| 6 minute read

KMUTT’s Journey: Nurturing synergy between academia and industry

Lauren Kroemer-Pope
A building on the KMUTT campus

We are delighted to welcome our new initiator member, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT). Established over four decades ago, KMUTT has made significant strides in advancing education and industry partnerships in the region. In this interview, we delve into the university’s goals, initiatives and challenges, as well as its aspirations for future growth and learning by becoming a member of the UIIN community. Join us as we speak to Dr. Ornkanyanee Lieng-Itsara (Assistant to the President for Promoting Lifelong Learning & Head of Continuing Education Center), a dedicated lecturer and advocate for university-industry engagement at KMUTT.

How did you come to know about UIIN and what are your reasons for joining us as a member?

KMUTT: I first heard about UIIN through Assoc. Prof. Dr. Suvit Sae-Tia, president of KMUTT. Dr. Suvit informed me about the UIIN conference, and suggested I should go, as it offers something different from other academic conferences that I typically participate in. He emphasized that the conference’s attendees share a common goal of promoting collaboration with industry, aligning perfectly with the subjects I am actively engaged in. I joined the conference for the first time in Helsinki in 2019. I was pleasantly surprised as the conference covered topics that closely mirrored the trajectory that our university wants to follow: enhancing collaboration with industry and amplifying our societal impact. This year, I presented my project at the UIIN conference in Budapest.

Motivated by our successful engagement, we decided to deepen our relationship with UIIN, not only as conference attendees, but also as a member of the network.

What are the university’s goals when it comes to university-industry engagement?

At present, the university has six main goals. To begin with, we aim to transform our educational approach, specifically targeting a 50% increase in the number of non-degree learners at the university, particularly among the working adult population. At the same time, we would like to bolster both our revenue streams and our ties with industrial partners.

Our academic faculty has already been deeply involved in collaborative ventures with industry stakeholders, actively contributing their expertise to solve various challenges, often within the framework of smaller-scale projects. We’ve nurtured enduring partnerships with approximately 20 strategic partners and over 300 public and private organisations around the country as existing customers; small and large enterprises. In the past these companies have bought services from us or hired us to carry out some projects.

We aim to promote long-term relationships and partnerships rather than doing a one-time business transaction.

Yet, the path to achieve this goal is not straightforward, which is why he have sought to deepen our connection with UIIN. We view the UIIN community as a bridge that can facilitate our journey towards these goals. UIIN’s wealth of expertise and the collective knowledge of its network members offer invaluable resources from which we hope to gain insights and strategies to navigate the challenges and complexities of our mission.

What are some of the challenges you are facing as an organisation?

We face a combination of internal and external challenges. Internally, as a government funded institution, our academic staff’s essential role is providing our students with a high-quality education. However, when these staff engage with external partners, it often becomes an additional responsibility on top of their primary workload. Encouraging a mindset conducive to such engagements is thus a primary internal hurdle we face.
Additionally, we face the challenge of aligning the expectations of our academic staff with those of our industrial partners.

Academics often prioritise activities that contribute to their academic ranking and advancement, while our industry partners are primarily focused on practical outcomes that yield financial benefits. Bridging this gap and managing these divergent expectations represents a substantial internal challenge.

Lastly, we must address the challenge of transforming the recognition and benefits sharing dynamics between the university and its academic staff, as well as balancing the investment that goes into the academic research versus industrial partnerships.

Are there any initiatives that you are developing to overcome these challenges?

Approximately 18 months ago, I launched an initiative named KMUTTWORKS, dedicated to fostering collaboration with our partners. This initiative involves a mutual investment of time and knowledge-sharing, enabling us to co-design educational programs and curricula that cater to the needs of both academia and industry.

During this period, I successfully engaged 17 companies in our collaborative efforts. One noteworthy case study involves our collaboration with a food manufacturing company. We helped them to train their workforce with the precise skill set that they required for their business operations. This model of engagement holds the potential for scalability, offering opportunities to extend similar projects to both SMEs and larger corporations. This company aspires to transition from traditional analog industry to becoming a smart factory. In pursuit of this transformation, they must identify and cultivate the requisite skills among their workforce, ensuring that the transition unfolds seamlessly, and we are in a unique position to help them with this.

Is there an established culture of universities and businesses to be working together in Thailand?

In Thailand, the collaboration between universities and businesses has only begun to take shape in the past decade. Approximately five years ago, the Ministry responsible for innovation and universities introduced a significant policy shift. They advocated for universities to embrace a ‘third mission,’ emphasising that universities should not solely focus on producing graduates but should also actively contribute to the industry and production sectors of the country. This shift in perspective has become a prevailing nationwide trend.

Universities that demonstrate their commitment to such endeavors are now eligible for financial support from the Ministry, marking a pivotal turning point in the landscape of university-industry collaboration in Thailand.

Are there any other topics that you would like to learn about or develop through your connection to UIIN?

In addition to our ongoing engagement with UIIN, there are specific areas of interest and development that we are keen to explore. Currently, our focus lies on acquiring insights into practical business models tailored for executing collaborative projects with industry partners. Moreover, we are eager to delve into the intricacies of utilising Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems within the university context.

Furthermore, we are actively seeking digital tools that can assist in effectively managing online learners, a growing need in the evolving post-COVID educational landscape. Additionally, we are interested in understanding the successful models employed by universities in Europe, as these insights could potentially inform our strategies and initiatives for achieving greater success and impact in our academic and industry collaborations.

Ready for more?

If you enjoyed this article, check out our article Reshaping Education through Partnerships, Technology, and Innovation and podcast episode The Future of Universities – Lifelong Learning and the Personalisation of Education.

Lauren Kroemer-Pope (interviewer) is the Outreach and Partnerships Specialist at UIIN.

Madeline Arkins (editor) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.

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