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That universities need to collaborate to progress is a given for the last half a century. That collaboration is essential for better rating and ranking globally is a given for the last two decades. That such collaboration can lead to increased revenues in times when university earnings are stretched due to the pandemic and its aftermath, is a little known phenomenon. We will explore this aspect here.

How can a university earn?

First, through tuition fees of admissions. Second, through projects, consultancies, research outcomes, market surveys, and reports, et al. Third, through services on campus, from hostel to food, etc. Fourth, from hiring its facilities and campus to outside clients for events and shoot etc, subject to certain conditions. Fifth, from publications of books, videos, etc. Sixth, through continuous learning, short courses, management development programs, etc. Seventh, through online learning and programs, with regulatory clearance to degrees online. Eighth, earning through international projects, events, etc. Ninth, through government or non-government grants, private and public scholarships, endowment funds, alumni contributions, etc. Tenth, flagship events for government, industry, youths with sponsorships and paid delegates. Broadly these are the avenues for revenue generation. The maturity of a university depends on increasingly a higher share of all other revenue sources than the first one (that is, tuitions fees of full time academic programs on campus should increasingly have a lower share of total revenue, though increasing in absolute numbers).

Can Western and Asian Universities collaborate to earn?

How can collaboration among universities contribute to the kitty of them all? It is well neigh impossible to really make great financially rewarding collaborative initiatives between Western Ivy League universities and the Asian ones in the middle rung of stature. The values, the attitudes, the respect, the acceptance, the skills, the experience and all that will not usually match, and no meaningful and gainful initiative can be born, except the lesser known third world university acting as a fodder for supplying better off students to the richer higher placed Western ones. A meaningful and productive relationship where both or all partners gain can happen more among the universities of Asian and African nations, though some of them outshine the others in impact and standards by miles.

What can Asian Universities do to have win-win partnership?

Continuing Education: We have to relook at all the possible ways the Asians universities can collaborate to earn all the three Rs: Reach, Reputation and Revenue.

First, continuing education. There can be high end short courses (weeklong or weekend) in the form of management (or tech, or communication) development programs, where two or more universities can collaborate with content, resource persons, marketing and revenue shared among them. An Indo-Bangla-Vietnamese-Middle Eastern MDP on Tackling Post Pandemic International Trade Challenges OR Applications of AI-ML in Higher Education shall surely be a hit initiative, with the right resources and communication to the target audiences. This can be a series across the year with responsibilities and revenues shared proportionately.

Universities can collaborate to organize joint conferences and workshops, which can attract participants from industry, academia, and government. Such events can generate revenue from registration fees, sponsorships, and exhibitor fees.

Online Education: The world is at the cusp of a non-degree learning online. However, the best choices available are usually in English, and that too heavily Western accented for the nations in Asia. Coursera, Simplilearn, LinkedInLearning have great content, universally useful, but usually accented and with examples largely suitable for advanced economies. Asia needs online learning in multiple languages of Asia and English included, and with local examples and way of talking, including accent. If the content is developed once very well in any Asian language, AI and softwares can help translate it in multiple languages too, albeit with a quality check. For this, even if ten good universities from 10 Asian nations collaborate to develop the content from their smarter faculty members, take it first to their own students as an essential learning resource, and give credits and recognition mutually to those who complete with a preset standards, we have a great winning proposition here with all universities earning in the process from content, and from the learning fees, as well.

With the increasing importance of online education and remote work, universities can embrace digital transformation to enhance their reach and reputation. This can involve developing online courses and programs, establishing online research collaborations, and using digital tools to facilitate communication and collaboration.

Mega projects from international organisations: In a recent interaction, the Vice Chancellor of a reputed Indian University explained to the top management of a leading Bangladeshi university as to how a joint project from both on managing coastal catastrophes or micro business management will go well with certain UN bodies, how a joint project on childrenís health and wellbeing in post pandemic times would be a great idea for UNICEF or Gates Foundation. And, if a Vietnamese or Cambodian or Indonesian University is also a partner in the project, it is even better. The world, read UN and global bodies and even governments, are waking up to collaborative projects of research with applicable outcomes (policy or action or both) proposed by multiple universities with relevant in-house talent to handle such projects. Such initiatives add to the reach, reputation and revenue of all partnering universities involved and bring in the much needed variegated relevant experience for their faculty members, researchers and Masters learners.

Joint research projects: By working together, universities can combine their resources and expertise to undertake research projects that are more ambitious and have a higher chance of yielding significant results. Such projects may attract funding from government agencies, corporations, or philanthropic organizations, which can bring in revenue for the participating universities.

