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Internationalization of Higher Education

1. A Conceptual Clarification

Before starting, a conceptual clarification seems feasible. Nowadays the concept of internationalization is popular and frequently used, in varying context and for diverse purposes. Nevertheless, the concept of internationalization applies to, on the one hand; a process of "making something international". It is a process of exchange and mutual influence, where the actors involved are presumably "nations". On the other hand, internationalization is commonly conceptualized as an ideology or policy of some sort.

When we speak of the contents of internationalization of higher education, we can define its term as the following :

“Internationalization of higher education is the process of integrating an international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of the institution." (I) : Hans de Wit)

This definition understands internationalization as a process, as a response to globalization (not to be confused with the globalization process itself), and as including both international and local elements.

This concept significantly involves with the terms of globalization and internationalization by their mean of relationship and conceptual development :

Globalization is The Flow of Technology, Economy, People, Values, IdeasAcross Boarders. Globalization affects each country in a different way due to nations individual history, traditions, culture and priority. Globalization increases and reflects a greater interdependency and interconnectedness in the world.

Impact of Globalization on Higher Education

Higher Education is both Actor and Re-actor, Internationalization of higher education is one of the ways a country responds to the impact of globalization. Internationalization of higher education in one way is also an agent of globalization in another way we can define its term as "intercultural education" which implies a learning situation characterized by intercultural interaction, which is used actively as a pedagogic resource.

2. Internationalization: Yesterday and Today

Internationalization is habitually seen as something unique for the last two centuries. But ever since time immemorial, people have interacted with other cultures, out of curiosity, necessity or by sheer coincidence. Explorers such as James Cook, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, travelled the world in their thirst for knowledge and impulses. Famous Swedish scientists Carl von Linn and Emanuel Swedenborg worked in different parts of the world. Academics and students travelled abroad to the universities in Bologna, There were just a few, to take advantage of the intellectual elite of those days (Strand 1970; Egidius 2001). Thus, interest in the world, other people, cultures, languages and ideas or simply the quest for knowledge and competence have always been motives for academic training abroad.

A major difference is, however, that nowadays we live in the world of globalization. People, capital, ideologies, media images and cultural impulses travel around the world more rapidly and efficiently than ever before (Appudurai 1996; Giddens 1996; Bauman 2000; Beck 1997). International experiences are constantly available for many of us in our own neighbourhoods. The Internet connects people of different backgrounds across large distances. But the unique thing is that the Internet is totally indifferent to international boundaries (Graham 1999:86). It links together people who otherwise would be strangers to one another, by a common interest that has nothing to do with nationality." "Virtual reality" has become a significant factor in many people's identity construction.

Against this background, "territorial" identities have presumably been substituted for "mobile" identities. Overall, in the late modern world identities are more fragile, dispersed or dislocated and have urged the construction of new identities (Friedman 1994; Castells 1997).

Responding to the needs of global man, higher education policies have become increasingly internationalized. A clear tendency toward an ideologization of internationalization policies is also visible. Policy-makers and educators, frequently and energetically, stress internationalization as a principal goal for higher education. Internationalization-ideologies can be seen as integral elements of an "identity-project" to replace territorial, communal and national identities with mobile, cosmopolitan and "international" identities. For single individuals, it may be simultaneously an answer to their personal quest for an identity.

Furthermore, internationalization is no longer, however, a concern exclusively for universities, colleges or research institutes. For a variety of reasons, multinational organizations, companies or political bodies also define their internationalization-policies.

Consequently, there is a viable discourse on internationalization. Policy-makers tend to focus on ideological goals (e.g. the overall course of higher education), university administrators on formalities and practicalities of international co-operation (e.g. student visas, health insurance, grading systems, course-equivalencies etc) whereas teachers emphasize academic issues (e.g. course contents, academic issues, language problems etc). In addition to this, universities struggle to overcome organizational obstacles, traditions and collective attitudes that prevent administrators and teaching staff from co-operating sufficiently and adequately.

Limited access to higher education sustains social inequality in the world. Therefore, the internationalization of higher education can contribute to a more democratic, fair and equal world. It increases the awareness of the varying life-conditions, social injustices and racial segregation that people live under. Over time this may initiate a redistribution of resources and welfare. The UNESCO-conference stresses the important role of higher education to accomplish this:

Without adequate higher education and research institutions providing a critical mass of skilled and educated people, no country can ensure genuine endogenous and sustainable development and, in particular, developing countries and least developed countries cannot reduce the gap separating them from the industrially developed ones. Sharing knowledge, international co-operation and new technologies can offer new opportunities to reduce this gap (UNESCO, World Declaration on Higher Education).

The rationale of international cooperation in academia seems grounded in a common-sense assumption that "internationalization is good per southeastern. International co-operation grants presumably students and staff from the "poor world" access to new knowledge and competence. But it should also, to the students, communicate and create understanding for the relativity of cultural beliefs, values, living patterns, ideologies and ideas. It should, among them, inoculate tolerance, respect and contribute to a sense of global as well as national community and solidarity and work against ethnocentrism, racism and academic self-righteousness. The aim should be to evoke students curiosity and stimulate their appreciation of intercultural differences and ethnic diversity.

At the same time, higher education has become a global commodity and countries market themselves as research and education nations. Critics claim that the wealthy nations, through international exchange programmes try to attract researchers, teaching staff and fee-paying students from the "poor world" in order to keep their competence in the country, thus risking to "brain drain" their home countries.

Critics claim also that internationalization is guided by the "rich world's" economic and political interests, standards, value systems, ethnocentrism and belief in self-superiority. Hence, internationalization is predominantly seen as a one-way flow - "they" can learn from us, but "we" have little to learn from them. In its most extreme guise, they mean that internationalization is an instrument to "educate uncivilized people" or simply a strategy to maximize profit and ensure economic growth.

