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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

H.S. Park: Cooperation in International Education in Northeast Asia

The role of NGOs and global governance

In a rapidly developing world with changes in the international system, numerous issues demand common concern and actions. Despite the optimism on the overall impact of globalization, such items on the global agenda as regional conflicts, environmental concerns, human rights, refugees, poverty and women pose challenges. Most of all, some new or rekindled disputes and conflicts originate from ethnic, religious or cultural differences as well as new nationalist sentiments. Increasing attention and debates on the notions of “human security,’ “comprehensive security,” “non-traditional security” reflect these new trends. Thus, it is fashionable to talk about the arrival of the era of global governance.

Global governance is the collection of governance-related activities, rules and mechanisms, formal and informal, existing at a variety of levels in the world today. It is the cooperative problem-solving arrangements and activities that states, NGOs and other actors have to put into place to deal with various issues and problems facing mankind. It is characteristic of the time that in the age of global governance, not only the governments but also international and domestic NGOs, businesses and other transnational organizations are significant in domestic politics and global affairs. NGOs are private organizations whose members are individuals or association that come together to achieve a common purpose. NGOs are increasingly active at all levels of human society and governance, from local or grassroots communities to national and international politics. The estimated numbers of NGOs vary enormously, and there are several thousand international NGOs.

Domestic NGOs, international NGOs and global civil society organizations have emerged as an influential force affecting both domestic and international policies. While they have the power of influencing international public opinion and mobilizing it against policies that they oppose, they do so in ways that are sensationally visible and therefore effective.

The increasing role of NGOs does not negate the primary role of the state. It is premature and even erroneous to predict the demise of state. However, it is also true that there are increasing numbers of issues facing states and international society that cannot be effectively handled by the government alone. In this process, NGOs can cooperate with governments or businesses. However, some NGOs criticize or oppose government or industry practices.

The importance of international education

In the era of globalization and information, the world expects universities to effectively adapt to changing educational, societal and international environments. The world needs a new generation of work force and young leaders who are equipped to global standards with necessary skills and knowledge. At the same time, the world also needs to overcome through education the sources of hostilities, conflicts and tensions by reducing distrust and misunderstanding among different people, nations and religions.

Thus, all over the world the demand for international education in higher education is increasing, since it cultivates students with not only expert knowledge but also intercultural understanding, practical experience, foreign language capability, and global civic ethics and perspectives. In universities, international education facilitates the exchange of ideas and information, expands student mobility and promotes scholarly interactions, contributing to enhanced cooperation and peace in the international community.

It is estimated that more than two million students are studying outside their home countries. The Global Student Mobility 2025 report estimates that each year these students contribute US$11 billion to the U.S. economy and more than AUD$4.2 billion to the Australian economy. Increasingly, many countries consider education to be an important growth sector to be developed further. The Global Student Mobility report forecasts that this demand for international higher education will grow to 7.2 million students by 2025 and that Asia will dominate the total global demand with 70 percent of the students.

In this light, international education is being increasingly emphasized by both governments and universities as a way to enhance competitiveness. International education serves as a channel for cultivating a high-quality work force for sustained national development. The influx of foreign students helps supplement a nation's finances. International students represent a nation's investment in training future international leaders with a better understanding of the world and an ability to build bridges between nations and peoples.

As international students contribute their varieties of cultures and backgrounds, this diversity adds vibrancy to the university. Local students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet or live with people from these countries get the experience of interacting and living with their foreign counterparts. In an increasingly globalized world, such intercultural understanding is definitely an asset.

Students stand to gain in many ways from studying in another country. They can gain access to higher-quality programs or higher-status qualifications that may not be available in their home countries. They can also broaden their horizons by immersing themselves in another culture and thus enhance their educational experience and give them an extra edge in the job market. Their mother countries benefit from these talented, open-minded members of the work force and leaders.

Thus, international education provides opportunities and challenges that enhance competitiveness. On the one hand, it enriches the content, quality and culture of higher education with practical education, diversity of curricula, plurality of the student body, and interactions among scholars. On the other hand, governments and universities face the task of shaping and implementing international education. Governments should guide the development and upgrading of international education through national policies, strategies and financial resources. Universities should also mobilize their resources to develop new curricula, systems, facilities and training to handle international education.

Need for international education in East Asia

East Asia is known for its strong commitment to and tradition of  excellence in education, and most nations now put a priority on international education. As the intellectual and educational foundation for national development, East Asian universities have striven to improve international education as a way of strengthening their competitiveness. Furthermore, strengthening international education serves as a cornerstone for cooperation among institutions of higher learning in Asia.

