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Higher Education in East Asia - Consultations

Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia
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2011 East Asia Summit Education Ministers Meeting Consultation - Bali, Indonesia (July 18, 2011)

A final consultation on the main findings of Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia took place on July 18, 2011 at the 2011 East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia. This very high profile summit organized periodically by ASEAN features several ministerial meetings including a meeting of Education Ministers. The Bali Education Ministers Meeting represented an optimal opportunity to present and create some ownership among the education sector leadership of the region on the main findings of the study. Its theme was “improving education quality through regional cooperation” and it aimed at strengthening regional education cooperation by sharing and leveraging the region’s extensive sources of knowledge, experience and capabilities, as well as improving education quality so as to accelerate human resource development and economic growth in the region. The meeting was attended by the Education Ministers and their delegations from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand (about 130 participants in all from ASEAN and non-ASEAN countries). After a brief introduction of Mae Chu Chang, the Human Development sector head in Indonesia, Emanuela di Gropello presented the main findings of the study at a meeting’s session chaired by the Minister of Indonesia. A briefing version of the overview of the study was also distributed to all participants.

Jakarta, Indonesia (March 24, 2011)

An additional consultation on the findings of Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia took place on March 24, 2011 at the East Asia Skills Development for Productivity conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. The conference provided a forum for policy makers from East Asian governments, industry groups, and international experts to discuss issues surrounding skills development and how education and training systems can improve the quality and relevance of skills supply in order to enhance employability and productivity. Participants included over 60 key policy and decision- makers from Indonesia and eight other countries in the East Asia region: Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Emanuela di Gropello presented selected findings of the study, and the rich question and answer session that followed the presentation focused on the nature of the skills demanded by the labor market, the performance of higher education in providing those skills, and how higher education’s responsiveness to skill demand could be improved.

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Phuket, Thailand and Seoul, Korea (October 18-20, 2010 and October 26, 2010)

Two conferences where the preliminary findings of the upcoming World bank study on higher education in East Asia were discussed.

The conference Governance and Financing of Higher Education in Asia was held from October 18-20, 2010 in Phuket, Thailand, and included a special session on the Flagship Report on the final day. Approximately 55 participants representing senior government officials from education ministries and university presidents and administrators attended the session, representing 11 countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam. In addition, there were more than 30 government officials from Thailand who attended as observers.

The event, a joint venture between the World Bank Institute, the East Asia Education Sector Unit, and the South Asia Education Sector Unit, provided a ripe forum for discussion of the main findings of the report.

The session on the Flagship featured a lively interaction between World Bank experts, Professor Dan Levy (an expert on private higher education) and participants, and a forum for every country team to share its reactions to the report’s initial findings, as well as their unique experiences and lessons learned. Several issues stood out as of particular importance for participants:

  • defining the proper role of and regulatory frameworks for private higher education in the region
  • the financial implications for quality improvement
  • striking an appropriate balance of autonomy and accountability at the institutional level

The reactions of participants have fed into the final report findings.

The following week, Emanuela di Gropello delivered a presentation on the findings of the Flagship volume at the Global Human Resource Forum (GHR) in Seoul, Korea on October 26, 2010. The GHR annually brings together opinion leaders, business executives, policy makers, intellectuals and journalists to discuss “the pressing issues facing the world,” and the agenda places particular emphasis on education, human resources development and talent management through a series of meetings, workshops and closed roundtables. This year’s GHR featured International Education Minister Roundtables, University President Roundtables, Higher-Education Collaboration Meetings, a Regional SME Meeting, a UNESCO Ministerial Workshop, a World Bank Policy-maker Workshop, and a UNESCO Technical and Vocational Education & Training Expert Meeting. The GHR provided a further avenue to reach the region’s high-level policy makers and other development partners who shape the education and training agenda.

