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Papers presented at the Symposium on
5 December 1996, Santiago, Chile

(held in conjunction with the 43rd Session of the Council of the United Nations University)


Ingrid Moses
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Canberra, Australia

There is a future for the institution of University in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, without the institution of university there might be no future. The region is possibly the most diverse region in the world. It is very diverse in size. It contains small island nations in the Pacific with populations of a few hundred thousand, and the largest countries in the world with China (1.2 billion), India (914 million), Indonesia (190 million), Pakistan (126 million), Japan (125 million), and Bangladesh (118 million). I will restrict my comments to those countries on the Asian/Pacific Rim.

The region also is very diverse in terms of economic development. It includes a number of developed economies like Japan, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, some speedily developing ones like Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan, and some societies which though old have only fairly recently embraced economic developments, which make them globally competitive. Among these nations are two of the largest countries in terms of population-China and Indonesia.

The region's countries also differ vastly in terms of historical developments. Some, like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia only fairly recently became independent following decades, in some cases centuries, of colonial rule. Others like China and Vietnam have emerged from socialist, state-run economies to a more market driven model. And others like Japan have endured neither colonial rule nor massive change in the ideology that informed the national consciousness.

The region's countries also differ in terms of their present political systems-we find parliamentary monarchies, socialist/communist states, parliamentary democracies, and a range of hybrid forms of government.

Clearly, the historical and economical development influences the development of the higher education system in each country and the place it takes in realising national goals.

All of the countries of the region stress the development of their tertiary and higher education sector as an integral part of their economic and social development plans. In all of these countries, universities are seen as furthering national goals. In some of these, national goals include explicitly education of the mind, of an intellectual and cultural elite; in some the stress is on economic competitiveness. On the whole, an instrumentalist view of higher education and of the roles of universities is dominant. This is perhaps not surprising in a region where much of the education of elites took place in institutions of various religions or specific professional schools, and where the institution of University is a Western import and is therefore perceived as closely connected to economic development.

In all of these countries increasingly national goals include reference to internationalisation and globalisation. Of course, in small countries like New Zealand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, and the many island states, this openness is a necessity for survival, but it is based also on historical ties through colonial links. Let me start with a few words about the largest of the countries first.


Like all of the countries in the region, China is positioning itself for the 21st century. China is by far the most populous country in the world with 1.2 billion people. Education reform and the development of education at all levels are seen as priorities. In 1993, the State Education Commission published a major policy paper, entitled "Outline for Reform and Development of Education in China." This set out four objectives:

  1. ensure that by the year 2000, nine years of education is universal,
  2. strengthen vocational and adult education,
  3. develop higher education, and
  4. promote international academic exchanges and cooperation.

Universities depend, of course, on a schooling sub-structure as feeders to tertiary education and/or on broad credit transfer arrangements from vocational and adult education. In China, the tertiary enrolment rate, including all types of post-secondary education, is still very low at 2 per cent. Thus, the expansion both of school and higher education will involve millions of students and will contribute to further economic and social development. 1


Indonesia is a very heterogeneous and rapidly changing society with a population of 190 million spread over 13,700 islands. The country is enjoying rapid growth and has a very young population. The pressures on higher education are considerable: a skilled and flexible workforce is needed. Like many countries in the region, higher education in Indonesia comprises both state and private institutions. The system is huge, both in numbers of institutions and in student numbers. There are great variations in provisions between regions and great variations in quality of these institutions, ranging from some highly prestigious universities to training colleges. 2

Indonesia's universities in the post-colonial phase went from a period of building an Indonesian distinctiveness to blending the traditions from the Dutch-European culture and a mainly North American culture. Higher education here, like in many countries of the region, depends to a large extent on Western-generated knowledge in teaching and Western textbooks. University teachers frequently were graduate students in a Western country, and continuation of such links, of research and development links, and of various aids or development programmes all contribute to this.

Universities enjoy by law "academic freedom, freedom of academic forum, science autonomy, and institution autonomy in the conduct of their affairs as centres of higher education and scientific research." 3 But despite this, there is a strong national orientation in the four objectives set for education and training:

  1. Equity in opportunities and/or outcomes across the nation and for all citizens;
  2. Relevance of the education system to national development;
  3. Quality, especially gains made from the educational process;
  4. Efficiency in getting the most from resources allocated for education. 4

