Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific

This is a transcript of a live online chat with Jouko Sarvi, ADB's Education Practice Leader, on Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific. The chat was held on Friday, 14 December 2012.

Keisuke Taketani: Hello and welcome, Thank you for joining the live chat today with ADB's Education Practice Leader Jouko Sarvi. He's here to answer questions on higher education in Asia. I'm Keisuke Taketani from ADB's Department of External Relations, and will be moderating this session.

Jouko Sarvi: Hello, this is Jouko. I welcome you to join this live chat with me, on the important topic of higher education.

Darren McDermott: How important are philanthropic donations to support the advancement of higher education in Asia Pacific?

Jouko Sarvi: Thank you Darren. Financial support from private sector and philanthropic foundations are increasingly important as developing countries in the region expand their higher education systems and student enrollments. Public financing alone is increasingly insufficient.

Darren McDermott: Thank you Jouko. Do you see increasing need for public-private partnerships (PPP) in the support of higher education and are there any issues with this type of support?

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, PPPs in higher education are not important only for sharing costs, but also to make higher education more relevant for labor market needs. PPPs can help with dialogue with industry and private sector.

Darren McDermott: Can you give some examples of particular successes with this approach in Asia?

Jouko Sarvi: In the Republic of Korea higher education institutions have strong linkages with private sector and industry, for both reasons: financing and relevance.

Guy Perring: Yes, that seems to get to the heart of the issue which you raise in your summary of today's topic: is higher education a public good? Can it be a public good if it is privately funded?

Jouko Sarvi: In this context, the question often arises if higher education can still be considered as a public good, particularly if most of its costs are covered through other than public financing. In addition, when/if student fees are introduced, questions arise if higher education can still be available to all talented students or only for those who can afford it.

Truong Thuy Van: Could you please explain in details the case of the Republic of Korea? How have they done this? Would this be a good practice for other Asian countries to follow?

Jouko Sarvi: Over several decades the Republic of Korea has pursued policies supporting expansion of private higher education institutions. This needs appropriate regulations and quality assurance systems, and bodies and frameworks for the universities, key industry leaders, and organizations to work together.

Alexa Chung: In my opinion, higher education has never been a public good in Asia, except maybe in some European countries. At best, it is a merit good, subsidized by the government. How possible is it then to fund the higher investment needed without raising fees to improve the quality of teaching, which is still low across the board in this region? Don't we need to think hard about what should be taught in universities these days? Less theory and more practical skills?

Jouko Sarvi: I agree. On the other hand, one may consider higher education still a public good (no matter how it is financed) as long as it is guided by overall policies and regulations set by the government or line ministry, and adequate, effective social protection measures are implemented (e.g. scholarships) to help students from poor families to cover their costs.

Truong Thuy Van: Do you see any potential challenges that constrain the development of such public private partnerships in developing countries?

Jouko Sarvi: For public-private partnerships to be successful the roles and responsibilities of all partners (Government-Ministry of higher education, universities, and the private sector companies) should be defined and spelled out clearly in the partnership agreements and implementation plans.

Sehrish Shaban/Twitter: Should countries set up governing bodies to ensure quality at private post-grad diploma institutes?

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, robust quality assurance systems are important for all higher education institutions, public and private.

David DeBrot: I believe Van was wondering if there are challenges which may prevent the development and attendant roles and responsibilities of PPPs forming in the first place. What are these challenges likely to be?

Jouko Sarvi: In countries which have long history of public higher education only, the line ministry and higher education institutions need capacity development and support in working with private sector organizations. Similarly, private sector may not be familiar with collaboration opportunities in the public higher education "market".

Keisuke Taketani: Truong Thuy Van asks: Cooperative education, by which universities and companies becomes partnership in providing a practical, experiential education for undergraduates, seems to be the answer for the mismatch in higher education training programs and job markets' needs. However, in developing countries like Viet Nam, there have been very limited cases of such partnerships. Would you please give some possible challenges that constraint the development of cooperative education in developing countries and recommendations of ADB towards this (if any)?

Jouko Sarvi: This is a form of public-private partnership (PPP) in higher education. In addition what I stated earlier on PPPs, I would stress the importance of adjusting pedagogical methods to ensure real practical approaches for teaching and learning.

Jean-Pierre Rodrigue: You mentioned that PPPs are important for sharing costs and in making higher education more relevant for labor market needs. Is there any merit in looking into further university-industry collaboration from the research perspective?

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, in certain areas of academic disciplines, particularly in science and technology related areas, there obviously are win-win opportunities for the parties in research and innovation.

Dianne Tan: Would PPP include regional cooperation and cross-border collaborations?

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, as labor markets are increasingly becoming borderless, cross-border and regional partnerships including PPPs are also important.

