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Education in South-East Asia
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Oxford Studies in Comparative Education

Education in South-East Asia


2011 paperback 348 pages, £34.00, ISBN 978-1-873927-56-4

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About the book

This book on education in South-East Asia is the very first of its kind to comprehensively cover and discuss the education systems and issues in all the countries in the region - the ten member nations of the Association of South-East Asian nations (ASEAN) plus Timor Leste. The eleven chapters on country case studies are written by education country experts and give the readers an overview of each country’s education system, while also highlighting issues currently significant to each system. There are also thematic chapters on selected issues reckoned to be significant in the region such as: gender, education and development; higher education ; language policy; quality assurance; and sustainable development. This book is a significant contribution to academic literature in this field in that the South-East Asian region is, in general, one of the leading zones of the developing world, containing within it advancing economies, such as Brunei and Malaysia, and a key global hub, Singapore. Even the poorer countries are showing signs of significant advance. The region also contains the most populous Islamic country in the world, Indonesia, and examples of the educational legacies of a variety of forms of European and American colonialism. The book is therefore a source of reference to better understand education in a region where diverse religious, political and cultural aspects are found and interrelate in a form of serious co-operation.

Contents [Please click on author name for summary]

Colin Brock, Lorraine Pe Symaco Education in South-East Asia, 7-11

Omar Haji Khalid The Education System of Brunei Darussalam, 13-29

Martin Hayden, Richard Martin The Education System in Cambodia: making progress under difficult circumstances, 31-51

Assad L. Baunto Education Reforms in Indonesia, 53-67

Richard Noonan Education in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: confluence of history and vision, 69-94

Siow Heng Loke, Chang Lee Hoon Education in Malaysia: development and transformations, 95-119

Richard Martin Education in Myanmar: opportunity for limited engagement, 121-137

Lorraine Pe Symaco Philippines: education for development?, 139-155

Jason Tan Singapore: schools for the future?, 157-175

Bob Boughton Timor-Leste: building a post-conflict education system, 177-196

Natthapoj Vincent Trakulphadetkrai Thailand: educational equality and quality, 197-219

Pham Lan Huong, Gerald W. Fry Vietnam as an Outlier: tradition and change in education, 221-243

Colin Brock, Pei-Tseng Jenny Hsieh Aspects of Gender and Education in South-East Asia, 245-264

Anthony Welch Higher Education in South-East Asia: achievement and aspiration, 265-282

Keith Watson Education and Language Policies in South-East Asian Countries, 283-304

Somwung Pitiyanuwat Quality Assurance in South-East Asian Higher Education, 305-322

Mikko Cantell, Derek Elias For Bulls and Bears Alike: education as investment in sustainable development, 323-340

Notes on Contributors, 343-348

Education in South-East Asia
Colin Brock, Lorraine Pe Symaco


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The Education System of Brunei Darussalam
Omar Haji Khalid

This chapter provides a brief overview of Brunei Darussalam, its education system and history. It provides a brief description of the national education vision, goals and strategies, and their alignment with the National Development Plan. It describes the policy directions for education for the next 10 years, and recent development, especially with a new education system (SPN21) based on a bilingual (English and Malay language) policy and reforms in higher education.

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The Education System in Cambodia: making progress under difficult circumstances
Martin Hayden, Richard Martin

This chapter documents the rapid development of the education system in Cambodia since the late 1990s, when peace was finally restored. Cambodia now has an education participation rate of over 90% for children aged 6-11 years, but only one-third of young people aged 12-14 years take part in lower-secondary schooling. Cambodia’s poverty is an overriding influence, affecting the availability of schools and teachers, the ability to manage curriculum quality, and the adequacy of provisions made for the education of children with particular forms of disadvantage. A policy of decentralising management and administration of the education system is officially supported, but its implementation is impeded by the need for more capacity building, especially concerning management and budgeting skills. Corruption and a traditional socio-political culture that is hierarchical, bureaucratic and centralised are impediments to community-based decision-making processes about education.