Youth outreach initiatives: Today most youth outreach events to bring universities and higher education admission seeking youths are done by media houses, event management groups or NGOs. They merely focus on the basics of stalls of universities and hordes of youths invited to talk on programs and admissions. The focus for the organizers is merely to make a quick buck in the admission season, and not contribute anything substantially to the learning curve of school-passing youths wanting to enter the arena of higher education. Also, often inclusion of known universities from the West makes youths flock more to their stalls and talk for

movement abroad.

A group of Asian universities coming together, pulling up their resources, and creating a multi nation multi city educational tour which is a blend of knowledge events with thematic panels, career guidance, creative workshops, psychometric tests for the youths to make them understand their strengths, university specific stalls for focused discussions, industry stalwarts speaking about various domains, etc can be a great winner. Such an effort, however challenging it might me, shall give each university a big pool of database for admissions, share the knowledge of their best academic minds, and bring in revenue through admissions, sale of books and resources, paid workshops income, psychometric tests revenue, etc.

Star faculty sharing: The other area of saving costs and perhaps also earning some for Asian universities shall be through sharing star faculty among themselves who visit one anotherís campus for a fortnight to a month and cover a course through immersive deep dive sessions in quick succession. Mutual support in travel and hospitality can bring down these costs too, and saving on additional star faculty expenses will help all involved. The star faculty can also participate in a special paid short course for working professionals, or strategic consulting meetings with local external clients of the inviting universities.

Knowledge transfer, joint programmes, and commercialisation: Universities can collaborate to transfer knowledge and technology from academic research to industry, creating opportunities for commercialization and revenue generation. For example, universities can create joint technology transfer offices to facilitate the licensing of intellectual property and the formation of spin-off companies. Universities can collaborate to offer joint academic programs, such as dual-degree programs or joint research-oriented masterís and doctoral programs. Such programs can attract international students and generate tuition revenue for the participating universities. Universities can collaborate to publish joint academic journals or books, which can attract readership and generate revenue from subscriptions and sales.

Asian Universitiesí conglomeration: Collaboration among Asian universities can lead to revenue generation through joint research projects, knowledge transfer and commercialization, joint academic programs, joint conferences and workshops, and joint publications. Asian universities can collaborate to generate more reach, reputation, and revenue by identifying common goals and interests, fostering partnerships, creating centers of excellence, hosting joint conferences and workshops, engaging in technology transfer and commercialization, collaborating with industry, and embracing digital transformation.

The first step is to identify areas of common interest and shared goals among universities. This can be achieved through regular communication and networking, as well as through the exchange of faculty and students. This can effectively happen through a formal conglomeration that is institutionalized. An association or conglomeration of Asian universities may actually engage productively with member universities to realize the above. Surely the journey starts with meetings, networking, memoranda of understandings, exchange programs, etc. And thereafter, it can move to faculty sharing, educational tour, joint projects or consultancies or research, joint mega knowledge event, online and ongoing continuous education, etc., each of which should bring in revenue to be shared among the partnering universities.

Competition is passť in the post pandemic world. It is a twentieth century idea. Collaboration is the in-thing.
World can survive only through collaboration and not competition, only through responsible use of resources and not through consumerist guzzling of scarce resources.

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
The writer is the Executive Director of International Online University, and the Strategic Adviser of Dhaka based Daffodil International University

Case for inter-university collaboration in Asia

Asia and the Pacific region has around 5990 universities, though they vary very much among themselves and more than half of them are funded and managed privately, like in other continents of the world, albeit following the laid out principles of the governments of the nations.

The global rating and ranking of universities have some preferred areas of focus. There are quite a few of them of which Times Higher Education and QS Ranking are the most famous and widely accepted. Most such rankings look at a few parameters very favourably with high scores. First, academic research is a major outcome of universities, more particularly if the research is in fundamental areas of seeking knowledge or explaining natural and social phenomena.

Second, academic excellence is looked from learner to professor ratio, which is usually preferred to be within 20:1. Third, academic leadership is valued in terms of personal achievements, degrees and research, published work in academic journals, and years in academics. Fourth, infrastructure in terms of large real estate and elaborate machinery is another highly preferred area of evaluation. Fifth, the cost of education is not a major focus of ranking while the outcome of high investments in terms of infrastructure, expensive faculty, advanced laboratories, etc, is surely a major focus. Sixth, there is a strong emphasis on internationalization as to how many foreign students are studying in the university being ranked and rated, how many foreign teachers are there, how many tie-ups with foreign, read Western, universities exist, etc.

