Strategic Directions for Higher Education in APEC

Dr Max Bessell
Faculty of the Professions at the University of Adelaide

One of the legacies of the Russian Federation’s hosting of APEC in 2012 will be the forging of new directions in higher education. Significant gains have been made in framing some clear strategic objectives which aim to develop and assist the dynamic world of higher education. These provide a solid base for Indonesia in the higher education arena as it takes over the host role in 2013.

Key issues confronting higher education in member economies include

  • The nature of its contribution to development and capturing the opportunities it offers
  • Doing so in the context of significant change in the international arena for higher education
  • Dealing with the number of stakeholders who have an interest in education policy, such as domestic interests but also regional groupings such as APRU and the accrediting agencies, existing and emerging
  • The more specific challenges to institutions such as finding and retaining academic staff, defining research agendas and providing clarity in the strategic direction of higher education providers in a global environment.

Some of these issues were laid out in the earlier PECC report on the “The Globalisation of Education: The Next Wave” which was jointly prepared with APRU.

A recent conference in Vladivostok examined future strategies by APEC in Higher Education. This resulted into the development of a Conference Summary which contains five key areas. These are (quoting from the conference summary):

1. “Enhancing the mobility of students

The mobility of students could be enhanced through closer cooperation on course accreditation and quality assurance. This could include benchmarking and identification of best practices for APEC economy course accreditation and quality assurance systems, as well as targeted capacity building projects. This work could also include the development of models to guide reform and transparency, drawing on case studies of domestic education providers. APEC economies could also explore ways to increase the transparency of student visa regulations.

2. Enhancing the mobility of researchers

The mobility of researchers could be enhanced by building on existing academic exchanges and joint research activities among education providers in APEC economies. APEC economies could also explore ways to improve the mobility of the academic and TVET workforce.

3. Enhancing the mobility of education providers

The mobility of education providers could be enhanced with the exchange of best practices for market access, capacity building, mapping of existing regulations for the establishment of foreign providers, and benchmarking and identification of best practices in APEC on quality assurance system. The APEC Services Trade Access Requirements (STAR) Database, which by the end of 2012 will include information on requirements for the supply of higher education services through commercial presence, would be a useful tool for this work.

4. Increasing the interaction between higher education institutions

This could include enlarging the existing network of bilateral agreements between universities into an APEC-wide voluntary mechanism, examining issues (including government policies where possible) related to the flexible design and delivery of educational content (such as online courses) between APEC economies; exploring the possibility of an APEC database of educational programs

5. Increasing data collection on trade in education services

APEC economies could share best practices and utilize capacity building to enhance data collection on cross-border student and provider mobility in the APEC region, including estimates of the economic impacts and benefits of students and provider mobility. Such work could eventually facilitate the collection of cross-border education data and deeper regional economic integration through identification of patterns of supply and demand in education and new opportunities for investment and innovative learning and teaching practices in APEC economies.”

This is an ambitious agenda of mobility of students, teachers and providers, plus a new program of institutional cooperation, all of which should be applauded.

The concept of providing a centralized facility and policy benchmarks for the APEC region to support mobility could alleviate higher education providers of much of this cost and provide new opportunities, delivering considerable efficiencies. The establishment of an APEC unit to manage the activities is valuable but the appropriate resourcing (both human and financial) will be critical to its success. Higher education providers already commit significant resources in individually managing many of these areas. As a result, there is scope for the providers, and other official and private networks, to be involved. This work in APEC should build on what already takes place.

Another interesting question is the management of the implementation of these proposals. The Conference Summary has to be approved at the APEC Leaders Meeting in Vladivostok in September 2012. When that is done then the strategies and processes are devolved to various sub-groups of which the Human Resources Development Working Group (HRDWG) is likely to be a key group, for action. The HRDWG has three networks under it, and it is likely that the EDNET Group would be charged with the actioning. However given the crossover of issues, other APEC groups might sensibly be involved such as the Group on Services with its focus on trade policy and on negotiating processes.

At least there is greater clarity about the strategic direction of APEC with respect to higher education. The challenge now is for the stakeholders to take up the opportunities this offers.

Dr Max Bessell from the Faculty of the Professions at the University of Adelaide attended the APEC International Education Conference “Shaping Education within APEC" on 9th and 10th JULY 2012, Vladivostok, Russian Federation.

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