Can an academic network go where politicians fear to tread?
June 16, 2016

Can an academic network go where politicians fear to tread? 


Christopher Tremewan tells John O’Leary of his ambitions for the Association of Pacific Rim Universities. They cover reserach in key areas for the region, but also a new role bringing governments together. 

International networks of universities have proliferated over recent years and have brought significant benefits for their members, mainly through research partnerships. The most exclusive of them, like the League of European Research Universities (LERU), carry considerable prestige, as well as providing a forum for discussion of common concerns.

The Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) has many of the same characteristics but, particularly since the arrival of Christopher Tremewan as secretary general, it has displayed broader ambitions.  The APRU believes that it can provide economic and even political benefits for countries in the region, as well as serving its members’ interests.

A New Zealander who was previously vice president/pro-vice-chancellor (international) at the University of Auckland, Dr Tremewan is in his fifth year at the APRU, which is based on the campus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The association was established in 1997 on the initiative of four Californian universities: Caltech, Berkeley, UCLA and Southern California, but had 34 members by the time it opened for business.

There are now 45 members from 16 countires, including Chile, Taiwan and Russia, and a queue of universities who would like to join. Over the course of its 18 years, its chairs have come from Singapore, China, Japan and Australia, as well as the United States.

Interviewed at the British Council’s Going Global conference, in London, Dr Tremewan sketched out an ambitious agenda for the association. Indeed, he disclosed that he only accpeted the post condition that he could refocus the network and expand its collaborative work, both with other universities and with governments.

“I am confident and enthusiastic about APRU because it has a unique coherence and reach which fits the current geopolitical shifts towards the Pacific Rim,” he says. “There is now huge potential to use this remarkable alliance for truly transformational action which brings together education, research, and innovation with policy in fruitful partnerships engaging other international organizations, governments, business and local communities.”

That is not to ignore the institutional interaction that represents the core activities of any higher education network. But Dr Tremewan is determined that APRU should be more than that. In his first year in office, he saw 38 university presidents to ensure that his vision chimed with that of the members.

Dr Tremewan says: “We are still making this a region. One of our objectives is to keep collaborating despite governments’ agendas sometimes pulling countries apart from each other. A long term view of the future of the region requires that we get to know each other pretty well.

“We tend to focus on strategic research- data mining on the capabilities of each economy separately and then together on everything from climate change to energy and other topics. That means that we can demonstrate to prime ministers and ministers that we not only have considerable capability in the region, but also where that can be improved with some marginal investment.”

Dr Tremewan says that governments in the region are making it clear in discussion with multinational organizations that they want to interact much more with the academic world. “We are at the beginning of that- I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the scale of it at the moment,” he says. “But it is an important trend.”

Dr Tremewan believes that APRU is ideally placed geographically to play a key role at a difficult but potentially pivotal time for the world. The region accounts for half of global GDP, he points out, and he wonders: “Could there be an overarching think tank?”

“We may be a useful vehicle for member institutions but also for governments to discuss issues they can’t deal with face to face at an official level,” he says. Problems over intellectual property are one example where inter-governmental processes have broken down in the past.

He adds: “We are facing turbulence and technological change, and the challenge is to shape the region collectively, whether or not the ways of governing ourselves remain stable. Many countries are completely unable to cope with what is coming at them. There will be moral choices about where we put our resources and advise members.”


– QS Showcase 2016 (Main Features)