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03-02-2010 20:16

YOUTH EMPOWERMENT KEY FOR ASEAN YOUTH UNITY

YOUTH EMPOWERMENT KEY FOR ASEAN YOUTH UNITY

Dato Saifuddin Abdullah
Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Malaysia
(2 Feb 2010)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established in 1967. The aims and purposes of ASEAN focuses on accelerating economic growth, social progress, cultural development, to promote regional peace, stability and active collaboration and assist on matters of common interest through abiding respect for justice. Its objective is to provide assistance for each other in the form of training and research facilities and maintaining close and beneficial cooperation with existing regional and international organisations.

ASEAN has come a long way in fulfilling the dreams of its founding fathers. It has become one of the most sustained supra-national regional organisations of the post-colonial world. But for most of us who are in the know, we are all aware that besides some success stories in the realm of inter-governmental and political, and to some extend, economic cooperation, the real concept of “one sharing, caring community” in ASEAN, i.e. amongst the people of ASEAN, and this include the youth, is still wanting.

In 2007, the ASEAN Foundation conducted a survey among undergraduate university students from leading universities in each of the ten member nations of ASEAN. The aims of the survey were: to discover the degrees of awareness among youth on ASEAN and whether they realised the importance of ASEAN and its effects, to determine the impact that ASEAN has on them, and to measure the ways on how to raise interest and generate participation from the youth.

The response? Well, ranging from enthusiastic, to positive, to ambivalent, to sceptical. The findings showed that although the students are able to recognise the differences of culture, political views and traditions of their ASEAN counterparts, but, there is a wide chasm when it comes to regional cooperation and unity. This was in 2007. Today is 2010. We are only five years away before the targeted realisation of an ASEAN Community by 2015.

I am aware of the efforts by the ASEAN Foundation and the governments of ASEAN nations in organising events that can enhance awareness, cooperation and unity among ASEAN youths, including events like (this) ASEAN LOGICS.

But, i am also of the position that until and unless we subscribe to a framework and approach of ASEAN youth awareness, understanding, cooperation and unity that is really and genuinely youth-oriented, then, i am afraid that we are not going to be very successful.

What constitute a really and genuinely youth-oriented framework and approach to ASEAN youth awareness, understanding, cooperation and unity?

As regard to university students, I would like to propose two main components.

Firstly, the academic component. I call this the internationalisation or Aseanisation of our higher education. Here, I am not referring to studies or disciplines called ASEAN Studies or something to that effect. But rather, I am talking about reviewing and planning anew our internationalization initiatives already taken by our universities and countries. We must look for opportunities for the enrichment of the learning environment. But let me remind you that this exercise must include student perspectives. Students must be a part of the exercise from A to Z. Among the issues that warrant our examination are:

-         Traditional international contexts, where students study outside their home country for short or long periods. (Eg. Malaysian students studying in Indonesia).

-         Transnational programmes, where students study at home (eg. a Thailand student at a Thai University) or in a neighbouring country (eg. a Thailand student in Vietnam) and faculty from the awarding university (eg. the Philippines) fly in to deliver courses.

-         Domestic students studying in their home country, with the university seeking to internationalise the curriculum, the student population and the faculty.

-         Students having international experiences in other countries through students exchange programmes. (Eg. A second year Laos student doing her full second year education in a university in Brunei Darussalam and likewise a student from Brunei doing her full second year in a university in Laos).

Secondly, the non-academic component. I call this “youth empowerment”. My definition of youth empowerment, which I wrote in 1996 when I was then Secretary General of the Malaysian Youth Council (later adopted by the Commonwealth Youth Ministers and in 1998 formed the definition used by the United Nations’ World Conference of Youth Ministers) is: “enabling youth to think and act on their own on issues pertaining to their life (education, social, economics, politics, etc), their surroundings and their future”.

-         Further to this concept are approaches such as: addressing “youth demands” (youth want their voices heard; youth want their talents and roles recognised; and youth want their issues addressed in a manner that are youth-oriented).

-         We will only be able to recognise youth voices if we understand that youth are not only leaders of the future, but are also “leaders of today” in three situations: leaders of their generation, leaders of those younger than them, and partners-in-leadership with the universities and governments of the day.

-         This can only be realised if we comprehend that governments today can no longer rule, but must govern. And that the issue of governance is not limited only to the notion of good governance but also include “new governance framework” where besides the state, there exist two other important stakeholders, namely the business sector and the civil society sector (where youth is a member); and that gone are the days when government is the be all and the do all, as this is now replaced by a partnership of all three sectors working in real and genuine harmony.   

-         Another approach is moving from “talking to youth” to “talking with youth”.     

-         Alongside these approaches is the concept of “representation”. The youth must be represented by one that is democratically elected by the youth community, and not one that is appointed by the peoples upstairs (universities, governments).

-         The youth representation must be recognised and included in “decision-making structures and processes”.

-         When we are able to address these principles (there can be other principles too in addition to what I have alluded to), then we can say that we have achieve “full and active youth participation”.

So, can we now ask ourselves, to what extend has ASEAN provided the ASEAN youth the space and opportunity to be empowered? Are ASEAN youth regarded only as beneficiaries of youth programmes that are designed by others and they simply attend as participants? To what extend do ASEAN governments listen and recognised the voices of their own youth? Do ASEAN youth get to speak at ASEAN Summits discussing about their futures? How strong is the Council for ASEAN Youth Cooperation (CAYC). Do we have an ASEAN University Students Council/Organisation/Union? At each national level of each ASEAN countries, do we have a National University Students Council/Organisation/Union? How do we elect ASEAN youth to plan and implement ASEAN youth programmes? How do we elect youth who represent each country to ASEAN meetings, seminars, conferences, etc?

My call is very simple. It is a call for unity among ASEAN youth. It is a call for ASEAN youth unity that is “of the youth, by the youth, for the youth” and not one that is “off the youth, buy the youth, force the youth”. So, ASEAN youths – UNITE!

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