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Opinion
Scaling Up Educational Exchange
Opportunities for China-ASEAN cooperation
 NO. 26 JUNE 29, 2017
Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for Socio-Cultural Community, talks to Beijing Review reporter Li Nan about China-ASEAN educational cooperation on the sidelines of a symposium where ASEAN education ministers and Peking University faculty discussed potential opportunities for cooperation, in Beijing on June 19. This is an edited version of the interview:

Beijing Review: You've served in various international organizations and mainly dealt with international affairs. Now as deputy secretary general for social and cultural affairs who often leads delegations of education ministers to China and other countries, how do you find education different from other aspects in international relations?

Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee: Education is something that permeates through society, targeting people directly. International relations are about how different nations conduct relations with one another. We are looking at how education can drive the relationships among states.

When people ask me about the ASEAN community, I would like to explain it to them very simply: ASEAN is about the future. We are now a community, but we are far from being a complete community. There is a lot of work to be done. We are doing that, waiting for the next generation. The torchbearers of ASEAN are the youth.

We are talking about the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Ten years from now, what are we going to do? The university students now in their 20s will be in very important positions in the next 10 years. They are the ones that will drive the future of ASEAN. I want to emphasize the importance of how we engage the youth. And I am sure that not only ASEAN, but China also emphasizes this very important factor.

All the work plans we are talking about today will be driven by the youth of today, who are the leaders of tomorrow. Students who have been working closely within the framework of ASEAN and China have developed bonds among themselves. Ten years from now, they will be in business, in government, in the media. Isn't it wonderful to have such a new generation of people who can understand and embrace one another's culture? I think that is the contribution of education to international relations.

How do you regard the educational cooperation between China and ASEAN? What role can it play in enhancing understanding and connectivity among our peoples?

The educational cooperation between China and ASEAN is a very important driving force in terms of enhancing people-to-people connectivity. It's important that we bring people together to get a better understanding, to learn about one another's culture and history.

China has a rich ancient civilization and history. It can also inspire a lot of people as a model of success in terms of the sustainable economic growth that China has enjoyed over the past decades.

I think a number of factors contribute to making people more interested in learning more about China or even coming to study in China. Geographic proximity plays a role. Also, all ASEAN countries have cultural ties to China. I think that is the uniqueness of China and what China has to offer in terms of enhancing educational cooperation.

Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN Secretariat (WANG XIANG)

What about vocational education cooperation between China and ASEAN? What changes has it brought in ASEAN states?

Technical vocational education and training (TVET) is very important. And the economic workforce, the engine that drives the economic dynamics, really depends on the people of China. When you are looking at technical and vocational training for people who graduated from secondary schools, it really shows the correlation between technical and vocational training and skills development for the labor force, and how that contributes to the overall economic development.

It's the kind of achievement that we in ASEAN look up to. According to the ASEAN Work Plan on Education, which was adopted last year, one of the [crucial] points is how to strengthen TVET in ASEAN. It's also something that has to do with the mindset, the kind of value attached to it. We need to encourage our society to look at TVET as a very viable option moving in the direction of skills development. That is something that we are working on.

It's related to how you prepare the workforce. In certain situations, you may find that students with more TVET training have more advantages in the job market. China has made significant progress in using the TVET as a tool to achieve that kind of [skilled] labor force. That's the kind of thing we would like to explore more with China.

Many people in developing countries look up to education in the U.S. or the West in general. During this trip, you've led a delegation to China, which is still a developing nation. Could you please tell us why? What does China have to offer ASEAN students and vice versa?

The purpose of my visit here, leading the ASEAN delegation to China, is a continuation of the dialogue that we had during the ninth China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week in Guiyang (capital city of southwest China's Guizhou Province) last year. At that conference, we adopted a joint communiqué to develop a joint plan of action on education. This visit is the continuation of that effort.

China has a lot of interesting things to offer ASEAN. I was told this morning that Peking University has 440 students from ASEAN member states [this year] alone. We have such a high number of ASEAN students studying in [the top Chinese university]! And the number of Chinese students in some ASEAN countries is quite telling and a positive development.

What we have learned from the Chinese system is its education reform. The curriculum emphasizes not only in-depth study, but also a cross-disciplinary approach. Students must be able to make a connection among different disciplines.

Perhaps the most important element that I learned from the Chinese system is the importance of students learning about globalization. What is happening in the world? What is the global environment? This is what attracts a lot of students from ASEAN countries to study in China, in addition to geographical proximity, cultural and linguistic similarities and affinity with the people. So yes, from that point of view China has a great deal to offer.

A symposium is held in Peking University on China-ASEAN education cooperation in Beijing on June 19 (WANG XIANG)

What's the biggest challenge in scaling up educational cooperation between China and ASEAN? How to integrate the educational systems of the two sides?

I don't see a big challenge because I would like to emphasize the importance of cooperation. There is no limit to cooperation.

The new ASEAN-China Plan of Action (2017-20) is where we would like to see stronger and more vigorous cooperation in vocational education, cultural exchange and youth leadership.

It's not a case of integrating the ASEAN system with China. I prefer the term strengthening or enhancing cooperation. ASEAN has 10 member states and China is a strong dialogue partner of ASEAN. We would like to continue to enhance that cooperation and look at the possibility of where we can collaborate, in terms of student mobility and recognition of degrees, for example.

If we can enhance our cooperation in that sense, I think you will see significant progress in the area of people-to-people connectivity through education and people mobility.

When you promote student mobility, the byproduct of that process is that the students get to know one another, learn about one another's culture, and develop respect and appreciation. That I think is something that really drives, for ASEAN countries, what we call the ASEAN identity.

The issue is how to increase the number of students from ASEAN countries in China. There have to be conditions like mutual recognition of degrees, academic credits transfer and a qualification framework.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to linan@bjreview.com

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