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Preparatory Session for UNESCO World Higher Education Conference 2022

Voices of the Youth on Higher Education in Southeast Asia


As part of the SHARE Policy Dialogue 14, ‘Preparation for UNESCO World Higher Education Conference 2022’ was conducted with the leaders of higher education regional organisations. Mr Wesley Teter (Senior Consultant for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education) facilitated the session, with panellists: Dr Romyen Kosaikanont (SEAMEO RIHED Centre Director), Dr Roger Y. Chao Jr. (Assistant Director/Head, Education, Youth and Sports Division, ASEAN Secretariat), Dr Choltis Dhirathiti (Executive Director, ASEAN University Network), Mr Darren J. McDermott (SHARE Programme Team Leader). Two youth representatives were present online, Mr Yee Teng Long (Alumnus of AIMS Programme, Malaysia) and Ms Worawalun Yarn-Arpha (Alumna of SHARE Scholarship Programme, Thailand).

The session began with three questions. Each panellist shared their thoughts and opinions based on their knowledge and expertise: 1) What should be the present and future of higher education partnership? How can we promote the wellbeing of humans and sustainability in Southeast Asia?; 2) What are the main gaps or challenges concerning higher education partnerships to achieve SDGs?; 3) What needs to change or be created to face these challenges within and/or outside higher education institutions?


Dr Romyen Kosaikanont remarked, “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”.


In line with Dr Kosaikanont, Ms Worawalun Yarn-Arpha, expressed her thoughts regarding the first question, “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 from various groups coming together”.


Mr Darren McDermott 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”.


Dr Choltis Dhirathiti conveyed, “There are 6500 - 7500 higher education institutions in Southeast Asia region. There is a clear lack of consistency across quality and synergy between the university and industry relations. Even worse, there is also a clear imbalance in the implementation of lifelong learning. We should concentrate partnership in higher education on particular fields to create an association culture that encompasses university, industry, and community partnership. Investment should be aimed at subject-specific collaboration to bring researchers together”.


Dr Roger Y. Chao Jr. conveyed, “We are off-track to achieve the SDGs, which certainly means we cannot continue business as usual. Higher Education partnerships should be inclusive and equitable and have a shared goal towards not only an economy 4.0 but also a society 4.0. SDGs should be introduced in plans at national, regional and international levels. There is also a strong need to revisit higher education beyond teaching, research, and engagement. Engagement needs to be more inclusive (how all stakeholders and partners of the Higher Education sector contribute to making the world a better place. Countries and regions need to collaborate in an inclusive, equitable manner for a more peaceful, sustainable community. We have to listen to each other when we visit the role of the Higher Education sector.”


Another voice of youth represented by Mr 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”.


In this 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.





The European Union’s Support to Higher Education in ASEAN Region (SHARE) Programme held its 14th Policy Dialogue in a hybrid format from 29 March to 31 March 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the theme: ‘The Contribution of Higher Education Partnerships in Southeast Asia towards the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030’. The SHARE Policy Dialogue 14 was designed in partnership with the ASEAN Secretariat Education Youth and Sports Division (EYSD), SEAMEO RIHED, UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, the ASEAN University Network and their partners. The event brings together 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.


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