Alliance reaches out to make connections

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2007, 12:00am

The world of scientific research is extending its global connections and is becoming more internationally integrated.

The International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), Launched in January last year as a leading co-operative network of 10 international research-intensive universities, is aiming to become the 'premier alliance of universities in the world'.

Asia is represented by the National University of Singapore (NUS), University of Tokyo and Peking University, while the Australian National University (ANU) recently joined the alliance for Australasia. In Europe, the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Copenhagen are joined by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

The alliance is completed by the University of California, Berkeley, and Yale University in the United States.

Ian Chubb, Australian National University vice-chancellor, said the partnership was comprised of a select group of research-intensive universities that shared similar values, a global vision and a commitment to educating future world leaders.

Professor Chubb said: 'The partnership is deep and the level of trust, understanding and compatibility between the partners allows for meaningful engagement to occur. The partnership is broad and provides a wide range of teaching and research possibilities which are better than any one of us could provide on our own.'

The initial research areas for the alliance include health, food and water, energy and the environment, security and the global movement of people. One of the objectives of the IARU is to instigate initiatives and resolve global challenges on the basis of a fruitful research corporation at an international level.

The professor said the partnership would bring new opportunities for research, teaching and learning that were global in scope through faculty collaboration and exchange, research training co-operation, undergraduate and postgraduate student exchange, joint/double degree programmes, exchange of best practices and protocols, and benchmarking.

He said the opportunities offered by the alliance should prove useful for young scientists who wanted to establish international collaborations early in their career. For example, students from Peking University could spend time in another country during their graduate studies then use contacts made abroad to strengthen research projects when they returned home.

Lily Kong, vice-provost (Education) at the NUS, said the IARU acted as a global platform for research and education that transcended disciplinary, cultural and continental boundaries. It also had the potential to expand opportunities for students to gain cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary exposure and experiences. Professor Kong said the benefits for faculty and staff came from meaningful collaborations.

She said the NUS, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo were the lead universities for research in energy, resources and the environment.

'Having established the NUS Environmental Research Institute [NERI] in January, NUS is well-positioned to contribute to this research initiative,' she said, adding that NERI was a multidisciplinary body bringing together expertise from its sciences, engineering, social sciences, environment and law faculties.

Professor Kong said through collaborating with Singaporean agencies and industries the NERI would generate and disseminate leading-edge knowledge on holistic environment management relevant to Singapore and the region.

She said the NUS would also play an active role in other multilateral projects undertaken by the IARU, such as a project on, 'understanding women in universities around the globe'. This focused on benchmarking and best practices for advancing women in the academy.

The alliance is certainly a boost for collaboration in education, making it possible for partner universities to offer joint and double degrees. At the undergraduate level, NUS has partnered with ANU to offer three joint degree programmes. These comprise joint honours degree in actuarial science and economics, joint bachelor of philosophy (honours) of (ANU)/ bachelor of arts (honours) of (NUS), and joint bachelor of philosophy (honours) of (ANU)/bachelor of science (honours) of (NUS). Under these arrangements, NUS students spend about three to four semesters in Canberra, and ANU students spend a similar period in Singapore.

At the graduate level, NUS has collaborated with ANU and Peking University on joint and double master's and PhD programmes in arts, business, science and engineering. In addition to collaborative educational programmes, there are opportunities for student exchange at the undergraduate and graduate levels at participating member universities.

NUS has partnered with Yale University and the University of Copenhagen for the 'Southeast Asia in Context: Yale-Copenhagen-NUS Summer School', which brought together 36 students from the three universities in July to attend lectures and field trips on Southeast Asian studies.

The alliance is also working towards a global summer programme from next year for students, which would mean substantial cross-involvement of academic staff. The courses would be designed to take advantage of the unique location, available resources and mix of students. It is also intended that graduate students would have opportunities to move across borders to spend time in other campuses where it would make sense to their research.

Siew Ean Khoo, a senior fellow in the demography and sociology programme at ANU and who is involved with the Movement of People research project at the university, said the project was being developed. 'Oxford University is taking the lead in developing the research proposal during the forthcoming months,' Dr Khoo said.

Kiichi Fujiwara, professor of international politics and IARU committee chair at the University of Tokyo, said his institution sometimes had a tendency to be inward looking towards its own research. 'IARU offers a great opportunity for us to open up by establishing close contacts with leading institutions around the world,' Professor Fujiwara said.

He said issues such as migration, ageing, sustainable environment and security, chosen by the IARU for collaborative research, were areas where the University of Tokyo excelled.

'These are the areas in which research institutions share a responsibility to deliver our work to the public, a responsibility that all leading research institutions must share. With 10 renowned institutions sharing research capabilities, we believe the outcome will show the significance of such an endeavour,' the professor said.

When fully up and running the IARU can allow students from around the world to prepare for global careers and address the challenges of an interconnected world.