9 August 2023

The 14th AUN Rectors’ Meeting: ASEAN Higher Education, the Change-Maker

Ninnart Ratanasukhon
AUN Programme Officer;

The 14th AUN Rectors’ Meeting was convened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 5 July 2023 with gracious hosting from Universiti Malaya. Giving its debut this year is the open morning session, a new addition to the AUN’s beloved presidential forum, where AUN Members, together with invited guests and speakers from respected institutes of ASEAN and beyond, gathered to discuss the changing trend of higher education in the fruitful panel discussion sessions.

In the 3rd session, ‘Change is the key,’ we welcomed:

  • Prof. Yi-Chen Lan, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Global Development and Provost Vietnam Campus, Western Sydney University; 
  • Prof. Pongrak Sribunditmongkol, M.D., Ph.D., President, Chiang Mai University;
  • Prof. Reini Wirahadikusumah, Ph.D, Rector, Institut Teknologi Bandung;
  • Fr. Roberto Yap SJ, President, Ateneo de Manila University;

With Dr. Laurene Chua-Garcia, Vice-president of external relations and internationalisation, De La Salle University, as the moderator.

Up until this session, the leaders of AUN Member Universities and our distinguished speaker from the ASEAN Secretariat had discussed various changes that are occurring to the operational terrain of ASEAN higher education. We talked about changes at the grand scale of the global educational landscape and ASEAN’s place in it. We discussed changes in the expectation of upcoming generations and what kind of skills and virtues that will keep ASEAN higher education relevant in this volatile, uncertain age.

At the conclusion of the fruitful morning session, the focus now shifted to what kind of ‘changes’ that ASEAN higher education itself can bring to the stage. Higher education institutions are not simply a static character standing in the tide of changes. Endowed with some of the brightest talents in the country, higher education institutions have the minds and the influence to steer ASEAN and the global community in a different direction.  In this session, leaders of AUN Member Universities and our distinguished guest took a look into what ASEAN higher education has in its arsenal to bring forth changes in our modern society.   

Prof. Yi-Chen Lan, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Global Development and Provost Vietnam Campus, Western Sydney University

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One of our distinguished guests at this year’s AUN Rectors’ Meeting - Prof. Yi-Chen Lan shared with us the experience of Western Sydney University, the front runner of Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Ranking 2023.

THE Impact Ranking assesses universities against the 17 goals of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Western Sydney University has come first in this ranking two years in a row since 2022. This dazzling result is the fruit of Western Sydney University’s sustainability efforts, which have been in place for over two decades. The efforts involved the Nine Interconnected Priority Statements for Sustainability and Resilience which laid the foundation for the institution’s strategic planning and were carried out through four CORE areas of Curriculum, Operation, Research, and Engagement. Sustainability is woven intricately into every aspect of academic life. Students, researchers, and faculties can see how their courses and/or research meet sustainability goals through sustainability indicators. Such indicators, apart from giving a clear picture to students and researchers of how each publication and/or courses intersect with the SDGs, also aid the university in keeping track of how they are meeting the sustainability efforts.

Engagement also lies at the very core of Western Sydney University in understanding people’s needs. Western Sydney University has engaged in a multisector collaboration in Asia Pacific which also involved a scholarship programme for refugees on the Thai-Myanmar border. The scholarships were given in collaboration with The Power of International Education (IIE) and allowed refugees on the Thai-Myanmar border to continue their higher education at its campus in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.

Prof. Pongrak Sribunditmongkol, M.D., Ph.D., President, Chiang Mai University

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Prof. Pongrak Sribunditmongkol, M.D., Ph.D., President of Chiang Mai University highlighted the global megatrends that are challenging our society. Such megatrends included technological disruption, population shift, climate change, and the ‘extreme’ speed at which information is disseminated and consumed. A flexible and open mindset would be a crucial asset for universities to extend their reach and bring forward positive changes to students and our society.  Prof. Pongrak also urged us to reframe our perception of ‘soft skills.’ Critical reading and thinking, effective communication, supportive collaboration, and historical understanding: all of these skills have been perceived as ‘soft’ skills, but Prof. Pongrak begged to differ that these skills are, in fact, the ‘bedrock’ skills of the modern era. Such skills, together with professional knowledge, will serve as the ‘counterattack’ to the ‘extreme’ media consumption and the remedy for disruptions in the uncertain world.

Prof. Reini Wirahadikusumah, Ph.D, Rector, Institut Teknologi Bandung

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Prof. Reini presented us with Institut Teknologi Bandung’s multi-campus, multi-disciplinary approach and its newly-launched science techno park. Institut Teknologi Bandung operates four campuses across Java Island. The endeavour was partly pushed by the Indonesian government to extend the institute’s reach into the region and for more people to have access to higher education. Over the period of each of their operations, each campus slowly built its own characters and ‘colours,’ specialising in different fields of academics, ranging from climate change to creative economy, cultural development, or multidisciplinary executive education.

ITB has also been introducing nine graduate-level multidisciplinary programmes. These programmes were re-designed based on the existing programmes, but with more emphasis on cross-discipline collaboration, whether among the internal partners or with external partners. One example is the programme on Digital Business where 70% of the programme is still hosted by the Department of Electrical Engineering, but the other 30% is hosted by the School of Management. Such collaborations opened new doors for new explorations, innovations, and research in different areas. A programme that is much looked forward to by ITB is the newly launched health engineering programme, delivered in collaboration with ITB’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering, and Universitas Padjadjaran’s School of Medicine. In her conclusion, Prof. Reini also tapped into ITB’s science techno park, which has embarked on its early steps and is now aiming to deepen connections and build networks for stronger innovation and research in Bandung.

Fr. Roberto Yap SJ, President, Ateneo de Manila University

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The final speaker of this session is Fr. Roberto Yap SJ, President of Ateneo de Manila University. Referencing Thomas L Friedman, columnist of the New York Times; Fr. Roberto emphasised that we are dealing with two pandora’s boxes: climate change and artificial intelligence. We are opening the lids without knowing what is about to come flying out. Adaptation and reconstruction of our educational model would be the keys to delivering a transformative learning experience that is in tune with emerging technology, conducive to unlocking the students’ maximum capability, and in line with ethical integrity in our academic endeavour. 

Fr. Roberto also shone a light on the importance of liberal arts and humanities. In recent years, higher education has put a lot of emphasis on STEM studies. Now ethics, philosophy, literature, and disciplines of liberal arts would play a vital role in nurturing graduates that are AI-literate, humane, and ethically conscious.

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The session provided a nice conclusion to the morning open session. After exploring changes that are occurring in the operational terrain of ASEAN higher education and the expectation of the people, it is crucial that we do not forget the role of higher education as the change-maker itself. Higher education institutions are endowed with talents and some of the brightest and most promising minds in the country. It is also equipped with facilities that are conducive to bringing forward changes. This session provided us with a valuable opportunity to take a look into the arsenal of ASEAN higher education and envision what we can do to fulfil higher education’s position as the change-maker.

We have seen how universities can drive the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through the long-standing efforts that blend itself into all aspects of academic life. Community engagement is also the key area in how higher education can bring forth change that is relevant and impactful to people. For the academic aspect, we see the recurring theme that ‘flexibility,’ ‘adaptability,’ ‘multidisciplinarity’, and the holistic ‘humanity-based’ approach would be the essential tools for higher education to bring meaningful changes to the students and global society in this modern age.

This session might mark the conclusion of this year’s open morning session; but the afternoon session is packed with exciting updates on projects, events, and activities from the AUN Secretariat, the AUN Members, and the Thematic Networks. Stay tuned to the AUN E-newsletter and our website for the special coverages.