HIGHLIGHTS

  • AIT was established in 1959 as a school for the entire region. Concentrating in the fields of natural resources, agriculture, manufacturing, and infrastructure development, it employed classical engineering and management principles to devise new technologies for Asia.
  • AIT’s student body is chosen scrupulously on the basis of merit and yet, at the same time, forms a cross-section of Asia. In any given year as many as twenty-six different countries may be represented, but no one nationality dominates. They learn to accommodate each other’s differences and to respect one another.
  • Nearly all AIT graduates stay in Asia as middle- and senior-level managers in the public and private sectors and in education. Some have become leaders in advanced technology. True to its mandate, it is generating know-how from within—tapping the region’s vast reservoir of talent to create Asian technocrats.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “its shaping a new generation of engineers and managers committed to Asia in an atmosphere of academic excellence and regional camaraderie.”

 CITATION

In its long, uneven progress to modernity, much of Asia has been held back by a shortage of able technocrats. Many countries lacked schools to train them. Even where technical institutions did exist, the best young graduates often sought jobs and advanced education abroad—and stayed there. Foreign dependency was perpetuated; for too long know-how had to be imported.

Grasping this, in 1959 the Council of Ministers of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization opened the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering in Bangkok. Eighteen students from Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines matriculated in its only subject, hydraulic engineering. The school prospered. Outliving SEATO, it was established in 1967 as an autonomous educational institution: the ASIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, or AIT.

Although based in Thailand, AIT was conceived as a school for the entire region. Asia provided the vast majority of its students and, eventually, half its faculty. Concentrating in the fields of natural resources, agriculture, manufacturing, and infrastructure development, it employed classical engineering and management principles to devise new technologies for Asia—to improve irrigation, for example, dispose of organic waste, build affordable housing, and develop renewable sources of energy.

At AIT’s modern 160-hectare campus built in 1973 outside Bangkok, some 750 students annually pursue master’s and doctoral degrees as well as shorter diploma courses. Research and outreach programs complement teaching. Working with the faculty, students participate in the development of new ideas and their dispersal—through workshops, community-based projects, and liaison programs with universities.

AIT’s student body is chosen scrupulously on the basis of merit and yet, at the same time, forms a cross-section of Asia. In any given year as many as twenty-six different countries may be represented. No one nationality dominates. At AIT everyone is a minority. “Politics” is forbidden. Studying and living side-by-side, AIT’s students learn to accommodate each other’s differences and to respect one another. A loyal network of alumni keeps the connections alive after graduation, creating a grid of friendship and mutual interest that spans the region.

Nearly all AIT graduates stay in Asia, three-quarters of them in their own countries. As middle- and senior-level managers in the public and private sectors and in education, they apply their high-tech skills to raise their countrymen’s standard of living and to improve the quality of their environment. Some have become leaders in advanced technology.

Funded largely by more than twenty governments, as well as by foundations, corporations, and individuals, AIT has an enviable reputation for high standards. Under its current president, Dr. Alastair North, it continues to adapt its specialized training to Asia’s accelerating growth and demands for increasingly sophisticated expertise. True to its mandate, it is generating know-how from within—tapping the region’s vast reservoir of talent to create Asian technocrats.

In electing the ASIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY to receive the 1989 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes its shaping a new generation of engineers and managers committed to Asia in an atmosphere of academic excellence and regional camaraderie.

 RESPONSE

I am very proud to stand here this evening to accept this prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award on behalf of the ASIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (AIT).

My pride and pleasure are greater since you honor not one person but the many who have made the INSTITUTE what it is today.

It may be significant that the Magsaysay Award Foundation and the AIT were conceived at the same point in history: one to continue in Asia the ideals of a great leader after his tragic death, the other to halt the flow out of Asia of future leaders in science and technology. While today we remember the vision of the late Ramon Magsaysay, we honor, too, the foresight of Dr. Pote Sarasin who, as secretary general of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), saw as a building block for peace the creation of an international postgraduate engineering school.

Further, just as the achievements of Ramon Magsaysay Award winners have brought substance to the ideals of the Foundation, so have the endeavors and successes of the more than four thousand INSTITUTE alumni provided the basis of today’s signal honor. These AIT graduates live as friends, colleagues—indeed as one family that crosses national boundaries and differences in political ideology and religion. This corps of dedicated persons represents the success of the Institute: it is the source of our honor and our pride.

It is clear, however, that this body of scientists and technologists would not have come into being without the effort of all those who have created, supported, and staffed AIT. I speak of people like our first president, Dr. Milton E. Bender, Jr., who worked to achieve the international breadth, financial independence, and academic autonomy that we enjoy today; people like our current board of trustees, so ably led by Dr. Thanat Khoman, whose wisdom guides our operations; and the governments that provide most of the financing to bring students to the INSTITUTE and the facilities to teach them.

I should like to recognize particularly the governments of Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand, which supported our creation as the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering, and especially the government of Thailand, the host nation, which lends inestimable support to the INSTITUTE and so to the countries that it serves.

I must mention the generosity of the United States of America, without whose aid AIT could never have started, and whose contributions over thirty years still total more than those of any other donor nation. I want, too, to recognize the tremendous input today of nations that thirty years ago were not major contributors of international aid: the Federal Republic of Germany, Canada, Australia, and Japan. Today almost all the industrialized nations of the world support the INSTITUTE and its tasks in Asia.

But the ambitions of students, the vision of benefactors, and the objectives of the INSTITUTE cannot be realized without the dedication and excellence of the staff. These, my colleagues, I represent this evening. I am proud that this corporate teamwork is symbolized by the presence here on this wonderful occasion of the president of the alumni association and graduate of the very first class, Professor Srisakdi Charmonman, and of my two vice-presidents, Professor Ricardo P. Pama and Professor Helmut Eggers. As citizens of Thailand, the Philippines, and the Federal Republic of Germany, respectively, they illustrate the East-West partnership of which our founders, and I am sure the late Ramon Magsayeay, dreamed.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I accept this award on behalf of AIT, I and my colleagues pledge that we shall continue to do everything in our power to uphold and to further the vision and the service to Asia that characterize the awardees with whom we are honored to be listed.

 BIOGRAPHY

The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)—formed under the leadership of the United States and comprising Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United Kingdom—was organized in 1954 to defend Southeast Asia against communist attack or subversion. Often overlooked is the fact that it had a social agenda as well. The member nations also pledged themselves to promote higher living standards, economic prosperity, and social well-being in the region.

Of particular concern among SEATO and Asian leaders in the 1950s was the dearth of regional universities offering postgraduate degrees in the practical sciences. It was precisely such training that was needed to build an infrastructure for economic development and to modernize Asia’s nascent industries. Bright students who qualified and could afford it studied abroad in the universities and technical institutes of Europe and North America. A great many of them subsequently found jobs in the West and stayed on, leaving their home countries bereft of needed talents and reinforcing Asia’s dependency on foreign experts.

The idea for a remedy to this problem is usually credited to Pote Sarasin, a lawyer and diplomat who was Thailand’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations in the early 1950s, and later secretary general of SEATO. Sarasin suggested training engineers in Asia where their skills were required and where, it was hoped, they would remain.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)