SAARC University Network: A Vision For Regional Educational Excellence

The South Asian region, home to a burgeoning population of young people aged 18-22, has witnessed significant strides in its education sector.

Authors: Harsh Mahaseth and Sparsha S*

The South Asian region, home to a burgeoning population of young people aged 18-22, has witnessed significant strides in its education sector. National efforts across the region have propelled this progress, yet the development of higher education remains hampered by limited resources. With efforts primarily focused at the national level, this approach has inadvertently isolated the progress of each country, ultimately limiting the overall advancement of the region. Recognizing this challenge, there is a pressing need for enhanced regional cooperation to unlock the true potential of South Asia’s educational landscape. Regional cooperation would enable the establishment of a comprehensive framework for academic collaboration, facilitating cross-border mobility of students and faculty, joint research initiatives, and the development of harmonized curricula.

The Role of SAARC in Regional Education

Established in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) aims to promote economic, social, and cultural cooperation among its member states. Literacy and education have been key focuses for SAARC, recognizing them as fundamental human rights and essential for lifelong learning. Through the various summits over the years SAARC has given special attention to enhance the level of literacy in the region by promoting the quality of education. they have also recognised the need for developing and interchanging scholars to facilitate mobility in SAARC nations. Initiatives like the South Asian University (SAU) exemplify early steps towards regional academic cooperation.

However, SAARC’s achievements in higher education have been limited. Ad-hoc mechanisms for collaboration, often on the sidelines of official meetings, have not led to substantial progress. Despite fostering regional integration and addressing common challenges, SAARC has yet to make substantial progress in the realm of higher education and academic collaboration.

The success of the ASEAN University Network (AUN) in facilitating academic collaboration, cultural exchange, and collective problem-solving within Southeast Asia serves as a compelling model for SAARC to emulate. By establishing a similar platform that brings together the region’s premier institutions of higher learning, SAARC can unlock a wealth of opportunities for its member states – from enhancing the quality of education to fostering innovation, promoting mutual understanding, and amplifying South Asia’s global influence. There is now a pressing need for SAARC to revitalize its efforts in the education sector, taking inspiration from successful models like the ASEAN University Network.

Learning from the ASEAN University Network

The AUN, established in 1995, is a robust framework for academic collaboration in Southeast Asia. Initially involving eleven institutions from six countries, AUN has grown into the largest regional network of higher education institutions in Southeast Asia. The network promotes student mobility, joint research, and quality assurance across its member institutions, significantly enhancing the region’s educational standards.

The main focus of AUN was to conduct research on certain spheres for the overall and collaborative development of educational programs in recognized Southeast Asian countries. AUN works on the idea that their wealth is directly correlated with the ability of our young people. Meeting peers from around the world and having experiences that broaden their perspectives are crucial in today’s environment. Expanding the body of information held by humans is one of the main goals of academics. For this reason, it is critical to link scholars and provide them with chances to collaborate on research projects.

Since then, to promote the ASEAN Higher Education Area and the growing knowledge economy in the region, individual ASEAN countries have expanded public funding in universities. Several initiatives have been put in place to improve Southeast Asian universities’ performance in a variety of areas, including teaching, learning, research, enterprise, and innovation.

AUN’s comprehensive strategy includes research clusters, credit transfers, student mobility, and quality assurance, which have collectively improved the performance of Southeast Asian universities. Increased public funding and various initiatives have further elevated these institutions in global rankings, exemplified by their improved standings in university rankings.

The Need for a SAARC University Network

A SAARC University Network (SUN) could emulate AUN’s success, fostering regional integration and collaboration. By providing a platform for joint research, student exchanges, and academic programs, SUN could enhance the quality of higher education and promote mutual understanding among South Asian nations. Such a network would also support the exchange of best practices, curriculum development, and faculty mobility, ultimately raising academic standards across the region.

Beyond academic benefits, SUN would foster cultural exchange, contributing to a shared South Asian identity and strengthening regional ties. This network could position South Asia as a hub of academic excellence and innovation, enhancing its global influence.

The Way Forward

The AUN has demonstrated the profound impact of regional academic collaboration, improving education quality and fostering integration in Southeast Asia. By adopting a similar approach, SAARC can address the limitations of isolated national efforts and elevate the region’s higher education standards.

Through shared expertise, knowledge exchange, and pooled resources, a SUN can collectively tackle common challenges such as sustainable development, climate change, public health, and regional security. Embracing this collaborative spirit will not only improve the education system but also harness the collective strengths of South Asian nations, driving the region towards greater academic excellence and global prominence.

*Sparsha S. is a law student at the National Law University Odisha, and is currently working as a Research Assistant for Harsh Mahaseth.

Harsh Mahaseth
Harsh Mahaseth
Harsh Mahaseth is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean (Academic Affairs) at Jindal Global Law School, and the Assistant Director of the Nehginpao Kipgen Center for Southeast Asian Studies at O.P. Jindal Global University, India.