Universities face hard test to lift standards

national August 22, 2016 01:00

By Pratch Rujivanarom

The

Boosting higher education levels to international levels in the region is a challenge for poorer states, Experts say



ACADEMICS have highlighted the challenges that higher education institutions within the region face in trying to meet international standards, including syllabus problems, system diversity, a lack of international staff and limited government support.
With the Asean Economic Community officially set up this year, improving the quality of education remains one of the community’s main goals. 
This topic was the focus of a forum titled “Can Asean be a Global Higher Education Destination?” at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand recently.
Prof James Gomez from Bangkok University said many universities in Asean were restructuring to become international institutions to improve the quality of education and, more importantly, rebrand themselves to attract more students.
“Many university administrators chose internationalisation for increasing the university brand value, because it ensures the financial viability of the institutions by attracting more students,” Gomez said.
However, he said most universities usually directly translated syllabuses from the national language into English, so the curricula were not truly internationalised.
He said another issue was that syllabuses were usually drafted by nationals, which resulted in a focus on issues particular to the home country instead of a truly international emphasis.
“From my experience in the field, most of the international university staff typically work in the language institutions or international colleges of the universities and are not stationed at the main faculties or executive positions that can guide the university’s policy,” he said. 
Assoc Prof Nantana Gajaseni, executive director of the Asean University Network, said there was great diversity and disparity between educational systems in Asean states, so it was hard to harmonise a standardised system within the region.
 
‘Diversity makes credit transfers hard’
“The major challenge of internationalisation of higher education in Asean is the system diversity and quality recognition of the education. This disparity is making student and credit transfers among [Asean countries] and beyond the region hard,” Nantana said.
Gomez added that there was a lack of international staff in the region because of low salaries, the lack of research grants and government regulatory barriers.
“There is the income gap between the rich countries in the region, such as Singapore and Malaysia, and the rest of the region. This income gap makes fewer international staff choose to work in these [lower-income] countries,” he said.
“Another barrier is the limitation of research grants. For instance, Malaysia limits applicants for its grants to Malaysian citizens only. Furthermore, consideration for research scholarships usually focuses on the national perspective only and it is hard for the researchers to apply for funds to study the international perspectives.”
Wesley Teter, Unesco senior consultant for the Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, related his experiences teaching in China, where government regulations could be a barrier for international staff.
In his case, strict information restrictions imposed by the Chinese government made academic research more difficult, reducing the appeal for international researchers.
Nantana said another big problem for internationalisation was budgetary. She said high-income countries in the region such as Singapore and Brunei had an easier time encouraging the internationalisation of their universities, but for poorer countries the task was difficult.
“There are many problems from shortages of budgets in low-income countries such as the lack of infrastructure. Even in Thailand, the state has just let public universities rely on themselves to find revenue and does not grant governmental support anymore,” she said.
“However in my view, an abundant budget does not ensure quality education and successful internationalisation … I believe that the mindsets of university administrators and professors need to change as well to suit global education.”
 

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