Though different Asian countries have distinctly different higher education systems, shaped by national government, there are some regional policy actors that have made advancements in overall higher education cooperation and development in Asia.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) encompasses 10 South East Asian countries. Its key position in the Asia-Pacific region, its dedication to peace and stability in the region and its important economic weight have made ASEAN an essential partner for the European Union in Asia. ASEAN was established on August 8, 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand with the signature of the Bangkok Declaration by the five original member nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand). In 1984, Brunei Darussalam was admitted as the sixth member. In 1995, Vietnam also joined ASEAN. Lao People's Democratic Republic and Burma/Myanmar became members in 1997. Cambodia joined in 1999.
A significant development for ASEAN took place at the Bali Summit of October 2003: the ASEAN leaders projected the creation of an ASEAN Economic, Security and a Socio-cultural community, which comprises education. So far, the ASEAN Secretariat has had a very limited Mandate for Education through an ASEAN subcommittee on Education (ASCOE), mainly in charge of ensuring the presentation of ASEAN in text books and curricula, and the ASEAN University Network (AUN), which, however, reports to National Ministries, and not to ASEAN.
The ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST) and its sub-committees implemented ten training activities, including two activities covering HACCP and Biotechnology HRD that were specially designed for the Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
In November 2004, the ASEAN S&T Ministers signed the Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Virtual Institute of Science and Technology (AVIST). Since the launch of a pilot project of AVIST in May 2004, three training programmes covering the topics of bioinformatics, ecotourism, and technology and innovation management were developed and successfully tested. Apparently a complementary initiative is ASEAN Science and Technology Network (ASTNET), established with the aim to create an ASEAN-wide electronic- based technology information network.
The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) is an intergovernmental organisation established in 1965 among governments of Southeast Asian countries to promote co-operation in education, science and culture in the region. SEAMEO is Southeast Asia's largest, longest existing and most dependable provider in HRD in the region. Apart from 10 ASEAN members, SEAMEO consists of 6 Associate Member Countries, namely Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, and New Zealand, Norway and one Affiliate Member, the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
Under its jurisdiction is the Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development (RIHED), officially founded in Singapore in 1970, under the SEAMEO umbrella. The goals of RIHED are to assist the Member States in fostering efficiency and effectiveness of higher education in their respective countries; to serve as the Regional Centre and clearing-house for higher education information and documentation; and to promote collaboration among Member States for establishing institutional linkages. Its activities focus on training, research, information dissemination, and the promotion of collaboration and linkages.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established and formally adopted on December 8, 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is one of the regional dialogue partners of the EU.
SAARC provides a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together to accelerate the process of economic and social development in Member States. Among the jointly agreed areas of cooperation are Science and Technology and Human Resources Development. It also announces some scholarships opportunities to citizens of member countries.
Governments: National Ministries in charge of Higher Education
The main competence for HE in Asia lies with National Ministries. In most countries, the Ministries play a key role in accreditation, quality assurance, and external HE cooperation. Several countries in the region have announced plans to become "(higher) education providers" or "education hubs" for the region, initiatives led and funded by the ministry. Singapore is clearly taking the lead in this, and reaches out to an international audience, including European markets. Also interesting for students from the region and students from some other parts of the world are Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines, which both offer university teaching in English language. There is also an increasing development in cross-border educational enterprises across the region.