How the developing world universities are different

All these parameters are important ones in a globalized world, but are primarily suited for the advanced economies and universities in the developed West, more than the under-developed and developing Asia and Africa. While academic research on fundamental issues is extremely important for advancement of knowledge, poorer nations have to invest their scarce resources for applied research that solves their immediate economic, social, cultural, ecological and technological problems in their immediate environments and give them immediate or mid-term succor. Also, as an outcome, employability quotient and entrepreneurship skills, technological skills for their learners is the most outstanding outcome for universities in Asia and Africa. The universities in Asia will survive based on their performance in this outcome. Most of these come at ease in the developed Western economies with lesser proportion of youth in their societies, and with higher standard of living along with techno-savviness and access.

It is extremely expensive to have 20:1 learner to professor ratio in developing nations and focus on huge infrastructure. The governments do not have the capacity to invest on these parameters in public universities, and if the private ones do so, their cost of education goes extremely high and beyond the reach of the huge majority of their countrymen. Hence, universities in the developing world have to focus primarily on their resources to ensure the minimum required infrastructure, faculty members and learning resources. The developing Asian and African nations are usually densely populated and they need cheaper higher education with reasonably good quality more than international students seeking expensive high quality education. While international tie-ups are important for Asian universities, they cannot be a primary parameter to ascertain their quality and ranking.

In such a scenario, the rationale for a different paradigm of rating and ranking of universities in the developing world is perhaps necessary, and to evolve that a much more intense collaboration among Asian universities is needed.

Pan Asian university brotherhood

There are several reasons why a pan-Asian university brotherhood and intense collaboration among universities would be beneficial. This is going beyond merely signing MOUs and speaking in platitudes.

Enhancing educational quality

Collaboration among universities can lead to the sharing of knowledge, resources, and best practices, which can help improve the quality of education offered by each institution. This can benefit students by providing them with a more comprehensive and high-quality education. These best practices shall be more suited for developing societies with lower per capita income, lesser learning resources and investments available, and technology still being much lesser than the developed Western universities of the US, UK, Canada, Australia et al.

Promoting applied research and real-life innovation

Collaboration among universities can also foster innovation and promote research in different fields. By pooling resources, expertise, and infrastructure, universities can undertake more ambitious research projects and make more significant scientific breakthroughs. And these research can be in applied areas of development in these nations, and in close collaboration with their governments and their fledgling MSME sector of the economy. The innovations can be those which can be put into practice fast making a positive economic contribution. Universities can play a significant role in developing new technologies and solutions that can address social, economic, and environmental challenges facing Asia. An association of universities can promote collaboration on research and development, as well as provide funding for innovative projects that can spur growth and development.

Building cultural bridges

A pan-Asian university brotherhood can help build bridges between different cultures and promote mutual understanding and respect among developing nations of Asia with similar or relatable history and traditions. This can lead to increased collaboration and exchange between universities and learners, facilitating cross-cultural learning and the sharing of different perspectives. By fostering academic and cultural exchange programs, universities can facilitate the exchange of ideas, perspectives, and experiences, which can contribute to greater mutual understanding and respect among Asian nations.

Addressing societal challenges

Collaborative efforts among universities can also help address societal challenges facing Asia, such as climate change, poverty, and inequality. By working together, universities can identify and tackle complex challenges that require multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral solutions. For example, tackling soil erosion, repeated mega storms and cold waves in South and Southeast Asia is a common challenge which universities can take up collaboratively for research, innovation, and solutions etc.

Strengthening regional integration

A pan-Asian university brotherhood can help strengthen regional integration by promoting collaboration and cooperation across borders. This can lead to increased economic and social integration, as well as the development of a common regional identity and shared values. An association of universities can facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration among universities across Asia, which can help universities learn from each other's experiences, share best practices, and build partnerships. This can lead to the development of joint research programs, student and faculty exchanges, and collaborative projects that can have a positive impact on the region.

Asian Universities for Asian Development:

An association of universities of Asia can support the development of Asian nations in several ways:

Developing human capital: Universities are critical institutions for producing highly skilled and educated individuals who can contribute to the growth and development of their nations. An association of universities can collaborate on employability oriented curriculum development, mentorsí training, and applied research programs that can enhance the quality of education and provide a highly skilled workforce for the region.

Providing policy advice: Universities can also provide independent policy advice and analysis to policymakers, which can help shape policies and strategies that promote sustainable development and address key challenges facing Asia. The association can contribute to this in various nations.

It is high time that Asian Universities look at themselves as equals and collaborate as partners, rather than looking at only the Western nations for crumbs of unequal relations. Competition is a discredited 20th century concept. This is the time for collaboration, and the pandemic has proven it like never before.

Writer: Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
The writer is Executive Director of International Online University, and the Strategic Adviser of Dhaka based Daffodil International University. He can be contacted at


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