Admissions Officers Will Find Asian Guide Helpful
Given the fact that higher education is said to have played such an important role in fueling the Asian miracle, it is ironic that this book came out in 1997 — the year when so many of the region’s economies began to unravel.
Asian Higher Education:
An International Handbook and Reference Guide
The view that posits a strong correlation between expanding student enrollments and economic prosperity gained popularity throughout Asia during the earlier part of the decade when it appeared to account for the rise in per-capita GNP. However, those who question this “functionalist view” maintain that the link between higher education and economic development in these countries is less straightforward and needs to be looked at more carefully.
Asian Higher Education: An International Handbook and Reference Guide (edited by Gerard Postiglione and Grace Mak; Greenwood Press; 1997) is an insightful study of the changing dynamics that have shaped the region’s colleges and universities over the years.
It is a welcome contribution to the field — especially given the dearth of current and reliable information on some of the countries dealt with here (Iran, Mongolia, Laos and Cambodia, for example).
In part, the book focuses on common trends and developments that have emerged throughout the region as a whole since World War II. The expansion of college campuses to meet the rising demand for higher education, for example, is something that all 20 of the Asian nations featured in the book have experienced in some form or another.
The stampede into the universities throughout much of Asia has resulted in a glut of college graduates — many of whom can’t find work due largely to the region’s floundering economies.
|The stampede into the universities throughout much of Asia has resulted in a glut of college graduates — many of whom can’t find work due largely to the region’s floundering economies.
In an underdeveloped country like Bangladesh then, it is no surprise that young people, in increasing numbers, are leaving to study and look for jobs in the West. Likewise, Iran is also experiencing a mass exodus of students, faculty and college graduates who opt for greener pastures in Western Europe, Canada, India and Australia.
Another common element found in Asian countries is diminishing state support for existing institutions and the overall trend towards the privatization of higher education.
As more and more governments disengage themselves from the higher education business, universities are forced to look for new sources of funding and, in the process, are enjoying greater autonomy than ever before.
Furthermore, Asia is witnessing the proliferation of private schools, which in some cases, serves to take up the slack when state universities are unable to cope with the overflow of college applicants.
In India, for instance, about three-quarters of all colleges offering general education are privately run. The percentage is slightly higher for South Korea, and even China — which has for many years resisted this trend — is allowing the private sector to play a greater role in higher education.
Another issue discussed at length in the book is increased student mobility in the region. Asia is currently the world’s largest exporter of students. Globalization of labor and economics, among other factors, has to a large extent encouraged the international exchange of students. Asians who go abroad to earn degrees and gain proficiency in English have an edge over the competition when they return home in search of jobs.
Yet while Asian systems of higher education have to some degree developed along parallel lines, the authors emphasize that each country presents its own unique case study in how it addresses the various challenges resulting from rapid economic modernization and socio-political changes.
Moreover, the evolution of higher education throughout the region has largely been determined by social, political and cultural imperatives, which vary significantly from one country to the next.
In many Asian societies (India and Indonesia, for instance), contentious national issues such as language and ethnicity have been played out on the educational front. Meanwhile in countries like Iran, religion continues to occupy a prominent position within the structure of higher learning.
|Asians who go abroad to earn degrees and gain proficiency in English have an edge over the competition when they return home in search of jobs.
Moreover, the development of Asian higher education has largely been determined by past and present relations with the West and with the United States, in particular. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, for instance, have readily adopted American and European models.
On the other hand, Iran, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have taken a more defensive stance against the influences of creeping westernization, which they see as undermining indigenous cultures and identities. In some cases, colonialism played a pivotal role in westernizing Asian universities, while in others (such as Japan and Thailand) there was a self-motivated effort to develop educational systems along American lines.
Further distinctions in the structures of Asian higher learning arise from the fact that these countries operate under disparate economic systems — capitalist, communist, transitional — and have all reached various stages of socioeconomic development.
The book also provides a good overview of the governing bodies and policies that regulate the structures of education in each of the countries presented. There is a fair amount of current data here pertaining to student enrollments, faculty appointments and rates of graduation.
In short, anyone with an interest in comparative education or wishing to acquire some background knowledge on systems of higher education in Asia will find this book useful and informative.
Although it may be a bit broad and generalized for specialists of the region, admissions officers will no doubt appreciate its value as a handy reference guide to the region.