Closing plenary (2)
Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Role of University Organisations
Rector, University of Surabaya - Indonesia 2nd Vice President, Association of Universities of Asia and the Pacific Dialogue on internationalisation of higher education has intensively taken place since 1990, which then followed by the efforts from various parties sharing common interests in the activities such as the government, universities and other educational institutions. Globalisation in multidimensional aspects of life also triggered every nation to make adjustments and be more adaptive to the what-so-called global standard. Higher educational institutions also face this challenge in terms of their capability to produce graduates that meet global qualifications.
Every nation in its early years after obtaining independence normally has a strong spirit in formulating its educational system based on its national paradigms. Some countries might share similarities in their systems, but that is usually due to some historic ties (for example Indonesia with the Netherlands, Singapore with England; both are tied through colonisation history). Systems with strong national orientation, in particular for countries that just obtained their independence, are very natural, considering they are expected to be built based on local culture. Education is simply a strategic means to accomplish that purpose. However, political changes and development all over the world have proven to be very dynamic and in turn will force many countries to be more open and cooperative.
The rapid global era at the dawn of the 20th century will progress even faster in the 21st century. It has coloured old paradigms on nationalisation with humanism and democracy. On the other hand, developed countries are also demanded to share their advantages and are expected to be more tolerant in the management of vital resources on earth. The spirit of free competition should be upheld; yet this should also consider the spirit of fairness. All these aim at the destination to bring humankind on earth to be able to live together in peace and harmony. To get there-amidst the circumstances where conflicts between nations, business, and political interests are so immense, coupled with the existing gaps in economic, socio-cultural, and human resources capacity-is simply not easy. All parties should take part in the journey, including the universities. Internationalisation of higher education is the most-effective way to establish mutual inter-university partnerships. The challenge is how to balance the spread of skilled human resources across countries so that the gaps mentioned above can be reduced.
Why internationalisation of higher education instead of globalisation of higher education? There is a very strong and relevant rationale: internationalisation lays its foundation on national elements by standardising knowledge and skills containing local attributes. The local culture still has to be preserved and does not necessarily have to follow global standard. Thus, internationalisation does not pose a threat to the existence of national cultures and interests. Cultural diversity is one of the key principles to be respected in internationalisation of higher education.
Globalisation, on the other hand, tends to accommodate processes-shielded by perspective on "global standard"- that have the potentials to diminish some local cultures and values that live and grow within the soul of every nation/society. Needless to say that this is also against the principles of human rights. The effects could also be counter-productive, as this will ignite resistance from efforts to defend one's self-identify.
Setting up standards on graduates' competence from the same study programme that are acknowledgeable by universities in partners is the main principle for internationalisation. Quality of the graduates as one of the significant factors should be guaranteed. Learning process embedded in the curriculum, delivery method, academic atmosphere, and educational facilities, should therefore be made able to guarantee the quality of graduates.
Therefore, the initial step to be taken by universities for international collaboration toward the internationalisation is to inter-promoting and acknowledging curriculum of the study programmes.
Forums and/or events where universities can meet and open the discussion on potential collaboration that leads to internationalisation is university organisations at the regional level such as the Association of Universities of Asia and the Pacific (AUAP), the European University Association, the Association of African Universities, etc., as well as international organisations such as the International Association of Universities, the International Association of University Presidents, etc.
Through participation in these types of organisation, member institutions can obtain benefits in the form of information on scientific trend and development, regulations in other countries and universities, best practices, failures, etc. One should even admit that the spreading of the idea on internationalisation of higher education is more intensively carried out by such organisations rather than by the governments.
Beyond that, organisation such as the AUAP has also been facilitating its members in various seminars, workshops, and technical forums for international collaboration. Some examples are:
1. Learning and Sharing Forums
- Empowering University-Industry Partnerships: Living Together in a Global Village
- Dialogue among Civilisations through Higher Education
- Implementing University Partnership through Productive Communications for Academic Excellence
2. Conferences, Seminars and Workshops
- Trends in Higher Education and Benchmarking
- ICT in Higher Education for the New Economy
- International Student Leadership Conference
- Asian Business Education Forum
- Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Cooperative Education
3. Training Courses
- Improvement in the Teaching of English
- Improvement in the Teaching of Science and Mathematics
- Multimedia Teaching Module Production
- Continuing Engineering Education
There are obstacles in implementing internationalisation programmes, particularly in the Asia Pacific, that may take forms in some of the differences in national laws, educational systems, university autonomy, curriculum, language of instruction, etc. In some countries, the teaching of English as a second language still has not been quite successful. However, gradually we witness more and more universities in the Asia Pacific that have started their international programmes through exchanging their students and/or faculty staff members. Many of them have also been collaborating with partners from Europe, the United States, or Australia.
With the changing mindset of universities world-wide to take part in internationalisation, and fostered by the role of the existing university organisations, we can expect even faster growth in the process. University organisations, both regional and international, are also expected to drive changes in educational policy in many countries to provide autonomy to the universities. By becoming autonomous, universities can become more flexible in designing its curriculum to adapt to the international standard without losing their national values and cultural diversity. However, university accountability at the other side of the coin should remain in consideration. It would also be interesting to see these local cultures can be "traded" through the agents of exchange programmes (exchange students or faculties), as this will greatly help the inter-understanding of cultural differences and values of each nation.
In addition to the university autonomy, academic freedom is another condition for the creation and advancement of scientific knowledge without boundaries, be they from the government or other political powers. University autonomy and academic freedom are also pre-conditions for pacing inter-university partnerships toward internationalisation.
To sustain all of these, support from the older and more-experienced universities in forms of teaching staff, guest lecturers, or co-operation through distance education, is critically needed. Problems in financing will still be an issue and challenge, and require serious thoughts and considerations on how to overcome it in order to create successful higher education internationalisation programmes.