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Education Reforms in Indonesia
Assad L. Baunto

This chapter provides the historical context of education reforms in Indonesia and documents the changes in its education objectives as the country traversed political upheavals, from the pre-colonial period, marked by full autonomy of education, through the colonial period of failed liberal education to post-independence characterised by consolidation of the education sector under the revolutionary government of Soekarno, centralisation under the authoritative government of Soeharto and decentralisation under democracy. The chapter highlights recent trends and challenges faced by the decentralised education reform which, if unaddressed, will lead to the disappearance of the initial gains and progress made towards universal education.

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Education in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: confluence of history and vision
Richard Noonan

Laos is the only Southeast Asian country without a sea coast. Mountain ranges and the Mekong River provide both protection and isolation. Traditionally literacy was the preserve of the aristocracy, their administrators, some merchants, and the monks. The French never supported education in Laos as much as in Vietnam. The secular schools followed the French system, with French as the language of instruction. Following independence in 1954, UNESCO and USAID supported the 1962 reform to create a Lao system. Higher education began gradually in the late 1950s, leading to the establishment of a university in the early 1970s. Meanwhile in the ‘Liberated’ zone under the Pathet Lao, education developed separately, including a teacher training college. In the turmoil and aftermath of the Revolution in 1975, the education system was severely damaged, and recovery was slow until the economic reforms of 1986. Today education is a leading sector for the national policy of leaving ‘least developed country’ status by 2020.

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Education in Malaysia: development and transformations
Siow Heng Loke, Chang Lee Hoon

Education and training have been given priority as part of the preparation for independence as well as in all Malaysia’s five-year plans. This chapter reaffirms that education and skills training have been the major instruments for developing the nation’s human capital and unifying the various racial groups in nation building through education. This chapter explores the role of education in addressing the development of human capital and national unity in Malaysia as spurred by the Razak Report in 1956. It also traces the key education reforms since Independence in 1957 and critically reviews the impact of these reforms and their implementation, particularly in the area of early childhood, teacher and tertiary education. It is also noted that the last two decades have been marked by the acceleration in the pace of globalisation and liberalisation of the world economy, and the impact of these trends on the educational development is further discussed.

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Education in Myanmar: opportunity for limited engagement
Richard Martin

Clearly it is a time to reassess the situation for education in Burma. There are small but significant opportunities for overseas institutions or philanthropic organizations to engage in distance education, particularly tourism, information technology training and foundation courses for students who have completed their high school education. Linking with the work of the British Council and possibly with small private colleges could provide other pathways for development and support. If this proves successful then possibly the Asian Development Bank and World Bank might be encouraged to reengage and provide limited technical assistance. Developments of this kind will have to be done carefully, but it seems that the Burmese Government would not oppose such gentle approaches to reform.

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Philippines: education for development?
Lorraine Pe Symaco

Similar to other countries, especially developing ones, education in the Philippines is seen by policy makers as a way to equip its human resource with the necessary skills needed for the knowledge society. However, issues arising from ‘massification’, or access over quality, often undermine the relative ‘returns’ supposedly of such expansion in education. This chapter deals with the education system of the Philippines, some basic statistics and issues relevant to the system, specifically the higher education sector.

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Singapore: schools for the future?
Jason Tan

Singapore’s education system has received growing international attention and interest following its students’ stellar performances in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study in 1997. Under the tight control of the People’s Action Party government, which has enjoyed uninterrupted political dominance since 1959, the education system has functioned as a means of supporting national economic development and fostering social cohesion. The chapter critiques the official rhetoric surrounding these two major policy objectives and highlights various policy tensions.

