What research initiatives is AIT currently involved in?
IRANDOUST: The recent projects of importance for AIT are all related to the needs of the region. One of the characteristics of AIT research is always the relevance of the research and the expected outputs to the region, especially aiming at increasing the competitiveness of the countries in the region within the global market. All the projects in which AIT participates in have a potential impact on the competitiveness of the countries. Currently, we are focusing on our major strength; that is, research on sustainable development in the context of climate change. Since AIT’s inception in 1959, the institute has been focusing its activities on issues related to sustainability. So, for AIT, it is a really natural step to strengthen this type of research. We are currently concentrating on the adaptation and mitigation aspects of climate change. Within this research platform, which works as an umbrella for our research activities, we have 5 topics and sub-areas, which cover very important issues for the region. These include topics related to disaster reduction, water resources management, coastal adaptation, and rural and urban planning and development, but also topics related to green technology, including waste refinery, green energy, renewable energy, etc. We also cover the area of the green economy, specifically targeting the new job opportunities arising in this sector, both regionally and globally.
What is AIT’s role and presence internationally?
IRANDOUST: AIT is a regional, international, and inter-governmental institution of learning. Currently, we have 9 member countries that run and govern AIT, and each of them has different expectations. Being run by 9 different countries means that we have to be present in all of these. However, we are very active outside of Asia too. We run projects in different parts of Asia, but also in Africa. We have an active presence through projects and through AIT centres in countries such as Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and in some post conflict countries such as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In Thailand, we are training staff coming from overseas institutions, but our faculty and our staff are also engaged in activities in Afghanistan, where we conduct courses and training modules in various disciplines and programs. Similarly, we are working with countries such as Myanmar, Iraq, etc. This is an important role for AIT, because not many universities are focusing on capacity building needs in post conflict countries. Since AIT is an inter-governmental organization, we can provide a neutral platform for regional collaboration on issues related to human resources development.
What is the geographical make-up of AIT’s student population?
IRANDOUST: In terms of student population, we have about 30% Thai students, another 25% to 30% from the remaining parts of the ASEAN countries, and about 20% to 30% of students coming from South Asia. The remaining portion comes from the rest of the world. In the last few years we have seen an increasing number of students coming from Africa, which is very positive for AIT as we are aiming at being more active and strengthen our presence in Africa in the coming years.
What is the role of private businesses vis-à-vis AIT’s projects and initiatives?
IRANDOUST: We involve the private sector for different reasons. One is, of course, that we do a lot of contracted research projects. We simply try to address the need of the private sector when it comes to R & D. But we also involve the private sector actors before starting to design a new research project, because it is very important to address and satisfy the needs of our various shareholders, including the private sector. We also try to involve them in order to ameliorate the utilization of the available resources. Within R & D, we further our partnerships and we address issues related to technology licensing, intellectual property rights, and patenting. From the early stage of a project, we come into integrated issues related to innovation and technology licensing, which are important for the sake of relevance as well. We have to make sure that our research product is of relevance and importance for both the public and the private sector. Last year, we had about 500 different sponsored and contracted research projects involving AIT faculty, staff, and students. The turnover for these projects amounted to about 1.5bn Baht ($50m) and all these projects were conducted in close interaction with several partners.
What are your growth and future development plans?
IRANDOUST: In terms of growth, we are trying to strengthen the connection between the research outcome and the potential for businesses to grow as a result of our findings. We are trying to strengthen the link between research and innovation. The competitiveness of the region will depend on the ability of institutions like AIT to add value in the creation of a knowledgeable intensive society. AIT has a major role to play in increasing competitiveness and entrepreneurship. Thus, we have to make sure that our research results in more innovative products and services, and in the creation of new businesses. A business creation that is not only for the sake of money per se, but also for the sake of the socio-economic development of the country, because new businesses mean increasing opportunities for job seekers, higher income tax generated for the governments, and an overall prosperity for the society as a whole. Our ambition for the coming years is to enhance the connection between research output and business creation. In order to achieve this, we need to strengthen partnerships, networking, efficiency, the quality of our activities, and profile our research more strongly.
Last year, we had about 500 different sponsored and contracted research projects involving AIT faculty, staff, and students. The turnover for these projects amounted to about 1.5bn Baht ($50m) and all these projects were conducted in close interaction with several partners.
How does Thai tertiary education compare to its regional ASEAN neighbours?
IRANDOUST: With regards to the ambition of becoming an international educational hub, I believe that, unfortunately, Thailand is behind, especially compared to countries such as Singapore and even Malaysia. Thailand needs to do a lot more. This is a very complicated process where countries need to make a major effort, as this ambition does not come for free. It requires a lot of hard work, but more importantly it requires a solid vision and a master plan. Thailand has a lot of good opportunities to come out of this exercise successfully, because it has a proven track of excellence in other sectors, such as tourism and healthcare. We know that people from other countries come to Thailand because of the advanced healthcare system. This testifies that Thailand can become an educational hub. There is a lot of expertise coming from other sectors, which Thailand can utilize to reach this goal.