Better planning and data needed to raise HE quality

Education professionals from Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand met in Hong Kong from 14-18 January to better understand how to improve the gathering and processing of data for more accurate planning for their education systems up to universities, under a UNESCO programme to promote education policy coordination in Asia.

Citing the need for better planning Aryo Sawung, a director general with the Indonesian Ministry of Education, said: “We have not yet addressed problems beyond increasing the [education] participation rate.”

“Our next step will be to look into more accurate budgeting and how to set quality standards,” said Aryo, who attended the weeklong workshop, which involved almost 85 ministry officials and university researchers from Asia.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, is decentralising its education budget to give provincial authorities more responsibility.

It will be more difficult for provinces to deal with their new responsibilities and make budgetary predictions with data that the central government has not gathered before, said Aip Badrujaman from the faculty of education at the State University of Jakarta.

According to participants, accurate projections into the future needs of their education systems are difficult, and education quality in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam has suffered because of inadequate data on demographic changes – especially as birth rates are slowing.

Against this changing backdrop, “We need to find ways to address two [education planning] problems: budget and the training of educators,” said Charoen Puwijit, a Thai Ministry of Education official.

“Education, especially higher education, is expanding in all three countries, possibly over-expanding. In South East Asia, the focus is on how to raise the quality of education,” said Mark Bray, a professor at Hong Kong University who organised the workshop.

The education picture in these countries had become more “fluid” than in the past. Education policy planners needed to consider a more complex picture, including cross-border migration as well as declining birth rates, Bray told University World News.

“The three countries have universal secondary education, which has increased demand for tertiary education,” he said. For education administrators, the challenge was also to deal with cross-border flows of students and manage new ways of teaching, such as distance learning.

While the most pressing challenges lie in primary and secondary education, reforms were necessary to guarantee a healthier development of the tertiary sector. “The base of the house needs to be kept standing, otherwise the roof, higher education, will fall,” Bray said.

Gabriele Göttelmann-Duret, head of the education and training unit at UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, said problems were faced by many developing countries:

“On the one hand, we have more and more professionals working in the education sector. On the other, we are seeing increasing decentralisation in policy-making.”

The education sector planning workshop was the third of its kind organised by UNESCO. Earlier sessions, in 2008 and 2010, took education administrators from Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to Paris.