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Timor-Leste: building a post-conflict education system
Bob Boughton

Timor-Leste, South-East Asia’s newest nation, achieved its independence in 2002, after five hundred years of colonial occupation, and a brief period of direct United Nations rule. Its population of only one million people remains among the poorest in the region, though this is set to change in coming years as a result of revenue flowing into the state budget from its newlywon offshore oil reserves. The first independence government, which was led by FRETILIN, the party which had launched the liberation struggle in 1974, was committed to a rapid expansion of education and health services, and significant progress has been made, particularly in primary schooling and adult literacy. A major political crisis in 2006-07 revealed the ongoing differences between elements of the old Resistance, the Catholic Church and the international donors, and, while stability has returned to the country, the legacies of colonialism and war are expected to have a major impact on the emerging education system in the foreseeable future.

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Thailand: educational equality and quality
Natthapoj Vincent Trakulphadetkrai

This chapter primarily examines the issues of educational equality and quality in Thailand. It provides a brief overview of the national context as well as the education system, with particular focus on early childhood education, basic education, higher education and teacher education. Thailand’s progress on achieving the six Education for All goals is later analysed, along with factors which could promote and hinder such progress.

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Vietnam as an Outlier: tradition and change in education
Pham Lan Huong, Gerald W. Fry

The focus of this chapter is the evolution of Vietnamese education from past to present. Though Vietnam is a developing country, the authors argue that in terms of educational success and potential, it is an exceptional ‘outlier’, primarily related to its unique history, which involved struggles against both outside invaders and natural disasters, and its rich Confucian traditions which highly value education, literacy, learning, and teachers. The current Vietnamese educational system is a legacy and amalgam of many external international influences, namely Chinese, French, Russian, American, and more recently global forces. Vietnam has overcome many wars and a lack of natural resources to improve economically and educationally. After the introduction of market mechanisms in 1986, education has flourished particularly in terms of dramatic growth in education at all levels, including an increasing role of the private sector, particularly at the higher education level. Many note Vietnam’s economic potential as a rising phoenix, a nation on the move, or ascending dragon. To realize this dynamic future, Vietnam has adapted both its economic and educational systems to be more responsive to the powerful forces of globalization and the new ASEAN economic community (AEC) becoming a reality in 2015. The future of Vietnam as a dynamic Asia-Pacific knowledge economy depends heavily on its current commitments to foster both human resource development and innovation. Vietnamese education has impressive potential and promise.

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Aspects of Gender and Education in South-East Asia
Colin Brock, Pei-Tseng Jenny Hsieh

The gender factor in access to, and progress within, education is nearly always to the disadvantage of girls and women. In general in South-East Asia the situation is better than the global average. Most of the countries are ‘middle income’ in global terms, but Cambodia, Laos, Timor-Leste and Vietnam have profiles more like those of South Asian and Sub-Saharan African countries. Overall access and progress for females is generally in advance of males at primary and secondary level. However, at post-secondary level most females are in traditional female-oriented career training programmes even though the incidence of female engineers in some countries is impressive. Where problems exist in access and discrimination, they tend to be associated with issues of ethnicity, language, religion and geography. The massive incidence of archipelago situations in Indonesia and the Philippines is a constraining factor. Females tend to be disadvantaged in situations of migrant workers and also in terms of working while of school age in some countries. Overall, however, the relatively positive picture engenders the cultural capacity building that is necessary for sustainable development, especially in the predominantly rural communities.

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Higher Education in South-East Asia: achievement and aspiration
Anthony Welch

The multifaceted jewel of South-East Asia presents a challenge to researchers attempting to do justice to its diversity. This chapter addresses the achievements of higher education in five key ASEAN member states: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – as well as their ambitions for the future. Key elements of change include privatisation, measures of innovation, and internationalisation, including regionalisation. It is argued that while all five states share the ambition to extend both the quantity and quality of higher education, there are significant constraints that limit the prospects of these ambitions being achieved in the shorter term; in some states more than others.