There are countless bilateral educational relations among the universities in the region, although they often remain perfunctory. Nevertheless, many students and scholars in the region have been taking advantage of a variety of programs under these formal relations. In recent years, as economic interactions in the region are intensifying, collaboration among the universities is increasing, expanding to new ventures such as joint degrees or joint campuses.  

Despite the emphasis on international education and cooperation, systematic governmental and non-governmental measures have been limited. Japan has attracted many foreign students with generous scholarships and research funding, but these are mainly for studies in Japan. China has emerged as a new education market, attracting other Asian students, including Koreans, who see the potential of the Chinese market and China's increasing role in world affairs. In other countries, governmental support or initiatives are minimal. Several educational NGOs in East Asia are playing prominent roles in international education. They have provided opportunities for intra-Asian educational mobility not only for students but also for scholars and educators, through workshop and conferences on a regular basis. Examples include:

•    AUF (Asia University Federation)
•    APUP (Asia-Pacific University Association)
•    PPUN (Pan-Pacific University Network)
•    AUN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations University Network)
•    ASEM Education Hub (Asia-Europe Meeting inter-regional cooperation in education)

In the meantime, the quality of higher education in many fields has been criticized for not meeting expectations. It is alleged that despite its remarkable growth in numbers and expansion in facilities during recent decades, college education in East Asian countries still lags behind that of universities in the advanced economies such as the U.S. and Europe in overall quality. As a result, the global migration of East Asian students across borders is phenomenal. Asia tops the list of regions sending students abroad for higher education, accounting for almost half (43 percent) of all tertiary-level students in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. The International Institute of Education in the U.S. indicates that in the 2004-2005 school year, Asian students represent almost two-thirds (58 percent) of the 565,039 foreign students studying in higher educational institutions in America. Looking at individual countries, India accounts for 14.2 percent, followed by China (11.1 percent), South Korea (9.4 percent), and Japan (7.5 percent).

Since many affluent or top students go abroad for study, many Asian universities have tried to recruit more foreign students, mostly from Asia, as part of an effort to make up for their dwindling resources of students and finances. Many Asian governments and universities have also made intensive efforts to reform and revitalize education at almost every level. In South Korea, for example, educational reform has been part of an intensive drive for national reform which aims at restructuring society, government, economy and business. The reform aims to make college education more efficient, productive and useful for the institutions as well as to enhance national competitiveness. From the viewpoint of a university, the reform is a self-help and preventive measure in the face of hostile changes in educational environments, such as the dwindling numbers of high school graduates and the opening of national education markets under World Trade Organization agreements. It is assumed that other countries in the region face similar situations. Over the past several years, there have been mergers and absorptions in universities in Japan and China. Korean universities have not engaged in that, but the government has pushed “BK 21” (Brain Power for the 21st century) as part of national ambition to become a “creative knowledge-based nation” and produce several world-class research universities.

In the changing educational and international environments, one way for institutions of higher education in the region to upgrade their offerings is to make international education a part of their curricula and programs. As mentioned, this is a very effective way for universities and societies to produce a talented, competitive work force and people with broader perspectives who can become leaders of society and the world. From a practical point of view, international education attracts both high-quality foreign students and income.        

Therefore, in this era of globalization, cooperation among the universities at regional or international level benefits the universities, societies, the Asian region, and the international community. In all, there are several ways that cooperation in international education may contribute, directly or indirectly, to peace and stability in the region:

•    Universities can contribute to the preservation of shared Asian values and traditions by having students and educators experience life together in different places in Asia. Not only students but also professors and scholars may form “knowledge communities” for collectively shaping and addressing regional or global agendas.
•    Cooperation among universities can provide students with practical opportunities for better education. With experience in foreign countries, with foreign people and a command of a foreign language, students with an international education have better qualifications than other peers in job searches.
•    Through joint research and projects among the faculty and researchers, universities also can help other universities improve their academic standards and research capabilities. Thus, different levels of experience and of strengths may serve not as barriers but impetus for complementary, collaborative academic efforts.
•    Collaboration among universities in the region is more meaningful among those that are geographically closer and have more cultural affinity. Economic and political relations within the region are likely to continue to grow. Cooperation in training future Asian regional leaders, not necessarily national leaders, may lay a stable foundation for peace in the region.

Innovative educational methods

East Asia's achievements in international education are not satisfactory in light of ever-increasing demands and interests. The primary limitations are financial resources. Other factors include the lack of strong initiatives in international education, the lack of vision by educators and policy makers, an insufficient will and commitment on the part of the faculty, and a lack of expert staff. In this light, several innovative approaches have been made to revitalize international education and cooperation in the region, focusing on the role of NGOs and civil society, including universities, university associations, businesses and individuals.  