Hence, it is a necessity for the “under-develop” and “developing” countries to focus on cooperation and exchange and reactive to external initiatives. Cosmopolitan cities and universities could benefit from each other in the global competition much more than they are doing now, also in developing joint networks and alliance. It is therefore timely to reexamine and update the conceptual frameworks underpinning the notion of inter-nationalization in light of today’s changes and challenges.

In Southeast Asia, a dialogue on internationalization of higher education has intensively taken place since 1990, which then followed by the efforts from various parties sharing common interests in the activities such as the government, universities and other educational institutions. Globalization in multidimensional aspects of life also triggered every nation to make adjustments and be more adaptive to the what-so-called global standard. Higher educational institutions also face this challenge in terms of their capability to produce graduates that meet global qualifications.

It has seen that many countries in the region have a colonial past-most were colonized, but some were colonizers. 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 internationalization, 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.

In the meantime, setting up standards on graduates' competence from the same study programme that are acknowledgeable by universities in partners is the main principle for internationalization. Quality of the graduates as one of the significant factors should be guaranteed. Learning process embedded in the curriculum, delivery method, academic atmosphere, and educational facilities, should therefore be made able to guarantee the quality of graduates. Therefore, the initial step to be taken by universities for international collaboration toward the internationalization is to inter-promoting and acknowledging curriculum of the study programmes. Forums and/or events where universities can meet and open the discussion on potential collaboration that leads to internationalization is university organizations at the regional and sub-regional level such as the ASEAN University Network (AUN), the European University Association, the Association of African Universities, etc. as well as international organizations such as the International Association of Universities, the International Association of University Presidents, etc.

Through participation in these types of organization, member institutions can obtain benefits in the form of information on scientific trend and development, regulations in other countries and universities, best practices, failures, etc. One should even admit that the spreading of the idea on internationalization of higher education is more intensively carried out by such organizations rather than by the governments.

Beyond that, organization such as AUN has also been facilitating its members in various seminars, workshops, and technical forums for international collaboration.

3. Network of ASEAN collaboration in higher education and AUN Role in International Cooperation

The ASEAN University Network (AUN) as an autonomous organisation, is obviously performing a vital role in supporting member countries dealing with these challenges, Since AUN established under the umbrella of ASEAN and the mandate of Ministers responsible for higher education in ASEAN countries. AUN is apparently responsible for the promotion of human resource development in the field of higher education within ASEAN and with its dialogue partners, namely Japan, Korea, China, India, Russia and the EU.

At the fourth ASEAN Summit held in Singapore in January 1992, ASEAN leaders directed that ASEAN should strengthen its solidarity and hasten the development of a regional identity by considering ways to further strengthen the existing network of leading universities and institutions of higher learning in the region. This idea was later developed into the ASEAN University Network (AUN) which was established in November 1995 with the signing of its Charter by the Ministers responsible for higher education from ASEAN countries, the signing of the Agreement on the Establishment of AUN by the presidents/rectors/vice-chancellors of participating universities and the formation of the AUN Board of Trustees.

The main objective of AUN is to strengthen the existing network of co-operation among leading universities in ASEAN by promoting co-operation and solidarity among ASEAN scholars and academics, developing academic and professional human resources, and promoting information dissemination among the ASEAN academic community. AUN has become one of the most active networks in promoting HRD in ASEAN. AUN is presently composed of 17 leading member universities from ASEAN countries with its Secretariat Office located at Chulalongkorn University. The AUN Secretariat is operated under the Ministry of University Affairs of Thailand and collaborates with the ASEAN Secretariat for the implementation of AUN priority activities. The main tasks of the AUN Secretariat are to plan, organise, co-ordinate, monitor and evaluate AUN programmes and activities as well as to propose and develop ideas and innovations as mechanisms for sourcing and generating funds for the self-reliant and self-sustaining operation of AUN. AUN has grown rapidly with its collaborative activities currently comprising over 20 projects including those within ASEAN and with its dialogue partners, such as the ASEAN studies programme, the student and faculty exchange programme, collaborative research, information networking, AUN-QA, the ASEAN youth cultural forum, the initiative for ASEAN integration, the ASEAN Educational and young speakers forum, and co-operation under ASEAN-ROK, ASEAN-EU, ASEAN-Japan, ASEAN-China, ASEAN-India, ASEAN-Russia, etc. Furthermore, due to the tremendous success of AUN activities and increasing number of requests from other regional universities to join the network, the AUN board members agreed to enlarge the AUN membership with the admission of 10 new members. After the publicizing of AUN enlargement, there are a number of nominated institutions wished to be a part of the network.

In April 2000, the 18th ASEAN-Japan Meeting in Myanmar in April 2000 agreed to explore possibility to transform the AUN into an ASEAN University based on virtual mode of delivery, as proposed by the Thai Prime Minister. In addition, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organisation expressed its support to the establishment of an ASEAN University and reached the Resolution on the Establishment of an ASEAN University at the 22nd General Assembly in 2001, the Resolution of the Expansion of ASEAN Network of Universities at the 23rd General Assembly in 2002, and the Resolution on the ASEAN University at the 24th General Assembly in 2003.

Consequently, it is deemed appropriate for ASEAN to finally establish an ASEAN University, which will foster education collaboration of greater scope and magnitude in the region. So far, AUN has accomplished a lot in supporting the member countries in improving their human resources through educational activities and will keep up its promise to turn Southeast Asia into a healthy educational community of the future. More details about these activities are available on the AUN website at

Prof. Piniti Ratananukul
AUN Executive Director [100 Years-VietNam National University,HaNoi]
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