Mutual degree recognition key to Europe-Asia student mobility

Mutual recognition of degrees in Europe and Asia would help balance the flow of students between the two regions, a conference of education ministers from 38 European and Asian countries was told.

Some 140 delegates – from 19 Asian and 27 European nations – were attending the fourth Asia-Europe education ministerial, known as ASEMME4, being held in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from 12-14 May. They were joined by delegates from Australia, New Zealand and Russia.

Delegates said the feasibility of an Asia-Europe Convention on mutual recognition of degrees was one of the key discussions at the conference.

Lack of credit transfer was an obstacle to student movement between Europe and Asia, said Abdul Rahim Bin Mohammed Nur, secretary general of Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education, in a keynote speech on 13 May.

Estimates presented at past ASEM education conferences indicated the number of Asian students going to Europe for full-time degrees was 15 times the number of European students heading to Asia.

“I believe that improving mutual recognition of higher education qualifications is a key factor for more balanced mobility, in particular to attract more European students to study in Asia, as is better information on the quality of higher education in receiving countries,” said Nur.

“Without compatible academic cycles, shared quality assurance procedures, systems of provision for qualification recognition and also domestic regulations, the sustainable movement of students is not likely to occur.”

These were the main obstacles deterring students and staff from moving around, “even at the level of intra-regional movement”.

Nur pointed to “a concerted effort to create a harmonised, if not a single higher education system” within Asia, and pointed to other regional credit transfer systems developed around the world, including the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation system (ECTS), and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Credit Transfer System (ACTS).

But they were not necessarily compatible and the ACTS was still being developed, Nur said. In a pilot project in 2010-12, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, along with their 23 participating universities, had involved a total of 260 students in a regional mobility programme. This year, Vietnam joined in, with six universities expected to participate.

“The dynamics of education in the fast-changing globalised world” had created challenges for mobility, learning, technology and the progression of education and the way it is being quality assured,” he said.

“It is a challenge that none of us can confront completely on our own." He concluded that here was "where the demand for cooperation, collaboration and co-creation" is most evident.

Morshidi Sirat, director general of the Department of Higher Education, said during a speech to senior officials on 12 May, preceding the ministerial, that Europe and Asia were exploring the feasibility of an ASEM convention on the mutual recognition of degrees.

Sirat said ASEM might not want to create new institutions but that “it would suffice for identified players to ‘connect the dots’ in Asia and Europe, leveraging on the strengths and expertise of various stakeholders to get the plan rolled out”.