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 Kingdomwas
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
After floating this idea among the SEATO ministers and being
encouraged, he developed a prototype for such a school to be established on the campus of
Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok where SEATO was headquartered. Sarasin had a unique
opportunity to promote his plan when, following a coup d'etat in 1957, he was asked to
serve as prime minister of Thailand pending new elections. During his few months in office
Sarasin appointed the finance minister who secured Thai government funding for the
proposed school. Estimates were then made of costs of personnel, buildings, technical
equipment, and other requirements such as books and scholarships. Academic standards and
conditions for admission were agreed upon, as well as the initial course of
instructionhydraulic engineering, a skill that was badly needed in the monsoonal
states of South and Southeast Asia.
Sarasin's proposal was formally approved in March 1958 by SEATO's
Council of Ministers, which invited member governments to contribute financially.
At this point the U.S. representative at SEATO put Sarasin and his
planners in touch with Thomas H. Evans, a retired U.S. army colonel and dean of the
College of Engineering at Colorado State University, and Maurice L. Albertson, director of
Colorado State University Research Foundation. With their help, Chulalongkorn University
developed plans for the new engineering graduate school. Indeed, from this point forward,
under a large grant from the U.S. International Cooperation Agency (which later became
U.S. Aid for International Development, or USAID), Colorado State University played the
dominant role in realizing Sarasin's dream, channeling the new school's core funding and
recruiting most of its faculty.
In the months leading to the school's opening, the interim board of
management under Sarasin met to address urgent problems ranging from academic policy to
decisions concerning rooms and stairwells. In July 1959 the king of Thailand, Bhumibol
Adulyadej, issued a royal decree establishing the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering,
which would become better known by its acronym SEATOGSE. The opening ceremonies were held
on 8 September 1959, with Prime Minister Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat as guest speaker.
Two days later classes opened with eighteen students: thirteen were from Thailand, two
from the Philippines, and one each from India, Pakistan, and the Republic of China
Three of the school's original faculty were Thai, assigned to SEATOGSE
by Chulalongkorn University; the other five were American, recruited by Colorado State.
Evans became the first dean. During SEATOGSE's pioneering years, he established an
atmosphere of rigorous discipline and enhanced the curriculum by adding courses in
structural and highway engineering. Robert M. Holcomb, the second dean, chosen in 1961,
would put a major emphasis on research.
Although the United States provided the lion's share of funding, other
SEATO states made important contributions. Thailand, of course, hosted the school at
Chulalongkorn, which officially conferred SEATOGSE degrees. Thailand also provided funds
to construct and equip the new buildings. The United Kingdom contributed the school's
first hydraulic laboratory equipment, Australia provided scholarships, and the Philippines
supplied nominal operating funds.
A central influence on the school's formation and early growth was
Albertson. The Colorado State University Research Foundation that he headed was the
primary contractor with the U.S. government for SEATOGSE's support, and Albertson was
tireless in soliciting cooperation and assistance for the new institution. He visited the
Bangkok campus annually and also made the rounds of each SEATO nation, soliciting support
for SEATOGSE and seeing to it that promised funds were actually received. He personally
recruited many of the early faculty. His official association with the institute continued
through June 1975 when the U.S. government terminated direct support by USAID. In 1979 the
institution honored him with an honorary doctorate in engineering.
Certain important features of the graduate school were determined in
the beginning. Academic admission was to be pan-Asian and instruction would be in English.
To ensure that the best potential students applied, SEATO established a generous
scholarship program and extended it to students from Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India,
Indonesia, Laos, Malaya (Malaysia), South Vietnam, and the then British colonies of
Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo, as well as the SEATO nations of Thailand, Pakistan,
and the Philippines. Although it took years for the school to achieve such diversity in
its student body, pan-Asianism was an important part of the founders' vision.
English was the obvious choice for the medium of instruction because of
the formative role played by Colorado State University engineers. Moreover, scientific
knowledge was communicated throughout the world primarily in English, and English was the
most widely known "second language" in Asia.
Most of the early applicants learned about SEATOGSE through their
undergraduate engineering schools. Filipino Ricardo Pama, for example, a student who later
joined the faculty and is now vice-president for academic affairs, remembers seeing a
large poster advertising the program on the bulletin board of his alma mater, Mapua
Institute of Technology. Pama was already working for the Philippine Department of Public
Works and Highways, but he was curious enough about the new school to write a short letter
to the dean. He received a response encouraging him to apply and mentioning the
possibility of a scholarship. Pama became a member of SEATOGSE's fourth class; by that
time the student body had expanded to nearly sixty. Academic rigor was the order of the
day. About a third of the students failed to graduate because of the high standards set by
the professors. Yet members of the faculty went well beyond what was required of them.
Pama remembers Robert B. Banks, an instructor who later became AIT president, offering
advanced tutoring to his best students in the afternoons.
By the time Milton E. Bender became dean in 1963, the school offered
three programs leading to a master's degree in engineering, possessed a library of more
than ten thousand books and articles, and was expanding its curriculum to include courses
in industrial operations and management.
