14 April, 2009

Hear us out: Academics

GLOBAL TECH ALLIANCE
Network can help tackle cross-border challenges

Lin Yanqin
yanqin@mediacorp.com.sg

AN ALLIANCE of tertiary institutes, which includes the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), wants its voice to be heardby legislators and policymakers before a vote is taken on important issues.

At global summits with world leaders — such as the recently concluded G20 meeting in London and the World Economic Forum in Davos — scientists and researchers want to be represented at the discussions to offer their take on tackling transboundary issues like climate change or global food supply.

Beyond collaborating on research to create solutions to global problems, this is what members of the newly-formed Global Alliance of Technological Universities (Global Tech Alliance), launched yesterday, hope to eventually achieve.

While finance-centred universities and programmes have drawn much of the brightest talents over the last few years, the seven member alliance — California Institute of Technology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Zurich ETH), Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, NTU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University — hope to help bring the interest back to engineering and the sciences.

“Engineering has the answers to many of the problems ... and I think Global Tech can be the voice to the politicians and we talk with a global voice,” said NTU provost Bertil Andersson.

Added Imperial College director Roy Anderson: “You want to be listened to, and you’d probably be more effective nationally (and internationally) if you are part of a larger group, there’s greater strength in going to a politician and saying this is a view that is not only held in the United Kingdom, it’s held by an international alliance of experts.”

Indeed, other university alliances have made their presence felt, such as the International Alliance of Research Universities, which spoke as a bloc at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

For starters, the alliance will focus on creating more opportunities for student exchange, as well as for faculties to work together on research areas.

Joint undergraduate and post-graduate programmes are also on the cards, such as allowing students to take courses across the various universities to earn their degrees.

Such programmes should be interdisciplinary in nature, to more effectively tackle global problems which span more than one discipline, said Sir Roy.

The global nature of the alliance will also help to bring in “mindsets” from different regions in deriving solutions, said Zurich ETH senior vice-president for international institution affairs Gerhard Schmitt.

For instance, in developing sustainable cities in rapidly urbanising countries like China and India, it would be useful to have the perspective of the alliance’s Indian and Chinese partners, which can also more effectively communicate solutions to their respective governments in effecting change.


From TODAY, News - Wednesday, 08-April-2009