Exchange of students and scholars among universities. Hans De Wit points out that the internationalization of education has been pursued for a variety of national or supra-national purposes at different points in history. For example:

•    During the Cold War era, the U.S. initiated area studies through the National Defense Education Act.
•    With the formation of the European Union, a European consciousness is being promoted among students, giving rise to programs such as ERASMUS and SOCRATES that promote student mobility among European Union countries. The EU has launched the Bologna process, which will develop the European Higher Education Area by 2010; this should allow students, professors, researchers and funds to circulate freely.

In the governments of Northeast Asian countries do not launch massive and regular student and scholarly exchanges, NGOs and businesses can. They can learn from the European model and name the Asian program after Confucius, Tolstoy or King Sejong, for instance. Unfortunately, to take on such an ambitious project in Northeast Asia, there is no supra-national authority such as the European Union that cultivates future leaders of Europe with a European mindset and openness to new ideas. However, Northeast Asian nations, by benign political consensus, can take bold initiatives in establishing an inter-governmental organization to promote international education.

Student volunteer service corps. The tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia in December 2004 has raised environmental and humanitarian concerns on regional and global levels. The outpouring of assistance from the international community has helped individuals and countries overcome the tragedy more easily. Among others, NGOs and other volunteer workers made substantial contributions to recovery by participating in humanitarian action. The tragedy, though so horrible for the victims, their countries and the international community, provided an opportunity for the international community to work closely for humanitarian purposes. Such practical experience in humanitarian volunteer service should be a mandatory or elective part of college education in order to attract students to serve others, especially on foreign soil. Universities and NGOs can organize large-scale service corps related to curricular or extra-curricular interests. The service can range from pure manual labor to professional work. When young people work together, they develop the spirit of cooperation and harmony with other Asian students. One example [see below] initiated and funded by the South Korean government dispatches Korean students with good computer skills to other universities and schools in need of technology and expertise.

Group field study trips. Groups of students from East Asian countries can  go on guided trips to neighboring countries and learn a great deal about the culture and people in a relatively short period of time. The students may visit universities, industries and historical places where they can engage in workshops, discussions and tourism. The universities can run such programs on their own or in partnerships with governments, businesses or university associations. Programs can vary from one week to two months. If, for example, 3,000 students from each country participate, with a regional total of about 10,000-15,000 a year a year, this will have an enormous long-term impact in Northeast Asia. Many of the young people will be visiting neighboring countries for the first time, and their first-hand experience will improve their intercultural understanding and generate sincere respect for others. Examples include:

•    A two-week Trans-Siberian railroad trip commemorating the normalization of relations between Russia and South Korea in 2003 was hailed by student participants and organizers as a great success in promoting understanding of Russian culture, people and lands.
•    NGOs in both Japan and Korea are initiating a “Peace and Green Ship Study Tour.” In this project about 800 Korean and Japanese volunteers, including students, will travel together on a mammoth ship, spending about three weeks in frank discussion and sightseeing at major places in East Asia.  

Educating the educators. NGOs and university associations may hold forums for educators that emphasize international education. Without the leadership of its president or high-ranking administrator, international education can not be instituted at a university. Such forums can help administrators understand international education; in addition, forums offer opportunities to mingle with representatives of other sectors of society, including business leaders. Industries that are harbingers of technological innovation may challenge educators to think about globalization.

Roles for various partners

Governments. To strengthen international education is not only the responsibility of the universities but also of society in general, businesses and private foundations. In East Asia, government policies, guidelines and vision for international education play a crucial role, because higher education is mostly under government influence or control. Universities are subject to government rules and regulations for their management, curricula, operations, etc. In Western countries such as Canada and Australia, the government puts lot of effort into promoting international education. Moreover, the government is normally the primary sources of finances for public universities and provides subsidies, grants and other incentives for private universities as well. Thus, governments encourage international education by providing funds, information and training as well as by setting up short-term and long-term student exchanges and internships. Within the government, not only the Ministry of Education but also such departments or agencies such as Foreign Affairs, Science and Technology, Culture and Tourism, and Public Relations should be involved. Government initiatives count. For example:

•    In China, the central and local governments and universities have taken very strong measures to strengthen their international education programs. Chinese universities now have better programs, management and accommodations, making international education in China more competitive.
•    The Korean Ministry of Information and Technology set up an overseas IT volunteer service corps composed of Korean college and graduate students with computer and internet skills. Supported by government funds, the students choose a foreign country and design programs to train their counterparts there. The students normally go to schools in less-developed countries in Asia. About 50 groups of four members each have participated in the IT service corps for one to two months.

Business and industry. It became a fashionable for large companies, including multinational corporations, to support large-scale international programs as an encouragement to young college students. In part, private industry sponsorship is not done for the industry's sake but for public relations. For example:

•    Companies such as Samsung and LG conglomerates have run a nation-wide competition for applicants to conduct field study of their choice in certain countries. Selection for the program is considered a prestigious honor.
•    Industries donate cash, scholarships or buildings to university as a way of promoting international education, as the Samsung group has done for major Korean universities.
•    In America, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the George Soros Foundation provide significant funds to promote education and international understanding.

Industry can do more and better. The rationale behind the support for international education is that businesses will benefit from graduates who have job skills, an open mind and a global perspective. In a sense, to invest in international education is to invest in the future leaders of society and the world and develop a capable workforce. Otherwise, industries need to invest in ‘retraining’ many new employees just coming out of college.

United Nations and international organizations. The UN and other international organizations can also play a positive role in international education. For example:

•    The UESCO (UN Educational, Science and Cultural Organization) and ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission in Asia Pacific) have a variety of programs related to international education. The UNESCO headquarters in Paris grants educational NGOs consultative status in the organization and access its meetings and resources. The UNESCO Principal Office in Bangkok, for example, provides skills, programs, information and funds for promoting international education in the context of overall UNESCO policies.
•    The ASEM Education Fund, as an educational hub of the Asia-Europe Meeting, serves another link between Asia and Europe.
•    In Korea, the Education Center for Understanding of Peace in Asia-Pacific, a subsidiary of UNESCO, promotes international education through providing training and information.
•    In Japan, the United Nations University has engaged in extensive research and publication related to UN activities and hosts occasional forums on selected topics.

Private foundations and other NGOs. Private foundations and business-affiliated organizations, in cooperation with universities and university organizations, develop, initiate, conduct and support international education. For instance:

•    Rotary International provides a substantial amount of money for selected students studying abroad.

Likewise, several private foundation support talented students for college and post-graduate studies. Otherwise, the role of NGOs in providing adequate funds and expertise is still weak, except in Japan. However, as the Northeast Asian economy grows and more educational NGOs emerge, more opportunities and funds will be available. Private foundations should receive tax incentives and other benefits to encourage them to spend more in promoting international education.

Educational NGOs. In most countries, universities and colleges organize associations or related organizations. In Korea, several organizations exist:

•    The Korean Association of University Presidents
•    The Korean Association of University Education
•    The Korean Association of Private Universities
•    The Korean University Association of Directors of International Offices.

Several regional organizations promote international education. However, the capability of these organizations is still limited, mainly because of limited resources, manpower and skills. In theory, domestic, regional and international organizations can do a variety of work, if provided with adequate resources and manpower. With funding from governments, industry, foundations or UN organizations, they will be in a position to play a bigger role, either individually or collectively. There are also bilateral relationships between NGOs in different countries. For example:

•    The Korean Association of University Presidents convenes a biennial conference with its counterpart in the Far Eastern Russia, alternating meetings in Korea and Russia.

Attempts by several South Korean universities over the years to make contact and set up exchanges with the North were either short-lived or never fully materialized. Partnerships between universities in both Koreas will depend on normalization of political and economic relations.


The dynamics within the Northeast Asian region have produced close interconnectedness among the countries with ever-increasing interchange in trade, economic, cultural and political areas. It is all the more necessary, therefore, to overcome differences and to resolve major contentious issues in the region peacefully. International education can open the way to designing a Northeast Asian Community as a component of a more peaceful world.

Educational institutions have a critical role in forging a Northeast Asian Community. On their own campuses, it is important for leaders to promote the vision of a global campus with a global standard and action programs. Universities should use their institutional capabilities to strengthen regional cooperation.

In order to reduce tensions and improve relations in the region, it is necessary for government, business, international organizations and NGOs to collaborate. The most important question is who will lead the reinvigoration of international education through cooperation and pooling of finances, manpower and expertise. Obviously, NGO initiatives in higher education and international education are the best option for accomplishing this. Promoting cooperation among universities through various aspects of international education may lead to a Northeast Asian Education Community, which will be one step in the foundation of an eventual Northeast Asian Community.


Source: From a paper presented at a conference on "Innovative Approaches to Peace and Stability in Northeast Asia: Focus on the Korean Peninsula," May 26-28, 2005, Moscow, Russia, co-organized by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace and the Russian Political Science Association. Dr. Park is Professor of International and UN Studies, Sunmoon University, Chonan, Korea. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of South Carolina, his M.A. in International Studies from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and his LL.B. in Law from Kyung Hee University in Seoul. He was director of the Peace Research Institute at Sunmoon University and is Secretary-General of the Asia University Federation. He is also an advisor to the Korean Association of the United Nations.

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