Host University
Objectives and themes

The Provosts’ Forum 2014 brought together thirty-two APRU provosts, vice-presidents, deputy vice-chancellors or chief academic officers to examine key issues facing research universities.  In particular, the focus was on:

  • Benchmarking research universities
  • Increasing research impact through international collaboration
  • Policy and practice in commercialization and intellectual property
  • Pedagogical innovation including online education, international teaching collaborations and MOOCs

In addition to exchanging knowledge and experience on these issues, the forum considered how APRU could add value for members through the provosts’ network and facilitate collaborative projects amongst member universities on key teaching and research issues.  In this way, members could also begin to influence the higher education policy environment in Asia-Pacific.

Click here to view photographs from the meeting.

Delegates at the 2nd Provosts’ Forum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Summary of Proposals

The following proposals arose from the Forum:

  • Common Themes – to ensure a coherent set of actions by provosts, there is a need to identify a limited number of common themes that resonate across the network; if there are such APRU themes already, or in the future, provosts need to be fully in the loop and supportive; sustainability was identified as an immediate priority theme which is a focus in many member universities.
  • Intellectual Property issues – these are important issues for universities especially between universities; an APRU process of identifying the priority concerns and developing cross-jurisdictional responses would be very helpful.
  • Teaching collaboration – scaling up teaching collaborations, joint courses, or even using APRU as a platform for MOOCs (rather than relying on commercial providers who will inevitably start to charge universities once courses become profitable); MOOCs across the network could be a form of internationalization even if students do not travel i.e. they are a form of distance education.
  • Joint degrees – provosts may wish to advance this practical means of collaborating in teaching and research.  Can existing bilateral agreements be the basis of this?
  • Funding – there is a need to see what research themes would attract significant funding if developed on a multi-institutional, cross-border basis in partnership with multilateral partners.  Provosts could be part of a larger conversation with national and transnational research funding agencies.  University leadership could represent APRU’s strengths in impactful research themes by forging relationships with funding agencies.
  • Research and Education Metrics – APRU universities need to be measured by metrics created by themselves rather than imposed from outside. Is it feasible for APRU to develop a Snowball-type metrics regime and would there be much utility in doing so?
  • Joint meeting of Provosts and Research VPs – there is a need for coordination across education and research leaders in member universities; APRU may wish to experiment with engaging both in parallel.  Issues to be raised at VPs for Research conference in 2015 could be broadened and aligned with what was discussed amongst the provosts.
  • Research collaboration – APRU could leverage strengths by building upon current collaborations and enhancing them through networks such as the provosts’ forum.
  • Staff and student mobility – the Forum proposed to investigate innovative ways of staff mobility within APRU and also to build student mobility around research priorities/projects.  A possible framework for staff and student exchange and mobility could be incorporated.
  • Fundamental sciences – the suggestion was made that there be more collaboration amongst APRU members in the fundamental sciences e.g. a regular physics summer school hosted by the same university for several years.
  • Humanities and social sciences – it was felt these disciplines need more attention in APRU programs.
  • Policy capability – the Forum raised the question of whether the APRU Secretariat needs to develop more of a policy analysis function with respect to developments in the region.  It may need to commission research on key issues in higher education in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Future provosts’ forum – providing summary information on the full range of APRU programs at future meetings would be helpful.  Also, it was agreed that provosts need more time to learn about one another’s work, and challenges faced individually and collectively.  Topics for future meetings could include:
    • Opportunities for research and teaching collaboration, research training space.
    • Analysis of APRU research data and analytics.
    • Sharing of best practices at member universities e.g. research, student mobility and education.
    • Learning what other provosts are doing:  in-depth sharing by provosts about their work, challenges and solutions.
    • Identifying a few global themes for collaboration.

Presentations at the panel sessions are available below.

Panel Sessions

Session I: Benchmarking Research Universities

  • Speaker:  Dr John Green, Life Fellow, Queen’s College, University of Cambridge
  • Discussant:  Professor Tan Eng Chye, Provost, National University of Singapore
  • Summary of key discussion points
    • Achieving excellence through benchmarking
      • Benchmarking should be “bottom-up” i.e. faculty, departments, centres to look at customised data and emerge with their own sets of benchmarking data.
      • Concern that a “numbers game” approach (citations, publications) could lead to looking at conventional research volume to the exclusion of risky research which could potentially have larger impact or better outcomes.  There is strong scepticism in tying research to rankings as these tend to concentrate on top-tier journals and exclude lower-ranked but paper-specific journals.
      • Benchmarking of students, teaching and learning outcomes is seen as equally important. Other useful benchmarks could include services and operations, student experience, post-graduation successes, staff performance and promotion, and PhD completion, publication and presence.
      • Metrics, while not perfect, could help universities make better decisions, by using data analytics one can use to support decision-making in strategic ways for funding and grants.
      • There should not be a single metric but multiple indicators which can be applied across disciplines.  This could include areas of output outside of publications.
      • Government engagement would be a key component in advocating the use of metrics which are more holistic to the strength and performance of universities instead of commercial rankings.
    • Key challenges in benchmarking and metrics
      • A potential shortfall of metrics was the lack of adequate benchmarking for the arts and humanities due to difficulties in defining  commonalities.
      • Other key challenges involve differences in institutions, national and regional systems, development of data equivalence and relevance, and collaborative challenges between the university’s strategic leadership and data experts.
      • Disadvantages in the use of metrics could include the inability to accurately measure overly-cited works and researchers with outstanding performance but who have less voluminous publications.

