August 2, 2017
A JICA project in the ASEAN region is working to improve the capacity of university faculty members in 10 engineering fields, including civil and environmental engineering, and to return the dividends of research to the region in the form of socioeconomic development.
JICA has been engaged for 17 years in the project that develops human resources and strengthens research capacity to create these intellectual dividends in ASEAN. It is called AUN/SEED-Net (ASEAN University Network/Southeast Asia Engineering Education Development Network).
The network is made up of 26 top engineering institutions in ASEAN and 14 leading Japanese Supporting Universities*.
SEED-Net has the following four pillars:
1. Graduate degree scholarship programs — These mainly include master's degrees acquired at universities within ASEAN, doctoral degree sandwich programs in which participants study at a university within ASEAN to acquire a doctoral degree while also engaging in short-term study in Japan, and doctoral degrees acquired at Japanese universities.
2. Joint research programs through partnerships, between universities and between industry and universities, on issues common to the ASEAN region
3. Working to strengthen networks by supporting regional conferences and publishing engineering journals
4. A program to link industry and universities by holding seminars and publishing directories.
By March 2018, there are projected to be 1,392 participants in the graduate degree scholarship programs and 211 joint research projects.
The severe traffic situation in Cambodia
After acquiring a degree, more than half of participants use the experience and knowledge they gained to get involved in teaching students as faculty once again. Also, a significant number get jobs at private companies and government research institutions.
One example is Borith Long, who was born in Cambodia. As an employee of a Japanese consulting firm, he is involved in a survey for a freeway development project in Phnom Penh, the capital of his home country of Cambodia.
"Studying with students from other countries in the ASEAN region was stimulating," says Mr. Borith
He acquired a master's degree in Thailand as a SEED-Net scholarship student, then returned to Cambodia and became a faculty member at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia. Then, to gain more advanced knowledge, he applied again and earned a doctoral degree at Hokkaido University.
"I would like to return to the university and contribute to the improvement of traffic and transportation in Cambodia," he said. He says he chose to take the job at the consulting firm to make that dream come true and because he thought it important to learn about the latest practical work in the field.
Regarding the work attitudes of Japanese people, he said, "The work is hard but it is good for learning how to be strict about the quality of work and for learning about managing work processes."
Keophousone Phonhalath, who is working on the important problem of arsenic diffusion
In southern Laos, underground arsenic is getting into ground water and causing serious harm. While teaching at the National University of Laos, Keophousone Phonhalath is mapping arsenic in ground water as part of research to help ensure a safe water supply.
"I participated in a doctoral degree sandwich program. An assistant supervising instructor at Kyushu University gave me detailed guidance, and I was able to deepen my skills and knowledge regarding the analysis of groundwater. That is proving quite useful in my current research."
The ground water survey
A Vietnamese researcher who studied with Ms. Keophousone in the master's course of an Indonesian university as a SEED-Net scholarship student is also participating in the joint research. Research that leverages the human network cultivated through SEED-Net has become a reality. No analysis has ever been done before on the diffusion of arsenic and arsenic contamination in Laos, and Ms. Keophousone is currently preparing to present her research findings at an academic conference.
The research Nwe Ni Hlaing did in a doctoral degree sandwich program received high praise at academic conferences in Malaysia
A second generation of SEED-Net has resulted from long years of the project's activities. Nwe Ni Hlaing, who was born in Myanmar, specializes in materials science and engineering, which involves developing new materials and the pursuit of better quality and performance. She says she applied to SEED-Net on the recommendation of a former teacher who acquired a doctorate through the program.
"Learning in a doctoral degree sandwich program along with my colleagues from ASEAN, as well as learning from Japanese students and researchers using the latest facilities, were quite stimulating for me." She has now returned to Myanmar and, as a university faculty member, is advising the next generation of students on their research.
This project, which has been carried out in stages — including strengthening the base of the network, the continuation of degree programs and collaboration with industry — will enter its fourth phase beginning in March 2018. A cooperation framework joint signing ceremony that will bring together people from the various countries' ministries of education and universities is scheduled to be held along with an ASEAN high-level education meeting in November in Bangkok. JICA aims to further develop AUN/SEED-Net as a bridge between Japan and ASEAN, building on the network and results already achieved.