world, afford a single reference framework or rather should we not promote the co-development and maintenance of many points of reference in order to do justice to the multiple and varied expectations of HE?

The cost of the race for the world-class university at the top of the shaky ladder may be too high even in the wealthiest of nations, if we forget Martin Trow’s statement that the survival of an elite higher education depends on a comprehensive system of non-elite institutions.  (Trow, 1979)

b) Higher Education Expansion and Growth

This recognition of the importance of higher education is also reflected in the continuous expansion of the sector – at the national level, regionally and worldwide.   HE is not only seen as a key to national or regional competitiveness; it is a key to individual success as well.  Making access to higher education available in an equitable and fair manner to all groups in society is an important goal of public policy in many countries, though the capacity to fulfill that goal and even the political will to do so, vary greatly.

In less than a decade – between 1999 and 2006 – the number of students enrolled in higher education increased roughly by 50% – from about 93 million to 144 million (UNESCO, 2009) and the growth trend appears to be stable for a few years to come.

The IAU maintains a world wide database on higher education which, in 1983 included approximately 9,000 universities and other higher education institutions in 153 countries.  Today, the database has more than 18, 000 institutions in 183 countries.  In one decade, China has doubled the number of HEIs and multiplied by 5 the number of students who are enrolled.  In Ethiopia, in 2000 there were 34,000 students enrolled in higher education, in 2007 this number increased to 120,000. (WERN, 2010)

This growth, however, is uneven and the gaps between nations are huge with participation levels in higher education in some parts of the industrialized world reaching +70% while elsewhere, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and even in South and West Asia they remain around 6 % and 11 %, respectively.   (UNESCO, 2009)

The demand for access is unevenly matched by available places in higher education.  Demand is by far the greatest in developing nations – for example in Nigeria, the estimated system-wide capacity is for 170,000 students; the National University Commission reports that last year, 1 million candidates applied (WERN, 2010).  At the same time in Japan, just last month, two private universities announced they will close their doors due to lack of student applications.

New delivery modes using Information Technologies, international mobility and cross border education, private provision and institutional mergers, networks and partnerships as well as other mechanisms provide some of the answers to these diverse and complex challenges.  However, they bring their own specific difficulties, unless they are developed in real partnerships, respecting the immediate and longer term needs and interests of each partner.

c) Funding of Higher Education

Without a doubt, funding and investment is a universal key and constraint in the search for solutions.

The quantitative expansion, albeit uneven, that we have witnessed everywhere, is not easy to achieve if quality is to be retained and if the sector is to continue to perform well in both education and research.  Thus, funding is, not surprisingly, the third factor that exerts pressure and sets the direction for change in most systems and for each institution of higher education.  Of course, adequate funding is the main, but not the only requirement for successfully expanding the system while maintaining high quality.

In general terms, funding has not kept pace with expansion in OECD countries and even less so in developing nations.  The public support as a proportion of all HE funding has dropped.  All over the world new schemes and funding approaches, as well as new sources of financial support for higher education and research, are being introduced or called for.   The average proportion of public funding of total tertiary education funding fell by 6% between 1995 and 2004, in OECD countries decreasing in 22 out of 28 members for which data was available. (Salmi, in OECD, 2009)  Other reductions are most likely in the future, given the current levels of public spending deficits.  The recent UK announcement that public funding per student for teaching will drop a further 4.6% when two waves of efficiency savings were already announced, does not bode well. (UUK, 2010).

In many developing nations, the share of their overall wealth spent on higher education is similar to that of industrialized nations because the costs per student, in comparison to other levels of education are so much higher.  When this is already the case with low participation rates, the likelihood that public spending can finance the needed expansion, is small.  Yet, just to remind ourselves of the distinct realities in the global context, even if nations in sub-Saharan Africa spend between 4-11 times more per student than they do on secondary students, expenditure per student in U.S. dollars converted using purchasing power parities (PPPs) is situated somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000 per student in these same countries, while it can be as high as $15,500 in Austria and Denmark or up to $18,000 in Kuwait.  (UNESCO, 2009)

The growth of the private higher education sector is one of the responses, especially in the developing world, bringing with it new challenges of quality, equity of access, range of disciplines, etc.  Today 30% of global higher education enrollment is in the private sector and it is the fastest growing part of the sector worldwide.  (Altbach in UNESCO, 2009).  But keeping track of these developments is rather challenging since it is becoming next to impossible to draw clear lines between public and private institutions as public universities privatize.  Just one example of this: when student contribution covers 47% of the overall cost, can we still speak of public education? This is now the case of many public universities in the USA (Rhodes, 2010).  IAU has just launched a Research Essay competition on this theme, calling on scholars to investigate the privatizing trend in the public sector.

