The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Cross-border Education Within ASEAN: A Double-edged Sword

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on March 26, 2013

Cross border education, which refers to the movement of people and research across national borders for academic purposes, has gained increasing prominence within ASEAN in recent years.

Collectively, ASEAN leaders have stressed the importance of cross border education within Southeast Asia. The Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community (2009-2015) for example, listed several joint initiatives to promote cross border education within ASEAN.  Member states agreed to facilitate staff and student exchanges, create research clusters, and institute ‘semesters abroad’ programmes among ASEAN educational institutions.

Importantly, the Declaration stated that these initiatives were conceived primarily to develop ASEAN human resource so as to create a knowledge based economy, as well as to build an ‘ASEAN identity based on friendship and cooperation’. Clearly, member states view cross border education within ASEAN as a means to promote balanced economic development and cultural integration in the region.

The contributions that education makes to development are well researched. Education raises human capital and accordingly, labour productivity. It allows individuals to acquire marketable capacities, hence reduce reliance on continual external aid. Connectedly, education alleviates poverty as it gives the poor access to employment opportunities. Tertiary education in particular, drives innovation and increases the number of scientists and engineers in a given population.

Cross border education initiatives in particular, have the potential to further facilitate pursuit of the above developmental goals. It provides less developed countries with opportunities to acquire relevant, applicable knowledge from more developed countries. It gives students from less developed countries access to higher quality tertiary education. It also offers researchers from less developed countries, options to participate in research projects that they would otherwise lack the resources to conduct independently.

ASEAN member states have introduced jointly, a series of cross border education initiatives. In 1995 for example, they formed the ASEAN University Network to advance regional co-operation among universities in the region. The AUN administers scholarship applications, credit transfers and quality assessments for ASEAN students and educational institutions.

Independently, some ASEAN member states have also sought to promote themselves as hubs for cross border education. Singapore implemented the Global Schoolhouse Initiative, Malaysia set up two tertiary education hubs, Educity Iskandar Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur Education City, while Thailand implemented a research network covering the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Whether these joint and independent cross-border education initiatives contribute to balanced growth and integration within ASEAN however, remains questionable.

Crucially, cross border education tends to absorb the most capable individuals. Sending countries may experience severe brain drain should these individuals choose not to return home. Also, granted the relatively low number of scholarships offered, cross border education plays a negligible role in improving poorer populations’ access to education.

While cross border education participants who have chosen not to return home can remit a portion of their salaries, more needs to be done. Regional education policies need to be refined, to ensure that cross border participants take on some role in sharing knowledge with, or investing in their home country.

This blog post has been written by Diane Lek. Diane is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is a  Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership.

For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.


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