AUST quality defended

March 17, 2000

Whistleblowers was critical of the Asian University of Science and Technology and its association with Imperial College (THES, February 25).

I am proud to have been the founding dean of engineering of the AUST, having joined in 1997 along with most of those referred to in the article. Before this, I had been on the teaching staff of Imperial College for over 30 years, and therefore had a very clear idea of its standards and teaching style. The academic levels being set in engineering at AUST are similar to those at Imperial. I lectured the same material and at the same level in Thailand as in South Kensington. The laboratories are being established year by year as the first group of students move through their courses, and are comparable to corresponding Imperial labs.

AUST students have the same number of timetabled support classes as their Imperial counterparts, a similar exposure to project work and substantial staff-student interaction. The examination levels are checked and reviewed through the external examiner system, as at all UK universities. In engineering, the external examiner is a former head of department at Imperial.

Your correspondents warn that quality has been compromised. They all left before the first academic year even started. Many were administrative and support staff who, frankly, are in no position to comment on academic aspects of quality.

Starting a university from scratch is very difficult, and especially so without government funding. There are also major historical and cultural differences between Southeast Asia and the UK that some expatriate staff could not come to terms with. On top of all this, the Thai currency fell by more than a factor of two against the pound during the start-up period. In these circumstances, the university has done remarkably well not only to survive, but to survive without compromising its commitment to high academic standards. It remains on course to become the force for change in HE in Thailand that it was planned to be.

John Cozens Cholsey, Oxon

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