These funding figures relate to the educational mission of higher education, as does the growth of the private sector, but research is an even more prized and a more expensive aspect of the sector.  The mechanisms being adopted to fund research also bring about systemic and institutional transformation and appear of the greatest strategic importance.  The economic development value placed on research and innovation is huge, as are the investments required to stay on top of the competition.

In most parts of the world where investment in research is being made – and this is by no means everywhere – Competitive Funds of one type or another are the most popular mechanism used.

However, given the simultaneous and opposing trends of expansion/massification on the one hand and the decrease in available funding on the other, research funding schemes also serve to concentrate research capacity and steer systems towards institutional differentiation.  Examples are too numerous to cite but they include the Excellence Initiative in Germany, the Apex University initiative in Malaysia, the highly competitive Research Centers of Excellence Program in Singapore, or the Campus Excellence program in Spain among many others.

These are, for the most part, national instruments.  They, perhaps more than any others, are creating a new landscape, reinforcing hierarchies within systems and helping to structure networks both regionally and globally.  How such research capacity concentration (already high in a global context) will impact on other HEIs within the national systems and between countries needs to be considered, especially given the knowledge based economies that most nations are striving to build.  If the teaching and research nexus is what creates high quality universities, can we, in a mass higher education system concentrate research in only a few institutions, a few nations, or only in some regions? How will the various parts that make up the global landscape, benefit or not, from this movement?

3. Regionalization, Internationalization and Globalization

This brings me to the last part of my comments and, against the background of IAU’s slogan ‘Building a worldwide higher education community’, I would like pose a few questions to see whether current trends of regionalization, internationalization and globalization are bringing us closer or further away from this ideal or from the Global Knowledge Society.

The mere fact that this second global forum is taking place demonstrates that even regional efforts such as the Bologna Process are developing in a context of a global or a worldwide referential system of knowledge creation and dissemination.  HEIs are central actors in regionalization, internationalization and globalization.  They are subjects of regional or international developments but they are also shaping them through their own regional or global strategies.

How institutions, countries and even regions, insert themselves into the global system depends on many factors including the choices made with regard to the cooperation-competition continuum, one of the themes to be addressed in this Forum.

Competition can be a path towards strength and excellence.  It can, however, be a path towards exclusion.  The cost of exclusion from the global system is very high indeed and for that reason we must ensure that the conditions required for competition to be a positive force not only exist but prevail.

The few indicators I mentioned earlier clearly demonstrate that in terms of capacities – human, financial, scientific, linguistic etc. the playing field is definitely uneven and the starting blocks for the competition are clearly not aligned.

IAU’s international policy statements always call attention to this reality, and exhort cooperation and partnerships that respect the different conditions and urgencies that drive policy development and institutional strategies around the world. We argue that ethical considerations of fairness and justice are also essential, but often absent in the process of higher education and research internationalization.

Internationalization is an important policy for higher education leaders: the most recent global survey undertaken by IAU on internationalization of higher education in 2009 shows that 65% of HEIs assign a high level of importance to the process and furthermore that it has increased in importance over the past 3 years.  The vast majority also view student mobility as a central aspect of internationalization, as does the Bologna Process.  At the same time, Brain Drain is identified as the most important risk of internationalization by HEIs in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.  (IAU, forthcoming)

Certainly, part of the rationale for mobility is linked to internationalization – exposing students to different cultures, new ways of knowing, etc.  Equal parts though can also be assigned to the ‘demand and supply’ mismatch, and to the increasing ‘privatization’ of higher education including in the public sphere to which international students, in a growing number of nations, bring much needed revenue.  In Canada, for example, international students are reported as bringing 6.5 Billion CAD$ to the economy and create 83,000 jobs (Kunin, 2009). In the UK, it is reported by UUK that personal, off-campus expenditure of international students and visitors amounted to 2.3 billion pounds in 2007/08. (UUK, 2009)

In addition, international students, especially at the graduate level represent a huge part of the knowledge creation workforce in many universities of industrialized nations. For all these reasons, while mobility trends and patterns are changing, the importance of the phenomenon and the competition that surrounds it continue to grow.

Given the growing importance of highly educated people and of research and innovation for economic development, it is clear that no nation can afford a brain drain, or a sustained exodus of its teachers, researchers, lecturers, medical doctors, nurses, etc.

