Friday, September 22

Making Borneo an education hub for sustainable development


Sarawak now boasts world-class research centres like Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) and Sarawak Tropical Peat Research Institute (pictured).

ON these coming weekends, practitioners and researchers in the region will gather at Sunway University to exchange experiences, research findings, and ideas on how cities in Asean can achieve sustainable development by creating spaces for education, research, and innovation.

Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg is invited as a keynote speaker to share the experience of Sarawak’s cities in pursuing sustainable development. It seems that Borneo will be one of the key regions in focus in the near future for a number of reasons.

I am always intrigued by the idea of making Borneo a regional education hub. The island is blessed with a remarkable combination of natural and cultural wonders. Its lush rainforests and rich biodiversity are a priceless treasure for biologists and ecologists.

Here, researchers and students can study the complexity of ecosystems from mangroves to highlands, experience the intricate interactions between different species, and even discover new species and phenomena.

The eastern coast of Borneo faces the coral triangle, which is broadly known as the ‘global centre of marine biodiversity’, and can be considered a perfect site for establishing research and education centres for marine sciences. The opportunities to gain field and hands-on experience make Borneo a potential prime destination for natural and environmental science education.

In addition to its natural advantages, Borneo is also home to numerous indigenous and migrant communities with unique cultures, traditions, and histories.

The complex interactions between different communities and the evolution of different cultures, with its colourful history of encounters of civilisations and nation-building, offer exciting opportunities to learn about the multiple aspects of human civilisations. I still remember the thrill of seeing and learning about the Kaharingan religion of the Dayak people in Central Kalimantan, which contains Hindu elements. Furthermore, researchers and students from anthropology and archaeology may also immerse themselves in the presence of archaeological and cultural sites like the Niah Cave Complex.

There has also been substantial investment in research and educational facilities in Borneo. Sarawak now boasts world-class research centres like Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) and Sarawak Tropical Peat Research Institute, which offer advanced research opportunities and state-of-the-art facilities for studying a wide range of frontier and emerging research topics.

Borneo’s unique combination of natural and cultural asset offers special kinds of opportunities in interdisciplinary research, such as analysing and documenting indigenous knowledge on biodiversity by SBC using advanced biotechnology, as mentioned in the earlier article.

And what better place to learn more about tourism than Borneo, given its exceptional blend of natural and cultural marvels? I can never forget my first trip to Semporna, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life.

As the tourism industry in Borneo continues to grow and evolve post-pandemic, introducing top-notch tourism education in this part of the world presents opportunities to enhance the learning experience and gain valuable insights into the industry. Interestingly, Borneo’s breathtaking islands and mysterious mountains, along with its rich history and fascinating culture, make it an excellent destination for adventurous summer schools.

Education will be a key to achieving sustainable development in Borneo. By effectively leveraging its comparative advantages, Borneo may establish connections with leading universities and research institutions, improving locals’ access to quality education and attracting talent from across the region and the world.

The influx of students and researchers can bring new life to the cities with ingredients for innovation and entrepreneurship. By creating space for education and research, more ideas may be turned into successful startups and businesses. Economic growth and development may naturally follow.

Partnering with international universities and research institutions will be key to establishing Borneo’s standing as an education hub. Taking advantage of its unique natural and cultural advantages, Borneo may establish strategic partnerships with universities in the Asean region, offering students the unique opportunity to explore and experience different environments and cultures. This may start with hosting educational events, introducing student exchange programmes, developing joint research projects, and forging collaboration on academic programmes and courses.

And this should work both ways – it is not only about attracting others over but also exporting Borneo’s culture, including intangible heritage like arts and values, to the rest of the world.

Partnerships with Borneo also allow universities in the region to enhance the visibility and attractiveness to students and researchers, creating a more dynamic and competitive educational landscape in the region. Chances to study in multiple cities, such as Kuching and Kuala Lumpur, carry important implications not only to expand students’ knowledge base but also to broaden their perspectives on the region.

In the long run, interdisciplinary programmes incorporating Borneo’s strengths may be introduced to enhance research output, creating new opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing. Such initiatives may potentially lead to the development of solutions to both local and global challenges like climate change and food security. All these may help improve Borneo’s educational offerings and research capabilities, building a reputation as an education hub and making it more competitive in the region.

Establishing a regional education hub can boost the confidence of Borneo, which has historically been regarded as a marginal territory. It fundamentally contributes to identity construction and promotes a sense of belonging, allowing Borneo to establish itself as a major player in the region.

The key is diversity and inclusiveness, the fundamental strength of Borneo. Education has always been an effective platform to forge relationships – many people from the peninsula who studied in Sabah and Sarawak, including many of my friends and relatives, carry a life-long bond with Borneo.

Hopefully, through education, Borneo could play a leading role in advancing these values beyond the island boundaries and contribute to fostering a thriving, colourful and multicultural society in the region.

Dr Goh Chun Sheng is a researcher at Sunway University and Harvard University. He is interested in exploring sustainable development in Borneo.