The Asian universities working together to solve challenges in higher education

“In a highly globalised world, a country or region can rarely develop in isolation”

Over the last few years, we have observed some important trends that have already been changing the global landscape of higher education. Asian universities have accelerated in their development and started to enjoy a greater presence among the top global universities.

Being a network of prominent universities in the region, the Asian Universities Alliance (AUA) has the potential to lead intellectual scholarship and scientific discovery, pulling together the best minds from member institutions, each with their own expertise to contribute to joint initiatives. Arman Zhumazhanov of Nazarbayev University discusses the work of the regional university network.

The AUA was formed in April 2017 and brought together 15 founding member institutions from across Asia to jointly address regional and global challenges related to higher education and economic, scientific, and technological development by strengthening collaboration among members.

In the long-term, the AUA is also committed to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals throughout Asia and the world, not only via breakthroughs in science and technology, but also inclusive quality education and lifelong learning.

Institutional alliances such as the AUA help build a strong network to better understand social and economic issues in a region, address regional and global challenges related to education, and facilitate scientific and technological development.

For students, it provides unique opportunities to embrace diversity, develop critical mindset, enhance entrepreneurship skills, and understand new trends in human capital development.

 The Executive Presidency of the AUA is held by an institution for a term of one year. Between May 2020 and April 2021, it was held by Nazarbayev University.

However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that, unlike previous terms, all AUA activities have been held virtually.

This past year, Nazarbayev University also hosted the AUA Executives’ Meeting, having organised a special additional session so that all members could share their universities’ responses to the challenges and disruption caused by the pandemic.

The AUA is dedicated to providing a platform that generates quality discussions on university strategies, policies, and practices through the AUA Presidents Forum. This brings together university leaders to discuss the development strategies and problems faced in higher education.

The most recent forum, under the theme of “Knowledge is Power: The Resilience of Asian Universities in a VUCA World”, attracted a wide range of participants from around the world, including the students of our respective universities. The online format of the forum allowed AUA to promote its events more widely to higher education institutions outside of the alliance, increasing the visibility of the AUA.

In order to keep AUA mobility programs going, the AUA is introducing virtual mobility events, including an online education fair for alliance members and a series of online lectures for 2021-22 by professors.

The online lecture series is the first step towards the long-term goal of creating joint courses between AUA members. It will focus on a theme which is common to most of the universities and related to the challenges and opportunities of Asian economies in the era of Covid-19 and post-Covid-19.

The idea is to invite faculty from member universities to organise a lecture consisting of an introductory part and freely-designed teaching sessions with interactive components. The lectures has the potential to include case analyses, multi-panelist debates, interviews, discussions in small groups and any other innovative ways of interactive teaching.

The online education fair, planned for fall 2021, is committed to helping universities in recruiting international students and promoting their undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

The fair also aims to satisfy students’ demand for the most recent admission information. It is expected that this platform will bring together students not only from the AUA network, but also more widely from other parts of the world.

Though AUA’s major focus will remain education development, joint research, and knowledge transfer in Asia, it will certainly have a wider impact around the globe.

In a highly globalised world, a country or region can rarely develop in isolation. It’s now commonly understood that the biggest and complex problems the world is facing today cannot be solved by researchers from a single discipline or university.

Climate change, food security, healthcare, post-Covid-19 recovery and many other pertinent challenges require collaborative and interdisciplinary solutions.

In this regard, AUA members have substantial expertise, tremendous capability, and great potential to jointly contribute to regional as well as global development.

About the author: Arman Zhumazhanov is the Head of Office of the President of Nazarbayev University.