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Thai universities must look beyond ranking

Rattana Lao

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National University of Singapore

Bangkok – The recent 2018 Asia University Rankings published by the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine is calling attention for the state of Thai higher education.

Unlike its Asian neighbors, Thai universities are falling behind.

The National University of Singapore maintained its number one status for the third consecutive year due to its continuous improvement in teaching and research environments, greater citation impact and higher amounts of industrial income, said Ellie Bothwell of the Times Higher Education.

This year, the numbers of universities being ranked increased from 300 to 350 universities. Japanese universities are amongst the most qualified universities in Asia with 89 universities made it to the list. 63 universities from China are included in the top 350.

The picture looks worrisome for Thailand. Only ten universities made it. However, none of them was ranked in the top 50. The best performing university from Thailand was Mahidol– with ranking of 97th place, same as that in 2017, while the oldest higher education establishment, Chulalongkorn University, is only 167th place amongst 350 institutions.

Should we be concerned about this?

Yes, and no.

Given that ranking has been taken as a face value that it equates the overall quality of higher education, the poor performance sends a negative signal. It is a setback for Thailand’s aspiration to become the regional hub of education in Southeast Asia. How can we be a regional center when the best of our universities are far behind that of Singapore and Malaysia?

This is also bad for internationalization process. The low performance is discouraging for potential research partners and foreign students to come to Thailand. It lowers Thailand’s attractiveness and competitiveness.

While the results are not promising, what is worse is how they are used and interpreted by policymakers and the media to create, what professor Gita Steiner-Khamsi of Teachers College, Columbia University called “a scandalization effect”. That means, results from international league tables haven been used as external forces to generate reforms pressure at the local level.

Thailand is no exception. Since Asia Week published the first Asian universities ranking in 1997, Thai politicians, policymakers and the media have used the international results to create reform pressure. A decade long of higher education policy analysis confirmed that boosting the ranking seems to be the only policy goal for most Thai policymakers.

But ranking is not everything.

Mrs. Ruangrat Wongpramote, Assistant Secretary General of the Education Council poignantly said: “ranking helps us to mirror the reality. It is a good tool for us to know where we are standing in comparison with others. But it does not tell us everything. There are more pressing issues in Thai higher education.”

These issues include quality of the students, quality curriculum and quality teaching.

Firstly, Thailand has to shift its focus from quantity students to quality students.

For the past 100 years, the system has done well in terms of access. There were only five universities in the first 50 years of Thai higher education and all of them were established in Bangkok Metropolitan area. Now the official record reported that there are 151 universities across the country – with 81 public universities and 75 universities in most of provinces. The expansion has made it available for more than 2 million enrollments.

While the massification provides more equitable educational opportunities for students, the mismatch between skills and jobs requirement, low quality of English proficiency and lack of critical thinking are amongst key issues that need to be seriously addressed.

Secondly, Thai curriculum needs to be upgraded. The Office of Higher Education Commission has implemented Thailand Qualification Framework or TQF with the hope of improving and standardizing Thai curriculum. However, what the government has had in mind is counter-productive to improvement of the curriculum.

TQF is academics worst nightmare. It requires academics to fill in lengthy lesson plans, detailed description of their syllabus and anticipated unimaginable outcomes. The rubrics are demanding and micro-managing. Instead of improving curriculum, academics report they cut and pasted, worst, lied just to complete the form.

This policy takes away precious class preparation time for nonsensical administrative things.

A more efficient and collegial way of improving the curriculum is needed.

Thirdly, quality teaching must be improved. Large classrooms are not in and of themselves problematic. But ones that are passive, top-down and lecture-based are outdated. Lecturers must work harder than regurgitating the texts to students. Classrooms need to be conducive space for learning where conceptual debates, analytical discussion and constructive dialogues are promoted. In the era where students can google to get basic facts, university students must be pushed harder to think critically. Students must learn to ask difficult questions and come up with creative answers.

A bad ranking is a good wake up call. But what we will do about it is what matters most.

