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APAIE: international education critical for Asia’s diplomacy, ambitions

International education in Asia Pacific has been a critical diplomacy tool for the region – one that is becoming all the more essential given the tempestuous global political landscape and a move towards isolationism in a number of countries, educators said this week at the Asia Pacific Association for International Education conference.

APAIE, Asia“The centre of gravity in higher education is perceptibly shifting to Asia,” said Taiwan’s political deputy minister of education, Yao Leehtur. Photo: The PIE News.

International education can achieve what politicians are unable to do

Speaking from Kaohsiung in Taiwan, stakeholders nonetheless observed that the region’s global competitiveness continues to increase, spurred by the growing momentum of inter-regional collaborations.

“A lot is happening on the global stage in terms of politics and geopolitics, the rise of populism, the decrying of serious education; the winds of change in the corridors of power, and how they impact on education… these are matters of concern,” Anne Pakir, APAIE’s vice-president and director of the National University of Singapore’s international office said at the event.

Delegates considered how global politics – including the UK’s decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the US – might affect the region.

“Education is the new currency by which nations are becoming competitive and globally prosperous”

The “rise of protectionist, isolationist and at times purely nationalist rhetoric and sentiment” seen over the last year “means that our work, I believe, has never been more important”, reflected APAIE president Susan Elliott, deputy vice-chancellor (international) at the University of Melbourne.

Fostering a global outlook among students and facilitating people-to-people exchange is crucial in order to help curb this sentiment, particularly in a region where bilateral relations can be strained, educators agreed.

International education can achieve what politicians are unable to do, they noted, building positive relations between people and even countries where relations are poor.

“Government-to-government links between China and Taiwan are very tense and seem to be becoming increasingly tense under this particular Taiwanese president… [but] the academic links between Taiwanese and Chinese academics are very strong,” Elliott told The PIE News.

“They do a lot of collaboration that’s not recognised at a government-to-government level, so the people to people links are critically important in Asia.”

Meanwhile, governments within the region are harnessing education as a tool for soft power diplomacy, and many are helping to drive initiatives for intra-Asia education cooperation.

This includes Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, which was launched last year with the aim of strengthening links with 18 countries in East and Southeast Asia and Australasia in a number of areas including education.

“Since China is showing very unfriendly relations with this new government – so the new government was thinking maybe we should [look to other countries],” observed Hsiao-Wei Chiang, associate vice president, office of global affairs at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University.

Opening the conference, Taiwan’s political deputy minister of education, Yao Leehtur, nodded to the New Southbound Policy and noted: “The centre of gravity in higher education is perceptibly shifting to Asia.”

“Education is the new currency by which nations are becoming competitive and globally prosperous,” he added.

“Education is one of the most critical investments we can make.”

“This is the area where we have seen the greatest activity in international education, and where partnerships can be so fruitful”

Internationalisation policies will also help alleviate the effects of shrinking populations in countries like Taiwan, Korea and Japan. Speaking with The PIE News, Pakir said governments will only be able to “ensure that the college education pipeline is kept open… with an influx of foreign students”.

“We have seen the rise of intra-Asia mobility as a very quickly emerging trend,” she observed.

Intra-Asia mobility has also been influenced by a growing recognition among Asian educators that not all collaborations are equal.

Speaking about partnerships between higher education institutions in East Asia and the West, Jonathan Lembright, IIE’s regional director for Southeast Asia, noted that there is sometimes a “tendency in some East-West partnerships to see the Western institution as the senior partner”.

However, institutions working to forge mutually beneficial partnerships for both counterparts in the West and within Asia, he said.

All these factors mean that education cooperation between institutions in the Asia Pacific region is gathering speed, and will likely continue to grow in the next few years.

“This is the area where we have seen the greatest activity in international education, and where partnerships can be so fruitful,” said Elliot.

“From student mobility to research partnerships to online learning and indeed global rankings, universities in the Asia Pacific are rising, innovating and leading the way.

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