Sustaining university-industry-community initiatives beyond the first flush of enthusiasm is a core challenge for all partners involved, according to delegates at a key Asian higher education conference.
Related issues of passing on know-how, gaining and keeping community support, and funding were common sustainability themes at the AsiaEngage “Regional Conference on Higher Education-Industry-Community Engagement in Asia: Forging Meaningful Partnerships”, held at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia on the outskirts of capital city Kuala Lumpur from 7-9 May.
Students and researchers can learn from others’ experience through sharing, said Nat Vorayos, associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, who felt this was lacking in some Asian universities.
“There are many good examples of community engagement, and they should be documented, published and disseminated,” he urged. “A network should be created and information along with good examples of implementation should be communicated.” He hoped AsiaEngage itself would be able to do that.
AsiaEngage is a platform by means of which a group of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) universities, regional networks and programmes share expertise, knowledge and experience in community engagement. The aim is to replicate the best models and practices across the region.
Vorayos recommended that communities be involved in university research from the outset. “Community engagement is about cooperation between scholars and communities.”
Dr Sukkid Yasothornsrikul, vice-president for research and external relations at Naresuan University in Phitsanulok, Thailand, said his institution achieves that by involving the community at all levels of management.
“There are community representations on our university council, management board and committees. Integration of teaching, research and community service is encouraged and implemented in many subjects. We even have a journal to publish work done in communities.”
Vorayos and Yasothornsrikul said a reward system recognising achievement in community projects would help sustainability.
Yasothornsrikul offered as a model a project where Naresuan students designed disabled-friendly structures for a village with many physically impaired occupants.
“As part of their coursework, they had to use their knowledge and apply it in unconventional situations. The community formed a group, helped to gather materials, and offered time and labour.”
On finance, Professor María Nieves Tapia, director of the Latin American Centre for Service-learning in Buenos Aires, Argentina, said her experience was that a very good project that was valued by a community would find funding easy – or easier – to find.
“Communities are a stakeholder too, so they help in getting funding and support.”