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Southeast Asia

The Ways People Have Fund with Oligarchic Democracy in Indonesia

Ronny P. Sasmita

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Democracy is the lunch of Indonesia’s politicians. The law (rule of law) is the dessert. At night, they turn political parties and the topic of representation into dinner menu. And the pleasantries of people’s sovereignty are snacks when watching television ahead of the sleepiness greet. Is it wrong? Of course not. Democracy is an instrument. Democracy is a tool for politicians to show their teeth and put forward their interests, both short and long term. And from a theological point of view, democracy is a tool to deny God. In democracy, God is not sovereign. As long as the people cannot punish, as long as legal institutions can be avoided, the law of God is not an urgent need, it is rarely taken into consideration.

Democracy is a matter of the people that is packaged as attractive as possible in the mouth of the political elite. Democracy is a matter of the people who are lured by sovereignty. And between the people and the elite were in fact blocked by a very thick glass wall, not even penetrated by bullets. The people can watch, but instead of touching, the sound is not even heard because it is blocked by thick soundproof glass.

For many people, democracy is a fairy tale. Democracy is sleep gratitude that can hopefully reduce the amount of monthly expenditure. Democracy is a worthless gift, but it is quite entertaining. People will get vacation at the election and be entertained during the campaign. Not bad for busting and tired anyway. Sometimes it is not uncommon, a state of democracy, many people can get free clothes, free food, and envelopes containing a sheet of money.

So, democracy is only entertainment for the people. Small talk of people’s sovereignty is morning coffee, along with boasting “from the people, by the people, and for the people” as its sanck. Is it wrong? Clearly far from wrong. People only follow the beat. That is the reality of Indonesia. The people are only followers. Don’t blame the people if the elections become expensive. The more politician spread money, the more requests that come. People only play with the existing natural law. Fortune comes not to be denied, right.

Even though there is no guarantee that they will be voted and approved because only God knows what in  the hearts of the people, but the elite never give up. The elite do not intend to deterred. On behalf of simultaneous local elections, of legislative elections, of presidential elections, lobbies are suddenly parameterised by numbers of money. Seats are counted and converted into certain numbers, then prices are born.

For the people, they only dance to the rhythm of the music being played. People danced when “dangdut” music was sung (dangdut is one of popular music in Indonesia), dance when the classical strains are played. In fact, they are ready to contort like a Middle Eastern religious dance when the music is ruling in “casidah.” (Arabic Indonesia Music). The Indonesian people are about how elite is. It has been the socio-historical pattern in this country. More damaged the elite, more damaged the lives of the people. More damaged the morale of the elite, the people increasingly enjoy the melt. But the bet is a nation state. The bet is the future of the younger generation who are increasingly holding on. Are the elites thinking of it? Let time answer.

Today, democracy is no longer about freedom, but should be about liberating the freedom. The people have been colonized by their elites. The system has been damaged by elite negotiations. Governance is the fruit of unhealthy games. The numbers are no longer pure, can be generated at will. Politics run based on market tastes. Therefore, scientific surveys are the best-selling statistical industry. Democracy is about market tastes, not about the morality of people’s interests. Market tastes are very important because the majority preference is king. And then democracy leaves only endless absurdity.

Therefore, if they still want to carry out democracy and at the same time bring the substance, the people must be freed from the fishy influence of the elites. The people must be kept away from cheap political manipulations, freed from the cheaper political branding based on post truth approach. The people must be able to distinguish between facts and fairy tales. If not, democracy is just a soap opera scenario. Representative institutions must represent, not pout. Representative institutions must be enlarged and made effective. Parties must improve and “know themselves”. One of crucial role of the party is to connect the tongue of the voters to the state. More damaged party, people aspirations can no longer match the original, but manipulated.

Party dominance must be balanced with strict regulations. The party is not a seller of popular votes, but defenders and connectors. From the party, then entered into a representative institution, and become policies. From the party, the ideology of nationalism is spread to the voters. From the party, the understanding of the sense of nation state is cultivated in the memory of voters. And from the party, the spirit of unity and tolerance is channeled into the voters’ thoughts. And many other tasks. Such are the roles of the party.

