One of the premier educational institutions of India’s Northeast region is the University of Science & Technology Meghalaya (USTM). Despite the University not being too old, it has however carved a niche in terms of impact and has been catering to the needs of millions of India’s Northeast’s population. The USTM has been creating synergy towards achieving overall development in Scientific Knowledge, Research and Education. The university in collaboration with Green School Bali of Indonesia organized an international conference on India’s relations with Southeast Asia from February 26-27, 2016 titled, “Raise with East: Vistas of India Cooperation with Southeast Asian Commerce, Culture, Capacity and Connectivity.”
The South Asia team of Eurasia Review participated in the conference and had an in-depth interview with the Organizers. Here are some of the excerpts of the conversation between the Convenor Dr. Amit Choudhury, presently the Dean, School of Business Sciences at the University and Dr. Adfar Shah, currently Associate Editor (South Asia) at Eurasia Review.
Dr. Amit Choudhury is a graduate in Chemical Engineering from AEC, Guwahati and pursued a Masters of Business Administration at Nagpur University and started his career as a Technical consultant. He then Joined Central IT College (the first institution and the root of ERDF) in 2003, which later became the second largest study center in India by 2008. Presently, Dr. Choudhury is the Dean, School of Business Sciences at USTM given his academic achievements and scholarship. He is also the member of the parent body ERDF which is promoting one Engineering college, Two Professional Colleges, One Women’s College, and Two Secondary Schools apart from the University.
The University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya (USTM), in association with Green School, Bali – Indonesia, organized the international conference. The conference was an attempt to engage with academics and researchers from South-East Asian nations to explore beyond India’s Act East Policy, as envisaged by the government. The conference provided a platform for academicians and researchers to reflect upon and explore opportunities for mutual co-operation, both at the individual as well as institutional level. The conference explored the Indo-ASEAN connect in terms of Culture, Commerce and Capacity. The conference had participation from academic institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (JNU), M.S. University, Baroda, Kasetsart University, Bangkok, Universitas NgurahRai – Bali, Yayasan KulKul – Bali, Green School – Bali, IANS Salatiga, Universitas 17 Augustas 1945, Gauhati University and Tezpur University.
The inaugural address of the conference was given by Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar (Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia), and he stressed that India must build a web of relationships with all countries, including China. Its Act East Policy has moved into a faster lane with respect to Japan. Security relations are also growing and India and Japan recently reached an agreement on a civil nuclear pact during the visit of Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe to India. Indonesia has emerged as the second largest trading partner of India among ASEN countries. Amb Sajjanhar dwelt at length about the importance of “Act East” and its long term strategic benefits.
The technical sessions on the sub themes were held at the USM Conference Hall – The first session on Culture & Connectivity saw the keynote address being presented by Prof. G K Jha followed by the panel discussion chaired by Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, the second session on Capacity & Connectivity had the keynote address presented by eminent academic Prof K Pushpanadham followed by special address from Prof Kanda Sakulthanasakdi Moore. The last technical session on Commerce & Connectivity had witnessed the panel discussion chaired by Dr R M Pant.The Valedictory session saw the release of the Book Titled “Turn Mirrors into Windows – Rhetoric of Act East Policy and beyond” – A compilation of articles and papers on the themes of the conference.
Adfar Shah (AS): At the outset tell us briefly about the objective of this conference?
Dr Amit Choudhury (AC): The broader objective was to reflect upon from the discourses that ought to emanate from such august gathering and seek the windows of opportunity that lay hidden, tap the same, explore and open up vistas of cooperation.
AS: Seeing India’s emerging and blossoming ties with ASEAN and the larger East Asia block, how do you see India’s Look East policy and do you believe it has achieved a substantive economic and strategic importance?
AC: Well it will be unjust on my part to comment on such a broader issue, but yes, the shift from Look East to Act East over the years do provide us with a much wider paradigm filled with actions and directed towards results. We indeed see the horizon broaden in terms of cooperation with East and Far East.
AS: How is India cooperating with South East Asia through Commerce, culture, capacity and connectivity and what is its current magnititude? Also are we benefiting from it?
AC: The magnitude in terms of trade and commerce, cultural exchange or for that matter capacity building exercise between India and ASEAN have boosted over the years however the major thrust is the buildup of strategic partnership, which surely would be mutually beneficial over a longer frame of time.
AS: How Do you think India’s setting up of an Indian mission to the ASEAN in Jakarta, and the decision to set up an ASEAN-India Centre for Trade and Investment will Improve the mutual ties and will such steps anyway facilitate Trace and cultural exchange?
AC: As a member from academia, and with academic interest in mind, yes we have seen researches that are directed towards re-visiting the “missing link”, and establishment of such centers do go a long way in facilitating further understanding.
AS: The main themes of your conference were Culture and Connectivity, Capacity and Connectivity, Commerce and Connectivity. Can you elaborate upon the relevance of such discourses today and how are we moving forward on these lines with Southeast Asian States?