Darren McDermott: The Republic of Korea has one of the highest higher education enrollment rates in the world yet faces critical skills shortages. This is becoming a worldwide problem. Is it time to turn attention more to greater development of vocational education?

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, concurrently with reforms in higher education, and also at tertiary skills development level (such as polytechnics institutions, for example).

Keisuke Taketani: Shin from Cambodia asks: what are applicable and in-practice incentives and campaign methods to induce more students to study more 'practical' engineering and technology stuff instead of chasing after social sciences degrees that are considered more highbrow and respectable in traditionally Confucian and/or Buddhist Asian countries?

Jouko Sarvi: Information should be provided to higher education students on labor market needs, i.e. professional areas where more jobs are likely to be available and subject disciplines matching those job requirements. In addition, secondary education will need reform to create stronger and more motivating basis (foundation skills) for the students to enable them continue studying at higher level e.g. engineering and technology related subjects. Thus, it will be important to improve the transitions of students from school to university to workplace.

Keisuke Taketani: What changes are needed in the curriculum to develop more creative and analytical thinking, compared to traditional memorizing learning method?

Jouko Sarvi: This is not necessarily an issue of changing the curriculum (though changes can be needed), it can be more an issue of how the curriculum is delivered: i.e. the teaching methods in universities should encourage students to analyze comprehensively current issues and create, discover new related issues in their subject discipline area. The traditional, frontal pedagogical set-up of professors delivering lectures to a large group of students does not necessarily help here. For example, more group work, work in pairs, ‘project’ study work, case studies, accompanied with mentoring the students, including with the help of online and social media tools, can make a difference.

Keisuke Taketani: Education reform is a long term process, but growing unemployment rate among young people is today’s issue. Are there any short-term low hanging fruit for schools and universities to align their curricular to market demand?

Jouko Sarvi: Increasingly the lack of ‘soft skills” (i.e. non-cognitive skills, such as team work, adaptability, communication skills, lifelong learning skills, etc.) are seen as one area needing attention. As these skills are not specific to any academic subject discipline area as such, higher education institutions can increase focus on these skills as a cross-cutting skill area in students programs. Even as a short term measure, this can have good impact on graduates’ employability.

Keisuke Taketani: Calvin Bowry from Canada asks: education systems and institutions cannot be forced to change too quickly. Change is an organic process that is brought about more effectively with carrots than with sticks. What is an appropriate timeframe to expect results?

Jouko Sarvi: Indeed, adequate timeframe is needed. OECD countries which are top performers in education reformed their systems over several decades. It is not a matter of reforming higher education alone, instead education sector-wide perspective will be important.

Gelli Dy: The Philippines has been developing and improving technical and vocational education in the country, alongside with that, the government has recently rolled out the K-12 program. How will these affect the higher education in the country?

Jouko Sarvi: The introduction of K-12 system in schools will have implications for higher education set-up. Obviously many colleges can play a role for providing senior secondary level education in the future. The Philippines is a special case in the region as it has large number of private colleges and universities.

Dianne Tan: Developing countries in the region have expressed urgency to improve their science, technology and innovation environment as this has proven to drive rapid growth in developed countries. Would this be a focus area of ADB assistance to governments and line ministries in the region in the coming years? Which countries do you think would ADB offer most assistance?

Jouko Sarvi: ADB is increasing support to establishment of centers of excellence in countries and regional level to help boost indigenous science, technology and innovation. As countries progress in economic ladder toward middle income status, the needs for this approach increase to help further economic development.

Keisuke Taketani: Joseph Aquino in the Philippines asks: do you think there will be a transformation of ADB's developing member countries into knowledge-based economies in the next decade? If yes, what changes will ADB implement in the higher education sector to aid in the transformation?

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, it is likely that particularly those developing member countries which have already reached middle-income country status will accelerate transformation to knowledge-based economies. To support this, also higher education will need transformation, as new students increasingly are familiar with the potential and use of latest technology, including information and communications technology and social media, in learning, knowledge sharing and professional networking. Thus, higher education institutions will need to transform their services and education delivery to better respond to the learning needs and strategies of their students.

Peter Jones: Is there a potential for regional quality assurance system?

Jouko Sarvi: For example ASEAN network countries are pursuing harmonization of some aspects of higher education (to facilitate mobility of labor and students cross the borders) and are in process of establishing common accreditation and quality assurance for this.

From Giovanni via ADB FB: Can Asian universities compete with Western institutions? Will knowledge and education ever become an Asian export?

Jouko Sarvi: There are several OECD countries in Asia region, and they have high quality higher education systems already. The leading universities in the region are increasingly ranked high in the global university rankings. Asia already exports lots of qualified human capital overseas in some other skills areas and will be a player in higher education 'export' and knowledge generation also.

