Universities and global sustainable economic development in the 21st century

50th Anniversary of the National Institute of Development Administration
National Institute on Development Administration
Bangkok, Thailand

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Thank you, General Prem, and President Pradit. It is a privilege to share the stage with such an eminent Thai statesman and with the leader of one of Indiana University’s oldest and most valued international partners.

I am greatly honored to be here today and very pleased to be back in Thailand for this celebration of NIDA’s 50th anniversary.

I also want to add my thanks and appreciation to Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Somkid, Deputy Education Minister Dr. Teerakiat, and former Finance Minister Dr. Thanong, all of whom are helping to shape Thailand’s educational and economic foundation, and from whom we will hear in a few moments.

I also want to add my welcome to all of the rectors of Thai universities who are here today.

The presence here today of these eminent government and higher education leaders is testimony to the impact NIDA has had over the course of its first 50 years.

In Indiana, we are preparing to celebrate—in 2020—the 200th anniversary of the founding of Indiana University in 1820. Major milestones, such as NIDA’S 50th anniversary and IU’s 200th, are of great importance in the life of any institution. They are occasions for celebration and pride, and they give us the opportunity to reflect on all that our institutions have achieved in the preceding years.

The National Institute of Development Administration

One central part of Indiana University’s history is a rich tradition of international engagement that goes back more than 100 years. The many decades of cooperation and friendship that Indiana University and Thailand have enjoyed have been a major part of that tradition.

Indiana University was, of course, fortunate to have been involved in the establishment of the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University. Joseph Sutton, who later served as the 13th president of IU, was Indiana University’s chief of party at Thammasat. John Ryan, who became the 14th president of Indiana University in 1971, was also here in Bangkok between 1955 and 1957 to do research for his doctoral thesis.

And, of course, as a founding member of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities—known as MUCIA—IU was honored to assist in the establishment of NIDA 50 years ago. In fact, because of IU’s experience in helping to establish the IPA at Thammasat, IU was selected to lead the consortium’s efforts.

A number of key figures in NIDA’s founding were associated with Indiana University, either as faculty members or alumni. As you know, NIDA’s initial development was funded by a series of grants from the Ford Foundation. Professor Howard Schaller, a long-time faculty member in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, was the Ford Foundation’s resident representative in southeast Asia at the time, and later served as chief advisor to NIDA. NIDA’s first rector, Bunchana Atthakor, was one of the first Thais to complete a master’s degree at IU in the project which developed the IPA at Thammasat.

Of course, many Thai citizens have also travelled to IU’s campuses in Bloomington and Indianapolis to study a wide variety of subjects in preparation for positions of responsibility they would later hold in Thailand.

Our close institutional relationship with NIDA has led IU to award honorary doctorates to three of NIDA’s former presidents: Amara Raksasatya in 2000, Juree Vichit-Vadakan in 2007, and Sombat Thamrongthanyawong in 2013, and led to NIDA awarding honorary doctorates to former president John Ryan in 1991, vice president Patrick O’Meara in 2005, and executive vice chancellor Bill Plater in 2010.

IU’s close connection with Thailand also includes our friendship with Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. I was honored to spend time with Her Royal Highness in Bloomington, in 2010, when I had the honor of conferring an honorary Indiana University doctorate on her, and in 2012, at Sra Pathum Palace, where my wife, Laurie, and I were greatly honored to have been her guests. Laurie and I also had the pleasure of spending time with Her Royal Highness in 2013 at a preview of the magnificent exhibition, “Siam: The Queen and the White City,” at the Chicago History Museum. In our conversations, the princess’s deep belief in the power of education was clearly evident, as was her strong commitment to improving the lives of her people. We are deeply grateful to Her Royal Highness for continuing to foster the lasting friendship between Indiana University and the Thai people.

All of these connections, as well as the fact that a number of Indiana University alumni and NIDA alumni have served as governors of Thailand’s provinces, further reflects Indiana University’s status as one of NIDA’s and Thailand’s oldest international partners.

Since its founding, NIDA has served the people of Thailand and risen to be one of the nation’s leading educational institutions. It has become an academic home for Thai scholars who would otherwise have studied abroad, and has trained thousands of Thai citizens for service across the country and around the world—including thousands of diplomats and even a prime minister.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to extend our most sincere congratulations to NIDA, to President Pradit, and to NIDA’s faculty, students, and alumni on this very important anniversary. For 50 years, NIDA has made enormous contributions to the personal and academic development of many thousands of students. It has contributed greatly to the economic and social development of Thailand. And it will, I am certain, continue to prepare students to successfully serve Thailand, southeast Asia, and the world for many more decades to come.

