– Most people probably don’t know that Sweden plays a leading role in such a successful project in South East Asia or that a university can act as a peacemaker, says Sten Dellby, Director of Communications at the University of Borås and currently on location in Thailand.
Since 2005, Professor Said Irandoust, former President of the University of Borås, has been the President of AIT.
– Said Irandoust has carried out extensive negotiations in order to reach an agreement between the countries that supports AIT, says Sten Dellby. At a formal ceremony last week, ambassadors from twelve countries, including Sweden, signed a treaty which officially gives AIT intergovernmental organisation status. Later this year more countries are expected to sign up.
At present, diplomatic relations between two of the countries in the region, Thailand and Cambodia, are strained and both countries’ ambassadors have been withdrawn. But Cambodia’s Chargé d’affaires was present at the ceremony in Bangkok and signed the treaty on behalf of his country, says Sten Dellby, who thinks that AIT is an excellent example of how higher education can unite countries.
AIT offers mainly Masters and PhD programmes which focus on technology and sustainable development. Just as important is AIT’s role as a forum for international dialogue and as a breeding ground for future leaders in this part of the world. At AIT, students from countries such as Burma, India, Nepal and China are together in the same classroom and both North and South Koreans participate in AIT activities.
In addition to the Asian students, there are visiting students from the US and other Western countries at AIT. The University of Borås is planning on sending a whole class of international business engineering students, all in all 30 students, to AIT during the spring of 2011. Swedish students need to learn how to conduct business in this part of the world, Sten Dellby points out.
AIT was founded in 1959 as a graduate school by SEATO, thought to become an equivalent to NATO in South East Asia. However, later AIT becomes independent of SEATO and has mainly been funded by contributions from Europe and other Western countries such as Australia, Japan, and Canada. There is also a strong support from the Thai government. Sweden is, via its International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, one of the largest donors.
– That a university becomes an intergovernmental organisation is in itself quite unique, not to mention the fact that it is located at the centre of international politics, says Sten Dellby. It is positive that Sweden gets to play such an important role in this context.