The session on the Flagship, organized during a World Bank pre-event to the broader forum, was well received. It was attended by about 40 GHR participants, including policy makers from most East Asian countries, donor agencies and research institutions. The discussion following the presentation touched on a range of topics including:

  • questions about how to establish and develop university-industry linkages
  • how to more effectively provide practical training and internships for students
  • tailoring courses to reflect the needs of industry
  • how governments can set better incentives to encourage innovation in the national economy

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The session was led by Emanuela di Gropello (Sr. Human Development Economist), supported by Shahid Yusuf (Innovation Expert) and Kin Bin Wu (Lead Education Specialist) in DC and, in Cambodia, by Prateek Tandon (Education Economist). 180 participants included members of academia, East Asia and non-Asia governments, donor agencies and research institutions from Washington DC, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

  • On average the region shows significant weaknesses in its capacity of delivering relevant skills and contributing to creating technological capability, and that inclusiveness has still not been achieved.
  • Diagnostic analysis shows that this is largely due to the lack of a systemic view of higher education, leading to often piecemeal, incomplete or incoherent reforms and policies.
  • As a result, among other key issues, the curriculum and pedagogical framework is out of date with the needs of the labor market and the economy, there is a lack of effective and systematic linkages between higher education and the rest of the national innovation system, decision-making is often fragmented and remains overly centralized, and private sector delivery is not used to its full potential.
  • Countries need to build an effective higher education system based on a consistent and shared vision of where the sector needs to go and which is well integrated with the economy and the labor market and other education levels.
  • An effective system needs to provide incentives for addressing skill, innovation and inclusiveness needs through smart governance, financing and curriculum/pedagogical policies.
  • The building blocks of good governance are autonomy and accountability and efficient management of private delivery and human resources.
  • Effective financing policies need to include monetary interventions to equalize opportunities of access and completion across different population groups, while also providing competitive funding for research.
  • Curriculum and pedagogical policies to enhance skills and improve inclusiveness must focus on teaching practices, industry input, as well as articulation, mobility and diversification.

Download the presentation shared during the consultation (1.51mb pdf)


Examples of questions and answers were:

Q – What are the critical elements needed to foster ‘industry-university linkages’?
A – There are many. Considering the low level of relationships between industry and universities, intermediate organizations can be used to build links between the two. For example, in countries such as Vietnam, small and medium enterprise associations have helped foster industry-university links;

Q – How important is ‘on the job training’ in the workforce and the knowledge economy?
A – The importance of ‘on the job training’ is fundamental. There needs to be a dialogue between universities and firms to ensure that students graduate with job specific skills. This can be done by developing a partnership between industry and university to tailor student skills to the industry;

Q - How do we cope with the internationalization of higher education?
A – First, quality assurance is needed to recognize the quality of and accredit higher education regionally; East Asia needs a system that is cross-border; this way, for example, China can export its graduates to Singapore and vice versa. East Asia is moving towards defining quality assurance at the regional level (albeit slowly).


Through a brief survey conducted at the end of the session, the participants offered further ideas on how to address the three critical questions raised by the report.

Question 1: In your opinion, which are the Higher Education skills which will be most needed for the labor market?

Most important skills according to the participants are:

  • communication, time management and organization skills
  • technical skills particularly in engineering, technology and agriculture
  • critical thinking, analytical and behavioral skills
  • ability to be fluent in foreign languages (English)
  • entrepreneurial and leadership skills

Question 2: In your opinion, how can Higher Education contribute to improve the innovation agenda?

Main suggestions to improve the innovation agenda include:

  • establish and develop university-industry linkages
  • provide practical training and internships for students
  • tailor the curriculum to reflect the needs of industry (local and foreign)
  • increase awareness of the importance of innovation to the national economy (by having governments give grants to foster research and encourage collaboration)

Question 3: In your opinion, how can Higher Education access be expanded?

Main suggestions to improve higher education access and inclusiveness include:

  • improve secondary education
  • provide more options for non-traditional learners and expand distance education
  • create a mix of financial (tuition fee policies, financial aid/scholarships, and loans) and non-financial policies (affirmative action policies) to encourage low-income, minority and female students
  • expand private education, improve human resources in education (better salary and benefits to faculty)
  • diversify the higher education system (TVET, community schools, universities)
  • increase governmental support to universities either in the form of grants and/or establishing state universities

Finally, the GDLN participants expressed an interest to have the flagship examine in depth curriculum development, the role of arts and sciences in education and the relationship between higher education and globalization.

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