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“Transformative” ASEAN TNE opportunities to emerge

New opportunities are emerging for ASEAN transnational education, including those which can be transformative if developed maturely, openly and in collaboration, sector leaders have agreed.

Australian universities had 1,100 agreements with ASEAN institutions in 2020. Photo: The PIE News

In Vietnam, 85% of parents surveyed indicated an openness to international programs delivered in Vietnam

“The changes in the market post-covid for international education means that there are new opportunities and we are certainly seeing an increased interest in students entering their own study trajectory where they’re looking to create their own study journey,” said Melissa Banks, head of international education centre of excellence, Austrade.

She added that students are interested in dual degrees and embarking upon studies which allow them to “mix up” their education with a combination of international and local curriculum and support via study centres and online study.

“Times are changing and new opportunities are emerging,” said Banks.

The comments were made during a ASEAN-Australia TNE Workshop hosted by Austrade at the APAIE 2023 conference in Bangkok.

According to Seth Kunin, deputy vice-chancellor at Curtin University, there is a “real appetite for TNE” across ASEAN, and highlighted a trend, not only at Curtin University but across other Australian institutions, which allows students to experience different campuses at different times of their careers.

“The fact that [Curtin has] five campuses, if you include Australia, and we also have Sri Lanka, means that some students will start in Perth and they might go to Singapore and they might finish up in Sri Lanka. Online of course adds a whole other aspect where they might start online and then do different campuses.”

According to Universities Australia, universities in the country had 9,831 formal institution-to-institution agreements with global partners in 2020, of which around 1,100 were with ASEAN countries.

The majority of those agreements were focused on academic research collaboration, followed by staff and student exchange.

“There’s a really rich tradition of existing partnerships we can draw on,” said Michael Helleman, senior trade and investment commissioner, Thailand and Laos, Austrade.

Han Xiao Zhang, counsellor (education and research) for Jakarta, the Australian Embassy, spoke about TNE opportunities in Indonesia from an Australian perspective.

“What I’m seeing in Indonesia, and perhaps this is a reflection of the broader Southeast Asia, is that there is a growing appetite from some of these governments and that filters down through institutions in terms of international engagement,” he said.

“The Indonesian government, in terms of its TNE options, is starting to really ramp up some of these internationalisation programs.”

According to Zhang, scholarship funding from the Indonesian government has doubled in two years and the Ministry of Education has quadrupled its international research funding.

“I think the opportunities are there, but it needs to be in areas of priority for the government itself.”

Zhang highlighted that sectors which are of strong interest to the Indonesian government are green and blue economies and digitisation.

“From a foreign university perspective, in terms of partnerships, you really need to think about whether those areas are in alignment with what your strengths are as well,” he added.

Zhang highlighted further opportunities in the corporate space in Indonesia, including a “relatively new trend” in which industries are indicating an interest in upskilling their workforce by turning to foreign universities.

“We’ve seen some real fine examples of Indonesian state-owned enterprises coming to Australian institutions, seeking our assistance in terms of their skill development.”

Jen Bahen, counsellor for education and research, Vietnam and Thailand, Australian Embassy, told delegates that recently the Laos government had enquired about its students embarking upon study in Australian presences based in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, 85% of parents surveyed by Acumen indicated an openness to international programs delivered in Vietnam, as well as a clear preference for international over local programs.

As for what makes a TNE agreement enduring, Hellemen noted that any partnership should “respond to each other’s real needs and bring real value to one another”.

“I think the partnerships that work best are the ones that really go beyond just education partnership and moving in to collaborative research and also involves staff training and co-curricular development,” added Banks.

“That way the students and the staff are the beneficiaries of all of this work that we’re doing and are gaining a true international education but from the comfort potentially of their homes and in their own cities.”

According Kunin, the aspect of collaboration an co-creation is “fundamental” to create something that transforms both universities.

“You have to expect that every country is going to be different”

“You have to expect that every country is going to be different,” said Kunin.

Kunin urged stakeholders to understand the regulatory environment – including accreditation and governmental requirements – of the potential partner’s location “very well” before carrying out any kind of TNE relationship.

“ASEAN is not homogenous, there are very different motivations for TNE across different countries, different models that work in different countries, and a different perspective that you need to bring,” said Bahen.

Laurene Chua-Garcia, vice president for external relations and internationalisation, De La Salle University, spoke about some of the misconceptions of collaborating with institutions in the Philippines.

“A lot of people tend to look at the Philippines as just a third-world country but if I should use De La Salle as an example… we have a presence in every continent except Antartica,” she said.

“There’s this expectation from ASEAN that the first-world country schools know what to do and are more professional. The Philippines may have been relegated to being a third-world country in ASEAN but we are well trained and the training continues.”

Chua-Garcia also warned that some TNE partners in the past have been pursuing a “one-way street” agreement.

“They just want to tell us ‘bring your students to us, bring your students to us!’ What happened to a bilateral or fair exchange?”

For Thailand, the future of TNE collaboration is “open”, said Nopraenue S. Dhirathiti, vice president for international relations and corporate communication, Mahidol University. She further highlighted Chua-Garcia’s point about one-sided partnerships.

“It’s pretty outdated to only ask international partners what they can provide for you.”

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