I READ the piece last Saturday by Chadian Nairobi, chief executive officer of Global Institute for Tomorrow, titled “Asean needs a world-class university” (NST, June 4), with interest. There was much I could agree with.
Education and research can create common purpose among Asean citizens.
It may not be the best time, not least as a Briton, to cite as positive examples the numerous initiatives in this regard in the European Union, but Asean could learn from what has happened in the EU.
I suggest two examples for consideration: the funding of research involving researchers from two or more member countries has fostered collaborations that would not otherwise have been possible, or indeed thought of; and the Erasmus and Socrates schemes for student and faculty mobility between universities in member countries has brought down barriers, allowed young people to find new ideas and created a younger generation much less suspicious of neighbours across the border.
Where one might disagree with the author is in citing the European Institute in Florence, Italy, as a model for an Asean university.
The institute has done many excellent things but it is a research institute.
There is no EU university, even after nearly 60 years since the founding of the European members club.
Rather, a number of existing and already great universities — not least and one might even say, especially in the UK — has gone from strength to strength during that period.
Recruitment of the most talented faculty from across the continent is now possible, and students can travel easily to the university and select courses of their choice.
Great universities take time to be established and grow.
The example of the National University of Singapore is a rare one: most truly world-class universities take much longer than 50 years to achieve that degree of excellence, so embarking on the creation of an Asean university may not be the way to go.
However, I will agree that there are many worse places than Johor to locate a university, which might serve the Asean students and researchers’ ambitions.
Johor is home to one of the best universities in Malaysia, and I hope that Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has the ambition to capitalise on the opportunity that the combination of its location and Asean represent.
The cluster of UK universities at EduCity Iskandar, including my own University of Reading Malaysia and Henley Business School, bring world-class UK higher education to the heart of the Asean region.
These are not satellites cut off from their mother ships. They have staff from the UK, and student mobility between the two countries is possible, encouraged and sometimes required.
We believe we can make a contribution to the development of Malaysia as the educational destination of choice in Asean.
PROFESSOR TONY DOWNES, Provost and chief executive officer, University of Reading Malaysia, Johor