Can we hope to create a worldwide community of higher education if we compete at all costs for the best and the brightest, without developing compensatory mechanisms and or those that ensure that true circulation of the intellectual resources takes place among nations?  A recent US study indicates that about 40% of the science and engineering work force with doctorates in that country is foreign born.  The report goes on to state that the US ability to continue to attract and keep foreign scientists and engineers is critical to the country’s plans for increased investment in R & D.  (Finn, 2010)

There are numerous causes for the brain drain and they include a variety of both academic and non academic/scientific issues ranging from research infrastructure, academic freedom, salary levels to political stability, safety, discrimination as well as quality of education for children, etc.  Of course, taking up opportunities and enjoying the freedom of choice is a right of each individual, but the consequences for the sending nations and the impact on their capacity to join the Global Knowledge Society of tomorrow must be considered however, when mobility programs are designed and offers made.  So far, the search for effective ways to use the scientific and professional diaspora has not been without problems.  Thus the primary strategy to combat the brain drain remains the creation, through support, development, cooperation and capacity building partnerships, the conditions that will allow students and scholars to remain or return to their home institutions where they are indispensible to the future of their nations.

The growing competition for the best and the brightest brought the brain drain phenomenon to focus in Europe in the relatively recent past.  For some nations, the exodus has been going on for much longer and the impact has been devastating – indeed in proportion to the magnitude of the exodus –  Yes, China and India exemplify cases of brain circulation, but China and India are not typical examples; their sheer size as well as recent economic growth rates place them outside the norm.

4. Final considerations in guise of Conclusions

What can we learn from the European efforts to build a Higher Education Area? What can we, as non-Bologna Process participants, bring to the debate?

First of all, looking at Europe from the outside, there are numerous aspects that inspire admiration and from which lessons could be learned elsewhere.  I will only cite three that are linked to the process rather than to the more structural achievement of Bologna reforms.

  • Voluntary, incremental process to which ministers are politically committed
  • Multi-stakeholder and inclusive approach that includes a strong role for students and is flexible and subject to continuous monitoring
  • National and regional funding sources are available to provide incentives and supports for progress making.

As we meet here within the framework of a regional process of transformation, we cannot ignore that it is the global dimension or to some extent the broader process of globalization that acts as the real catalyst for  this meeting.  Furthermore, this globalization catalyst is exerting pressure in Europe to reach out to non European partners just as we seek to learn from your experiences in Europe.

But globalization is fundamentally a different process.  Instead of removing borders and barriers by decision, often by consensus, and with equalizing measures, as is the case in regionalization or regional integration movements, globalization is fueled by the power of capital flows, the market, information and communication technologies and competition that create strong interdependencies.  It lacks the checks and balances that act as a safety net and minimize the negative consequences.

So among the fundamental questions we need to ask is whether removing borders for trade, for the mobility of capital and people on a more global scale is contributing to the removal of borders or barriers between the rich and the poor, between those who know and those who have no access to knowledge; whether by removing borders the quality of life  improves for the many or if, on the other hand, this process leads to an even more rapid spread of negative consequences such as environmental degradation, health pandemics and economic meltdowns, while increasing the gaps between people and making the barriers for entry, even to the Global Knowledge Society, that much higher.

In a forum on higher education, these questions are essential for various reasons: because it is our responsibility as teachers and researchers to examine critically, the various trends and question them with detachment and objectivity while educating our students to do so as well.  But also because we need to avoid the negative aspects of the process, and put in place those much needed safety nets, when,  as is increasingly the case,  higher education institutions are adopting globalizing strategies.  That is why it is important to keep in view the unexpected and unwanted consequences that such developments may bring and to listen to higher education stakeholders from other parts of the world.

The Global Knowledge Society is a highly positive concept.  Can we build it using competing regional blocks? Can it be built without the global South?  What must we do to ensure that people of all nations participate not merely as subjects but as empowered actors whose contribution enriches the global space?  How far do we wish to see higher education become merely an export sector or an instrument of economic and political diplomacy, rather than a sector that can serve as models for new types of collaborative relations and innovative partnerships?

I look forward to taking part in this Forum and debating these and related issues that may serve to bring us closer to realizing the Global Knowledge Society ideal.

Thank you.

Juan Ramón de la Fuente and Eva Egron-Polak


  1. Altbach, P.G., Reisberg, L. and Rumbley, L.E., (2009) Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution, WCHE, Paris: UNESCO.
  2. Finn, M.G. (2010) Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities 2007, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, USA.
  3. IAU. The Third Global Survey on Internationalization of Higher Education, Paris: IAU (forthcoming)
  4. Rhodes, Frank H.T. (2010) in Weber, L.E and Duderstadt, J.J. (eds). University research for Innovation, Glion Colloquium Series No 6, London: Economica.
  5. Roslyn Kunin & Associates, Inc. (2009) Economic Impact of International Education in Canada: Final Report, prepared for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
  6. OECD. (2009) Education at a Glance 2009: Global Indicators Paris: OECD Publishing, France.
  7. Salmi, J. (2009) in Higher Education to 2030, Volume 2 Globalisation, Paris: OECD Publishing, France.
  8. Trow, Martin and S. Gordon, (1979) Youth Education and Unemployment Problems: an International Perspective, Carnagie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education. USA.
  9. UNESCO, (2009) Global Education Digest 2009: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Canada
  10. Universities UK, (2010a) Making It Count: How Universities Are Using Income From Variable Fees, London: Universities UK.
  11. Universities UK, (2009b) The Impact of Universities on the UK Economy: Fourth Report, London: Universities UK.
  12. World Education News and Reviews, (WENR) January/February 2010 Volume 23, Issue 1,

