AIT President’s Interview with ASEANAffairs
1. AIT has a long and distinguished history in Southeast Asia. Would you like to pick up out some highlights?
- For almost half a century, AIT has stood as a beacon of light in the field of higher learning not just in Thailand but across the region. It was the first postgraduate institution in the region of offer international education and research program on par with those available at long-established Western universities, producing graduates that have played an integral part in elevation the region’s status to its current state today. Additionally, the philosophy that has been applied in that education joined with the research capacity the Institute has developed has laid the groundwork for sustainable development, which stands to make the region a better place in the future.
- AIT was founded as the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Graduate School of Engineering and set up as a project of the eight member nations of SEATO – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, The Philippines, Pakistan, UK, France and the US – to serve the needs of the Asian region.
- AIT was also formally established in its present format the same year as ASEAN in 1967, and shares similar objectives and goals in many areas such as in the sustainable development of the region through human and institutional capacity building, and linkages and networks between institutions in Asia, Europe and other western countries in development initiatives.
- In the context of ASEAN, 60 percent of AIT’s alumni and 80 percent of the currently enrolled students are from Southeast Asia. In addition, from the total 22,000 alumni from professional training courses conducted at AIT, more than half are from Southeast Asia. Most of the Southeast Asian countries are represented on the AIT Board of Trustees and form part of the governance of the Institute.
- Among other recognitions AIT is also the recipient of:
-The Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, and more recently
-The Friendship Order by the Government of Vietnam.
- In addition to its main campus in Thailand, AIT has also established centers in Vietnam and Indonesia and plans to open centers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and possibly China, India and Nepal etc.
- AIT is an affiliated institute of the United Nations University(UNU); regional knowledge hub on reduce, reuse and recycle (3Rs), in collaboration between ADB, UNEP, UNESCAP; and also being considered as a UNESCO regional hub for sustainable Asia; UNESCO category II centers for water and nanotechnology, and UNIDO regional forum on best available techniques and best environmental practices.
- AIT is especially active in the Mekong Subregion and is a lead member and serves as the secretariat of the Greater Mekong Subregion Academic and Research Network (GMSARN).
- AIT houses such regional institutions as the UNEP, ADPC, WWF and Telecoms sans Frontieres which are actively working on various development issues of Asian countries.
- Examples of some specific contributions to Southeast Asia are:
o AIT is an active partner in the ASEAN Virtual University Institute of Science and Technology (AVIST) which was endorsed by the ASEAN Summit meeting in 1999, and developed in response to the need identified by ASEAN to urgently improve the knowledge and skill of their work force, especially in the fields of science and technology.
o CIDA funded Southeast Asia Urban Environmental Management Applications (SEAUEMA) project.
o ASEAN Foundation project being undertaken by AIT on “Capacity Building in Poverty Mapping in the ASEAN Member Countries”. The main objective of the project is to provide the best practical knowledge to appropriate agencies/personnel in the region to utilize spatial technology together with statistical model to prepare high resolution poverty map for socio-economic development in the region.
o Sida supported Wetland Alliance Program (WAP) undertaken jointly by AIT and the Coastal Resources Institute (CORIN) at the Prince of Songkhla University, Thailand; WorldFish Center and World Wildlife Fund for Nature(WWF) aims to build local level capacity for sustainable, poverty focused wetlands management.
o The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) which is housed at AIT is a partner of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM) which assumes overall responsibility for coordination and implementing the regional activities.
o The EC-ASEAN COGEN Project to support biomass-based cogeneration in ASEAN countries was housed at AIT and managed together with its partners.
o AIT and the Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island, USA (CRC-URI) partnership through the Post-Tsunami Sustainable Coastal Livelihoods Project supported by USAID. Launch of community learning center in Ranong as part of tsunami recovery and certificate level course on Integrated Coastal Ecosystem Management which has attracted 27 participants representing twelve countries from Asia, Africa and North America.
2. How do you foresee AIT contributing to education in the future?
- AIT is among the small number of international universities that, in spite of their small size, has played an important role in the development of international competence and capacity. The Institute continues to serve the region with high-level academic education and research in engineering, technology, environment, development, management, entrepreneurship, and innovation, pursuing its mission “to develop highly qualified and committed professionals who will play a leading role in the sustainable development of the region and its integration into the global economy.”
- While AIT’s methods have evolved over time, its orientation remains constant and is reflected in the institute’s enduring core values: Excellence in teaching/ learning, Excellence in research, Quality assurance, Transparency, Accountability, Unity in diversity, Culture of collaboration, and Partnership.