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Education and Language Policies in South-East Asian Countries
Keith Watson

After discussing the importance of language for the individual, community and society the chapter then looks at how societies, especially those in South-East Asia, have become multi-ethnic and linguistically plural over a long period of time. It also plays down the relatively brief impact of colonialism on different countries of the region. Having explained the ethnic and linguistic complexity of the region, country by country, the chapter then explores the language and ethnic policies available to governments before looking at how the different countries in the region have used both these and educational policies to further their aims. It argues that while several countries have begun to recognise the linguistic rights of their ethnic minorities, the realities of creating a national identity, economic necessity and political power will always mean that the dominant group, and those groups who have access to either a national or international language, will continue to maintain their privileges at the expense of the smaller ethnic groups. In the long term this could have catastrophic results for those minorities.

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Quality Assurance in South-East Asian Higher Education
Somwung Pitiyanuwat

In the South-East Asia (SEA) region, every country except Myanmar and Timor-Leste has an agency responsible for quality assurance (QA) in higher education. There are three predominant modes of QA agencies: centralized government, quasi-governmental and non-governmental agencies. Programme and institutional audit or accreditation can be seen in manycountries in the SEA region. Few countries have developed a national qualifications framework (NQF). In terms of QA, common practices are accreditation, self-assessment, quality audit, site visits and reports. Concerning QA networks, the three popular international and regional networks in the SEA region are the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE); the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN) and the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN).

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For Bulls and Bears Alike: education as investment in sustainable development
Mikko Cantell, Derek Elias

Education is largely seen as a critical element in advancing sustainable development. The notions that investment in education can contribute to unsustainable patterns and may breed inefficiencies with limited returns have received far less attention. Education for sustainable development is an attempt to reorient the education sector fundamentally to address and prevent challenges to sustainability. Such a reorientation calls for emphasis on new skills in learners so that they are able to adapt to changing situations. While economic returns are important, it is not feasible to privilege these in education policy. Neither is it prudent to focus on injecting more resources into the education sector and to expect an increase in overall quality. The overarching objective of education will increasingly need to be values and behavioural change for sustainable development.

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Notes on Contributors

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Colin Brock is UNESCO Chair in Education as a Humanitarian Response and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Education, University of Oxford. A graduate in geography and anthropology from the University of Durham, he taught in high schools for a decade before becoming a lecturer in geography. On becoming Education Adviser in the Caribbean Development Division of ODA (now Department for International Development) he moved into international educational development at the universities of Leeds, Hull and then Oxford. He has worked on projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, South/South-East Asia, Latin America and all three tropical island zones for most of the main development agencies, with special reference to gender, teacher education and curriculum development. He has published widely in the field and is currently series editor of Education as a Humanitarian Response for Continuum Books and author of the core volume, Education as a Global Concern (2011).

Lorraine Pe Symaco is a visiting senior lecturer at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. She obtained her doctorate in education at the University of Oxford and has written and presented papers in various international conferences on education and development, higher education, and education in developing countries. She has also worked on research projects dealing with access and equity issues and serves as resource person for training school leaders in various regions in the Philippines.

Assad Baunto has worked on various research projects and served as consultant with multilateral agencies including the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Asian Development Bank. His research interests are in broad areas of human capital, growth and conflict. He holds an MPhil in development economics from the University of Oxford.

Bob Boughton is Associate Professor and coordinator of adult education studies in the School of Education at University of New England, Armidale, Australia. He has been undertaking research into the emerging adult education system in Timor-Leste since 2004, and recently completed a three-year study of the role of adult education in post-conflict development, funded by the Australian Research Council. Bob has had a long-term association with the independence movement in Timor-Leste, dating back to the period immediately prior to the Indonesian invasion in 1975. His other research interests include Indigenous adult education, learning in social movements, and the history and theory of popular education.

Mikko Cantell has worked at the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok since 2008 when he joined the organisation as Associate Expert and is currently the Programme Specialist for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and acting Chief of the ESD Unit. Previously he worked at the International Department of the Finnish Ministry of Education and for the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO. His volunteer work includes board membership of the Finnish Section of Amnesty International as well as membership of the Crisis Management Initiative. Mikko holds a Master of Social Sciences from the University of Helsinki in international relations/world politics.

