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Student mobility in Pacific Rim tops APEC agenda

Boosting student exchange and mobility in the Pacific Rim region was high on the agenda at the recent Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok, Russia, as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard prioritised a deal to open up the region’s higher education market.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard headed the push for the accord which will open up the APEC region to more student and researcher mobility

The declaration suggests more transparency in student visa requirements to increase student mobility

With 21 member nations in APEC, any unilateral student exchange deal could lead to a strong student mobility programme akin to Europe’s Erasmus exchange programme.

Leaders endorsed a declaration, “Promoting Cross Border Education Cooperation“, which suggested increasing transparency of student visa requirements to increase study mobility, developing joint research activities between universities in APEC economies and making it easier for universities to set up branch campuses abroad.

Before leaving the summit early due to her father’s sudden death, Gillard told APEC that Australia partnered “with the countries around the region in aid and development work which is focused on education, but we also are big exchangers both at research and at the student level”.

“I think the statistic is 175,000 students from the APEC countries are studying in Australian universities and vocational education training today,” she said.

“We would be looking to increase that number and we think the focus . . . on the mobility of students, staff and institutions setting up in each other’s country is really a very important vision of the future.”

Commentators welcomed the Vladivostok declaration but are cautious of its generalised ambitions.

“The mobility of students, staff and institutions setting up in each other’s country is really a very important vision”

“I hope that this declaration signals that regional leaders are looking to emulate the types of measures that have worked well in Europe,” Christopher Ziguras, deputy dean of learning, teaching and international at RMIT‘s school of global studies, social science and planning told The Australian. ¨There is no such detail in the Vladivostok declaration, which is a shame.”

Outward mobility expert, Rob Malicki, said  it would be a “dream come true” if the region could develop a student exchange programme similar to the European Commission’s ERASMUS, which has an annual budget of more than $550 million.

“There is a huge amount of work governments could do to forge an ERASMUS-style regional collaboration,” Malicki said. “On a smaller and more practical scale, institutions need to be encouraged to forge deeper, outcomes-based relationships with partners across the region.”

Meanwhile, Australian trade minister, Craig Emerson, said, “This is right up our alley..

“By investing with our regional partners in the talents of our young people, we can help them better appreciate each other’s cultures while preparing them for the opportunities of the Asian Century.”

Establishing a benchmark and identifying best practice was proposed to ensure quality assurance systems which Australia argues would help large exporters of education services because it should help strengthen their regulatory regimes. The international education sector accounted for AUS$10billion in exports for Australia last year.

APEC is currently made up of 21 member economies including major exporters of education, the USA and Australia, as well as important student source markets such as Indonesia, China, Thailand and Vietnam.

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