- Internationality and academic excellence are among the two key characteristics of AIT. AITwill continue to the sustainable development of the region by being innovative. Educational activities cover environment, technology, development and management among others. As a leader not focus on one set of skills only but a broad set of skills.
- International higher learning deeply grounded in reality: In comparison with national universities in the emerging economies like those in many parts of Asia, AIT will never be able to compete in terms of sheer size and physical infrastructure. Yet, a regional institution like AIT has great competitive advantages compared with the national ones. AIT gathers students from many different nations, which gives an early international experience. It enables networking over frontiers and promotes greater understanding of other perspectives than national. The tuition language at AIT is English, which is rare for national universities in Asia and gives the graduates another strong competitive advantage. The size of AIT and the great diversity of its staff and faculty confer it the agility to be a pioneering force, exploring and providing training in newly emerging areas of importance to Asia.
AIT provides the student with education and skills (technical and otherwise) that enable them to become leaders in their chosen activities/fields. Higher learning at AIT is grounded in the deep realities of a world in development and which is facing many crises. AIT’s activities are not confined to laboratories or within the Institute students use the skills developed at AIT classrooms to address their country’s problems/issues. AIT does this in partnership with national universities, thus enhancing their competence at the same time. A regional institute such as AIT is ideally placed to develop graduates able to work highly effectively in the multiple contexts of Asia in the 21st century.
More than 90 percent of AIT graduates remain in the region and many hold positions of influence in government, education and industry. Due to the rich multicultural environment at AIT and the networking possibilities, students attain capacities that easily distinguish them from others (and help them climb the ladder quickly) when they return to their countries to take leading roles in their organizations/institutions.
- A knowledge hub for sustainable development in Asia: embracing multidisciplinary and complexity: AIT’s half-century of international experience at the service of the development of the region, its established brand name, its internationally recognized pool of experts in development and its strong networks of partners in the region and in the world make it a unique partner for the development of the region. AIT is engaged in advanced technology directly applied to answer the concerns and needs of communities, enterprises and nations, and directly coupled with the complexities of the societal, economical and managerial context of development. Another key strength of AIT is its capacity to link together a wide range of international partners, all key experts in their respective fields, collaborating together in research, teaching and development activities. AIT has extensive scientific and field and outreach experiences and can facilitate in many areas of cooperation.
In effect, AIT acts as a development platform, as a think tank, a knowledge hub, and an education and R&D center for cooperation ventures for the benefit of the region, potentially in frameworks such as the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), ASEAN, SAARC, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lank, Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) etc.
- An established bridge between Asia and the rest of the world
For universities and development partners across the globe AIT is one of the significant faces of Asia. AIT provides a unique platform and opportunity for students from other parts of the world to come and gain Asian knowledge and experience, and learn the art of effective communication and practical business knowledge in Asia etc.
AIT acts as a bridge among Asian countries as well as link between Asia and the rest of the world, as a vector and hub of collaboration in education and research between many universities, research institutions, development agencies and funding such as ADB, CIDA, the European Union, the French cooperation, NORAD, SIDA, are engaged in significant development activities in partnership with AIT. Furthermore, AIT has extensive collaborations and exchanges with many top universities and research universities in the developed world, particularly in Europe, Korea and Japan.
- AIT can be established as a Center of Exchange/ Regional Hub in Education and Training for ASEAN countries for the validation or certification of new academic programs and pedagogical development towards the achievement of the MDGs as well as in the integration of MDGs into existing programs. As a Center of Excellence, AIT in partnership with UNITAR could impart appropriate education and training, while at the same time coordinating the exchanges and cooperation between stakeholders towards MDGs awareness, education and training objectives. Tentatively consider the possibility of AIT and UNITAR together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Thailand, ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Foundation and SEAMEO jointly organizing the event. Representatives from the ASEAN Foreign Affairs and Education ministries, ASEAN educational and training institutions, UN and its networks, civil society, private sector, the media etc. could be invited to attend the round table.
3. What is the role education in promoting social and economic development?
- While ASEAN as a whole has been assessed by ESCAP to be on track with respect to poverty reduction and many other MDGs, there is a huge gap across and within member states in terms of poverty incidence and other human development indeicators.
- There is a lot of disparity in the region and the major causes for many people to still remain poor are due to lack of knowledge.
- In a constantly evolving global landscape, educational leaders must have foresight on anticipating future challenges and opportunities. Advances in technology, particularly in ICT, economic liberalization and integration and mobility of people have made the world interconnected in many ways that force us to challenge our own approaches in many areas and be open for new ideas and change.