AC: The primary objective of the conference was to identify vistas of cooperation between India and ASEAN, as perceived by the academia. And the element of connect in terms of Culture, Capacity and Commerce are indeed relevant in today’s context. Being the member of academic fraternity, we look forward towards establishing connectivity in terms of education and research, the exchange programs directed towards promoting better understanding etc. It is the “Culture and Connectivity” which carry a historical significance, the fact that India and ASEAN countries share many things in common. Capacity building exercises, in matters related to sharing of traditional knowledge in harnessing the rich diversity of resources that both NE India and majority of ASEAN countries are blessed with. Further, application of such traditional knowledge and the scientific intervention in terms of enhancing the know-how and know-why would result in ushering sustainable development of our rural sector. Exchanging knowledge and establishing the connectivity in term of capacity, would in turn promote Trade and Commerce.
AS: How do you see India-ASEAN ties today and what is the future of ASEAN in terms of mutual trade and commerce?
AC: I would say both are mutually developing and growing together strategically.
AS: Can you briefly enumerate three major highlights of this conference and who were the big names that participated in this mega academic event?
AC: The major aim was to build a Connect of the University of Science & Technology, Meghalaya both at the National as well as International scene leading to mutual understanding between the participating Universities and Institutions to promote Education Research and Development. Some of the well known participants of the conference were Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar, Former Ambassador of India to Khazakstan, Sweden and Latvia, Theodoor Bakker, Vice-President, EU-ASEAN Trade Council, Chris Saye, Founder, Green Camp –Bali and Founder & MD MarcWhitakker, Singapore, Prof. Iwan Pranoto, Head Attache of Education, Embassy of Indonesia in India,Prof. K Pushpanadham-well known academic and professor at The M S University of Baroda,Prof. G K Jha, JNU, New Delhi, Prof. Kanda Shakulthanasakdi Moore, Kasetsart University, Bangkok besides many other personalities. Also there were representatives and participants from Universitas Ngurah Rai, Bali, Kasetsart University, Bangkok; Universitas 17 Agustas 1945, Surabaya; The M S University, Baroda; Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Gauhati University and Tezpur University, etc,.
AS: Organizing an event, conference or research network is an excellent way to gain vital networks and future cooperation’s? How do you see this event for your university?
AC: University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya; as always since its inception believed in establishing strong network and linkages between academia, research institutions and industry. And with the conference, future cooperation both at the individual and institutional level in matters related to education research and development will be more forthcoming.
AS: Can you briefly highlight how your institution is different from other institutions of the North East?
AC: The parent body Education Research and Development Foundation (ERDF) which runs USTM, was established with the primary focus on Education Research and Development. And presently our educational network is the Largest in NE India, with its focus on education from KG to PG to Ph.D. The emphasis is always on all-round development of the child to a responsible citizen, providing continuous learning experiences over and above what the curriculum prescribes. Events like:
North East Graduate Congress, North East Principals Conclave, North East College Teachers Meet, North East Law Graduates Congress etc are annual event at USTM which invites participation of Students, Principals, Teachers etc from all the states of NE India.
AS: Is there any existing accreditation mechanism in the University? How do USTM ensure quality development?
AC: The establishment of Internal Quality Assurance Group enables USTM to maintain quality in its endeavors. However, as a University, USTM is subjected to continuous monitoring and evaluation by teams from UGC, MPURB (Meghalaya Private University Regulatory Board), etc. Further, the programs run by USTM are recognized by respective statutory bodies like AICTE, NCTE, BCI, etc.
AS: What is the role of USTM for promoting technical education for women, differently abled and other weaker section of the society?
AC: Unique role that USTM and its parent body ERDF has been practicing since its inception is that of providing free Education to meritorious students belonging to families below poverty line, to students who are displaced by unrest etc. At present almost 20% of the total intake at USTM and its sister institutions are availing this benefit.
AS: In what ways is the USTM active in fulfilling the objective to conduct research in the relevant fields and advancement of learning and dissemination of knowledge?
AC: Individual students and teachers belonging to departments that are housed under respective schools of the University are encouraged to take up research, projects and studies that promote the advancement of learning and dissemination of knowledge. Extension activity at USTM assumes a greater role for the students and faculties where they are expected to adopt a village, school etc and work for its development.
AS: Any other thing important which you want to highlight about your institution?
AC: Seeing is believing and we at USTM extend warm invitation to visit our humble initiative and bless us in our endeavor. USTM administers it academic programs through various schools and centers. They are: School of Business Sciences houses the Departments of Economics, Commerce and Business Administration offering courses at Undergraduate Post Graduate and Ph.D level. School of Biological Sciences houses the departments of Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Zoology, Botany, Food Science, etc,. School of Applied Sciences houses the departments of Earth Science, Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, etc,. School of Social Science & Humanities houses the departments of English, Sociology, Social Work, Public Administration, Rural Development, etc,. Prof. Q H School of Education runs the program of B.Ed (Bachelors of Education). School of Engineering and Technology houses the departments of Computer Sciences and Electronics. University School of Law and Research runs program like the Integrated LLB and the Bachelor’s of Law. All departments under each school of the university offers courses/ programmes both at UG and PG level and also offers Ph.D studies.