Chang Lee Hoon is a Professor and Deputy Dean (Post-graduate Studies and Research) in the Faculty of Human Sciences, Sultan Idris Education University, Malaysia. She received her BA Hons, DipEd and MEd from the University of Malaya and PhD from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her prior appointments were a secondary school teacher, teacher educator at a teacher education college and lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of Malaya. Her area of specialisation and research is in moral and values education, and teacher education.

Derek Elias has been working for UNESCO since 2001 and was appointed in 2010 Head and Representative of UNESCO’s Country Office in Bangladesh. UNESCO Dhaka strives to support human development in Bangladesh as part of the UN family and provide capacity development in all five of UNESCO’s mandate areas – Education, Social and Human Sciences, Natural Sciences, Communication and Information, and Culture. Derek has a PhD in anthropology from the Australian National University following two Bachelor’s degrees in anthropology from University of Queensland and Deakin University in Australia.

Gerald W. Fry is a Distinguished International Professor and Professor of International/Intercultural Education at the University of Minnesota and holds a doctorate in international development education from Stanford University, an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and an honorary doctorate from Thailand in the field of Education for Local Development. He was also a Pew Faculty Fellow in International Affairs at the Kennedy School at Harvard. He has been doing research and development work on South-East Asia for five decades, with a major focus on Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He has spent approximately 12 years in the field in South-East Asia. He is the author of many books and articles on South-East Asia. Among his recent publications are the books Association of Southeast Asian Studies and Thailand and its Neighbors: interdisciplinary perspectives. Recently he received the University of Minnesota’s Award for Global Engagement.

Haji Omar Haji Khalid is Vice-Chancellor of the Technology University in Brunei. He holds a doctorate in educational studies from the University of Oxford, as well as a BSc in chemistry and physiology from the University of Salford, a Master’s degree in educational administration from Simon Fraser University, Canada and a Postgraduate Certificate of Education from the University of Leeds. Before becoming Vice-Chancellor Dr Haji Omar was a Senior Officer in Higher Education at the Ministry of Education, having been involved in various aspects of the development of tertiary education. He has also been registrar and secretary of Universiti Brunei Darussalam. His Oxford doctorate was in special needs education, and today in his spare time Dr Haji Omar is involved in Pusat Ehsan, an organisation promoting special needs provision, and training of people with special educational needs. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Pusat Ehsan.

Martin Hayden is Professor of Higher Education and a member of the Centre for Higher Education Policy and Practice at Southern Cross University in Australia, where he is also Head of the School of Education. He has published extensively on topics related to higher education policy. He has worked with ministries in Vietnam and Laos on projects funded by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Children’s Fund concerning the development and implementation of legal and regulatory reforms in the education system. He is co-editor of a recent book on the higher education system in Vietnam, published by Springer, and he is the author of various chapters, articles and reports on issues in higher education in Vietnam.

Pei-Tseng Jenny Hsieh is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Education, University of Oxford. With a background in language policy issues, her research interests are now in assessment and evaluation of educational policies and programmes in both developed and developing contexts. She has worked for major consultancies as well as for the World Bank and is currently engaged on large-scale assessments in developing countries and how they contribute to progress in education. She has worked on such issues in East and South Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa, and is currently involved in projects in India, Nigeria and The Gambia.

Richard Martin is an international education and employment consultant who was previously Education, Science and Training Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi and Chief Technical Advisor on a World Bank project in Vietnam. He has worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund on developing a plan of action for education legal reform in Lao PDR, and has written on the higher education system in Burma. He currently works for the Southern Cross University in Australia as the Director of International Cooperation and Development, South-East Asia and is recipient of a scholarship by the Australian government to work with the National University of Laos to suggest improvements to their operations.

