Mr. Kim holds a B.A. degree in Public Administration from Korea University, Seoul (1978), a Master’s degree (1984) and a Ph.D. (1994) in Education from Harvard University, U.S.A.
He has worked in various capacities for the Government of the Republic of Korea. As Deputy Minister of Education and Human Resources, he initiated the “Global Human Resources Forum”, aimed at providing an international platform for sharing information, knowledge and best practices in human resources issues among Readers. He also worked in the Office of the President of the Republic of Korea, where he assisted former President Young Sam Kim in the fields of education and social policy.
Mr. Kim also played a key role in an education reform initiative that aimed to restructure the entire Korean educational system. While at the World Bank in Washington D.C. as a Senior Education Specialist, Mr. Kim acquired widespread international expertise, coordination, networking and overall programmatic management and delivery skills. He is a member of various professional associations on education policy, finance and economics, and has published works in education and ICT, and educational reform.
Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, explains the challenges higher education is facing in the Asia-Pacific region and reflects upon the role of the regional UNESCO office in the enhancement of higher education in the region.
What are the challenges for higher education in the Asia-Pacific region over the next couple of years?
The Asia-Pacific region is huge and vast in terms of area, population and level of development. Nevertheless, in this region the most challenging task for higher education would be to expand the system to accommodate the growing number of students flowing out of the education system, as we approach the achievement of the objectives set by Education for All. More and more students are striving to continue their studies in the tertiary system and creating places for these incoming students is the most challenging task in my personal view.
The second challenge closely related to this is quality. Knowing that a lot of energy and resources are allocated to higher education despite the fact that still a rather small part of the population is involved in higher education, we need to make sure that higher education teaches skills and competence useful to society. We don’t have any international benchmark on this but if we look at university rankings, for example, you notice that the majority of institutions are not listed as top universities from around the world.
If I may add another challenge, that would be student mobility. More and more students are going abroad for higher education and yet, the majority of Asia-Pacific students are going to either continental Europe or to North America. This is good in a way, because in these regions there are very good institutions, so capacity building in the region is good. But on the other hand we need to see more students moving within the region, so that we can promote mutual understanding and reinforce synergies between institutions and member states.
How can higher education institutions be more efficient when it comes down to identify the necessities of the countries they’re located in?
With limited resources, higher education institutions need to operate in a much more efficient way and they have to be accountable towards both government and other stakeholders at large. There are several ways of achieving this efficiency: look into whether or not the programmes are meeting the needs of society, into the makeup of the student body, whether or not they are meeting the diverse needs of the students, or whether or not they have enough diversity in the student body. We need to deliver more inclusive higher education to all people, not just to those who can afford it, but also to those who are eligible but who do not have the financial means. These are the things that institutions need to act upon to become more efficient, but more than anything else, from my own experience, self-discipline is by far the most important thing that one should go for.
How can the regional UNESCO offices support the states so that they reformulate higher education policies according to these new challenges?
Right now, one of the top priorities for UNESCO as an international organization is Education For All. But once we achieve this, more and more students will seek to enter higher education, so we need to give more emphasis on higher education. In terms of UNESCO’s work in this field, particularly in the context of the Asia-Pacific region, the first thing we want to emphasize is information sharing among member states and higher education institutions with respect to reforms in institution or even at a country level. Sharing best practices would be the first necessary step to engage policy-makers in formulating policies for improving higher education.
The second thing we have been promoting is what we call the normative role of UNESCO. In the Asia-Pacific region there is the 1983 Asia-Pacific Regional Convention on Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications. 21 out of 47 member states in the region ratified the regional convention. Currently this regional convention is undergoing revision to take into account the changes that have occurred in the higher education sector since 1983. We hope that more countries will ratify the new convention when it is ready. UNESCO as an international government organization needs to make sure that the students are getting the kind of qualifications that are quality assured. In other words, consumer protection is one of the key agenda for this convention, so by promoting this convention we want to make sure that the expansion of access to higher education goes with a kind of quality enhancement.
The third thing for UNESCO to do is promoting student exchange between countries. Students will become leaders in many different sectors and countries and by exposing them to different cultures, we can promote intercultural understanding which will enhance their way of understanding and dealing with the most pressing issues society has to face nowadays.