The Heads of State or Governments at their 11th Summit, while emphasizing the importance of mutual recognition of the educational institutions, agreed to give the necessary impetus to realize the goal of a common regional educational standard through uniform methods of instruction and teaching aids. They were unanimous in recognizing the benefit of introducing SAARC in the national curricula at appropriate levels of study in order to enhance the awareness about Association’s goals and objectives.
At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in November 2005, the leaders noted the achievements of the Member States during recent years in the area of primary education and stressed that to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century Member States must make important strides in the areas of science, technology and higher education.
The First Meeting of the SAARC Ministers of Education/Higher Education was held in Colombo on 26- 27 March 2009 preceded by the Meeting of the Senior Officials of the Ministries of Education/Higher Education. This Meeting considered matters relating to SAARC-UNESCO Cooperation in the field of Higher Education, role of the Committee of Heads of University Grants Commissions/Equivalent Bodies and Open & Distance Learning in South Asia. This Meeting focussed on Higher Education Policies and Strategies in South Asia and deliberated & finalised the SAARC Plan of Action on Higher Education.
At the Sixteenth Summit (Thimphu, 28 – 29 April 2010), the Leaders emphasized the need to strengthen cooperation in education and directed greater interaction among the universities in the region towards undertaking of joint programmes on collaborative research and exchange programmes. They underscored the imperative of recognition of degrees, and where possible facilitation of credit transfers for open and distance education etc. They directed the expeditious finalization of mutual recognition of academic and professional degrees as also harmonization of educational curriculum in South Asia.
The Seventeenth Summit (Addu City, Maldives, 10 – 11 November 2011), the Leaders directed to expedite the work on mutual recognition of academic and professional degrees and harmonization of academic standards; and establishment of long-term linkages among universities, research institutions and think-tanks in the region.
So far, seven Meetings of the Committee of Heads of University Grants Commission/Equivalent Bodies have been held and these Meeting have deliberated on Mutual Recognition of Professional Degrees awarded by Charted Universities of SAARC Member States, matters relating to achieving the goal of Common Regional Education Standard, programme of cooperation among universities, debating events on mutually agreed topics, revised SAARC Chairs, Fellowships and Scholarships Scheme, SAARC-UNESCO cooperation on identified areas of Education, Open and Distance Learning in the SAARC Member States and establishment of a South Asian University.
Open and Distance Learning:
The Ninth SAARC Summit (Male’, April 1997) agreed that Open Learning and Distance Education could play an effective role in meeting regional needs in a cost effective and flexible manner. They directed the possibility of creation of a Consortium of Open Universities in the region should be explored.
The three Meetings of the Board of Governors of SACODiL held so far considered the following:
- learner mobility, credit transfer/recognition and recognition of mutual degrees
- ICT compatibility and connectivity
- Development of database
- Promoting ODL in the region
- academic programmes for accredition and recognition by Member Institutions/States
- Sustainable development, capacity building, innovations in teacher education to achieve MDGs
- Creation of SACODiL resource centres in Member Institutions/States
At the 31st Programming Committee held in New Delhi in December 2007, it was decided for the mandate of SAARC Consortium on Open and Distance Learning (SACODiL) to be assumed by the Heads of University Grants Commissions/Equivalent Bodies.
In line with this decision representatives of open and distance learning institutions of the Member States attend the Meetings of Heads of Heads of University Grants Commissions/Equivalent Bodies.
The Seventh Meeting of the Committee of Heads of University Grants Commissions / Equivalent Bodies was successfully concluded in Thimphu on 19 – 20 April 2012. The Meeting while taking stock of implementation of decisions taken at the Sixth Meeting of the Committee of Heads of University Grants Commissions / Equivalent Bodies (Dhaka, 18 – 19 July 2010), made a number of recommendations with a view to benchmarking the higher education standards among SAARC Member States. In this regard, the Meeting deliberated on mutual recognition of professional degrees, achieving a goal of a common regional educational standard and quality assurance and accreditation mechanism.
The Meeting, inter alia, deliberated upon ways forward in developing a credit transfer system within SAARC Universities, identifying common research themes as well as developing a web portal to share best practices in higher education and exchange of expertise among the Member States.
The Meeting welcomed the new offers of scholarships made by Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka further shared with the delegations information regarding one hundred (100) scholarships given by the Government of Sri Lanka to foreign students including those from the SAARC region. The scholarships that are offered annually by the Governments of Bangladesh, India and Nepal are expected to continue in 2012 – 2013 as well.
The intention shown by the Sri Lanka to offer Chair and Fellowship positions in the near future was welcomed by the Meeting.
Matters related to Open and Distance Learning (ODL) were also taken into consideration and the Meeting welcomed the offer of Sri Lanka to host a workshop on ‘MOODLE’ to transform web based study materials for the benefit of South Asian students who are undertaking ODL studies.
A number of activities including A Regional Conference on the Status of Higher Education in South Asia (to be hosted by India) and a Debate Contest among University Students (to be hosted by Pakistan) are expected to take place in the year 2012 – 2013.
The Meeting recommended that the SAARC Secretariat explore avenues in building linkages with agencies with which SAARC has MoUs in the area of education / higher education as recommended by the First Meeting of SAARC Ministers of Education / Higher Education (Colombo, 26 March 2009).