The leaders of the best universities in East Asia verified their privilege and stressed the need to cooperate with regional institutions, in order to stimulate innovation at the national level.
Countries like Japan and China have generous public funding for research, but it is primarily intended for elite campuses and projects focused on science, technology, and engineering.
“Drastic” changes are needed if countries are to achieve the twin goals of boosting world-class universities while supporting local and regional institutions, said Seiichi Matsuo, president of Nagoya University.
“Government grants are widely distributed to major research universities,” he told the Times Higher Education Summit of Asian Universities. “Local universities have fewer financial resources and find it difficult to promote regional innovation.”
Professor Matsuo said his institution was “dedicated to promoting regional development,” especially since it is located in a traditional manufacturing hub for automakers like Toyota. Last year, Nagoya partnered with Gifu University in a neighboring prefecture to create a “national university society”, the Tokai National Higher Education and Research System (THERS).
“At a time when the world is changing at an unprecedented scale and speed through digital transformation, the structure of industry and academia must change,” he said.
Professor Matsuo added that the “decline of rural areas” was particularly problematic in Japan, which faces a rapidly aging society, as well as the migration of young people to big cities like Tokyo.
Bin Yang, vice president and provost of Tsinghua University, said that “education cannot be financed by market forces alone” and that “equality is important for long-term development.”
“In China’s latest five-year plan, the central government paid more attention to equality among universities, not just world-class universities,” he said.
He cited a “twin university system” that twinned institutions on the wealthier east coast with those in “rural or remote areas,” including through a faculty exchange. For example, Tsinghua sent aid to Wuhan during the initial coronavirus outbreak in 2019.
“As a leading university, Tsinghua has more resources, but also more responsibilities to share,” he said. “We all share this obligation to close the gap.”
Lily Kong, president of Singapore Management University, stressed that innovation should not be limited to science.
“There is a tendency to think of innovation as innovation based on scientific research, but I want to disown ourselves from this point of view,” she said. “There are approaches to curriculum and pedagogy that can also be innovative.
“Innovation cannot be perfectly taught or perfectly learned; but we can create an environment where innovation is possible, ”she said.
She advised students not to fear risk or failure, while cautioning institutions against “one-way communication” or “program overcrowding.”
“It is important to give students a sense of autonomy, choice and the ability to think,” she said. “When young people are in unfamiliar environments, this is where they learn best.”
Ultimately, institutions must lead the way for change. “If we don’t behave in innovative ways, how can we set an example for students?” she asked.