Tracing the history of AIT, and envisioning the future of higher education in the region

Tracing the history of AIT, and envisioning the future of higher education in the region

Tracing the history of the establishment of the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), and envisioning the future of the Institute in the context of global and regional changes in the landscape of higher education was the theme of two lectures organized by AIT in February 2018.

Setting things in motion at AIT on 20 February 2018 was the Milton E. Bender Jr. Lecture and Public Discussion, where Dr. Adrian Ray Chamberlain, former President of Colorado State University (CSU), spoke on “SEATO-GSE AND AIT: Beginnings and Visions for the Future.” The event was followed by the Thanat Khoman lecture by Dr. Chamberlain on “Visions for Thailand’s Higher Education Leadership as a Regional Hub for Science, Technology and Innovation in the 21st Century Global Society,” held on 22 February 2018.

Panel discussion following the MIlton E. Bender Jr. Lecture at AIT.

The talks and the ensuing discussion traced the historical setting that laid the foundation of AIT, and how AIT could strengthen its contributions in the realm of higher education in the region, and particularly Southeast Asia. 

The two lectures were held in honor of Prof. Milton E. Bender Jr., the first President of AIT; and H.E. Dr. Thanat Khoman, former Foreign Minister of Thailand, and the longest serving Chairperson of AIT Board of Trustees.

Tracing the history of establishment of the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering, Prof. Chamberlain stated that the idea to establish a graduate school in Thailand emerged from the fact that close to two-thirds of the international students studying in the United States remained in the US, and only one-third returned to their home countries to contribute towards the cause of nation building. “The idea was to create an engineering college in an international arena,” Prof. Chamberlain said.

Stating that a significant majority of institutions fail within the first 10 years of their establishment, Prof. Chamberlain credited the success of AIT to the vision of its founding fathers. He mentioned the historic role played by Dr.Thanat Khoman, President John F Kennedy, Prof. Maurice Albertson, architect of the Peace Corps and Prof. Milton E. Bender Jr. in furthering the cause of education and societal development.

Presenting a master-plan for the future, Prof. Chamberlain stressed the need to focus on selected research areas that are needed in the region. “We need to hire entrepreneurs to lead these focus areas, and these programs have to be led by world-class scientists,” Prof. Chamberlain suggested. He mentioned student tuition fees and scholarships, governmental support, contracting grant programs, and an endowment fund are the pillars of financial stability of an Institute. Complimenting AIT’s reach, Prof. Chamberlain remarked that AIT alumni are holding key positions in virtually all sectors throughout the region. Stressing the need for engineering education and for engineers to reach out to society, the former President of CSU asked AIT to strengthen its role in catapulting engineers into the social fabric of the country and the region. Dr. Chamberlain spoke of the importance of skillful leadership, strategic thinking and disciplined execution to capitalize on what he described as a “pivotal moment in higher education and a time that is full of extraordinary possibilities.”

The talk at AIT was followed by a group discussion led by Dr. John D. Nelson, Professor Emeritus, Colorado State University; Prof. Alastair M. North, former AIT President, and Dr. Anat Arbhabhirama, Director and Advisor to the Board of Directors, Bangkok Mass Transit System Public Company Limited. 

Dr. Nelson mentioned that AIT has passed through the trial period, and it has emerged as a “mature institution.” Dr. Anat described Prof. Milton Bender as his first boss, and as his teacher in the art of administration. He stressed the need to focus on “AIT 2.0” as a way ahead. Prof. North remarked that AIT is in a very favorable position, since it remains independent of any single government.

The Milton E. Bender Jr. Lecture was followed by the Thanat Khoman lecture by Dr. Chamberlain on the topic “Visions for Thailand’s Higher Education Leadership as a Regional Hub for Science, Technology and Innovation in the 21st Century Global Society.” Dr.Srilaksana Khoman, Dr. Thanat’s daughter-in-law spoke about her father-in-law, the man and his programs, and his times as Ambassador and Minister of Foreign Affairs. H.E. Mr. Vitthya Vejjajiva, former Ambassador and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighted the importance of AIT and traced its route from the SEATO Graduate School. Prof. Bundhit Eua-arporn, President of Chulalongkorn University spoke about the role played by Dr. Thanat Khoman and the journey traversed by Chulalongkorn University and AIT.

H.E. Dr. Subin Pinkayan, Chairperson, AIT Board of Trustees, AIT President Prof. Worsak Kanok-Nukulchai, and Ms. Doris Wibunsin, Honorary Treasurer John F. Kennedy Foundation of Thailand for Thai-American Friendship, delivered the vote of thanks.

The events were supported by the John F. Kennedy Foundation of Thailand for Thai-American Friendship.

Thanat Khoman lecture on “Visions for Thailand’s Higher Education Leadership as a Regional Hub for Science, Technology and Innovation in the 21st Century Global Society.”