Budapest-Vienna Declaration on the European Higher Education Area

Budapest-Vienna Declaration on the European Higher Education Area
March 12, 2010

1.    We, the Ministers responsible for higher education in the countries participating in the Bologna Process, met in Budapest and Vienna on March 11 and 12, 2010 to launch the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), as envisaged in the Bologna Declaration of 1999.

2.    Based on our agreed criteria for country membership, we welcome Kazakhstan as new participating country of the European Higher Education Area.

3. The Bologna Declaration in 1999 set out a vision for 2010 of an internationally competitive and attractive European Higher Education Area where higher education institutions, supported by strongly committed staff, can fulfil their diverse missions in the knowledge society; and where students benefiting from mobility with smooth and fair recognition of their qualifications, can find the best suited educational pathways.

4. Since 1999, 47 parties to the European Cultural Convention, have signed up to this vision and have made significant progress towards achieving it. In a unique partnership between public authorities, higher education institutions, students and staff, together with employers, quality assurance agencies, international organisations and European institutions, we have engaged in a series of reforms to build a European Higher Education Area based on trust, cooperation and respect for the diversity of cultures, languages, and higher education systems.

5. The Bologna Process and the resulting European Higher Education Area, being unprecedented examples of regional, cross-border cooperation in higher education, have raised considerable interest in other parts of the world and made European higher education more visible on the global map. We welcome this interest and look forward to intensifying our policy dialogue and cooperation with partners across the world.

6.    We have taken note of the independent assessment and the stakeholders’ reports. We welcome their affirmation that institutions of higher education, staff and students increasingly identify with the goals of the Bologna Process. While much has been achieved in implementing the Bologna reforms, the reports also illustrate that EHEA action lines such as degree and curriculum reform, quality assurance, recognition, mobility and the social dimension are implemented to varying degrees. Recent protests in some countries, partly directed against developments and measures not related to the Bologna Process, have reminded us that some of the Bologna aims and reforms have not been properly implemented and explained. We acknowledge and will listen to the critical voices raised among staff and students. We note that adjustments and further work, involving staff and students, are necessary at European, national, and especially institutional levels to achieve the European Higher Education Area as we envisage it.

7. We, the Ministers, are committed to the full and proper implementation of the agreed objectives and the agenda for the next decade set by the Leuven/Louvain-la- Neuve Communiqué. In close cooperation with higher education institutions, staff, students and other stakeholders, we will step up our efforts to accomplish the reforms already underway to enable students and staff to be mobile, to improve teaching and learning in higher education institutions, to enhance graduate employability, and to provide quality higher education for all. At national level, we also strive to improve communication on and understanding of the Bologna Process among all stakeholders and society as a whole.

8. We, the Ministers, recommit to academic freedom as well as autonomy and accountability of higher education institutions as principles of the European Higher Education Area and underline the role the higher education institutions play in fostering peaceful democratic societies and strengthening social cohesion.

9.    We acknowledge the key role of the academic community – institutional leaders, teachers, researchers, administrative staff and students – in making the European Higher Education Area a reality, providing the learners with the opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills and competences furthering their careers and lives as democratic citizens as well as their personal development. We recognise that a more supportive environment for the staff to fulfil their tasks, is needed. We commit ourselves to working towards a more effective inclusion of higher education staff and students in the implementation and further development of the EHEA. We fully support staff and student participation in decision-making structures at European, national and institutional levels.

10. We call upon all actors involved to facilitate an inspiring working and learning environment and to foster student-centred learning as a way of empowering the learner in all forms of education, providing the best solution for sustainable and flexible learning paths. This also requires the cooperation of teachers and researchers in international networks.

11. We, the Ministers, reaffirm that higher education is a public responsibility. We commit ourselves, notwithstanding these difficult economic times, to ensuring that higher education institutions have the necessary resources within a framework established and overseen by public authorities. We are convinced that higher education is a major driver for social and economic development and for innovation in an increasingly knowledge-driven world. We shall therefore increase our efforts on the social dimension in order to provide equal opportunities to quality education, paying particular attention to underrepresented groups.