Higher education as a tool for development in the 21st century

NIDA and Indiana University share a steadfast commitment to service. Both aspire to contribute in meaningful ways to some of the most pressing problems facing our nations and the world. We both realize that these problems do not end at a nation’s borders and that solutions to them can be universal.

The challenges we face around the world are enormous.

We are witnessing threats to food security, energy security, and human health as well as the consequences of climate change around the world. Globally, more than a billion people live in extreme poverty. Nearly all of them suffer from hunger.

In many cases, international development organizations who are working to help address these and other problems are sometimes reluctant to invest in higher education.

But, as a number of major reports from organizations including The World Bank and UNESCO conclude, higher education is a vital tool for addressing development.

A 2009 report from The World Bank, Accelerating Catch-up, states that the key to economic success in a globalized world lies in how effectively a country can bring together the available knowledge to build comparative advantage and push the frontiers of technology through innovation. As the report also states: “the arbiter of economic success—even survival—in the world today is the capacity to mobilize knowledge and to use it to the fullest.”1

Universities, of course, contribute in profound ways to their regions and their countries.

They educate young people so that they can find good jobs and contribute to the economic growth of their countries. Graduates earn much more in their lives than people without degrees.

Universities also contribute in major ways to the cultural lives of their regions.

University research and creative activities help to foster a culture of innovation. Graduates who have received their education in a research-rich environment help bring new enterprises and new ideas into existing businesses and institutions.

But, of course, universities around the world today operate in a very different environment from the one in which they operated only a few decades ago. In this new era, the power of technology has caused age-old obstacles to human interaction to fall—obstacles such as geographic distance, language differences, and limited information—and is allowing a new wave of human potential and creativity to rise.

Given this environment, all of us in higher education should consider how our universities can best contribute to our rapidly changing world.

The realities of the 21st century should prompt us to examine our academic programs to ensure that we are offering degrees and programs that lead to relevant and satisfying careers for our graduates.

Our programs should also produce research that allows us to contribute solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems, and that allows us to contribute, when possible, to the sustainable development of nations around the world.

We have, in recent years, undertaken an extensive review of our academic programs at Indiana University. This has led to the establishment or reconfiguration of eight new schools out of a total of 25—so about one-third of our schools are either newly created or transformed. These new schools and their new programs are in areas of major economic importance in which training for careers is much in demand by our students—public health, informatics and computing, engineering, global and international studies, media, art and design, philanthropy, and on-line education.

As we work to find ways to respond to society’s complex and changing needs, we must acknowledge, however, that universities cannot be the sole agents of change. We must be realistic in terms of what we can accomplish and what it is appropriate for us to try to accomplish. But by partnering with international development organizations, with governments, and with other institutions around the world, we can, in many cases, leverage our strengths and serve as important catalysts for change.

The importance of long-term partnership

Developing long-term global partnerships with peer or complementary teaching and research institutions around the world has been a central part of Indiana University’s international engagement.

Indiana University has a broad range of formal affiliations with universities throughout the world. These relationships are very important to our research and education missions. They support faculty research, provide venues for study abroad programs, and are of great importance in our faculty and student recruitment efforts.

But it is not merely the relationships between institutions that are of importance. The relationships that develop between people as part of these global collaborations are just as important, in both good times and in bad. In bad times, these relationships can help to address and improve difficult international issues. In good times, they can help to rapidly build productive relationships between nations.

Indiana University’s 11th president, Herman B Wells, who visited Thailand frequently when the IPA at Thammasat and NIDA were being established, and who received many of Thailand’s highest honors, noted that these partnerships are also mutually beneficial. In his autobiography, Wells had IU’s partnerships in Thailand very much in mind when he wrote: “…We realized that by taking an active part in these international projects, the benefits would be two-way: while lending whatever help we could to institutions abroad, we would be greatly enriching the store of experience, knowledge, and professional competence of our faculty participants, who, upon their return, would bring to the campus a comparative view that would stimulate the atmosphere of learning in the university.”2

Decades later, President Wells’ words remain true. Indiana University has gained much from its international partnerships. We greatly appreciate the opportunities we have had to work in partnership with NIDA, Chulalongkorn University, many other institutions of higher learning in Thailand, and the people of Thailand.