Session II: Increasing Research Impact and International Collaboration

  • Speaker: Dr Anders Karlsson, Vice President, Global Academic Relations APAC, Elsevier
  • Discussant:  Professor Dr Awg Bulgiba Awg Mahmud, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), University of Malaya
  • Summary of key discussion points
    • Effective research collaborations
      • Student mobility, co-publications and international research exchange involving top researchers were some of examples of effective collaborative partnerships.
      • To sustain these partnerships, it was important to establish key research areas which had transnational impact e.g. global warming, climate change, oceanography, and to identify future research clusters in emergent issues which can succeed over the next 5-10 years.
      • Collaborative partnerships with agencies and industries would be effective if partnerships can establish a common vision and agenda, and have congruent perceptions of what were the big challenges ahead.
      • Governments were an important factor in supporting research and enabling research through funding, especially research which is of impact to society.
      • Challenges in asymmetrical research and international collaborations include:
        • Strong vs. weak faculty
        • East vs. west
        • Strong vs. weak disciplines
      • Partnership strategies include staff exchange with top universities, study abroad or internship programs for students, monetary incentives, resource-sharing, co-partnering an co-branding, service learning, and professional training.
    • Issues in measuring research impact
      • The challenges of measuring real world research impact include:
        • Justifying research impact to donors/funders especially if such impact is hard to quantify, or cannot be quantified until research is completed.
        • State-funded universities face public pressure when types of impact to be addressed by universities are dictated to them.
      • Quantitative and qualitative methods of measuring impact may vary depending on the subject matter e.g. medicine and engineering, as compared with social sciences and humanities.
      • Private universities face pressures to adduce impact to fit with donor/investor’s demands, in addition to competition with the public sector for limited and competitive grants.

Session III: Policy and Practice in Commercialization and Intellectual Property

  • Speaker:  Dr Anthony Boccanfuso, Executive Director, University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP)
  • Discussant:  Professor Stephen Garton, Provost & Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Sydney
  • Key points at group discussions and overall summary
    • Navigating regulatory frameworks in IP
      • Issues in regulating IP arise in student start-ups, conflict of interest between faculty and university IP rights.
      • Negotiation and collaborative frameworks should be established early when developing IP agreements.
      • Common templates to regulate IP agreements may be applied across APRU member universities but no “one-size fits all”.
    • Collaborating with industry and investors
      • It was important to understand the expectations and commitments of both university and industry partner prior to the conduct of research and delivery of outcomes.
      • Alumni relations in dealing with commercial entities were useful mediums for negotiation between universities and industry.
      • In most universities, the commercialization office played a key role in identifying and positioning viable IP, working with industries and forming strategic relationships.
    • Royalty and licensing revenues
      • Few universities reaped substantial benefits from IP licensing and commercialization.  Instead, commercial revenue was treated as an indicator to governments and national agencies of IP success and subsequently, government grants and other funding resulted.
      • Opportunities for universities to encourage commercial enterprises benefited students and faculty from the perspective of education and research, rather than for-profit.
      • Challenges included:  high investment vs. low returns, high running costs, lack of government grants and knowledge about resources needed to conduct research, conflict of national and transnational systems in research collaboration, uneven funding for selected areas while others which have impact on society but which do not generate income or revenue are at a disadvantage.

Session IV: Pedagogical Innovation – Online Education and MOOCs

  • Panel Speakers:
    • Professor John Morrow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), University of Auckland
    • Professor Ana Mari Cauce, Provost and Executive Vice President, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Moderator: Professor Dr. Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic & International), University of Malaya
  • Key points at group discussions and overall summary
    • Student learning and instructional technology
      • Online education was found to be useful for joint international courses and programs where students could study abroad in person and also interact remotely with international course mates through videoconference to abridge the coursework.
      • What students found particularly stimulating in distance learning was they could take part in a virtual classroom, interact and become fully engaged.  Online coursework also provided students the flexibility to learn at their own pace and time.
      • Increasing student motivation and fine-tuning learning objectives could also be enhanced by “just-in-time” learning strategies for students from different backgrounds and disciplines as education became more customized and suited to learning needs.
    • Flipped classroom and online courses
      • It was acknowledged that future classrooms have already existed for some time, and there were technology limitations in access and participation, and issues including completion factors, misuse of technology, cost factors and customization.
      • Online lectures could be used for preparation purposes, and background learning.
      • Assessment of online learning, participation, retention and student motivation were issues in online learning to consider.
      • The pros and cons of using commercial providers e.g. MOOCs and Coursera involved ease of use, cost, diversity in delivering online content, IP issues, accreditation standards, meeting teaching and learning objectives and faculty agreements.

APRU Workshop and Concluding Remarks

  • Moderator: Professor Dr. Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic & International), University of Malaya
  • Provosts discussed key issues and proposals arising from the forum which have been summarized above.
  • Concluding remarks on the forum were given by Professor Chen Chusheng (USTC), Professor Akira Haseyama (Keio) and Professor Ana Mari Cauce (U Washington).

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