12. We, the Ministers responsible for the European Higher Education Area, ask the Bologna Follow-up Group to propose measures to facilitate the proper and full implementation of the agreed Bologna principles and action lines across the European Higher Education Area, especially at the national and institutional levels, among others by developing additional working methods, such as peer learning, study visits and other information sharing activities. By continuously developing, enhancing and strengthening the European Higher Education Area and taking further the synergies with the European Research Area, Europe will be able to successfully face the challenges of the next decade.

13. Our next Ministerial Meeting to take stock of progress and to drive the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve agenda forward, will be hosted by Romania in Bucharest on 26-27 April 2012.

Celebrating, protesting and reflecting about the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Bologna Process

Deliberations and background documentation are blossoming this week given that the Bologna Ministerial Anniversary Conference 2010 will be held 11-12 March in Budapest and Vienna, and the Second Global Bologna Policy Forum will be held on 12 March in Vienna. As most of our readers know, the Bologna Process was launched in 1999 with the objective of constructing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010.

For those of you interested in the nature of the transformation of the European higher education system over the last 10 years, link here to access a series of informative reports about the evolution and impact of the Bologna Process. Three of these reports were recently flagged via our GlobalHigherEd Twitter service this way:

  • An Account Of Ten Years Of European Higher Education Reform. New report (PDF) by European Students’ Union:
  • Trends 2010: A decade of change in European Higher Education (new report by European University Association):
  • New European Commission report focusing on the state of European higher education after a decade of major reforms:

Some associated media releases (e.g., see the EUA’s ‘A decade of the Bologna Process: Major new EUA report underlines impact of Bologna reforms on Europe’s universities‘) and videos (e.g., see the European Commission’s technical briefing video) have also been rolling out this week:

An anti-Bologna Process movement (Bologna Burns) is also planning a series of demonstrations and alternative meetings between 11-14 March:

In closing, it is worth reminding readers that non-Bologna Process stakeholders are also watching these debates with considerable interest. Why? Because the Bologna Process has concurrently unleashed a series of significant debates and transformations at a range of national (e.g., Australia, US), regional (e.g., African, Southeast Asian) and interregional (e.g., Latin America-Europe; Asia-Europe) scales; a point Pavel Zgaga (one of the 1999 ‘anniversary’ signatories on behalf of Slovenia) made last May in his entry ‘Bologna: beyond 2010 and over the Ocean – but where to? On new Bologna reports and C. Adelman’s last essay‘.

More broadly, then, the emerging global higher education and research space will be impacted by the outcome of deliberations about the future of the EHEA, as well as the linked European Research Area (ERA). It is for this reason that we all need to pay attention to the celebrations, protests and reflections underway in Budapest and Vienna. If the last decade is a benchmark, then the next decade will be associated with further changes, new interregional alignments, and a myriad of expected and unexpected impacts.

Kris Olds

A Southeast Asian perspective on university development cooperation as a means to enrich academic quality

Further to our recent entry ‘Euro-Asia university cooperation as a means to enrich academic quality‘, Prof. Dr. Supachai Yavaprabhas kindly alerted us to the existence of three insightful videos (see below) that address the issue of regionalism and higher education in Southeast Asia.  These videos were used as a resource for Prof. Dr. Yavaprabhas’ presentation at the same conference that Alistair MacDonald of the European Union Delegation Manila spoke at, and at the SEAMEO RIHED Council meeting in January 2010. SEAMEO RIHED is the acronym of the Regional Institute of Higher Education and Development (RIHED) which was established in 1993 as a center within the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO). RIHED’s origins go back to 1959 when it was “conceived jointly by UNESCO and the International Association of Universities (IAU) in collaboration with the Ford Foundation.” Prof Dr Supachai Yavaprabhas is the SEAMEO RIHED Director. Our sincere thanks to him and his staff at SEAMEO RIHED for putting the videos together and allowing us to post them here.

For those of you interested in global regionalism and higher education and research, here are a few Southeast Asian-focused entries in GlobalHigherEd, written by Morshidi Sirat (Director, Institut Penyelidikan Pendidikan Tinggi Negara (IPPTN)), that might also be of interest:

The first SEAMEO RIHED video (‘A structured framework for regional integration in higher education in Southeast Asia: the road towards a common space’) deals with harmonization dynamics:

The next two are Parts I and II of a video about the M-I-T Pilot Project On Promoting Student Mobility in Southeast Asia:

Kris Olds

Debate: Asia vs Europe: which region is more geopolitically incompetent?