Let me give voice to my Indonesian colleagues. "Indonesian universities have focused on the application of knowledge to national development and have fostered a strong degree of harmony with the state. The ethos of the Indonesian university has been very closely tied to national development and there has been a strong thread of nationalism in their operation as exemplified by the teaching of state ideology (Pancasila) throughout the curriculum and the use of the Indonesian language. Moreover, there is a firm policy which prohibits any foreign higher education institution being established in Indonesia." As the authors of this article note, "the strong national ethos, which permeates universities, stands in contrast to Western universities which have tended to be much more "international" in their orientation and where institutional reward systems for staff actually encourage and support this." 5


Thailand is one of the Asian-Pacific countries most integrated through its university system in the region and beyond. It has seen a consistent expansion of higher education particularly since the Second World War, which moved "Thailand into the new era of rapid modernization and democratization." 6 This led to a high demand of professionally trained manpower. Many staff members gained qualifications and knowledge in new disciplines in universities abroad. In the past 35 years the number of institutions under Ministry of University Affairs (encompassing about four-fifths of all students) rose from 5 to 56, including both private and public and indeed two open universities. The number of university students rose from 42,000 to 857,000. About 15 per cent of the age group 18-22 are enrolled in higher education. 7

In Thailand, too, the needs and development priorities of the country influenced the functions of higher education. National Economic and Social Development Plans since the 1960s have ensured the integration of higher education into an overall development plan. Thailand will be implementing soon its 8th Plan, covering the period 1997-2001. For higher education, the following priorities have been established:

  1. Equity and access to higher education-the development of a mass higher education system to accommodate Thai people from all regions and of diverse social and economic background;
  2. Management efficiency, i.e., management reform which emphasises institutional autonomy and self-governance with appropriate accountability measures;
  3. Academic excellence and social relevance of higher education, through quality assurance and centres of excellence in science and technology;
  4. Private sector partnership; and
  5. Internationalisation of higher education. A new initiative here is the development of a regional data base to facilitate regional cooperation, between countries including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore.8

The language used in this plan is very similar to those in plans of many other countries and we recognize the international links of our ministries of education in this. China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia to name but a few on the Asian-Pacific Rim countries are all expanding their higher education system. I will not say anything here about Japan, which has different challenges, but will highlight a different set of problems and opportunities first in Australia/New Zealand and then in one of the smallest university systems, the South Pacific.

Australia/New Zealand

Both countries, like Japan, are affluent countries with highly developed university systems. Both countries have experienced sustained expansion of higher education over the past decades and have truly moved form elite, to mass, to nearly universal higher education. While New Zealand still has a differentiated higher education system, in Australia all higher education institutions (i.e., institutions awarding degrees) are universities. Australia changed from a binary to a unitary system in 1988-1990. This means that all functions of higher education, elite education and mass education, liberal and professional education, scientific training and vocational training, teaching and research, research and development, development and service to the community have become part of virtually each institution's mission.

In both countries expenditure on higher education has become so high and participation rates are so high that governments are rethinking their policies. They are stopping the funding of further expansion and instead seek consolidation, greater efficiency, greater focus on outcomes, greater competitiveness within the country, and sustained or enhanced competitiveness on the world market.

Both countries attract significant number of students from the other Asian-Pacific countries, while many of their own faculty staff still go for their sabbaticals to Europe and North America. With their predominantly European origins, both countries have traditionally been part of the Western world, and their universities and faculty have been part of that community of scholars. In both counties there has been for a few years a strong re-orientation, a focus on the region, and an acknowledgment of shared problems, opportunities, and destiny.

The South Pacific

The South Pacific is now our other extreme in terms of population-an area three times the size of Europe, but in landmass the size of Denmark. The region, like the West Indies, has a special regional university, based on cooperation of twelve micro-states in the region and supported by a number of other Pacific Rim countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Japan, and also the United Kingdom. These twelve micro-states have a total population of 1.3 million, with the largest country, Fiji, 750,000, and the smallest an island with 1,600 inhabitants!9 While some of these countries have other higher education institutions, the University of the South Pacific (USP) is the only university in the region. It has, despite many political troubles, been able to offer university education to students coming from different traditional societies colonised by different European powers, and societies with very different social and cultural norms.

Themes for the 21st Century

I mentioned the South Pacific last not because it contains the smallest nation states but because its university points to us to the next century. Like the USP, the university in the 21st century needs to accommodate national goals and various cultural values. It needs also to transcend these differences by focusing on the shared goals of the region. It needs to acknowledge the interdependence of states, of universities and their faculty and students. It needs to open to the world through collaboration and personal links, and through technology.

But there will also be pressures:

  1. national governments or ethnics or political groups wanting to use the University and its students for their own political ends;
  2. governments or other people and organisations with power wanting to silence critical voices;
  3. governments or other people and organisations with power wanting to harness the university's intellectual and moral authority not for creation of knowledge and enhancement of understanding but only for validating customary knowledge and beliefs.