Indiana University’s role in development

Today, all major public and private research universities in the United States are expected—and indeed, have a responsibility—to use their expertise and the new knowledge they generate to improve the quality of life for citizens of their regions and their countries. But the applicability of this expertise and knowledge does not stop at the borders of the United States. U.S. universities are also expected to use their expertise and the knowledge they generate to contribute solutions to important global social problems.

One way Indiana University has done this is through a wide variety of international development projects that have truly spanned the globe. The majority of these projects have involved providing technical assistance designed to create—or reform and strengthen—key institutions. Most often, these institutions have been universities, teacher training institutions, or research programs, but they have also included parliaments, government training centers, ministries of education, and, more recently, national information technology capabilities.

Institution-building projects have also contributed in fundamental ways to long-term, sustainable development in many different countries—bringing stability to conflict-ridden areas, promoting improved health outcomes, and stimulating economic growth through workforce development. The results of these projects—what approaches have worked well and not so well—have in turn led to a continually improved understanding of how best to address these problems in widely differing contexts.

In the cases where we have had the most noteworthy success, Indiana University has been involved in outreach and service at strategic moments in areas of the world where there were important needs that matched IU’s specific strengths. From here in Thailand to Germany, from Africa to Macedonia, these projects have spanned the globe.

For example, former IU president Herman B Wells played a major role in establishing the Free University of Berlin just after the Second World War.

In post-war Germany, of course, the entire educational system had to be rebuilt from scratch—as did most of Germany’s political and social institutions. Herman Wells served at the time as the cultural affairs liaison for the U.S. Military Government in Germany with responsibility for overseeing the rebuilding of the German educational system, and resurrecting its newspapers, media, and culture in general. Many German students in the Western Sector of post-war Berlin wanted their own university, and Wells played a major role in smoothing the way through the military bureaucracy for the creation of the Free University of Berlin. The Free University has grown to become one of Germany’s finest educational institutions. Shortly after its founding, IU and the Free University began an exchange of students which continues to this day and is IU’s longest-running graduate exchange program.

In the 1950s, when Thailand was in the early stages of economic and social transformation, His Majesty King Bhumibol wisely recognized that Thailand needed better tools and data to inform important policy decisions. In 1955, IU signed a contract sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development to establish the IPA at Thammasat. The objectives of the project were to strengthen the university’s program in public administration; to expand its research program; to develop training programs for government officials; and to provide training in the United States for Thai students.

A decade after helping to establish the IPA at Thammasat, IU was again fortunate to participate this time in the creation of NIDA. NIDA was established, of course, as part of His Majesty the King’s vision of advancing Thailand through the creation of a higher education institution that focuses on national development.

Indiana University’s graduate School of Business was selected as the administrative agency for the Ford Foundation grant because three of NIDA’s new academic schools—Business Administration, Development Economics, and Statistics—were academic disciplines in which IU’s Business School had great expertise. The Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat became the School of Public Administration within NIDA. Within a few years, NIDA was being entirely funded by its own resources and the Government of Thailand, and has, of course, gone on to play a leading role in Thailand’s remarkable growth over many decades.

In the 1960s and 1970s, IU also helped to establish 16 teacher colleges in Thailand, many of which are now four-year, comprehensive universities.

In the mid-1980s, as the international community was beginning to recognize and renounce the brutality of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Indiana University joined forces with the South African Council on Higher Education. The council had just formed Khanya College to assist talented black students who wanted to earn a university degree, but who, under Apartheid, faced so many disadvantages that they could not gain admittance to South Africa’s leading universities. IU developed and oversaw preparatory first-year university courses for black South African undergraduate students. After successfully completing these courses, the students received an IU transcript, which helped them to gain admission to South Africa’s leading universities.

Almost immediately after the end of apartheid, IU and Witwatersrand University launched an initiative to improve the retention of black South African students at Witwatersrand. IU also helped to address a great need in South Africa for skilled professionals with experience in writing laws by spearheading the creation of the Legislative Drafting Program for South Africa in partnership with the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law.

In the 1990s, after the Kyrgyz Republic had declared its independence from the Soviet Union and was establishing itself as a stable sovereign state, IU was actively engaged in supporting higher education in that part of the world. In 1997, IU was involved in the development of the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and we have remained closely involved with the institution to this day. We have partnered to develop a cooperative, community-based approach for protecting archaeological sites, to establish a basic program in public administration, to establish the university’s endowment fund, and to help develop the university into a premier higher education institution.

