Asian Institute of Technology celebrates 50 years of service to the developing world
By Neville de Silva
Bangkok, 07 June , (Asiantribune.com): Some 20 kilometers or so away from the hustle and bustle of sprawling Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, and smack next to Thammasat University, the centre of student protest in days gone by, stands the Asian Institute for Technology (AIT).
A few days ago this prestigious institute that enjoys a worldwide reputation for its contribution to the development of technological excellence in the Asian region, celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a pictorial display of its development and a media conference at Bangkok’s Dusit Thani Hotel.
The day before celebrities, faculty and students from across Asia’s national frontiers gathered to inform and be informed of AIT’s work in the last 50 years to bridge the technological gap between the advanced nations of the West and the developing countries of Asia, I paid my first visit to its present campus.
Situated in some 300 acres of land, its green, serene and picturesque surroundings provide what must surely be an ideal locale for study and a healthy interchange of national and cultural experiences and values.
“We have here around 2300 students from 40 countries and faculty staff from more than 20 countries,” Professor Said Irandoust, President of AIT told me.
That shows how far AIT has travelled from the first days 50 years ago when it had only 18 students and was located by Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Thousands of persons around the globe, particularly those in academic circles have heard of AIT and the excellent work it has been doing to bring technology and its application to many of the problems that now face not only Asia but the world as well.
However few know how AIT was born. It came into being in the days of East-West confrontation which, in the shorthand of politics and diplomacy, was known as the Cold War.
As Charles Dickens has written it was the best of times and the worst of times, depending on ones worldview. The post- war era had seen the world divided into two ideologically-opposing camps, one led by the United States calling itself the “free world” and the other, the socialist world, headed by the Soviet Union.
In an attempt to contain the power and influence of the Soviet Union and the spread of communism, the western allies-led by Washington had built a string of military alliances across Europe, western Asia and Southeast Asia to the Pacific. The last of these was the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) which had among its members Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines.
AIT was started as a part of the Chulalongkorn University campus and was named the SEATO Graduate School for Engineering with the primary intention of upgrading the technological skills of students from Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.
SEATO was dead and buried without much ceremony decades ago along with CENTO (the Central Treaty Organisation). Pakistan straddled these two alliances.
The Cold War officially came to an end two decades ago. In the meantime AIT had been making giant strides expanding its areas of academic work and research and drawing students as well as scholars from an ever widening number of countries.
As Teg Bunnag, a former Thai Foreign Minister and one-time Ambassador to Washington and now Chairman of the AIT Board of Trustees said at the celebrations, the Institute is a truly regional centre now expanding to central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Moreover, said Ambassador Bunnag, AIT acts as a bridge between the global, regional and local providing a rich multicultural environment.
AIT President Irandoust went further saying that it is recognized by the United Nations for its excellent work on sustainable development.
AIT has made certain that it does not compete with the national universities of the countries from which it attracts students and faculty. Rather it works in partnership with those national universities to ensure they are not denuded.
AIT has also established centres abroad such as the ones in Indonesia and Vietnam and very soon will be linking up with the South Asian Institute for Technology Management in Sri Lanka where undergraduate courses would be on offer from September.
In keeping with current global concerns over the environment the South Asian Institute’s Malabe Campus would be Sri Lanka’s first “green” campus. This environmentally-friendly and fit- for- purpose campus would be well suited for the academic pursuits that would be available.
A Memorandum of Understanding between AIT and the South Asian Institute will be signed in Colombo later this month, Sanjeeva Jayasinghe, Director Fund Raising of AIT told theAsian Tribune.
“Today the Institute possesses a tremendous wealth of knowledge from its accumulated experiences and provides a platform for sharing best practices from Asia on higher learning in science, engineering and technology and management that is hard to match,” says AIT President Irandoust.
AIT is a leader in Asia for its treatment of emerging issues, particularly those related to sustainable development and the direct application of research findings to situations of concern, he adds.
“In a complex world where no institution can hope to stay relevant by working alone, AIT is leveraging the depth and breadth of its numerous partnerships and redefining itself as a Regional Network Institute.”
He said that a new AIT Charter has been finalized recognizing these profound changes and will accord the Institute full-fledged nternational/intergovernmental organizations status, enabling it to take on a much stronger and proactive regional as well as a global role into the future, together with its partners.
Once the new Charter becomes operative and its aims realised, AIT’s place as a focal point of learning, teaching and research will be even more firmly established.
- Asian Tribune -