More than 100 heads of universities from 76 universities across 37 countries in Asia and Europe met at the University of Groningen for the 3rd ASEM Rectors' Conference in the Netherlands (25-26 September 2012). The conference was organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation (Singapore) with the ASEAN University Network (Thailand) and hosted by the University of Groningen (the Netherlands).
"It's not a matter of whether universities should engage businesses, but how," says Prof Dr Sibrandes Poppema, President of the University of Groningen.
"The first task for every country with a knowledge economy is improving the quality of higher education," remarks Mr Halbe Zijlstra, Dutch Secretary of State for Higher Education, who opened the conference. University leaders present stressed that excellence and widening access are not mutually exclusive and are actually complementary.
"There is a gap between theory being taught in the universities and the practical requirements of the job market," says Vicki Baars, Vice President for Union Development at the National Union of Students in the UK. Students, who participated in the ASEM Rectors' Conference for the first time, presented their own set of recommendations. They suggested that "soft skills", such as intercultural and communication skills be integrated in the curriculum.
The debate over the years on the university’s role with regards to employment has changed. “In the past, universities prepared students for a career for life. Nowadays, we develop students for a lifetime of careers,” said Prof Tan Tai Yong, Vice-Provost for Student Life from the National University of Singapore.
Further recommendations from the rectors include promoting a credit-transfer system within ASEM; re-examining academic excellence; promoting student entrepreneurialism; increasing student participation in the ASEM education process through engaging student associations; supporting lifelong learning; and creating platforms for exchange of good practices on University Social Responsibility through industry and community engagement.
The results and recommendations will be forwarded for the consideration of the 4th ASEM Education Ministers' Meeting (May 2013) in Malaysia.
The 4th ASEM Rectors' Conference will be co-hosted by the Chulalongkorn University and the Office of the Higher Education Commission in Thailand in 2014.