There are two developments which affect the university and will, I believe, both change the university and assist it to survive: the open university and internationalisation.

Open University

In the 21st Century, the university as an institution will survive. But most likely a minority of students will be full-time and campus-based, enjoying the interaction and stimulation which faculty and peers provide.

Many more will gain access through some form of open learning. Already many of the countries have systems which deliver higher education in a non-traditional way, i.e., not classroom-based. The distance or open universities attract hundreds and thousands of students and play a most important role in: 10

  • human resource training for economic development, reaching into rural and remote regions and opening these areas for more industry, more employment, greater wealth;
  • equity and social justice by making available programmes to isolated students and to women, to adults and to ethnic groups who would not have access to campus-based education;
  • skills training in the workplace, enabling employees to upgrade their skills or to re-train without losing their means of living;
  • professional updating;
  • meeting unmet demand in times of rapid social and economic development;
  • through cost-effective communication methods.

The Open University (as a generic term) will assist to combat illiteracy still widespread in some of the region's countries; will help spread ideas; and will help to equalise access to information, to knowledge, to expertise.

Will this lead to a virtual university? In many of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region, information technology which depends on telephone lines is not available to many people. Those who have access to computers and to networks can create or participate in a "virtual university," but for the masses of people less technology-dependent teaching-and-learning environments need to be created.

This is surely one of the challenges for the 21st century in all of the regions-to ensure that all those participating in higher education have the opportunity to interact with other students and with faculty; to learn through interaction; and to influence and be influenced in values, beliefs, customs, practices, and in personal and social development through university study. The development of mind is but one part of education.


A second development of importance for the institution of university in our region is the press and desire for internationalisation. We have seen that many countries in the region have a colonial past-most were colonised, but some were colonisers. National identity and goals-in many heterogeneous countries-ethnic or religious identity or goals-need to be reconciled with partnership in and an openness to the global society.

Many of the universities in the region have an active programme of internationalisation, through faculty and student exchanges, through sabbaticals, through collaborative research and development projects, through revised curricula, to name but a few. The most active countries seem to be the smaller ones or the most homogeneous ones. In all, however, the challenge for the future is to work out more truly collaborative and equal arrangements between international partners, and where necessary to take an active though temporary role in assisting universities/university faculty to a position of equally valued knowledge and expertise.

Let me go back to one of the countries I mentioned earlier, Thailand. The present decade is already preparing Thailand for the future, for full participation in a global scene. Global competence, global perspective, were goals for the education of graduates and the workings of higher education. Internationalisation "was the term with enormous implications on the rethinking of higher education provision, in order to produce graduates and manpower of international competence that will help Thailand realize her dream of becoming a leading industrialized country in the region." 11

Whatever position each country in the region is striving for, all are using their universities to aid them in this. Let me conclude by quoting two Thai colleagues who recently spoke in Melbourne, Australia, on internationalisation of higher education:

At the dawn of the new era of globalization, it is important that every country should have a common vision for world development and be willing to cooperate with each other for a peaceful and productive coexistence. Thailand will pursue this goal and Thai higher education will certainly be an active part in this endeavour.12

This is a vision of the future of the university which I and, I believe, we from the United Nations University Council can endorse.


Australian International Education Foundation, "China," 1996/97 [ RETURN TO DOCUMENT BODY ]

B. Cannon and O. Djajanegara, "Country Case Study in Indonesia" Paper presented at the IMHE/OECD COnference on Internationalisation of Higher Education in the Asia-Pacific Region, Monash Unversity and IDP, Melborne, 7-9 October 1996, p.1. [ RETURN TO DOCUMENT BODY ]




A. Nakornthap and W. Srisa-an, "Internationalisation of Higher Education in Thailand" Paper presented at the IMHE/OECD COnference on Internationalization of Higher Education in the Asia-Pacific Region, Monash Unversity and IDP, Melborne, 7-9 October 1996, p. 2.[ RETURN TO DOCUMENT BODY ]



V. Naida, "Internationalization od Education in the South Pacific," Paper presented at the IMHE/OECD COnference on Internationalization of Higher Education in the Asia-Pacific Region, Monash Unversity and IDP, Melborne, 7-9 October 1996, p. 3. [ RETURN TO DOCUMENT BODY ]

R. Ludin, Overseas experiece in non-traditional modes of delivery in higher education using state-of-the-art technologies, DEET, AGPS, Canberra, 1993, Canberra, 1993, pp. vii-viii [ RETURN TO DOCUMENT BODY ]

Nakornthap and Srisa-an, op.cit., p.6 [ RETURN TO DOCUMENT BODY ]


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