$171m Asia institute planned

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 1995, 12:00am

MELBOURNE University is to build an Asia-Pacific Institute that will set up a network with universities across Asia, including the University of Hong Kong.

The centre will cost at least A$30 million (HK$171 million). To be the legacy of the university's retiring Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Penington, it will be a hi-tech, money-making venture providing post-graduate and staff training, conference facilities and research and course development programmes.

It will do so in collaboration with many of the 35 Asian universities, research organisations and scientific academies with which Melbourne University already has formal exchange agreements. These include the University of Hong Kong and talks are underway with the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Professor Penington told Campus Post: 'We see the centre as a contribution to the rapid development of Australia's commitment to a better understanding of Asia and the development of partnership arrangements in higher education.

'We are doing it as a service to improve relations between Australia and Asia. Australians have a lot of learning to do to understand Asia better.' But the decision has not been without controversy, partly over the size of the funding commitments that will be focused on a single university. The university - to begin building the institute next year - is providing A$20 million. It has other donors interested and is looking for backing from major Australian companies it hopes will use its facilities.

Several Australian universities, including Monash, Murdoch and the University of New South Wales, already have centres focusing on Asia and there have been rumblings of discontent at what is seen as a power grab by the wealthy and established Melbourne University and at Professor Penington's statements that the new centre will break new ground.

The Asia-Pacific Institute will not offer award courses, but its facilities and expert advice will be available to the faculties. It will have an English language lecture programme, to be beamed to its Asian partners, so staff can study while remaining at their institutions.

'The universities will send people down for training. And it will offer PhD training at substantially less cost than many institutions pay to send people to the US for four or five years,' Professor Penington said.

'They will have staff down here for 12 months or two years, then return to their universities and continue their research jointly between the two universities.' Plans for the institute include eight lecture theatres, offices for 40 people, an on-line resource centre and library, multilingual meeting and conference facilities, accommodation for 40 visitors, dining facilities, a gallery and theatre. It will also house the university's existing Asialink Centre, the Australian Centre and Asian Business Centre.

It will be run by a professor as director, with an advisory management board with half its members from within the university and half from without.

The policy paper for the institute lists 10 activities proposed as part of its portfolio. These include hosting electronic 'think-tanks' with experts from across Asia discussing such subjects as environmental and health problems, briefing programmes for Australian university staff and supporting the development of Asian universities.