Dr Maszlee Malik (fourth from left), Professor Dr Muhadjir Effendy (third from left) and Professor Dr Phung Xuan Nha (second from right) with other delegates at the 50th SEAMEO Council Conference at Sunway Resort and Spa Hotel, Bandar Sunway. NSTP/Aziah Azmee

THE harmonisation of higher education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) among Southeast Asian countries must be improved. While great strides had been made in the area, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said more must be done to implement better processes, systems, frameworks, laws and policies across the region.

“An increased growth in intra Southeast Asia collaboration among universities, international mobility within and beyond Southeast Asia, as well as knowledge exchanges between member countries and other international organisations such as European Union (EU) to tackle global challenges, have benefitted the region tremendously.

“In the pursuance of a common regional higher education area, we need to find consensus for solutions that are amicable and flexible enough to be adapted across the regional spectrum,” he said in his maiden remarks as the newly appointed Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) Council president.

“Maybe, we need to start thinking about providing a regional research grant akin to the Erasmus plus (Erasmus) funding programme under EU to support research activities and knowledge exchange. Maybe we should come up with SEAMEO.

“We need to give greater support for lecturer and student mobility by broadening opportunities for participation in mobility scholarship schemes. This should become embodied in Southeast Asia higher education thinking, underpinned by agreed frameworks for qualification and quality assurance, and a flexible credit transfer scheme, thereby boosting the future development of the regional higher education and socioeconomic area.”

He was speaking at the 50th SEAMEO Council Conference (SEAMEC) in Kuala Lumpur last week. At the conference, he was elected and appointed as the SEAMEO Council president for 2019-2021, succeeding Indonesia Education and Culture Minister Professor Dr Muhadjir Effendy.

Maszlee said mobility was important not only for students, but also professors and lecturers to broaden their horizons.

“I think when you get exposed to countries which are not your own, you get to know cultures and people, and gain new knowledge and with that, you appreciate the differences more rather than have prejudices.

“I think that is the first step towards mutual recognition and respect among Asean countries. That is the only way forward.”

Vietnam Education and Training Minister Professor Dr Phung Xuan Nha said the country prioritised higher education cooperation and mobility programmes.

“We encourage our students to study in Asean countries. We are receiving more and more students in Vietnam through joint training programmes with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

“We also pay attention to higher education pathways through two-plus-one degree programmes with Asean universities. Through these programmes, students will understand more about Asean labour markets so that after graduation, they can work anywhere in the region.”

Muhadjir said Indonesia was preparing a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia, focusing on higher education and “it would be completed real soon”.

“We are working together for exchange programmes for teachers and students, particularly in the vocational teaching experience.”

The 50th SEAMEC lasted for four days and was attended by education ministers, high-level government education officials and representatives from all 11 SEAMEO member countries, associate members, affiliate members, SEAMEO regional centres and strategic partners.

It featured multiple fora to discuss responses to the changing education landscape influenced by recent economic and social developments.