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Voices from the Learners on Sustainable Higher Education in Southeast Asia


Southeast Asia is one of the most vibrant and fastest-growing regions globally. With over 630 million, the region accounts for a significant share of global trade and investment. Southeast Asia is home to 7,000 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with around 12 million students. As connectivity increases and the ASEAN Community expands, national Higher Education systems are rapidly changing-and internationalisation in the sector is accelerated in the emerging ASEAN Higher Education Area.

The European Union’s Support to Higher Education in ASEAN Region (SHARE) Programme held its 14th Policy Dialogue between 29 – 31 March 2022 in a hybrid form through the Hopin platform and in-person in Bangkok, Thailand, under the theme of ‘The Contribution of Higher Education Partnerships in Southeast Asia towards the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030’. The Policy Dialogue 14 provided a valuable opportunity for regional higher education stakeholders to engage with each other.

SHARE Policy Dialogue 14 was designed in partnership with the ASEAN Secretariat’s Education Youth and Sports Division (EYSD), SEAMEO RIHED, UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, the ASEAN University Network, amongst other regional partners. The event gathered the key stakeholders to share information, exchange views, and propose strategies for further higher education partnerships towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focusing on 1) The power of youth in partnership for the goals; 2) Research-driven sustainable development and research partnerships for the goals; 3) Higher Education Institution partnerships for the goals; 4) Community of Practice development for the goals, and 5) Partnerships and synergy for the goals.

The 14th SHARE Policy Dialogue provided a venue for learners from Southeast Asia to share their views on how their learning experiences have prepared them to be regional and global citizens. One of the youth panelists, Low Yee Teng, an Alumnus of the AIMS Programme, expressed, “(Being) exposed, explored, and experienced as a global citizen makes us connected.” 

Chanbora Sek, who is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainability Management at the University of Gadjah Mada, Indonesia, shared, “This exchange programme allowed me to become more critical in responding to sustainable development in business practices. The ASEAN Masters in Sustainability Management Programme provided me with opportunities to gain leadership skills and learn from the experts, lecturers, and social enterprises entrepreneurs across ASEAN on how they contribute to solving social problems using different tools and improving the people’s wellbeing." 

Porntip Kanjaniyot, Special Advisor to SEAMEO RIHED, stated at the end of the 'Voice from the Learners' session, “There are a series of programme in Southeast Asia that encourages higher education sustainability. Some common features can be used across all the programs, such as shared purpose and continuous efforts to further look into necessary efforts to improve youth leadership.” 

Advocacy for inclusive higher education in Southeast Asia does not stop here. The results from the 14th SHARE Policy Dialogue will be brought and discussed further at UNESCO World Higher Education Conference 2022. Wesley Teter, a Senior Consultant for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, led a discussion between regional leaders of higher education and the youth learners on the preparation of ‘What Should Be the Present and Future Role of Higher Education to Favour the Well-Being of Humans and Sustainability of Societies’. 

In this session, Yee Teng Long expressed, “The future role of higher education partnership should expand in terms of several groups working on the SDGs to lead to greater collaboration, including industrial and personal partnership. University plays an important role, but more partnerships are possible with stakeholders (public, private, local and international communities). It’s time to get together and share knowledge to make our efforts successful”.

Worawalun Yarn-Arpha, an alumna of the SHARE Scholarship Programme, mentioned, “The future forms of higher education partnership should involve stakeholders and students, such as capstone projects or case competitions that bring students together to find real solutions. I believe this approach has the potential to help us reach SDG goals. The solution cannot be from a single group of people or textbook but various groups coming together.”


Dr. Romyen Kosaikanont, SEAMEO RIHED Centre Director, explained, “We have not been close to achieving the SDGs despite hearing some excellent initiatives. Programs should be expanded and massified, and the youth engagement program should be built upon common shared goals and vision to work towards a common purpose. There is also more work needed on Gender EDI. A partnership is a key solution, but a different type of partnership”.

Darren McDermott, SHARE Programme Team Leader, stated, “We are more ready to act than ever before, certainly the case for higher education. SHARE has focused on the context of internationalisation of higher education in the Southeast Asian region since 2015, focusing on the curricula and partnerships among institutions. We see institutions going beyond bilateral relationships to link with civil society. SDGs are cross-cutting, multidisciplinary in nature, as are universities. Therefore, there is a need for multidisciplinary teams, networks, and coalitions that bring together all stakeholders/organisations (including students and youth). SHARE has been trying to establish this through our Community of Practice”.

In the last session, the panellists and audience agreed that some of the main gaps or challenges concerning higher education partnerships to achieve SDGs are investment gaps in preparing learners with a lifelong learning mindset and readiness for the future of work and access to knowledge. Meanwhile, a significant gap persists despite the technological advancement and quality standards, including the quality of learning, teaching, and research. Other challenges include the practicality of the partnership itself- we need to understand the constraints of the problems/difficulties and incorporate industry perspectives, the challenge of continuity of the partnership, and structure for partnership as the policy may be there. Still, it is not being implemented, and finally, the commitment level between partners.

One of the solutions proposed throughout the discussion is by promoting investment, especially methodological training for young researchers. Such investment will help create higher standards, encourage inclusiveness in the process and system, and develop a shared space in higher education for collective intelligence. In the long run, it will help shape common understanding and shared goals that consider the differences of countries, improving the awareness of SDGs and creating a lifelong learning system that supports SDG education and encourages more partnership.

In collaboration with the higher education partners, the SHARE Programme looks forward to bringing the learning from this Policy Dialogue to the 3rd World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022), organised by UNESCO, in Barcelona on 18-20 May 2022. The upcoming events will help partners in Southeast Asia to define their paths for a new era of higher education systems and institutions under the 2030 Agenda and look at the future of education. (***)

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