- Poverty alleviation is a key to sustainable development which is also the mission of AIT. True sustainable development can only be achieved through promotion or socials and economic development.
- Since the problems encountered in working life are seldom classified within a single discipline, it is important that the institutes of higher education have structures that facilitate cross- disciplinary and cross-professional focus on problems. The bridging of academic subjects and scientific disciplines encourages creativity.
- Students are usually well placed in the job market, largely because of university’s close links with business and emphasis on work placements. It is important that students get the chance to experience the world of work while they study. Also courses are enriched by the close partnerships with industry and commerce.
4. How can education improve co-operation among different countries and societies?
- Regional concerns can no longer be confined by national borders or effectively addressed by single-sectoral strategies. Economic concerns are interlocked with social and political concerns. Issues such as poverty, climate change, environmental pollution, challenges of urban cities, illegal migration, transnational crime, emerging infectious diseases etc. need effective cross-sectoral solution. Out- of- the- box approaches should be explored.
- There is a common need for knowledge development. There are lots of common challenges faced by society and by sharing knowledge it is further enhanced and bigger challenges can be overcome through collective undertakings.
- In this context, AIT has great competitive advantages compared with the national universities. AIT gathers students from many different nations, which gives an early international experience. It enables networking over frontiers and promotes greater understanding of other perspectives than national. According to H.E. Mr. Anand Panyarachun, Former Chairman of the AIT board of Trustees, and tow-time Prime Minister of Thailand, “what is unique about AIT is that it symbolizes not only international cooperation, but partnerships… whether donors or recipients there is genuine belief and conviction in partnership which serves as proof of the vitality of AIT and of the importance of its role in the region.. AIT is a nursery for future leaders of our countries, towards working harmoniously and cooperatively with leaders of other nations…”
5. How do you see the state of scientific research in ASEAN? What problems are there? How can progress be made? What should be the priorities?
- In a modern university society there has to be an attitude of collaborative efforts where scientific research of high international quality can be combined with industrially relevant research programs that form the basis of tomorrow’s products, processes and national growth.
- While traditionally it may have been the role of a university to take a didactic role in development, telling society what is right and what is wrong and providing science and technology based upon research done within the ivory tower, that role is changing. Society, with its ever increasing number of knowledge centers, has begun to talk back. Therefore, higher education is undergoing fundamental changes. More and more, universities are becoming neutral platforms on which to build collaboration between the public and private sectors and between those who conduct research and those who use it. Universities are becoming the facilitators of dialogue.
- Building the capacity for research in the region and in the university is the major development challenge of the university leader. Strong focus on the needs of the stakeholders and the need to involve people from industry, researchers and national research institutes and from other academic institutions are important steps. Linking universities and other research institutes with industries and communities, with strong partnerships among them is crucial.
- Need for research work having high relevance to the national and regional users including efficient, low-cost, adapted technologies. The focus should not only be on the technologies and processes but also on their implementation. It is crucial to seriously deal with the barriers to the implementation of new technologies to enhance the quality of life and strengthen the economic development of the region.
- There is a gap in a academic research and also in the types and levels of need in society. One immediate impact could be to reduce the gap between the private sector and research institutions. There is a need for better integration of innovation systems.
- Intersectoral mobility (industry interaction with academia) – industrial representatives within University Boards, industry endowed chairs, industry offering sabbatical, research assignment etc, internships, industry sponsored awards etc.
6. The level of public discourse concerning scientific research is often very low in the ASEAN region. What steps could be taken to improve this situation?
- The key issue is partnership. The characteristics of a university of professions include among others the following: integration of scientific knowledge and knowledge from the professions; research questions generated from praxis fields; and where inter and trandisciplinary solutions to problems are encouraged. The knowledge society needs news approaches and such a concept would also revitalize and serve as a source for the renewal of degree programs since the integration of practice-based knowledge and scientific knowledge provides a new area for knowledge management.
- Outflow of venture research capital – introduce professional programs.
- Royal Thai Government (RTG) initiative at AIT through the Commission of Higher Education (CHE) to conduct joint research projects with national state universities, research institutions and industrial partners. It is expected that the outcomes of the joint research and academic activities will not only be beneficial to Thailand but also the region in terms of increasing the competitiveness. The purpose of the new joint industrial research program is to enable member companies from the Federation of Thai Industries to make use of AIT’s research capabilities, while AIT faculty members would also have an opportunity to work closely with industry in solving real-world problems. Each joint industrial research project will be conducted under the following financial format: 50% from RTG funds and 50% matching fund from the partnered companies. The research work can be carried out at AIT and / or at the facilities of the partner companies.
