3-6 June, 1997
Chiangrai, Thailand

Asia Meets Europe: Science and Technology


The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which was held in Bangkok in March 1996, marked the recognition of Asia's growing importance in the post-Cold War period, politically and strategically. The main issue stressed was the need for more and closer co-operation between the European Union and Asia. To follow up on the ASEM process, Prometheus-Europe and its Euro-Asian Network, NICAS, organized two conferences: the first was 'Europe meets Asia' about 'The Future of Inter-Academic and University-Company Relations between the European Union and Asia'. (Munich, June 1996. See IIASN 9); The second conference, 'Asia meets Europe', about 'New Trends in Euro-Asian Co-operation in the Field of Science and Technology', was held in Chiangrai, Thailand in June 1997. This conference was organized with the collaboration of the Thai Ministry of Science, Technology.

The initial objectives of the Chiangrai conference were: (1) to review and follow-up decisions regarding Higher Education, University Co-operation and Technology Transfer made by governments and officials during the ASEM summit; (2) to determine suitable strategies for future European Union programmes concerning Inter-Academic and Research ties, and Technology Transfer between the European Union and Asia; and (3) to present and discuss the further development and management of Euro-Asian Inter-Academic and Research Networks, and University-Company partnerships in the fields of Science, Technology, and Environment.

After the first day of the conference it had already become clear that the objectives were too far-reaching. There was a common feeling of disappointment among the participants, because on the European side there were no representatives of the European Commission, except for the EC delegate to Thailand, who attended the conference in the afternoon of the first day. On the Asian side, the governments of Malaysia and China were not represented. The absence of policy makers from the Euro-Asian Co-operation programmes offered less opportunities for discussion, especially with regard to the first objective of the conference. There was a common feeling that the organizers must have lost their useful contacts within EC circles. Nevertheless, the conference also produced some positive results.

The ASEM process was reviewed during the conference and several new programmes/projects were highlighted as a follow-up of ASEM:

  • The establishment of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) in Singapore to promote better mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through greater intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges.
  • The establishment in Thailand of an Asia-Europe Environmental Technology Centre for Scientific and Technological Research and Activities. The Centre is expected to give policy recommendations to governmental institutions;
  • A programme of Post Graduate Technological Studies in Asia (PTS) is in preparation in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok with the aim of fostering the presence of young European professionals in the Asian countries and vice versa;
  • The establishment of a Junior EU-Asean Managers (JEM) programme, with the objective of raising the profile and image of Europe and European business and industries in Asia and stimulating a greater awareness of investment opportunities in Asia among European companies.
  • The Asia Europe University Programme for Academic Linkages, a Malaysian initiative.
  • The European International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP) at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok; i.e. one of the existing European Studies Programmes (ESP), alongside the ESP-Philippines and the Chulalongkorn University ESP and the China Higher Education Co-operation Programme. All programmes are carried out by a consortium of universities from Europe in co-operation with (a consortium of) Asian Higher Education Institutions. The general objective of the programmes is to promote a better understanding of the EU and what it stands for among relevant Asian decision makers with a view to strengthening economic ties.
  • The European Southeast Asian University Network (ESA-UNET), a network of 5 leading technical universities in the European Union and 5 outstanding universities in the ASEAN Region, of which the main objectives are: a) to develop new concepts for university-industry interactions; b) to stimulate joint interdisciplinary and industry-related research activities, with special emphasis on energy and environmental engineering; and c) to initiate the exchange of guest lecturers, postgraduate students, and scientific information.

One of the main topics discussed during the workshops was the 'Management of Inter-Academic and Research Networks'. It is clear that one of the trends in the new EU-Asian programmes is that the programmes themselves are very large and based on transnational networks. This new way of co-operating poses new problems. Taking into account the remarks and 'lessons learnt' from participants at the conference, who have experience in transnational networking, some suggestions can be made: it is of the utmost importance, that an internal evaluation structure is provided within the network, so that participants know what the network partners think of the functioning of the network. The efficiency of a network is not assured via its co-ordinator. Also, the poorest partner in the network should not be forgotten. Transparency has to be the key element in the network. The management of a network has to take care of a clear frame of reference with regard to information distribution, decision making, and financial aspects.

Technology transfer

Another topic was the 'Technology Transfer to Asia'. With regard to this topic, the situation in Europe and Asia should be taken into account. In Europe there is an evident lack of efficiency in University-Industry co-operation, but this is counterbalanced by a rapid development of institutionalized offices (e.g., industries liaisons offices) and the development of communication through such bodies as chambers of commerce. The Asian situation is threatened by rapid economic growth allied to the danger of technological dependency. However, there is a growing awareness of the importance of developing indigenous techniques, and there is strong pressure on universities to facilitate the transfer of technology. When transferring technology to Asia it is necessary to be aware of complicating factors, for instance, local equipment is usually of a lower standard than in Europe; trained craftsmen are often unavailable; it is mostly a one-way transfer of technology (there is little or no technological information going back to Europe).

Finally, some general criticisms of the EU policy on Euro-Asian Co-operation came to the surface. One of the most striking points is that the EU completely ignores the needs and expectations of Asian countries (programmes are not demand-driven). The EU has an Asia-strategy, but Asia does not have a Europe-strategy. The Asian people still have to be convinced that it is worth working with the EU. The needs and expectations have to be matched. 'Cultural rapprochement' (i.e. stressing similarities, while acknowledging diversity) between Asia and Europe is an absolute prerequisite for Euro-Asian Co-operation.

  • Future programmes have to go in the direction of 'equal co-operation' (instead of being a one-way street from Europe towards Asia).
  • Existing networks that have proved their worth should be utilized more often, instead of constantly trying new avenues.
  • In this light it seems sensible to support more international centres that are able to stimulate interregional co-operation.
  • In addition to inter-academic co-operation more thought should be given to academic-company co-operation and academic-local authority co-operation.
  • The flow of information should no longer be unidirectional.
  • Flexible programmes - i.e. programmes that can be adjusted on the basis of experiences gained during their course - should be favoured over 'classical' programmes that are less adaptable.
  • Sustainable co-operation should be striven for from the beginning. More attention should be given to this aspect in the process of defining parameters for new programmes.
  • Future co-operation models should, as long as their primary goal is transfer of knowledge, be directed first and foremost towards the receiving party (in this case Asia).
  • Future co-operation should be thought of in terms of interregional co-operation instead of bilateral co-operation.
  • At a EU level more attention should be given to gender parity.
  • The possibilities of electronic networks should be used to the full
    (to save time and money).

Yvonne van Genugten is the general co-ordinator of the Indonesian-Netherlands Co-Operation in Islamic Studies (INIS) project, Projects Division, Dept. of Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania, Leiden University.