Do the people care? For the people, the party is not important. Therefore, it is the party who must realize himself that democracy is very dependent on the party. More damaged the party, more damaged the democracy. The more transactional the party is, the more transactional its democracy is. It’s that simple. If the party does not understand the ethical justification, logical justification, and moral justification for its existence, then Indonesia’s democracy is headed for destruction. Politicians must recognize the signs of the destruction of democracy. People’s distrust of the party, the parliament, and the government are  sign that must be addressed immediately. Politicians must be able to prove that democracy is worth defending.

If not, democracy will only be a place to flicker on one side and a place for short-term negotiations on the other side. Democracy will become a forum for identity politics and a den of high class corruption. Therefore, if it is not politicians who spread democratic awareness, then who will? If politicians actually misuse democracy, then our democracy wil be finished. Because of what? Because in their hands the decision is taken. If leaders and politicians turn their faces away from the authenticity of democracy, the people’s hopes are finished. So do not ask the people to hope, to pray, to have a positive view of the current system, if from leaders and politicians even if that hope actually does not exist, only promises and false images, then the people are not ethical to be asked to hope. It’s as simple as that.

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Southeast Asia

Sustainable tourism and fisheries key to growth in post-COVID Pacific

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

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Developing countries of Asia and the Pacific are experiencing unbalanced tolls of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grim milestones in infections and deaths have left countless devastated. Yet, we must look at the economic and social impacts in small island developing States (SIDS), where setbacks are likely to undo years of development gains and push many people back into poverty.

Compared to other developing countries, SIDS in the Asia-Pacific region have done well in containing the spread of the virus. So far, available data indicates relatively few cases of infections, with 15 deaths in total in Maldives, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands. Yet while rapid border closures have contained the human cost of the virus, the economic and social impacts of the pandemic on SIDS will place the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) even farther out of their reach. This is worrying as SIDS in Asia and the Pacific were only on track to reach SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production and as they had in fact regressed in SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, a crucial driver of inclusive development and key to reaching all SDGs.

One reason SIDS’ economies are severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is their dependence on tourism. Tourism earnings exceed 50 per cent of GDP in Maldives and Palau and comprised 30 per cent of GDP in Samoa and Vanuatu in 2018. Measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, including restricting entrance to countries and halting international travel, will have a profound impact on the development of these economies in 2020 and beyond, with estimates of international tourist arrivals declining globally by 60-80 per cent in 2020. The pandemic has particularly affected the cruise ship industry, which plays an important role in many SIDS.  

The severe impact of COVID-19 on these economies is also a result of heavy reliance on fisheries, which represent a main source of SIDS’ marine wealth and bring much-needed public revenues. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis will jeopardize these income streams as a result of a slowdown in fisheries activity. However, it is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic may also create a small window for stocks to recover if it leads to a global slowdown of the commercial fishing industry.

Despite the tourism and fisheries sectors’ susceptibility to shocks, ESCAP’s latest report, the Asia-Pacific Countries with Special Needs Development Report: Leveraging Ocean Resources for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, emphasizes fisheries and tourism will remain drivers of sustainable development in small island developing States of Asia and the Pacific. They are among the most important sectors in their contribution to output and their importance for livelihoods. In the short term, addressing the consequences of the COVID‑19 pandemic must take priority, but the long-term global context will usher in an era supportive of tourism development in Asia-Pacific SIDS. This is due to an increasing demand from the emerging middle class of developing Asia and the ageing society in the developed countries on the Pacific Rim.

As part of post COVID-19 recovery, new foundations for sustainable tourism and fisheries in Asia-Pacific SIDS must be built. These sectors must not only have extensive links to local communities and economies, but also be resilient to external shocks. Enhancing economic resilience must focus on building both the necessary physical infrastructure and creating institutional response mechanisms. For example, a ‘green tax’ for tourists can generate revenues for environmental protection. Such fees serve as an additional benefit for local populations and regulate the impact of tourism on SIDS’ fragile natural environment. SIDS may consider innovative financing instruments like blue bonds and and debt for conservation swaps to expand their fiscal space. Open data sharing, and the collection, harmonization and use of fisheries data can be strengthened for integrated and nuanced analysis on the state of fish stocks.