Can regions think and act strategically? In which ways are Europe and Asia geopolitically (in)competent? How does one speak for “Asia” and “Europe”? Why do Mahbubani and Emmott seek to speak for “Asia” and “Europe”? Link here for a National University of Singapore (NUS) webcast of this recent debate, and here for a lecture synopsis.

Elephants in the room, and all that: more ‘reactions’ to the Bologna Process Leuven Communiqué

Editor’s Note: As those of you following GlobalHigherEd well know, the big news story of April on the higher education calender was the release of the Leuven Communiqué following the the 6th Bologna  Ministerial Conference held in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve,  28-29th April, 2009.

46 Bologna countries gathered together to review progress toward realizing the objectives of the Bologna Process by 2010, and to establish the priorities for the European Higher Education Area.  Prior to the meeting there was quite literally an avalanche of stocktaking reports, surveys, analyzes and other kinds of commentary, all fascinating reading (see this blog entry for a listing of materials).

With the Communiqué released, and the ambition to take the Bologna Process into the next decade under the banner – ‘The Bologna Process 2010’, GlobalHigherEd has invited leading European actors and commentators to ‘react’ to the Communiqué.

leuven 1

Last week  we posted some initial ‘reactions:  Pavel Zgaga’s Bologna: beyond 2010 and over the Ocean – but where to? and Peter Jones’ Was there a student voice in Leuven? In this entry, we add more. We invited Per Nyborg, Roger Dale, Pauline Ravinet and Anne Corbett to comment briefly on one aspect they felt warranted highlighting.

Per Nyborg was Head, Bologna Process Secretariat (2003-2005). Roger Dale, Professor of Sociology of Education, University of Bristol, UK, has written extensively on the governance of the European Higher Education Area and the role of Bologna Process in that. He recently published a co-edited volume on Globalisation and Europeanisation in Education (2009, Symposium Books). Pauline Ravinet is a post doctoral researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. She completed her doctoral research at Sciences Po, Paris, and has published extensively on the Bologna Process.  Anne Corbett is Visiting Fellow, European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Dr. Corbett is author of Universities and the Europe of Knowledge Ideas, Institutions and Policy Entrepreneurship in European Union Higher Education 1955-2005 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Susan Robertson


“Bologna Toward 2010” – Per Nyborg

In 2005, halfway toward 2010, Ministers declared that they wished to establish a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) based on the principles of quality and transparency and our rich heritage and cultural diversity. They committed themselves to the principle of public responsibility for higher education. They saw the social dimension as a constituent part of the EHEA.

The three cycles were established, each level for preparing students for the labor market, for further competence building and for active citizenship. The overarching framework for qualifications, the agreed set of European standards and guidelines for quality assurance, and the recognition of degrees and periods of study, were seen as key characteristics of the structure of the EHEA.

What has been added four years later? Ministers have called upon European higher education institutions to further internationalize their activities and to engage in global collaboration for sustainable development. Competition on a global scale will be complemented by enhanced policy dialogue and cooperation based on partnership with other regions of the world. Global cooperation and global competition may have taken priority over solidarity between the 46 partner countries. But Bologna partners outside the European Economic Area region must not be left behind!  leuven 2

A clear and concise description of the EHEA and the obligations of the participating countries is what we should expect from the 2010 ministerial conference – at least if it shall be seen as the founding conference for the EHEA, not only a Bologna anniversary on the way to 2020.


“Elephants in the Room, and All That”   Roger Dale

Reading the Leuven Communiqué, we can’t help but be impressed by the continuing emphasis on the public nature of and public responsibility for higher education that has characterized BFUG’s statements over the years. Indeed, the word ‘public’ appears 9 times.

However, at the same time we can’t help wondering about some other  words and connotations that don’t appear.

The nature of the ‘fast evolving society’ to which the EHEA is to respond implied by the Communiqué, seems rather different from that implied in some of these elephants in the room.

Quite apart from ‘private’ (which as Marek Kwiek has constantly reminded us is indispensable to the understanding of HE in many of the newer member states), we may cite the following:

  • First and foremost, ‘Lisbon’, with its dominant focus on Productivity and Growth;
  • Second, ‘European Commission’, the home and driver of Lisbon, and the indispensable paymaster and facilitator of the Bologna Process.
  • Third, the ‘European Research Area’; surely a report on European Universities/ERA would paint a rather different picture of the Universities over the next decade from that presented here.

It is difficult to see how complete and accurate a picture of Bologna, as it goes into its second phase, this ‘more of the same’ Communiqué provides. Perhaps the most pregnant phrase in the document is “Liaise with experts in other fields, such as research, immigration, social security and employment”,  a very mixed and interesting quartet, whose different demands may pose real problems of harmonization.


