Parsing the future of ASEAN universities: Managing risk and opportunity in an age of disruption
What are some of the key trends, globally and regionally, that ASEAN universities need to be aware of? How can they equip their graduates with the essential skillsets to tackle challenges and capitalise on opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The fifth iteration of Dialogs on Asian Universities (DAU), which took place on 12 May at the University of Malaya, set out to answer these pertinent questions.
Themed “How can ASEAN universities thrive in the next decade?”, the webinar was moderated by NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, co-founder of DAU. Professor Dr. Bundhit Eua-arporn, President of Chulalongkorn University, and Professor Dato' Ir Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya, contributed to the thought-provoking discussion on how higher education institutions in the region can play an essential role in preparing graduates for tomorrow's innovations and disruptions.
The dialogue underscored the need for ASEAN universities to cultivate graduates with skillsets that are relevant and applicable to their respective societies, as well as carry out impactful research and innovation not for its own sake, but for the betterment of the community.
“A university needs to change and create value for themselves to be able to attract students and gain public appreciation,” Prof Eua-arporn noted. “Therefore, to thrive in the future, the activities, curriculum, and research all need to be relevant to public needs.”
Raising the example of food security, a concern that was driven home in Singapore by supply chain shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, Prof Tan added, “The government is pushing the initiative that in 10 years, by 2030, we should be able to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally, so universities like NUS are thinking of how we can build this framework, to be able to sustain ourselves and build some resilience in this area.”
“The existence of the university is not just to produce graduates, but also, when it comes to research, to solve the issues the nation faces,” Prof Hamdi concurred.
Collaboration with industry and across universities
A collaborative ethos is also essential for universities in ASEAN to amplify their reach and impact.
“How do you translate your research into products or policies that can impact society? Here is where the university actually would have to move out of its comfort zone, and work with the government and with industry in order to realise that,” Prof Tan elaborated.
Besides partnering industry, productive inter-university collaboration will also be an important feature in the ASEAN education landscape, where collaborative frameworks like the ASEAN University network (AUN) can be tapped on as a rich resource for transnational education opportunities.
“Collaboration among universities in ASEAN, or regional collaboration, will be even more important, especially for common themes that are regionally relevant, such as food and agriculture, energy and climate change, or the digital economy,” Prof Eua-arporn said.
Nurturing digital competencies
Finally, the discussion shed light on the phenomena of digitalisation, automation and Artificial Intelligence, their impact on Asian economies, and how universities should respond to the challenges and opportunities that come with this global development.
“The Internet and information technology have created open-access knowledge platforms such as Coursera and Udemy, which has resulted in rapid changes in the digital educational landscape,” Prof Eua-arporn observed, while Prof Tan noted the sheer ubiquity of technology and the scope of digital connectedness in the ASEAN region, especially with recent developments in the rapidly evolving metaverse.
In this milieu, it is important for universities to tailor their approaches to their diverse, unique contexts, shared Prof Hamdi, while building up their capabilities, talent base and knowledge to meet future challenges. “Business resilience is an issue now, where digitalisation and automation have come powered by the IR 4.0 wave. And it is coming over to our shores, to the ASEAN region,” he said.
Dialog for Asian Universities sets out to shed light on the evolution of Asian universities, and the challenges and opportunities that will come their way in the coming decades. Listen in on the past four iterations of the DAU here, or watch the webinar “How can ASEAN universities thrive in the next decade?” here.