In 2001, ethnic tensions in Macedonia led to a year-long armed conflict. In that same year, IU was selected to assist Macedonia’s South East European University in establishing its curriculum and administrative structures. We continued to work with this university in the years that followed to promote economic development, to introduce modern curricula, and to expand faculty and student exchanges.

More recently, the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia underscored the importance of IU’s efforts to help strengthen public health and the medical infrastructure there. In 2010, IU launched a partnership with the University of Massachusetts Medical School and two Liberian institutions to build up Liberia’s capacity for meeting health care needs. The program provides training for public health workers and strengthens the curriculum and instruction in medical and nursing education programs.

IU’s Maurer School of Law has also helped to rebuild Liberia’s legal education system and guided constitutional reform. IU’s Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis—founded by the late IU faculty members Nobel Economics Laureate Elinor Ostrom and her husband, Vincent—has also assisted with land reform and decentralization programs in Liberia.

This history also includes the role of the IU School of Medicine in establishing the renowned AMPATH program for the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS in Eldoret, Kenya, and dozens of other projects that span the globe.

Indiana University has, over many years, learned lessons from all of these projects in terms of the limits, possibilities, and contributions that universities can make.

We also have a responsibility, of course, to educate students who are engaged and committed global citizens. It is essential that our graduates are able to understand and appreciate cultural differences and to work productively with people from different cultures and traditions.

For these reasons, we established the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University in 2012, bringing together into one school an extraordinary array of language centers as well as all of our area studies programs that focus on the histories, cultures, religions, politics, economies, institutions, art, and literature of countries and regions around the world.

We have also invested in a series of new initiatives. One of these is to build our research and teaching capacity in Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies. This initiative includes the establishment of an endowed Bicentennial Chair of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies, the development of a Center of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies, and new degrees and enhanced language offerings in Thai, Indonesian, and other regional languages. This chair and new center will support teaching, research, and outreach activities on a wide variety of topics related to the Southeast Asian and ASEAN region, including economies, ecologies, environmental and sustainable challenges, regional security and regional associations, governance, and languages and cultural dialogues. The mission of deepening knowledge about and furthering understanding of Southeast Asia and ASEAN within broader global and regional contexts will make the center at IU a singular program in North America. No other U.S. program blends together strength in area studies with a multidisciplinary approach to studying the regionalism and global role of Southeast Asia. But more needs to be done in the United States to convey the importance of this part of the world, and it was gratifying to see President Obama host the most recent ASEAN Summit last month.

We have also recently begun to open a network of global gateway offices around the world. In 2014, we dedicated offices in Beijing, China and in New Delhi, India. Just a few months ago, we opened the IU Europe Office in Berlin, Germany. These three centers are used to host seminars, workshops, and conferences. They are also used for student recruitment and orientation and alumni events. 

Later this year, we will be opening a fourth office in Southeast Asia in a location still to be decided. And then, after that, we are hoping to open one in Istanbul. Following that, we plan to open offices in Latin America and in Africa. Our goal is to have all seven of these global gateway offices established by IU’s Bicentennial in 2020. They will become a vital part of the university’s international strategy and our international engagement.

Going forward in partnership

All of these initiatives reflect Indiana University’s dedication to international engagement through education and research. Like NIDA, and like all of the institutions represented here today, we aspire to be among the best in the world.

The forces that are transforming higher education, and indeed the entire world, require that we examine what it means to be an engaged university in the 21st century.

In this context, engaged universities around the world must contribute to addressing the most important global issues of our time, such as trade, energy, information technology, access to water resources, and population movement.

They must produce graduates who have global awareness and experience. The development of global citizens is a major function of a responsible university in the modern, interconnected world.

And the 21st century university must engage responsibly and prudently in long-term partnerships with peer universities, whether to promote sustainable development, to train teachers, to lend administrative assistance, or to simply learn from each other’s traditions and experience.

The long-term partnership between Indiana University and NIDA can serve as a model of international cooperation, understanding, and service for institutions around the world to emulate.

I have always been impressed by NIDA’s enormous growth, it breadth and scale, its innovative facilities, and its distinguished faculty. I am truly pleased to be back on the campus for this celebration of NIDA’s 50 years of service to Thailand and the world.

As NIDA enters its second 50 years and builds upon its regional mission, Indiana University stands ready to collaborate with you. We wish you great success in the next 50 years and beyond.

Thank you very much.

Source notes

  1. “Accelerating Catch-Up: Tertiary Education for Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa,” (The World Bank, 2009), x.
  2. Herman B Wells, Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Remembrances, (1980, IU Press), 236.