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Trends of higher education in the Asia Pacific

The tertiary enrolment rate for the Asia-Pacific region increased steadily between 1970 and 2007, which places the region in the fourth position after North America, Central Europe and Central Asia, according to Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Asia Pacific Regional Office Bureau for Education. Mr Kim recently gave a presentation at the 2012 Asia-Pacific Quality Network Conference in Cambodia on the trends of higher education in Asia and the Pacific with focus on quality assurance.

The Asian region also registers a 26 per cent rate in terms of gender balance enrollment—a larger gap compared to Europe’s 70 per cent. However, it shows that the general enrolment rate (GER)—relative to population size—has increased steadily in both Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific between 1999 and 2007, although Lao PDR, Cambodia, Brunei and China are still lagging behind. 

Mr Kim identified three main emerging trends in higher education: massification, diversification and internationalization. 

Tertiary education reflects a high degree of diversification in the region. Private higher education has increased its share of the education market. In 2011 World Bank statistics indicated that the number of private higher education institutions had the highest share of the market in Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines respectively; while Korea, Japan and Taiwan had the largest enrolment rate in private higher education. It also emerged that open distance learning (ODL) has had an increasing share in China, India, Indonesia and Thailand. In the case of China, government subsidy of this type of learning was the highest at 75 per cent of the budget; while Thailand’s government subsidy of ODL stood at 26.5 per cent.   

The 2012 Asia-Pacific Quality Network Conference was organized under the theme “External Quality Assurance in the Asia-Pacific: What has changed over a decade?” on 29 February to 2 March 2012 in collaboration with the Cambodian Higher Education Association (CHEA), the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia (ACC) and the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN). About 300 national and international participants from 73 international and 50 national higher education and quality assurance agencies and institutions of 33 countries attended the conference according to a press release of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

UNESCO-UIS statistics indicate a change in terms of the internationalization of the tertiary education system. This is characterized by a degree of intra, inter and extra-regional mobility of tertiary students. In 2009 there were 247,000 outbound tertiary students from the South and West Asia region, while there were 808,000 from the East-Asia and Pacific region. China, India and Korea account for the largest sending countries at 421,000, 153,000 and 105,000. Most of them head for North America and Western Europe as well as within East-Asia, with very few heading for Central and Eastern Europe. There was also a unique flow of students between China, Japan and Korea plus a peripheral appendage of ASEAN flows into these three major economies. 

There is a pattern of increasing franchises with Western institutions engaging Asian universities for franchises, twinning programs, joint or double-degrees and e-learning or distance learning—which outstanding examples from Malaysia and Singapore. 

Mr Kim reiterated other important factors such as the protection of students through governments ensuring good quality education. He also stressed that education is a key driver of economic development; as it boosts labor production, national competitiveness and business efficiency. 

Finally, he highlighted existing regional initiatives aimed at ensuring quality education, such as the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN), ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and the Chiba Principle of Quality Assurance. Also, regional initiatives geared towards recognition of qualifications, such as the Brisbane Communique, and the ASEAN Common Higher Education Area were presented.

Mr Kim concluded by highlighting some of UNESCO’s work in relation to quality assurance; such as standards setting, capacity building, filling the knowledge gap and international cooperation. He also discussed the revision of Conventions, such as the 1983 Regional Convention, recently revised at the International Conference of States held in Tokyo in December 2011.

 By Tshepo Gwatiwa, UNESCO Bangkok