Pham Lan Huong is Director of the International Educational Research Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She has published books and articles on education in Vietnam. Among her recent publications (with Gerald Fry) are Education and Economic, Political, and Social Change in Vietnam, Universities in Vietnam: legacies, challenges, and prospects and The Emergence of Private Higher Education in Vietnam: challenges and opportunities.

Richard Noonan is an education and training economist and planning specialist by profession. Beginning in mathematics and physics at Ohio University, he turned to comparative education and economics of education at Columbia University, where he earned a doctorate (EdD) in 1974. In 1976 he completed a doctorate at Stockholm University (PhD), where he taught education research methods. He began a consulting career in the early 1980s, and has extensive experience working in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Since the mid-1990s he has worked mainly in South-East Asia, especially Laos, where he has lived since 2002. He is also currently preparing a monograph on the history of education in Laos.

Siow Heng Loke is currently the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and a Professor at the School of Education and Cognitive Science at Asia e University, an international university established with the support of 31 Asia Cooperation Dialogue member countries. Prior to joining Asia e University, he had served as a chemistry and physics teacher, curriculum officer and professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Malaya. He earned his doctorate in science education at Temple University, Philadelphia. His current research interests are in science education, curriculum and instruction, education and work. He has been a consultant on different occasions to local and international organisations such as the Ministry of Education Malaysia, INTEL, Sabah State Government, the World Bank, and Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics (RECSAM).

Somwung Pitiyanuwat has been the Director of the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment, Thailand since 2001. He has worked in the field of education since 1976. Previously, he was Dean of the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University. He has been the Vice-President for research affairs for Chulalongkorn University since 2000. Dr Pitiyanuwat obtained his PhD in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota. He has been instrumental in shaping both Thai quality assessment and educational reform at all levels of educational institutions. He is a member of numerous national and international boards and committees concerned with educational development and quality assurance and served as host of the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network 2009 Roundtable Meeting and the Asia-Pacific Quality Assurance Network Annual Conference in Thailand.

Jason Tan completed his Master’s degree in education and national development at the University of Hong Kong and his doctoral studies in comparative education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is currently Associate Professor in Policy and Leadership Studies at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. Jason is Executive Editor of the Asia Pacific Journal of Education. His most recent publications include Globalization and Marketization of Education: a comparative analysis of Hong Kong and Singapore and Thinking Schools, Learning Nation.

Natthapoj Vincent Trakulphadetkrai received his MSc in comparative and international education from the University of Oxford, and he is currently completing his PhD in education at the University of Cambridge with a focus on teacher education reform and educational equality in Thailand. He is also pursuing his second Master’s degree in international public policy at University College London, University of London. Prior to this, Vincent received a scholarship to study for his BA (Hons) in primary education at Brunel University (London) where he graduated with first-class honours and a Qualified Teacher Status qualification. His interests, apart from education and international development, also include international relations. Vincent is also the Founder and Chairman of the Global Student Education Forum.

Keith Watson is Emeritus Professor of Comparative and International Education and a former Director of the Centre for International Studies in Education Management and Training at the University of Reading. He is a former Editor-in Chief of the International Journal of Educational Development, a past Chairman and President of the British Comparative and International Education Society, and Chair of the United Kingdom Forum for International Education and Training. He is author of Educational Development in Thailand and has written widely on comparative education, South-East Asia, education and language policies, and educational administration.

Anthony Welch is Professor of Education, University of Sydney. His numerous publications address reforms, principally within Australia, and the Asia-Pacific. He has consulted to international agencies, governments, institutions and foundations. Project experience includes East and South-East Asia, particularly in higher education. His work has been translated into numerous languages, and he has been Visiting Professor in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Japan, and Hong Kong (China). A Fulbright New Century Scholar (200708), his most recent books are The Professoriate: profile of a profession (2005), Education, Change and Society (2007), and (in press) ASEAN Industries and the Challenge from China. His forthcoming book Higher Education in Southeast Asia: blurring borders, changing balance will appear in 2011. He is Director of the Australian Research Council project, The Chinese Knowledge Diaspora.

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