Given the limited capacity of the health-care systems of many Asia-Pacific SIDS, shutting down access to many of these economies was a wise and necessary short-term policy choice. Opening ‘travel bubbles’ with countries where the virus has been brought under control is now important. In the longer term, the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must take priority. This entails ensuring sustainable use of existing ocean resources and developing sectors that provide productive employment, including specific types of tourism and fisheries.  SIDS can do more to embrace the blue economy to foster sustainable development and greater regional cooperation is an important element for creating an enabling framework. Regional cooperation is especially important given the nature of fisheries as a common property resource and the remote locations of most Asia-Pacific SIDS.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the price of weaknesses in health systems, social protection and public services. It also provides a historic opportunity to advocate for policy decisions that are pro-environment, pro-climate and pro-poor. Progress in our region’s SIDS through sustainable tourism and fisheries are vital components of a global roadmap for an inclusive and sustainable future.

UN ESCAP

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Needs New Maritime Approach in the Sea of Natuna Island

Ronny P. Sasmita

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The Indonesian Coast Guard wards off a foreign fishing boat in the North Natuna Sea on Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry)

The Indonesia-China conflict in the sea of the Natuna Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which was recently reportedly massively was not new. A similar event had occurred in March 2016, after eight Chinese fishermen were arrested by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Unit 11 Shark Boat officers. And the response made by the Chinese government at that time was similar. PRC still feels innocent because it considers Natuna sea as a traditional fishing location for a long time.In other words, the land is claimed as part of the U-shaped South China Sea area (known as the Nine-Dash Line). The area was declared by China in 1947. Therefore, the Chinese fishing vessels finally seemed to be shaking in and out even though Indonesia’s claim on the Natuna Islands EEZ was based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Actually, the maritime border agreement which covers continental shelf, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone with neighboring countries and the international community is not yet complete. Indonesia and Malaysia signed the establishment of continental shelf boundaries in November 1969. The approval for the establishment of Indonesian and Vietnamese continental shelf boundaries was signed in June 2013. Indonesia jurisdictional maps issued by the Indonesian Navy Hydrographic and Oceanographic Center shows that the EEZ boundary line (Exclusive Economic Zone) with Vietnam and Malaysia on the Natuna sea border many still need agreement. In EEZ – as the name implies – a country’s sovereign rights are limited and exclusive to economic rights, such as the exploration of marine resources, or oil and gas under the sea. Other countries, even including countries that do not have sea borders (land locked states) have certain access to the EEZ such as the rights of peaceful crossing vessels and flying in the sky above, laying cables and pipes under the sea, with regard to (shall have due regards) rights other countries’ rights

According to the Law of the Sea Convention, in the event of a dispute in EEZ, the settlement is not based on the jurisdiction and legal point of view of the state of EE jurisdiction, but on the principle of equality. This is by taking into account other relevant matters for the parties to the dispute and the international community as a whole. It should be noted in the Law of the Sea Convention that governing EEZ is in Chapter V whose templates constitute the sovereign rights of coastal states, and restrictions on those rights against other countries.

While the rights of an island nation are placed in Chapter IV whose templates include regulating the rights of other countries in waters in an island nation (such as the right to navigate peacefully and to fly, in a designated path). Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and China are coastal countries, while Indonesia is an archipelago. Considering the loosening of these rights, it is very important that a country that has EEZ jurisdiction as Indonesia proves to the international community the EEZ’s tenure and effective management capabilities. This includes maintaining and upholding their rights. It is not enough if a patrol boat or airplane is just circling around.

