ASEM Outlook Report 2012

Imagine a future world without a focus on education

Dr. Claus Holm and Anders Martinsen, Department of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark

The ASEM Outlook Report 2012 offers interesting scenarios for the development of political organisation, economic control and distribution of resources, but a focus on education and its importance is completely missing.

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” This quote gives a good and summative grasp of the purpose of the ASEM Outlook Report 2012. As described by the authors, this report examines the current state of Asia–Europe relations and proposes possible forthcoming developments by taking a unique future scenario approach. Moreover, the report visualises the possible impact of current policy decisions and delivers innovative responses in order to ensure greater prosperity in different areas. This is done with a focus on four distinct policy areas: security and conflict management; economic and financial integration; environmental governance; and public health and pandemic preparedness.

As a reader, one may wonder why these four sectors were selected. This choice must be said to have affected the lack of focus on lifelong learning and education as such in the report. The key focus of education is mentioned a few times, whereas lifelong learning is not mentioned at any point – something that is in stark contrast to the latest conclusions of the Asia-Europe Meetings of Ministers for Education (ASEMME).

The first volume of the two-volume publication is comprised of two sections and provides the reader with the up-to-date context for Asia–Europe relations. The first section accumulates different data to give a better understanding of the contemporary political and socio-economic conditions – both in Asia and Europe. The same section also looks at statistics linked to different policy areas, and hence displays the similarities and differences in both regions, such as economics and population, but also research and education. Contrastingly, the second section explores the different stakeholders’ perceptions of the opposite region by drawing from the findings of the Asia-Europe Foundation’s (ASEF’s) EU through the Eyes of Asia and Asia in the Eyes of Europe.

The second volume of the report is developed through a series of multi-sector strategic foresight consultations conducted by ASEF. Foresight is 20/20: Scenario Building for Policy Analysis and Strategy Development, as the second volume is titled, provides analysis and policy recommendations considered to uncover possible shifts and trends in Asia–Europe relations. In addition to analysing the changing roles of different stakeholders involved in international relations, this volume identifies emerging policy issues and future areas of cooperation in the four policy areas revealed above. All of the four sectors are presented in three possible future scenarios with their following opportunities and risks. The first of the three divergent and conflicting scenarios is characterised by global political organisation, economic control by authorities, and redistributed resources – a so-called Grey Paradis, relating to the ‘grey hope’ described in the third issue of ASEMagazine. Next is the Glocal Blocs,a future subjugated by regional political blocs, collective economic interest at the regional level, and resource utilisation. The last scenario, MosaInc., is marked by weak political structures, economic self-interest, and resource abuse. Together, they are three highly attention-grabbing scenarios.

According to the report, the four different sectors analysed “… were selected due to their relevance; prominence in existing Asia-Europe dialogue; and potential for bioregional or indeed, global impact in the next 20–30 years”. All four sectors are unquestionably critical sectors in Asia–Europe relations and are not to be neglected. Furthermore, it must be said that the triple-scenario analysis of the four sectors is very thorough and enables policy-makers and other stakeholders to recognise the forces that are, and can, affect Asia and Europe. The aim of the report is therefore obtained.

However, the missing focus on education in this otherwise very interesting triple-analysis is in stark contrast to the conclusions not only of ASEMME3, but also ASEMME4 this year. Both meetings underlined that high-quality research, education and training systems that encourage lifelong learning are crucial for the development of highly qualified and employable citizens and economic growth in both regions. Furthermore, the focus of ASEMME4 was on studying ways to strengthen and develop an education partnership for the 21st century with the aim of enhancing cooperation and encouraging exchanges on key education issues in the Asia–Europe dialogue. Additionally, the EU honours education and research as strategic sectors for development cooperation with Asia. In the milieu of globalisation, international cooperation partnerships between EU and the Asian higher education institutions are becoming progressively essential for an enhanced responsiveness of education and research systems to the changing needs of the labour market in both regions. Programmes such as Erasmus Mundus Partnerships, EUforAsia programme, Trans-Eurasia Information Network, Asia Link and the ASEAN-EU University Network Programme can be mentioned here.

A focus like this can be traced back to, for example, Europe and Asia: A Strategic Framework for Enhanced Partnerships written by the EU Commission in 2001. Here it is stated that we should in particular “work to strengthen educational, scientific and cultural exchanges with Asia, through support for enhanced cooperation between higher education institutions, an intensification of academic, research and student exchanges between our two regions, and the promotion of structural networks enabling mutually beneficial cooperation.” This kind of concentration on educational matters is not reflected in the ASEM Outlook Report 2012.

Having 20/20 foresight is not a perfect vision into the future, but is remarkably clear if taking away the number of uncertainties that are beyond reasonable for a human to predict. That said, the whole line on the Snellen Chart must be understood to obtain 20/20 vision. Given the otherwise thorough work of the report, it seems as though the letter ‘E’ was skipped on the chart – ‘E’ for Education.