Darren McDermott: Many Asian universities already compete with the best of Western institutions in program delivery and research. They also recruit large numbers of foreign nationals and staff.

Keisuke Taketani: Truong Thuy Van asks: what would be supports given to higher education to develop its research functions and increase its contribution to economic development via, not only teaching and producing workers for the economy, but also producing new knowledge and innovative ideas for the economy?

Jouko Sarvi: In Viet Nam, for example, ADB is currently financing a project to establish a center of excellence in higher education, particularly for research and innovation. The project has various components, including improving regulations to support research and innovation, linkages with specialists institutions abroad, capacity development and networks of institutions, and public-private partnership with industry.

Keisuke Taketani: Calvin Bowry in Canada asks: the quality of teaching and research are essential to creating impact. How do Asian universities go about raising the quality of teaching?

Jouko Sarvi: While strengthening the link between research and teaching will continue to be important, higher education faculty in the region will need professional development and skills to transform their pedagogical approaches, including utilizing more the latest technology and responding to the students’ learning needs and strategies.

Keisuke Taketani: Karen asks: is it worth to get a degree from a satellite campus of a Western university -- or are they just money grabs?

Jouko Sarvi: As in any higher education system, also in satellite campus set-ups there can be a variance in the quality of higher education provided. Interested students need to consider their options, and prioritize those higher institutions which have good reputation and which provide information on their services in a transparent and comprehensive manner.

Keisuke Taketani: How about distance learning? With growing number of opening universities in Asia, does e-learning provide solution for better and inclusive higher education?

Jouko Sarvi: While e-learning is not a panacea, the developments in information and communication and technology and online and social media solutions provide increasing potential for improving the quality and delivery of higher education. The latest developments in information and communications technology and e-learning solutions also provide better opportunities for improving access to higher education services for students with disadvantaged backgrounds, and help make higher education more inclusive.

Keisuke Taketani: Joseph Aquino in the Philippines asks: what areas of study (S&T, Business, Math, Philosophy, etc) will ADB focus their efforts into?

Jouko Sarvi: As in any other sector, also in the education sector, ADB defines development priorities in close consultation with governments and stakeholders. Strengthening certain subject areas in higher education will much depend on the vision of development of a particular country. Should the vision include strong emphasis on economic growth and linkages to e.g. expansion of fields of engineering in the country to support that vision, then strengthening higher education in such subject areas is likely.

Keisuke Taketani: Here are follow-up questions on distance learning.

Rasul: How can universities get rid of the bribery in order to build up a better world through taking good distance learning?

Dianne Tan: And of course the content should prove to be competitive besides the innovative medium itself?

David DeBrot: What role (if any) should massive open online courses (MOOCs) play in higher education in Asia, particularly in developing students' capacity for critical thinking?

Jouko Sarvi: The mistake often made in distance education has been that the content has not been adequately adjusted for distance learning setting. Too often content used in face-to-face set-up has been adopted as is also for distance education. Online delivery should be increasingly an interactive teaching and learning process.

Jouko Sarvi: Yes, indeed lot of discussion is going on about the MOOCs. Their future will depend much on how interactive they can become. Currently there is attraction to MOOCs as they are provided by some of the very top universities in the world and because they are free and there are no entry requirements. It will be interesting to follow where the MOOCs take higher education in coming years or if they are a passing phenomenon.

Keisuke Taketani: We have about 10 minutes left. Are there any other questions from live audience?

Jouko Sarvi: As a follow-up to distance education and MOOCs, I would like to add the increasing importance of open source materials in higher education. Online technology provides more opportunities for this, and use of open source material can be a useful framework also for faculty development and collaboration, and for students' team work and studies. There are increasingly good materials available, and moreover, as they are free, they provide potential to keep the costs of higher education manageable.

Darren McDermott: What are the biggest challenges facing Asian middle income countries and least developed countries in achieving equitable and effective systems of higher education?

Jouko Sarvi: Darren, your question is very broad. I think this two hour chat session covered many issues and answers related to yours. I would like to stress the importance of providing higher education to all talented students no matter of their background. Inclusive higher education systems are important and elitist higher education systems should be avoided. Secondly, it will be important to diversify higher education systems: in addition to national universities and 'centers of excellence’, 2nd and 3rd tier higher education institutions have an important role to play, particularly as the needs of labor markets are also becoming more diversified.

Dianne Tan: Does ADB have any specific intervention areas in higher education for the region?

Keisuke Taketani: Dianne, I think this was covered at 3:38, question from Joseph.

Keisuke Taketani: Thanks very much to all of you who have contributed and participated today. if you have any further questions, please do email. Until the next chat!

Jouko Sarvi: Thank you all very much for your participation. Very interesting and valid questions. Best wishes!