The year 2008 witnessed at least two significant intra-Asia exchange programs. The first was the third South Asian Universities Youth Festival (SAUFEST) hosted in Nepal during 7-11 February by Kathmandu University in collaboration with Association of Indian Universities (AIU). The second was the sixth Annual Conference of Asia TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) organized in August in Bali, Indonesia,. SAUFEST covered countries of South Asia and Indian Ocean Rim collecting university youths to a common forum of cultural sharing. Asia TEFL brought together ELT experts of Asia with a mission to explore the potential of building “Asian Globalization” through the teaching and practice of English in Asian universities and schools. Both programs shared a common goal of bringing together Asian academia for cultural and academic exchanges. The success of both was the integration of new generation Asians in consolidation of Asia as separate world of ideas and productivity.
Both of these programs are landmark initiations envisioned at a time Asians are mired in the maze of disparate economies and cultures. SAUFEST encourages youths to meet and befriend one another as a prelude to a friendly international atmosphere in the decades to come. The expectation is that it will bring human beings together and ask them to build human relationship through observation and assimilation of one another’s indigenous identities. This implies the beginning of the end of religious and national prejudices among the countries of south Asia. The university friends of today, with their potential upliftment to leading positions of their respective countries, will help build friendly political and cultural sphere (s) in the region continuing their acquaintance and friendship. In other words, SAUFEST enhances general tolerance towards and acknowledgement of identity differences as a beginning to more friendly international relations across the South Asian countries.
Asia TEFL integrates a larger geographical space and more developed countries like China, Japan and South Korea. Though it does not specify the integration of people from a certain level of scholarship, it does lay emphasis on the empowerment of Asia possibly as a complement if not counterpart to Europe and the West. The mission is to increase exchanges among Asian Universities with effect of reducing dependence upon and adherence to the education system of the West. In this venture English is to be acknowledged and promoted as a unifying world language simultaneously benefiting Asian users with its western heritage and power to assimilate and apply in a new context. English, like a unifying culture, would become pivotal in promoting collaboration among cultures as diverse as Chinese, Nepalese, Pakistani, Maldivian, and Burmese among others.
Nepal has already become part of the SAUFEST with its participation since the inception in 2006. In fact, AIU does not limit its activities within India only. SAUFEST is more accessible for Nepalis than Asia TEFL. The latter is highly academic and is restricted to English teachers and ELT experts. But if participated, it is an equally productive platform in extending academic collaboration in the higher level. It addresses the need of broader academic sharing within Asia in the backdrop of the gradual rise of Asian academy and economy in the global scenario. Both SAUFEST and Asia TEFL can function from the grassroots laying foundations for greater coordination within Asia.
At a time Asian universities are working towards extending collaborations, Nepal has a very significant work to do. This is to prepare framework for bringing Nepali universities together. The point here is that the process of coordination should be initiated by the universities themselves. Why not form an association of Nepalese universities similar to AIU? The existing old-new, big-small, and public-private dichotomies between universities have prevented collaborations. The consequence is that one university hardly recognizes other as an alternative for certain areas. While the concept of expanding relations within Asia is gaining ground, Nepali universities need to work towards inter-university sharing. Universities are not individuals, and should not operate through individual whims and prejudices.
One advantage of hosting SAUFEST in Nepal was that it not only brought universities of South Asia together, but also created a forum for Nepali universities for the first time. SAUFEST was the prelude.
The most important factor about both forums is that they are not government- sponsored events. In principle, they transcend any geopolitical boundaries, avoid including diplomatic issues and aim to found international understanding through the friendship of individuals who bear the potential to work in a transnational context in the coming future.