“The Bologna Process  – a New Institution? ” Pauline Ravinet

I have been particularly interested in my own research on early phases and subsequent institutionalization of the Bologna Process. In this work I have tried to recompose and analyze what happened between 1998–the year when the process began with unexpected Sorbonne declaration–and now, where the Bologna process has become the central governance arena for higher education in Europe. This did not happen in one day and was rather a progressive invention of a unique European structure for the coordination of national higher education policies.

Reading the Leuven Communiqué with the institutionalization question in mind is extremely interesting. Presenting the achievements of the 2000s and defining the priorities for the decade to come, this text states more explicitly than any Bologna document before, that the process has gone much further than a ten-year provisory arrangement for the attainment of common objectives.

The Bologna process is becoming an institution. It is first an institution in its most formal meaning: the Bologna process designates an original organizational structure, functioning according to specific rules, and equipped with innovating coordination tools which will not perish but on the contrary enter a new life cycle in 2010. The Bologna Policy Forum, which met on the 29th April, will be the formal group that engages with the globalization of Bologna. This represents a further new expression of the institutionalization of Bologna.  leuven bologna policy forum

But it is also an institution in a more sociological sense. The Bologna arena has acquired value and legitimacy beyond the performance of specific tasks, it embeds and diffuses a policy vision which frames the representations and strategies of higher education actors of all over Europe, and catches the interest of students, academia, and HE experts world wide.


“Fit For Purpose? ”  Anne Corbett

The European Higher Education Area is the New Decade, has European Ministers responsible for higher education, declaring (para 24) that

[t]he present organisational structure of the Bologna Process is endorsed as being fit for purpose’.

You may think this to be a boring detail. However as a political scientist, I’d argue that this is the most theoretically and politically interesting phrase in the Communiqué. In policy making terms, the Bologna decade has been about framing issues, negotiating agendas, developing policies and testing out modes of cooperation which can be accepted throughout a Europe re-united for the first time for 50 years.

These are the sorts of activities typically carried out by experts and officials who are somewhat shielded from the political process. For a time they enjoy a policy monopoly (Baumgartner and Jones 1993 – see reference below).

In terms of policy effectiveness this is all to the good. The people who devote time and thought to these issues have to build up relations of trust and respect. They don’t need politicians to harry them over half-thought out ideas.

The Bologna Follow-up Group, which devises and delivers on a work programme which corresponds to the wishes of ministers, have produced an unprecedented degree of voluntary cooperation on instruments as well as aims (European Standards and Guidelines in Quality Assurance, Qualifications Frameworks, and Stocktaking or national benchmarking), thanks to working groups which recruit quite widely, seminars etc. Almost every minister at the Leuven conference started his/her 90 second speech with tributes to the BFUG.

But there comes a time in every successful policy process when political buy-in is needed. The EHEA-to-be does not have that. Institutionally Bologna is run by ministers and their administrations, technocrats and lobbyists. Finance (never ever mentioned in any communiqué) is provided by the EU Commission, EU presidencies and the host countries of ministerial conferences (up to now EU). Records of the Bologna Process remain the property of the ministries providing the secretariat in a particular policy cycle. “It works, don’t disturb it,” is the universal message of those insiders who genuinely want advance.

Students in the streets (as opposed, as Peter Jones’ entry reminds us, to those in the Brussels-based European Student Union) are a sign that a comfortably informal process has its limits once an implementation stage is reached. It is such a well known political phenomenon that it is astonishing that sophisticated figures in the BFUG are not preparing to open the door to the idea that an EHEA needs arenas at national and European level where ministers are answerable to the broad spectrum of political opinion. Parliamentarians could be in the front line here. Will either of the European assembles or any of the 46 national parliaments take up the challenge?

Baumgartner, F. and B. Jones (1993). Agendas and instability in American politics. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Asian University Rankings: niches within niches…within…

QS Asia 3Today, for the first time, the QS Intelligence Unit published their list of the top 100 Asian universities in their Asian University Rankings.

There is little doubt that the top performing universities have already added this latest branding to their websites, or that Hong Kong SAR will have proudly announced it has three universities in the top 5 while Japan has 2. QS Asia 2 Asian University Rankings is a spin-out from the QS World University Rankings published since 2005.  Last year, when the 2008 QS World University Rankings was launched, GlobalHigherEd posted an entry asking:  “Was this a niche industry in formation?”  This was in reference to strict copyright rules invoked – that ‘the list’ of decreasing ‘worldclassness’ could not be displayed, retransmitted, published or broadcast – as well as acknowledgment that rankings and associated activities can enable the building of firms such as QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd.

Seems like there are ‘niches within niches within….niches’ emerging in this game of deepening and extending the status economy in global higher education.  According to the QS Intelligence website:

Interest in rankings amongst Asian institutions is amongst the strongest in the world – leading to Asia being the first of a number of regional exercises QS plans to initiate.

