I flew to Kunming, Yunnan, China to attend the inaugural ceremony of the South & Southeast Asian University NETWORK and to deliver a speech at the 2nd South and Southeast Asian University Rectors Forum held on the 10 December 2018. The ceremony was attended by 240 university presidents/rectors/vice chancellors and delegates from 87 universities of 15 countries from across the South and Southeast Asian region.
The idea of establishing a platform for regional cooperation in higher education, which existed in embryo at Yunnan University, has now been brought into being. At the opening ceremony came up the Kunming Declaration of the NETWORK. As per the declaration, the NETWORK would be formed as “a non-profit, unincorporated, regional international network of universities with aspiring universities in China, South Asian and Southeast Asian countries... to further improve mutual understanding ...build a platform of regional communication and cooperation in higher education, promote joint study in regional priority areas...build a regional higher education community, help China, South Asian and Southeast Asian nations develop toward a more open, inclusive, balanced and mutually-beneficial situation, and to contribute wisdom and strength to promoting regional economic and social development...with a shared future for mankind...”[ Constitution of the S&SE ASIAN UN, December 2018]. 102 universities of 16 countries--( Afghanistan (2), Bangladesh(9), Cambodia(3), China(44), India(4), Indonesia(1), Laos(2), Malaysia(4), Maldives(1), Myanmar(7), Nepal (1), Pakistan(10), Singapore(1), Sri Lanka(3), Thailand (7) and Vietnam (3) have been included in the South and Southeast Asian University Network. The Bangladeshi Universities included in the Network are: University of Dhaka, Rajshahi University, Islamic University, Bangladesh Open University, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, North South University, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, International University of Business, Agriculture and Technology, and Asian University for Women have been enlisted as the original members of the Network. On 10 December 2018, I delivered my speech on a given topic entitled ‘the exploration and experience accumulated by universities in the process internationalization’. The full account of my speech has been given below which, I believe, will provide the higher education connoisseurs lots of food for thought.
“Mr. President of Yunnan University, Kunming, China and the newly elected Secretary General of South and Southeast Asian University Network, Professor Dr. Lin Wenxun, Luminaries, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen—
Ni hao ma? (How are you?)
I am honored to have been invited to the inaugural meeting of the South and Southeast Asian University Network and the 2nd South and Southeast Asian University Rectors Forum. I am also delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words in the midst of a galaxy of academics, educationists and varsity dons from across the region who have been gathered together in this beautiful Spring City of Kunming, Yunnan, China to share the experiences of their universities with each other. To begin with, I would like to talk about my experiences of the process of internationalization in the tertiary education in Bangladesh in general and my university, Islamic University in particular.
Statistics say that 3.8 million students are currently studying at 42 public and about a hundred private universities in Bangladesh. To keep pace with the process of globalization, it’s become a matter of urgency to strike the balance between the huge quantity of the institutions and the required quality of education. With this end in view, necessary changes have been made in the higher education landscape in recent years. The current policy of Bangladesh Government under the prudent leadership of HPM Sheikh Hasina focuses on forming a knowledge society through the generation and dissemination of knowledge. The country is committed to realizing its Vision 2021 and Vision 2041, i. e. to turn Bangladesh into a middle income and then a developed country respectively within the stipulated time. The Government has also adopted the longest term vision Delta Plan 2100 to protect the future of water resources and combat the adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters.
For all this is needed a robust higher education network enriched by global standards in order that the population of the country can turn into human capital. In view of this, the universities have been brought under Quality Assurance Network under the auspices of Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) with the intended purpose of promoting innovation and accountability by way of enhancing technical and institutional capacities higher education sector. With the establishment of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cells at the universities, most of the departments have undergone self assessment activities and prepared themselves for national accreditation. A national Accreditation Council has been formed with a view to accrediting the higher educational institutions and their curriculum activities in the light of international standards. Besides, Bangladesh National Qualification Framework (BNQF) is being prepared to establish a harmonized quality assured qualification system which will help the country’s research and education network survive in the global world. In addition to that, the successful completion of the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) is leading to the initiation of a next generation project called Higher Education Acceleration and Transformation (HEAT), which will emphasize on graduate employability, good governance and excellence in women’s education in Bangladesh. HEAT also aims to establish a network of higher education and research in the South Asian region in this regard.
As a member of the country’s higher education family, Islamic University too is on the march of progress in it. It embraces global quality assurance mechanism to boost the power and professionalism of the teaching and nonteaching staff through the deployment of ICT facilities. It attaches equal importance to classroom teaching and research. Courses are designed on an Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO) basis and the curricula incorporate viable teaching/learning pedagogies, core values, lifelong learning competencies and interpersonal skills. We try to gain the stakeholders’ confidence by way of creating a sustainable culture of transparency and innovation. Islamic University excels at producing graduates in high-need subjects which give them broad career choice. Besides, the Islamic University Alumni associations help keep all our far-flung graduates in touch. On the way to internationalization, Islamic University looks forward to forming partnerships and fostering relationships with universities of the South and South Asian region in particular and universities across the globe in general.
In the light of China’s South and Southeast Asian University Network initiatives, Islamic university keeps developing academic cooperation, exchange programmes and collaborative research activities. We signed MoUs with Yunnan University, Kunming, China, Confucius Institute at the University of Dhaka, Nagasaki University, Japan, Chonbuk National University, South Korea, Kangwon National University, South Korea, Visva-Bharati, India and University Islam Sultan Sharif Ali, Brunei Darussalam. Besides, I participated in the Asia Pacific Advanced Network –APAN 46 held in Auckland in August 2018 and gained valuable experience in matters relating to the setting up of an Asia Pacific Research Platform (APRP) to facilitate collaboration within the country, the region and to take part in a Global Research Platform.
That Bangladesh underlines the necessity of a well organized education and research network in the South Asian region for exchange of knowledge and collaboration in research and education is way similar to Yunnan University’s idea of ‘South and Southeast Asian University Network’. The idea of building up a consortium for the universities of the region is a very exciting one. The network can address the process of internationalization of the higher education system in the region by way of introducing a converged degree structure, a joint credit transfer system, the mobility of students, teaching staff and researchers and a focus on needs-based and collaborative research on themes of mutual interest and common priority of the region.
The establishment of South and Southeast Asian University Network under the dynamic leadership of Yunnan University may also bring about a revolutionary change in the academia of the region. It will help customize the global higher education strategies to suit our own needs. Working together at the cutting edge of research on areas of common interest like ICT, life sciences, environmental sciences and ethnic studies may help contribute to sustained prosperity in the region and the well being of its billions of people. I am hoping that this Yunnan University initiative for the higher education reform in the region would come out successful.
Si Siye.( Thank you).”
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, fictionist and vice chancellor, Islamic university, Bangladesh.