Hana Kamaruddin08 May 2012 Issue No:221
University partnerships with industry can be scaled up across national boundaries in a wider region to benefit communities, a conference on academic links with business and populations through Asia heard on Monday.
Corporations “do not seem to serve society at large”, Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Wan Noordin conceded at the AsiaEngage “Regional Conference on Higher Education-Industry-Community Engagement in Asia. Forging Meaningful Partnerships”, being held from 7-9 May at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
“But there is a way for the two to work together to fulfil the corporate social responsibility objective,” said Wan Zahid, a member of the governing council of the Sime Darby Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Sime Darby Group – a major, government-linked corporation focused mainly on the palm oil business.
“Universities are also enthusiastic to reach out to communities,” he said, citing his foundation and UKM as an example of a fruitful university-industry partnership.
They are working together on innovative palm oil milling technology whose goal is zero emission of greenhouse gases and, ultimately, more sustainable practices in the industry.
UKM provides research capacity. The foundation is providing MYR15 million (USD4.91 million) funding in line with its preferred policy of backing studies based around the parent company’s core business strands.
Although companies responsible to shareholders were driven by profit motives, some aspects of industry required a great deal of research and universities have an army of researchers to do that, Wan Zahid noted.
Sime Darby Group commits at least 3% of its profit to the foundation’s corporate social responsibility initiatives and has already pledged MYR99.2 million this year, he said.
Its ongoing Zero Waste Technology project for palm-oil milling has now transcended regional boundaries and received support from the Netherlands, which has agreed to fund a European scientist to join the project, he revealed.
The project was “a wonderful example of a university-industry partnership,” said Professor Saran Kaur Gill, UKM’s deputy vice-chancellor for industry and community partnerships and executive director of AsiaEngage.
AsiaEngage is a platform for regional cooperation under which a group of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional networks and programmes share expertise, knowledge and experience in community engagement across the ASEAN region and Asia in general.
They include the Asia-Talloires Network of Industry and Community Engaged Universities, the ASEAN University Network’s thematic university social responsibility and sustainability network, and the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme and its associated universities.
AsiaEngage is driven by UKM through its office of industry and community partnerships and is supported by Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education.
“AsiaEngage aspires to use the same working model [as Sime Darby and UKM], but with industry players with regional business,” said Gill. “We want to jointly develop a model that can be replicated in the region.”
A global computer firm with a strong regional presence might be one example, she suggested. “They have the capacity to provide computers to regional communities but they can also forge a more meaningful and productive relationship with these communities. And I believe that this can stretch out to many areas.
“Given that they have a regional presence, they can then also work with different universities to jointly develop a workable private-partnership model.”