The macro and the micro of international partnerships
Today brought conversations reflecting the many levels at which international partnerships in higher education work. On the “micro” level, we have faculty-to-faculty discussions where we identify research synergies and student exchange opportunities, among other possibilities. We also work at a “macro” level, establishing relationships with national ministries and organizations to learn about government-funded scholarship programs and collaborations with government ministries that could help streamline partnership building, among other matters.
A visit to #1 ranked Mahidol University
As these delegations so often do, our delegation operated at both the micro and macro levels today with part of the team visiting counterparts at Mahidol University, recently ranked number one in Thailand. That provided what might be termed a get-to-know-you session that builds on the foundation laid by Michael Kowolik and Gabe Chu from the School of Dentistry in a September 2018 meeting at Mahidol.
Mahidol University has regal origins: former King Chulalongkorn founded Mahidol University in 1888 as the country’s first medical school. They currently have more than 16,000 students and are very focused on the possibility of collaboration in areas such as public health.
Great opportunities for student exchange
The rest of the team, including Chancellor Paydar, travelled to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) where we heard more about the significant restructuring taking place within that ministry and the Ministry of Higher Education. In early July 2018, the Thai cabinet approved a proposal to merge the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Office of Higher Education under the Ministry of Education, to form a new Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Science.
Professor Apichai Somboonpakorn, advisor to the Minister of Science and Technology, and Chancellor Paydar led the conversation with Professor Apichai explaining that although MST focuses on scientific research, it has not had a strong connection to universities in the past, and the new ministry would allow for a close connection that would enable a more strategic approach to scientific research nationwide.
This moment of change for the ministry may also promise great opportunities for partnership, especially in areas such as automation, nanotechnology, and other areas of strength for IUPUI.
Following the visit to the ministry, the chancellor’s group travelled to the Office of the Civil Service Commission (OCSC), which administers Royal Thai Government Scholarships. We learned a great deal from the team we met, especially about their knowledge of and respect for IUPUI, in particular our engineering programs. Engineering is one of the top subjects studied by OCSC scholarship students, and IUPUI actually has an OCSC scholar currently studying power engineering … and making straight A’s by the way. This conversation, no doubt will help increase the potential for building student exchange with Thailand.
Spending the evening with an honored leader
The relationship between IUPUI and the country of Thailand has been reinforced over the years by the conferral of a number of honorary degrees. National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), a graduate university in Bangkok, presented honorary doctorates to former president John Ryan in 1991, vice president Patrick O’Meara in 2005, and executive vice chancellor William Plater in 2010.
This honor has been reciprocated by our campus at a number of IUPUI ceremonies: Amara Raksasataya of NIDA, received his honorary degree in 2000. Juree Vichit-Vadakan, former president of NIDA and a tireless advocate for civil society and gender equality, was so honored in 2007, on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Center on Philanthropy; and Sombat Thamrongthanyarong, also a former NIDA president and now president of Walailak University, received his degree in 2013. In addition, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, daughter of the King of Thailand and a strong advocate for philanthropy, received her honorary degree at an IU Bloomington commencement ceremony in 2009.
This evening we had the pleasure and honor of meeting Dr. Vichit-Vadakan as one of Chancellor Paydar’s and my final moments in Thailand prior to going to the airport for our return to Indianapolis. One of the first things she said when the chancellor asked her how she was doing: “Well, I just finished rewriting the Thai constitution.” That may not be an exact quote, but it is certainly true. Dr. Vichit-Vadakan is deeply involved in matters related to national governance and civil society, and the changes in the Thai government have necessitated revisions of governing documents.
We met at ROAST, a restaurant with a hip vibe started by Dr. Vichit-Vadakan’s son and run by him and her daughter. Conversation was lively and touched on a wide range of subjects, including the recent Asia Marketing Excellence Award received by the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at NIDA, which Dr. Vichit-Vadakan currently chairs. Of course, she didn’t bring this up to congratulate herself; she mentioned it in relation to how important it is to share our best stories with one another as a way to inspire and educate, both of which Dr. Vichit-Vadakan did for me this evening.
Our partnership with institutions in Thailand and elsewhere around the world is truly one of our best stories at IUPUI and one we must tell again and again.