University faculty from 6 countries convene to tackle challenges of Fourth Industrial Revolution

Faculty members of eight universities from six countries gathered in Los Baños, Laguna at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to participate in a faculty forum focused on responding to the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The faculty forum is an initiative of the SEARCA-initiated Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC). Its inaugural run last July 23-24 was jointly organized by SEARCA and UPLB.

A total of 66 participants came from UC members, namely: UPLB; Institut Pertanian Bogor, Universitas Gadjah Mada, and University of Brawijaya, all in Indonesia; Universiti Putra Malaysia; Kasetsart University in Thailand; Tokyo University of Agriculture in Japan; and National Taiwan University.

UPLB Chancellor Fernando Sanchez, Jr. said the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been fast evolving and that higher education institutions (HEIs) should keep up with it.

"To enable younger generations to take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to shift emphasis away from growth learning, knowledge consumption, and conformity, and build the huge capacities for innovation, creativity, and collaboration," he said in a message delivered by UPLB Vice Chancellor Portia Lapitan.

The value of innovation-industry collaboration in empowering HEIs was underscored by Dr. Richard Abendan, chief of party of the United States Agency for International Development-Science, Technology, Research, and Innovation for Development (USAID-STRIDE) Program.

He explained that "industries define their problem and the university research is there to work with them in co-creating research projects to solve these problems."

Dr. Aberdan cited the support that USAID-STRIDE extends to university career centers, professional science masters, and technology transfer offices at selected HEIs in the Philippines to improve their capacities for innovation.

A total of 43 papers were presented in parallel sessions focused on food security, climate change, rural transformation, and graduate education in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In two roundtable sessions, the participants to discuss key areas of strategic collaboration among their universities.

"They proposed cross visits, co-supervision of thesis, co-authorship of papers, and research collaboration on topics that transcend boundaries such as on studies involving the Mekong River or the South China Sea," said Dr. Maria Cristeta N. Cuaresma, SEARCA Program Head for Graduate Education and Institutional Development.

She said another proposal is the extension of the current UC project on the Joint Master of Science in Food Security and Climate Change (MS FSCC) to a Doctor of Science in Food Security and Climate Change program.

The MS FSCC currently has 81 students from Europe and Asia, including 14 Filipinos, whose scholarships are managed by SEARCA.

Dr. Cuaresma added that at least three panelists suggested that the UC use its influence to be an advocacy group for policies that would prioritize the agriculture sector or benefit the smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia.