By Ammar Younas
The regional political dynamics and economic cooperation initiatives taken by the China show that there is a possibility of forming an Asian Union. At least, under the flagship of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, there is a hope to initiate an “SCO Education Union” with its own credit hour system,designed to make it easier for students to move between different countries along the SCO region. Since credit hours are based on the learning achievements and workload of a course, a student could transfer these credits from one university to another, so they are added up to contribute to an individual’s degree program or training.
Pakistan and India have become permanent members of Shaghai Corporation Organisation, which is a huge step towards regional intergration and provoides plently of room for everyone to flex their muscles in the arena of educational diplomacy. Irony is that our educational systems are so persoanlsied and relative to our historical colonial backgrounds that they rarely provide any opportunities for students to travel to another country as an exchnage student. Even if there are opportunities, students prefer to complete their degrees in their home countries. In majority of cases, these exchnage semesters and earned credits are not recognised by their parent institutes.
On 17 October 2018, the seventh meeting of education ministers of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was held in Astana, the Republic of Kazakhstan. During the meeting, the heads of delegations focused on ensuring the implementation of the agreements reached in June 2018 at the Qingdao SCO Heads of State Council summit, with the aim of further expanding bilateral and multilateral cooperation as regards exchanges of lecturers and students, joint research projects, academic visits, language studies, professional education and youth exchanges. But they missed to discuss the most important point of mutual acceptance of educational qulifications and the possible mechanisim to standerdize the education system along the SCO region.
Time has come, where china’s “One Belt, One Road” and SCO’s projects provide a hope for Asian integration with a possibility of forming an Asian Union. The idea of forming an Asian Union is not a new concept. There are some similar projects such as ASEAN in East Asia and Custom Union in Central Asia are already functional. Even there are some efforts being made to form a “Eurasian Union”. The possibility of making an Asian Union in future, is more likely than a Eurasian Union.
This Asian integration has a huge similarity between initiation of European Integration process when countries started coming close of each other considering this fact that war is not good. Similarly, densely populated Asia is realizing the fact that ordinary people do matter, and wars have become practically impossible. The cooperation is the only solution and the demand of modern era.
Chinese idea of starting a project by naming it as “One Belt, One Road” which is not different from the economic framework of European Union, is a practical step to connect more than 60 countries from the Asia, Africa and Europe. The main purpose of this project is to improve the economic cooperation between the countries, sharing resources, building trusts and improving the cultural and educational exchanges.
The work at macro level being done between Asian governments for economic integration advocates much higher in weightage than the cooperation going on between Asian and European countries. With the emergence of cooperating organizations and concepts like Asian Tigers, Asian Economic Powers, Custom Unions, SCO, ASEAN and SAARC, we can advocate for an Asian Union which seems practically possible as compare to the Eurasian Union.
The first step towards the formation of Asian Union has been innitiated by Chian itself by reconstructing the Silk Road and giving a mechanism for economic integration. The second step can be initiated by taking Shanghai Cooperation Organisation seriously and especially in the area of delievering its benefits at grossroot levels. It can be started from education. By accomudating different educational systems and allowing students from different educational backgrounds to travel along the Belt and Road, can ease in getting them adjusted into any country along the SCO region.
If we look at the formation of European Union, shadow instruments like soft politics, cultural and educational diplomacy palyed a leading role in the integration of the region.
Word “Integration” refers to connecting different parts, which gives a sense that it is something which requires social engineering at micro level. But if we look at the history of the evolutionary process through which European Union have evolved, it demonstrates “integration” as a Macro level process. “The European Union is set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbors, which culminated in the Second World War. As of 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community begins to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace.”
Europe has its own credit system which allows European Institites to accomudate the demands of students coming from other European countries. Likewise, there is a need to intrioduce an Asian Education System with its own Credit System to make it easy for universities along the SCO region to increase the mobility of students and faculty.
If we explore the history of ECTS system (European Credit System), we can compare it with the chronological membership of the EU states. On one side more and more universities were adopting ECTS system, on the other side more and more states were joining EU. How EU expanded from 6 to 28 states and along with that how 145 higher education institutes of ECTS expanded to thousands of universities is a very interesting question to explore.
“ECTS, the European Credit Transfer System, was initially established under the Erasmus programme (1988-1995) and has been tested over a period of 6 years in a pilot scheme involving 145 higher education institutions in all EU Member States and EEA countries, operating in five subject areas: Business Administration, Chemistry, History, Mechanical Engineering and Medicine (the so-called “inner circle” institutions).
Based on the results of the pilot scheme, the ECTS system has proved to be an effective instrument for creating curricular transparency and facilitating academic recognition and, consequently, the European Credit Transfer System has been included within the higher education component – Erasmus – of the Socrates Programme (1995-1999). Its promotion within higher education institutions has taken place within the framework of the Institutional Contracts drawn up between the Commission and the institutions. And by the year 2000, thousands of new universities applied to join the ECTS System.”
Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a great opportunity for South Asia like India and Pakistan to cooperate in Central Asia, where both countries (Indian and Pakistan) have good relations with all the Central Asian countries. There is a possibility that Central Asia can help China, Pakistan and India to forget about their enmities and join hands with each other to work for a cooperative Asian Union.
Countries of South and Central Asia can form an “SCO Education Union” in the context of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and can introduce their own “SCO Credit System” as of ECTS. Student mobility can lead to the regional integration which can help SCO member states in doing serious commitments.
If EU can evolve because of soft powerplay among European states and their educational integration, an Asian Union can also be set up. SCO projects provide all the logistics for its initiation and region seems ready for it. The credibility of SCO will only increase when ordinary citizens of SCO member states will start receiving its benefits. The higher education can play a very important instrument in this regard. There is a strong need for the universities to set up their own credit system along the SCO region to start the process of educational integration which can be very helpful in building people to people relations. “SCO Education Union” or “Asian Education Union” with their own “SCO Credit System” will ease the process of student mobility throughout the region and will play a very effective role in educational and cultural diplomacy of the member states. There is no doubt that this educational integration can lead to the formation of an Asian Union on the model of European Union in future.