ASEM Summits called for the strengthening of cultural links between Asia and Europe, in particular closer people-to-people contacts, which are indispensable for the promotion of greater awareness and understanding between the two regions. By creating new personal links, ASEM will help overcome misperceptions that may exist, with a view to helping peoples to be more aware of the issues affecting our common future, and to better understand each other through dialogue. Mutual understanding will be further reinforced through cultural, artistic, educational activities and exchanges involving particularly youth and students of the two regions. Through a process of socialisation, ASEM's 3rd pillar facilitates the building of common knowledge among ASEM partners. ASEM Summits are always seen as opportunities to deepen the dialogue on Cultures and Civilisations within ASEM, and to promote of education exchanges between the two regions through Asia-Europe Higher Education Exchanges.
A new dimension of ASEM was underlined during the 4th ASEM Summit (ASEM4) in 2002 and the retreat session held on "Dialogue on Cultures and Civilisations". Pursuant to this retreat meeting, ASEM Leaders have decided to develop such a dialogue at all levels of ASEM cooperation. As a follow-up, an ASEM Conference on Cultures and Civilisations was held at political level in China in 2003. At this conference, attended by ASEM ministers in charge of culture or relevant portfolios and eminent partners from civil society, it was agreed to promote cultural diversity and dialogue and cooperation among Cultures and Civilisations by way of developing exchanges on cultural policies as well as preserving and promoting traditional and contemporary forms of arts and culture.
This development also demonstrated that ASEM pillars are interlinked. The political dimension of the social, cultural and intellectual pillar cannot be isolated from the political dialogue. Therefore, proper synergies are to be promoted among ASEM pillars. In that respect, the social, cultural and intellectual pillar is an effective delivery process to enhance knowledge, understanding and tolerance, and to avoid stereotypes and conflicts.
Various ASEM initiatives have been taken forward by individual ASEM partners, through seminars and workshops addressing issues such as globalisation, labour relations, human resources, child welfare, or through electronic networking in fields including vocational and primary education.
However, an important and central institution of the social, cultural and educational pillar is the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) based in Singapore. To date, ASEF is the only permanent institution of the ASEM process. Since its launch in 1997, ASEF has been very active in implementing its mandate, especially given its large scope of action and its resources. ASEF's mandate is to promote and catalyse intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges between Europe and Asia.
Several initiatives have been developed in the field of education. Two major ASEM programmes were launched, namely the ASEM Education Hubs and ASEM Duo. The European Commission intends to provide 100 million to fund the extension of its programme ERASMUS Mundus to Asia.
ASEM Education Hubs:
In October 1998, Singapore proposed the establishment of a network of ASEM education hubs, whereby individual universities would volunteer as centres of excellence in a particular field relevant to Asia-Europe relations, and be ready to receive exchange students from other hub institutes for one or two semesters. By the end of 2003, universities in 22 countries from the two regions had joined the network and 540 scholarships in arts, business and science were awarded amounting to 2.4 million Euro. ASEF plays the role of a clearinghouse in its implementation and continues to actively promote the network in all ASEM countries.
The ASEM-DUO Fellowship Programme, funded by ASEM partners, is a fellowship-granting programme for university students and teachers in pairs (DUO) of ASEM countries who wish to go to Europe or Asia (i.e. Asians to Europe, Europeans to Asia) for further study, research or joint lectures. This Fellowship Programme, established in 2001, aims to contribute to enhancing reciprocal academic exchanges between students and teachers of the European Union and those of Asian countries of ASEM. The original target of funds for the ASEM-DUO was 26 million Euro for the period of 2001 through 2005. DUO-Korea, DUO-Singapore, DUO-France and DUO-Denmark have been already launched. The Secretariat was set up in Seoul in October 2001, and serves as a focal contact point and depository for relevant information of the program me.
The ASEM Education Process started with its first meeting at the ministerial level in Berlin 2008, where representatives from the ASEM members underlined the importance of an intensified cooperation in higher education and vocational training.
In 2009, the ASEM Ministers responsible for Higher Education met in Hanoi to decide on further steps to be taken. Amongst others, they agreed "...to establish a rotating ASEM Education Secretariat to ensure effective coordination and sustainable progress on the ASEM process".
The Secretariat was hosted at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Germany for an initial period of four years from 2009-2013. Indonesia hosts the second ASEM Education Secretariat for another four years beginning September 2013.
For further information on the Secretariat and its agenda, kindly refer to the ASEM Education Secretariat’s website.
To promote cultural dialogue and exchanges between people, several ASEM initiatives have been approved to reinforce the cooperation on Information Technology. The development of networks across the Eurasian continent in order to intensify relations between Europe and Asia is essential over the long-term. A project like the Trans-Eurasian Information Network (TEIN) has wide-ranging implications for Asia and Europe. By creating a direct link between European and Asian research and education networks, Europe and Asia are building a privileged space for dialogue and cooperation.
TEIN project was endorsed as one of the new ASEM initiative at the 3rd ASEM Summit in Seoul in 2000. The connectivity between European and Asian research and education networks is currently only possible through the commercial Internet via North America. A direct link between Asia and Europe would close the existing gap between the two regions and will allow a better collaboration between Asian and European partners.
The European Commission has approved a grant of 10 million in support of TEIN. The purpose of the project is to increase direct co-operation between Europe and Asia in the field of research and education. Its overall objective is to foster economic growth and understanding between Europe and Asia through better awareness, access to, and use of interconnectivity between Europe and Asia as well as within Asia. Beneficiaries will not only be the scientific community to develop research and development activities, but also the population at large who will benefit from the development of virtual institutes and laboratories.
ASEM is not only about European officials meeting Asian officials. ASEM purpose is also to reach out to Asian and European societies. The social, cultural, intellectual pillar has been a key element in promoting dialogue and creating a better understanding between peoples of Europe and Asia. Within this pillar, ASEF has played a leading role in initiating programmes and contacts. However, ASEF is not tasked and funded to manage all contacts between Asian and European societies. Outside the government dialogue, civil society groups (through the Asia Europe People's Forum) have met on a regular basis.
ASEM seeks to combine a top-down approach with a bottom-up supplement by associating state actors and non-state actors around a global work agenda. Greater participation of civil society in some ASEM activities will help increasing ASEM profile as well as promoting ASEM goals and purpose in a wider context.
The European Commission is committed to make ASEM more participatory and visible. Following-up on previous similar events, the organisation of a successful Asia-Europe Consultative Seminar with Civil Society in Brussels in November 2003 provided an opportunity to bring together non-state actors from both Europe and Asia to exchange views on how the civil society dialogue of both regions can be enhanced and how transparency and public awareness of ASEM can be improved. As a follow-up, it was proposed to encourage civil society activities in connection with ASEM as and when deemed appropriate by host-countries. In addition, the Asia-Europe Consultative Seminar prompted fourteen recommendations and proposals to develop the Asia-Europe Political and Social Partnerships, to enhance role of civil society and to develop a long-term perspective on ASEM.