New CAMPUS Asia initiative extends to ASEAN countries

A programme that connects China, Japan and South Korea through student exchanges known as CAMPUS Asia will be expanded this year to include Southeast Asian countries under a new programme called CAMPUS Asia Plus.

CAMPUS Asia or Collective Action for Mobility Programme of University Students in Asia has existed since 2016. Since 2011, when a trilateral pilot programme was launched after a 2010 China-Japan-South Korea summit, some 6,625 students have participated in its different programmes, which include exchanges, joint curriculums and dual degrees with English as the link language.

Almost 500 students from the three countries have obtained dual degrees or multiple degrees under the CAMPUS Asia programme.

Now universities in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries – mainly Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – will be part of the new ‘CAMPUS Asia Plus’ programme which begins this year, although the principle of extending it to ASEAN was agreed as early as 2020.

“Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, strengthening cooperation in education and people-to-people exchanges among South Korea, Japan, China and ASEAN has become much more important,” South Korea’s Vice Minister of Education Jung Jong Chul was quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency as saying.

For example, Thailand’s Mahidol University will join the programme with Yonsei University in Seoul, Osaka University in Japan, and China’s Peking University.

ASEAN has its own intra-regional student exchange programme administered under the ASEAN University Network (AUN) in Bangkok. AUN Executive Director Choltis Dhirathiti said he had been approached by the CAMPUS Asia countries in the past.

“Their intention, particularly in Japanese universities which are involved in CAMPUS Asia that I have been dealing with, is the wish to extend the success of mobility between those three countries [China, Japan and South Korea] to Southeast Asia,” he told University World News.

AUN helped the Japanese universities involved to set up what Dhirathiti called “experimental” or short-term exchanges between Japan and selected ASEAN countries. “We called it a ‘study visit’ covering two to three weeks, very similar to an immersion programme but much shorter. And I think this experiment was very successful,” Dhirathiti said.

He added that “extending CAMPUS Asia to Southeast Asia is already in the implementation plan in some subject areas. For example, we have collaboration in the field of engineering with Japanese universities and we are also discussing extending this to CAMPUS Asia Plus – though this stage is still under discussion.”

The funding for CAMPUS Asia plus will mainly come from the three original CAMPUS Asia countries. The South Korean education ministry has already said selected universities will receive around KRW120 million (around US$101,000) for operating costs to run the programme for five years.

In addition, the ministry in Seoul said covering accommodation expenses and other financial assistance will be provided to exchange students taking part in CAMPUS Asia Plus. Singapore has also said that its universities will provide exchange students with accommodation under the programme.

Project areas

Officials said China, Japan and South Korea identified 20 project groups in October after carrying out of review of CAMPUS Asia in August and September 2021. Of the 20 projects, a dozen existing student exchange projects between China, Japan and South Korea will be extended to ASEAN countries, while eight brand new projects involving ASEAN universities are being set up.

Some of these will have five participating universities around a common theme. For example, Korea National University of Education will operate a programme with the University of Tsukuba in Japan, East China Normal University in Shanghai, Khon Kaen University in Thailand, University of Technology Malaysia and Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, around the theme of education and training.

Another cluster includes Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, Hiroshima University in Japan, Beijing Normal University, Changchun University in Jilin, China, Indonesia University of Education in Bandung and Kasetsart University in Bangkok.

Some have already started some initial joint activities online which will later be expanded to physical exchanges.

“In the post-COVID era, while taking into account that actual student exchange with travel is the basis for this project, we recommend that efforts be made to actively use distance education before and after study abroad, to increase its effectiveness,” according to project documents issued in August 2021.

Gan Chee Lip, associate provost responsible for undergraduate education at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), told University World News that some of the CAMPUS Asia universities with whom NTU already had partnerships had approached NTU to build consortia under CAMPUS Asia.

“There was quite a series of different existing activities that some of the participating universities within the three countries [China, Japan, Korea] are involved with. So we took a look and we decided we would like to join,” Gan said.

Early initiatives

The CAMPUS Asia Plus scheme is different from other types of student exchange where students go individually to a university and choose the courses and modules they want to participate in. CAMPUS Asia Plus is more structured around joint themes and curricula.

The Singapore university is also expanding some of its ongoing partnerships with individual CAMPUS Asia countries into CAMPUS Asia Plus, including a research-based science and engineering partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing, Tokyo Institute of Technology and South Korea’s KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology).

“It is designed to specially cultivate students’ research interests,” Gan noted.

The first three-day seminar under the first CAMPUS Asia Plus project was held this week, 17-19 January, lasting three full days. It was held online due to the pandemic situation. The theme was the integration of science and art in research and technology, bringing together 32 undergraduate and graduate students from the four participating institutions and included lectures and student-led activities.

“Ideally this would be done physically at a university location with the seminar held at one university and the students from the partnering universities being sent there and they take the classes together like a short-term summer programme,” Gan said. “But this is just to get started; it is small and for exposure, not for any credits.”

While the idea is eventually to draw up a combined curriculum, “we are just starting and for us, we are taking it one step at a time,” Gan said.

“There are a few different models of cooperation still being discussed under the CAMPUS Asia Plus scheme. This is one of them,” he noted.

Another model is that one university will host the students from the three others for the whole year. And another is collaborative online international learning or COIL “which makes even more sense at this moment as students can’t travel”.

Under COIL, students from the participating universities learn together online, form groups and do projects together under faculty supervision.

NTU is additionally participating in a four-way CAMPUS Asia Plus project with Seoul’s Korea University, Waseda University in Tokyo and Peking University in Beijing around the theme ‘Civilization and Social Innovation’, which includes topics like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, with details of the programme currently being devised jointly.

Another CAMPUS Asia Plus grouping around civil engineering themes brings together NTU, Shandong University in China, Japan’s Nagoya University and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University.

Mobility is an important goal

Singapore’s NTU has this year begun to send students abroad for exchanges, after all exchanges were cancelled in 2020 and 2021, although currently the destination countries are restricted according to regulations regarding COVID-19 and whether foreign students are permitted to enter.

Among the three original CAMPUS Asia countries, Japan and China are still not allowing in foreign students.

But student mobility is still an important goal.

“Mobility is the concern of the leaders of the countries in CAMPUS Asia,” AUN’s Dhirathiti noted.

“The Japanese side are concerned about how to push their students to learn more outside their own country. From the Chinese side there is the policy under the Belt and Road Initiative to learn about Southeast Asia, and from the Korean side it is part of the education culture that the students love to have a gap year – unlike other countries in Southeast Asia where we are not quite used to the gap year because our students want to get their degree as fast as they can.”

And he noted that extending CAMPUS Asia – which fostered exchanges between the three countries even in times of diplomatic tension – to ASEAN creates a different dynamic.

“When those three countries – China, Japan and Korea – are together it gets some results, but if these three countries add ASEAN countries to the playing field, it could change the atmosphere. There is more trust in the collaboration among this extended group of countries.

“When East Asian countries combined with Southeast Asian countries it always worked well and produced good results so far,” Dhirathiti said.