New directions and the role of international university associations in strengthening cooperation between universities during the global crisis

By Ilham Dwi Hatmawan, AUN Intern
26 September 2020

Universiti Malaya held UM International Webinar Series 5 and invited three university associations, including the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), the Asian Universities Alliance (AUA), and the ASEAN University Network (AUN) to discuss the roles of those associations in strengthening cooperation between their members to advance the quality of education and research, specifically amid the COVID-19 global crisis.

The speakers invited are Dr. Christopher Tremewan (Secretary-General of APRU), Dr. Zhang Chuanjie (Secretary of AUA), and Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti (Executive Director of AUN), and was moderated by Prof. Dr. Yvone Lim Ai Lian (Director of International Relations Office of Universiti Malaya).

Dr. Christopher started the session by explaining APRU's position in linking the leading universities in America, Asia, and Australia in fostering cooperation between its members in terms of educational research, environment, and economy. He emphasized the significance of wide-range cooperation in sharpening higher education in the Asia Pacific, creating global student leaders, solving Asia Pacific challenges, and international public policy application. Dr. Christopher was very surprised, yet happy to hear that APRU member universities are very active in collaborating by sharing information and strategy in responding to the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Next, Dr. Chuanjie mentioned that since 2017 AUA has already provided an enabling platform for its 15 flagship university members to discuss issues, opportunities, and challenges to find strategies in handling and taking advantage of the dynamics within the region. Starting from 2020 until 2023, AUA will focus on the development of artificial intelligence and data science, energy and sustainability, and Asian civilization by advancing research collaboration, increasing student mobility, conducting the annual report on Asian higher education, and advocating strategy and policy. In response to COVID-19, AUA held several meetings, such as the the Online Presidents Forum on Combating COVID-19, updates of members universities’ response to COVID-19 on the AUA website, and the Third Round of Working Group Meetings.

Last but not least, Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti gave the talk to underscore the important role of the 17 thematic networks to boost scholarships within the region to tide over the challenges by conducting discussions, research, and other academic collaborations. To realize the AUN mission to become a platform for quality education advancement, the AUN opens opportunities to the other countries outside of Southeast Asia, such as the Peoples' Republic of China, Republic of Korea, and Japan by strengthening collaboration and cooperation under the ASEAN+3 UNet. As COVID-19 hit the region, the AUN started to convert its activities by utilizing an online platform to support the organization’s programs.

The presentation session was followed by a live Q&A session to answer queries from the audience. Regarding the students’ involvement in these associations’ activities, Dr. Chuanjie, as an official representative of the AUA, restressed that his association not only focused on the program development at the university level, but also on conducting student forums and activities that are open for students from member universities to join. The information on the applications will be provided through communication channels from each university. Dr. Christopher from the APRU suggested that students actively follow the information from the APRU by visiting the APRU website regularly to check any updates regarding the student events held by the association, including several collaboration courses.

Furthermore, Dr. Choltis underlined that anyone can participate in the discussions and collaborative projects organized by the AUN’s 17 thematic networks. He also mentioned that his network is conducting a double strategy: to assist its members and associate members in advancing the quality of education by developing quality assurance mechanisms both at the study program level and institutional level and to boost the quality of education in its institutions through strengthening collaboration between the 30 core leading member universities.

Dr. Choltis is convinced that the AUN Secretariat and 17 sub thematic networks are still alive and as productive as ever. The AUN believes that every challenge is an opportunity to rise up and improve. To adapt to the new normal situation, the AUN has made various adjustments, in terms of agendas and methods of implementing the agendas, such as implementing an online/remote site visit for quality assurance, virtual council meetings, live symposiums, and webinars, especially those discussing how the world of education and research adjusted during the COVID-19 crisis. Dr. Choltis and the team also highly supported the online and offline initiative programs run by AUN partners to ensure that they will not waste the precious available resources despite being amid a period of uncertainty.

Lastly, the leaders of the APRU, AUA, and the AUN stated the same position of open collaboration within each association. Dr. Choltis emphasized the importance of collaboration mainly in the midst of global pandemics. Dr. Chuanjie expressed his interest in collaborating more with the APRU and the AUN in the near future through the consensus of its members. Dr. Christopher invited the associations to not only strengthen the collaboration with the three, but also to expand the cooperation with non-governmental organizations and multilateral institutions to scale up the impact of their associations.

The webinar was ended by restating the invitation for everyone to uphold collaborations and friendship to fight against the COVID-19 and be ready for life after the pandemic.