GLOBAL: Collaboration winds blow North-South-South

Under the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), an innovative method of university collaboration involves linking universities in developed countries of the North with those in a group of developed countries in the South - the so-called North-South-South model.

This emerging model of research collaboration was described at the first UNAI forum, which brought together partner universities from around the world in the South Korean capital Seoul from 9-12 August.

"North-South-South collaboration [involves] universities that have rich expertise and experience. If they work with developing countries there is much to be gained," said Chung-Sok Suh, Executive Director of the Korea Research Institute at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Suh showed how this model was used in a major collaborative research project involving his university and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, the University of Malaya and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The project analyses national development, including political development and public sector reform, economic policy and socio-cultural development, in South Korea compared to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, and draws implications for South East Asia.

According to Suh, many countries in South East Asia have shown an interest in adopting development strategies that reflect the experience of South Korea, which moved from a poor under-developed country to a highly developed industrialised nation within 30 years.

"However, most of the existing research was conducted by scholars in Korea and there was only limited scope for South East Asian scholars to participate in research and draw local implications," Suh said.

A research team that includes Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam promotes a more equal partnership than the traditional North-South model, "and enables rigorous comparative analysis" that would also be more relevant for country governments seeking to implement changes, Suh said.

Thailand and Malaysia also collaborate with another seven countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), spreading the benefits of the Australia-Korea-Thailand-Malaysia-Vietnam collaboration through their own university networks.

Even between Thailand and Malaysia the implications of development strategies can be quite different, Suh pointed out, given their different levels of economic development. Yet the two countries can contribute to analysis of Laos and Cambodia, among the poorest countries in South East Asia.

"Thailand and Malaysia know their neighbours better than those from the outside," he explained, showing how collaboration can have 'trickle down' effects and can also be more effective than, for example, an Australian university only working directly with researchers in the poorest countries.

Meanwhile, if relatively advanced countries in Asia like Thailand and Malaysia want to join the OECD club of industrialised countries, they can learn from South Korea, he added. The experiences of Western Europe or the US may not be as relevant.

Suh believes university cooperation is at the heart of ensuring development effectiveness.
"Our collaboration is academic research and our immediate output is [in the form of] academic publishing and enhancing the quality of academic research.

"But what we have been doing is very much in line with the Paris Declaration [on aid effectiveness]," said Suh, referring to the accepted principle of assisting developing countries to formulate their own development plans according to their own priorities rather than have priorities imposed from the outside, or by aid donors.

"The Paris Declaration is very noble in concept but very difficult to practice. This [type of collaboration] puts it into practice."

It enables cooperation between universities "well beyond the country study and strengthens capacity-building through South-East Asia," Suh told University World News, adding that the model could be extended to other regions including Africa if committed partners could be brought together.

The United Nations Academic Impact was one way to bring such partners together, he said.