- Professional masters, and DBA programs, establishment of school Boards at AIT, AIT Ansell Leadership Development Program etc.
7. AIT is a member of the GMSARN (Greater Mekong Subregion Academic and Research Network) and will help host the forthcoming conference in December. What benefits has this network brought so far? What developments do you foresee for the network in the future?
- AIT is a member of the GMSARN and will help host the forthcoming conference in December. AIT is a secretariat of GMSARN since its inception in 2001. The GMSARN activities include:
o Human Resource Development. Including short courses, workshops, visiting research fellowships, and postgraduate degree programs that are focused on topics related to GMSARN’s priority areas.
o Joint Research Projects. Addressing socio-economic and technological issues, including conflict resolution and management and decision making process.
o Disseminated through workshops, seminars, public awareness campaigns, school-based activities, the GMSARN newsletters and websites.
The second GMSARN International Conference 2007 will be held in Dec. 12-14, 2007 at Pattaya. The conference is co-organized by GMSARN, AIT, and Thammasat University. The Sponsors include Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Public Company Limited, GMS Power Public Company Limited. The Supporting Associations include GMS-Business Forum, Greater Mekong Subregion-Tertiary Education Consortium Trust (GMSTEC), United Nations Environment Programs (UNEP), Regional Energy Resources Information Center (RERIC).
The aim of the conference is to initiate and stimulate international discussion on the various sustainable development issues in the GMS, especially in the areas of Energy, Environment, Natural Resources Management, and Development Planning. It is also envisaged that the conference will be able to generate shared solutions in the end. The findings and recommendations will be useful for the GMSARN in its research programs as well as for future GMS research project. So far, the total number of submissions is close to 100 from 15 different countries within GMS and outside GMS. The number of participants is expected to be 130-150 from universities, research institutions, private sectors, inter-government organizations, and government agencies. The upcoming 11th Joint Meeting of the Board and Council of Advisors hosted by AIT will be held in Dec. 14,2007 which is back to back with the conference.
What benefits has this network brought so far? What developments do you foresee for the network in the future?
- GMSARN is truly the network of academic institutions in GMS. So far, the network has conducted joint research projects on Greater Mekong Subregion Energy and Environment Network (GMSeeNET), Study Program for GMS Development and Planning, and Development of knowledge Management Toolkit Training for GMSARN Projects. Which are funded by the Royal Thai Government. A series of workshop has been conducted. The outcomes of these three projects will be reported in the upcoming GMSARN Board meeting. The new membership fees have been introduced for sustainable financing.
What developments do you foresee for the network in the future?
- GMSARN is expanding. GMSARN is expected to include Guangxi University in Guangxi Province as a new member. The GMSARN International Conference will be held annually in different venues in GMS countries. It is expected to be the biggest international conference in GMS. GMSARN is also expected to attract bigger and broader joint research projects on common and transboundary problems in GMS.
8. To what extent do you foresee greater integration among ASEAN states in the future?
- Forty years after its establishment in 1967, ASEAN has changed significantly. ASEAN is heading towards realizing the vision of one Community by 2015 that stands on three pillars of economic cooperation, political and security cooperation and socio-cultural cooperation. ASEAN is drafting a Charter to pursue this vision.
- Ongoing efforts to narrow the development gap in ASEAN such as through the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI). Yet disparities in educational development are still there. Limited resources and stage of socio-economic development are the main reasons.
- The less developed countries of ASEAN need to do a lot of catching up to compete at a regional level. The challenges are enormous. The development of human resources is a key strategy for alleviating poverty and socio-economic disparities, employment generation and ensuring economic growth with equity. Education opens new windows for better opportunities.
- There is a need to increase mobility among faculty and students. ASEAN countries can create different schemes to encourage mobility such as through the creation of research funds for ASEAN member countries. Better harmonization and facilitation of mobility in the region. The ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on engineering services represents the first arrangement on professional services concluded by ASEAN. It reflects a shared interest between the governments and the engineering community in ASEAN to improve engineering services quality as well as facilitating the free flow of engineering professionals within the region. It also represents ASEAN’s collective efforts to integrate and enhance the competitiveness of the engineering services sector.
- Similarly, ASEAN’s engagement in Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations will encompass all spheres of the economy, including goods, services, and investment. While the FTAs will provide greater opportunities for engineers and other professionals throughout ASEAN, they will have to further build up their skills and capabilities, and in this context universities and colleges in the region will have to advance their quality and be more innovative.
- Promotion quality education and market-relevant skills is the key towards building competitive human resources.