The problem, Natuna Island is not directly connected to China Sea. That’s why Indonesia is not the first and direct actor in South China Sea dispute. It is understandable that the act of China which claims to have the right or even territory over the territory in the South China Sea has long infuriated ASEAN countries, but not for Natuna. Malaysia brought violations and unilateral Chinese claims to the South China Sea to the United Nations. The proposal was submitted by the Malaysian government in mid-December. Earlier, in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under the auspices of the United Nations won the Philippines against China’s unilateral claim to the South China sea area. But China never show even just a little bit of respect to Philippines in South China Sea

The PCA court, which based its decision on the 1982 UNCLOS, ruled China had violated Philippine sovereign rights. The Nine Dash Line used as the reason for China were declared not to meet international legal requirements, and there is no historical evidence that China controls and controls resources in the South China Sea. However, the Chinese government did not accept the ruling. Another ASEAN country, Vietnam, is also involved in regional conflicts with China in the South China Sea.

Apart from the legal aspects of the South China Sea and Natuna ZEE, the real theft of fish by Chinese vessels has been going on for a long time but only now has wide attention. China really acts like a legal master of Natuna Sea and in many times show the bullying moves. That’s why the government of Indonesia needs new ways to improve the management of marine resources while improving the capabilities of maritime operations. The country’s geostrategic complexity, which consists of thousands of islands and comprises three Indonesian Archipelagic Sea Lanes areas and is open to international parties, requires the reliability of military operations. Especially those related to maritime interception operations. The operation must be carried out in any waters, both in the Republic of Indonesia and outside.

Maritime operations require the reliability of the maritime security infrastructure and renewal of sea defense doctrine that puts forward intelligence and technology aspects. The maritime intelligence field must be improved so as to achieve strong surveillance capabilities. The world situation demands Indonesia be able to realize its sophisticated maritime intelligence capabilities. Maritime intelligence is a part of strategic intelligence in an effort to ensure national stability and efforts for sensing the strategic environment both at home and abroad.

Maritime intelligence focuses on its activities related to the maritime field or that influences the maritime capabilities of foreign countries and the country itself. National intelligence capacity and posture should be directed to strengthen maritime intelligence capabilities. No more sectarian intelligence operations, that is, those that limit the security and sectoral dimensions. For example, the Navy (Navy) no longer limits to naval intelligence, but more broadly namely maritime intelligence that is able to provide strategic information to national maritime institutions. Such as the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Environment, Customs and Police.

For this reason, the urgency of building a number of base infrastructure and facilities for maintaining warships is inevitable. The infrastructure is primarily to support the effectiveness of the third Fleet Command Headquarters located in Sorong, West Papua. During this time the Navy’s combat strength still relies on two regional fleets, namely west (Armabar), and east (Armatim). The number of warships owned by the Indonesian Navy is only 151 units (on the process of increasing). In fact, the number of Indonesian warships in the 1960s amounted to 162 ships.

The fleet command system tasked with fostering the ability of the Integrated Armed Weapon System (IAWS) consisting of warships, aircraft, marines and bases should be more synergized with other agencies that also manage the sea area. The capabilities of marine warfare and the readiness of marine operations at this time should be able to turn into non-war operations that support the enforcement of sovereignty and law at sea, and secure economic potential at sea.

The next important task is to form a reliable national system of marine inspectors with three important aspects. First, the informative aspect. The system must provide complete information about national marine conditions, both in terms of marine resources, water conditions, weather, important events at sea (accidents and incidents), signs of sea navigation that are very helpful for sailing ships, and all information about the sea the other. Second, integrative aspects. The overlapping of infrastructure procurement and installation of supervision equipment between departments can be overcome, so that there are savings in the state budget.

Because the amount of equipment or systems built do not collide in terms of coverage in an area or system and its functions. In addition, with interoperability solutions, the problem of intermittent owner of equipment along the critical strait, such as the Malacca Strait can be integrated. Third, is the collaborative aspect. This is more focused on the status of data exchanged. For example, data to eradicate Illegal Unregulated and Unreported Fishing Fishing such as fishing vessel lines (position, speed, heading), including Owner, Company Identity, Ship size, fishing gear type, permit expiration date, then log book database (fish species, location), marine biology parameter data (chlorophyll, upwelling), and boundary data. So in short, permanent strategic synergy is needed between the three institutions that have been the main managers of the national marine system, namely the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Navy, and the Director General of Sea Transportation  of the Ministry of Transportation.

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