The narrower the geographic focus of a ranking, the richer the available data can potentially be – the US News & World Report draws on 18 indicators, the Joong Ang Ilbo ranking in Korea on over 30. It is both appropriate and crucial then that the range of indicators used at a regional level differs from that used globally.

The objectives of each exercise are slightly different – whilst a global ranking seeks to identify truly world class universities, contributing to the global progress of science, society and scholarship, a regional ranking should adapt to the realities of the region in question.

Sure, the ‘regional niche’ allows to package and sell new products to Asian and other universities, as well as information to prospective students about who is regarded as ‘the best’.

However, the Asian University Rankings does more work than just that.  The ranking process and product places ‘Asian universities’ into direct competition with each other, it reinforces a very particular definition of ‘Asia’ and therefore Asian regionalism, and it services an imagined emerging Asian regional education space.

All this, whilst appearing to level the playing field by invoking regional sentiments.

Susan Robertson

Strategic actors in the Eurolandscape: meet ‘The Lisbon Council’

Earlier this week we posted an entry on a new European Commission ‘Communication’ – a Strategic Framework for International Science and Technology Cooperation.

In working up this entry it became clear to us that some of the state-crafting language to describe different stages of the policy process in the construction of Europe needed decoding to enable the reader to assess the relative importance of particular initiatives. For example, what is a Communication? what is its status? who is it to? and so on. While this seems an obvious point to make–that the lexicon to describe aspects of the policy process is quite different around the globe–finding a web-link with an adequate explanation of this was quite a different matter.

So when today’s Policy Brief on University Systems Ranking from The Lisbon Council hit cyberspace (we’ll profile the briefing tomorrow), it seemed that here, too, was another instance when names and terms could be rather confusing. The tight linking of the idea of ‘Lisbon’ to ‘Council’ tends to suggest that this organisation is one of a number of European bodies that make up the official governing structure of Europe. However, this is not the case. thelisboncouncil

So, who are they, and how does The Lisbon Council fit into the Eurolandscape of policymaking? This is the first in a series of posts where we introduce key strategic actors involved in constituting and governing higher education within Europe and beyond.

The Lisbon Council–or more properly The Lisbon Council for Economic Competitiveness and Social Renewal–is an independent think-tank and policy network created in 2003 to advance the now famous Lisbon 2000 Agenda; of making Europe “…the most dynamic, globally competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world….”.

According to their website, The Lisbon Council, whose tag line ‘making Europe fit for the future’, is committed to

…defining and articulating a mature strategy for managing current and future challenges. Above all, we are seeking strategies based on inclusion, opportunity and sustainability that will make the benefits of modernisation available to all our citizens.

Our network – concerned citizens, top economists, public figures, NGO leaders, business strategists and leading-edge thinkers – lends its energy, brain power and dedication to solving the great economic and social challenges of our times. At the centre of our activities are solution-oriented seminars, thought-provoking publications, media appearances and public advocacy.

We can get a sense of the kind of strategic thinking The Lisbon Council advocate to realize a globally competitive Europe by also looking at its projects (including the Human Capital Center), publications, Founding Fathers Lecture Series, and u-Tube presence.

Four ‘founding fathers’ are identified for the Lecture Series as representing Europe’s innovative visionary past – The Robert Schuman Lecture (French politician and regarded as founder of the EU), The Ludwig Erhard Lecture (German politician who presided over the post War German recovery), The Jean Jacque Rousseau Lecture (French philosopher of enlightenment thinking/socialism), and The Guglielmo Marconi Lecture (Italian inventor).

This year the Guglielmo Marconi Lecture which we feature below was delivered by Charlie Leadbetter – well-known for his work with UK-based think-tank DEMOS. Leadbetter’s lecture engages with the Commission’s 2009 theme, creativity and innovation.

Now the important thing to point out is that The Lisbon Council think-tank agenda articulates closely with the ‘new Lisbon Agenda’, launched in 2005; to reorient and reinvigorate Lisbon 2000 agenda. It is at this point that we see the European Commission’s engagement with globalization as an outward looking strategy, the move toward supply-side economics, the prioritization of human capital strategies, greater questioning of the Social Europe policies, and a commitment to press ahead with the reform of Member State’s higher education systems to make a European higher education system. These commitments have been repeatedly reinforced by European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, as we see in his speech to The Lisbon Council earlier this year.

In following European policymaking in higher education, it is therefore important to look closely at organizations like The Lisbon Council, and the kind of futures thinking/policy shaping work they are engaged in as part of a wider governance of European higher education.

Susan Robertson