Despite these signs of vitality, Bender faced a serious problem. The
U.S. government indicated that American support for SEATOGSE was designed to get the
school off the ground; it did not intend to subsidize it permanently.
In his January 1964 report to SEATOGSE's board of management, Bender
pointed out that the school needed two kinds of financial support: first, guaranteed
permanent financing at a level sufficient to meet salaries, scholarships, and general
operating expenses: and second, one-time grants for buildings, equipment, and research.
Only an endowment on the order of U.S.$10 million, he said, would guarantee the school's
permanent financial viability. If this could be arranged, the SEATO Graduate School of
Engineering, he believed, could well become "a great educational institution."
The SEATO Council of Ministers convened the Expert Study
Groupwith one representative from each countryto explore the school's future.
Two consultants, Dr. C. A. Hart from the United Kingdom, and Professor Wesley L. Orr of
the University of California at Los Angeles, were hired to prepare background reports for
the panel, which was chaired by Professor W. Fisher Cassie of the United Kingdom.
The consultants' reports revealed that in the short span of seven years
SEATOGSE had already established its credibility within the region. After visiting Malaya,
Pakistan, the Philippines, and Singapore, Hart wrote that among the hundred and more
persons in the field whom he interviewed, "there was scarcely any person who was not
conversant with the activities of SEATOGSE and all held the view that such an institution
in the region should be encouraged." Orr concluded that SEATOGSE "is not just
another ordinary school of engineering, it is a unique experiment in international
cooperation in engineering education."
At the same time the panel pointed to unresolved issues, e.g., which
countries was the institution designed to serve and what fields of study would best serve
their interests? The report concluded that the young engineering school should not only
carry on its current programs but should expand. More importantly, it recommended that
"there should be a gradual phasing out of the School from its present affiliation
The SEATO ministers concurred, and in April 1965 they adopted a formal
resolution calling for the creation of a commission to prepare a charter for the school as
an independent entity. Dean Bender was appointed chairman of the commission, whose members
included D. J. Samuel, chair of SEATOGSE's board of management; Dr. Kawhaeng Balangkura,
secretary general of Thailand's National Education Council; and faculty members Aroon
Sorathesn, Rolf T. Skrinde, and John Hugh Jones.
The charter devised by the commission stipulated that the school should
remain in Bangkok and possess an independent legal identity as a nonprofit organization.
It should develop its own program in engineering and allied sciences, select its own
students, and award its own degrees. The new institution, to be known as the ASIAN
INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (AIT), should be guided by an international and self-perpetuating
board of trustees.
The charter assumed that major funding for the new institute would come
from a permanent endowment; indeed, securing such an endowment was to be the major
function of the trustees. There remained a dilemma, however. Such funds could not be
solicited successfully as long as the school remained within the aegis of SEATO, yet
building a sufficient endowment would take time, perhaps years, and during that time it
was essential that SEATO member governments "continue to assume a responsibility for
financing the INSTITUTE."
With the charter in hand, Bender now set about securing a commitment to
the proposal from SEATO states. AITs current president, Alastair North, credits
Bender with overcoming inertia and misunderstandings among the SEATO states and with
"single-handedly" establishing ATT as a viable independent institution.
In June 1966 SEATO's foreign ministers adopted the proposed charter and
formally obligated their respective governments' to select trustees for the
schoolpeople who could "manage the financial affairs of the INSTITUTE and
develop its financial standing." Meeting in Bangkok the following November, an
interim board of trustees made three critical appointments: Dr. Puey Ungphakorn, governor
of the Bank of Thailand, was named interim chairman of the board and Oscar Mapua, head of
Mapua Institute of Technology in the Philippines, vice-chairman; Bender was chosen
president of the institution and, as such, a crucial member of the board.
The creation of a board of trustees paved the way for the final step in
establishing the ASIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, i.e. chartering the INSTITUTE as an
independent educational entity in Thailand, which required an act of parliament. This took
another year, but on 26 October 1967 Thailands Constituent Assembly passed the
"Asian institute of technology Act," which was duly promulgated by the king on
30 November 1967. The act recognized AIT as "a juristic person deemed to be domiciled
in Thailand"; exempted it from taxes and national codes governing education and from
immigration regulations that would inhibit the comings and goings of the schools
officers, staff, and students; and granted AIT the right to award masters and
doctoral degrees in its own name. At the time AIT possessed a faculty of twenty-three
professors and lecturers and a student body of 151.
As plans for AITs independence from Chulalongkorn University
moved ahead, Bender, Ungphakorn, and Assistant Dean Sorathesn began advocating the
creation of a new campus, as the school was rapidly outgrowing the space allotted it at
Chulalongkorn. The government was willing to provide a new site. Bender insisted the site
be large enough to allow for growth. As it happened, a parcel of crown property in
Pathumthani, just north of Bangkok, had been set aside for "Thammassat University and
other schools." Inasmuch as Ungphakorn was rector of Thammassat at the time, he was
able to arrange for 160 hectares of this parcel to be allocated to AIT, but several years
would pass before the new campus opened. For the time being only the name on the gate of
Chulalongkorn University was changed. Instruction went on much as before, but the generous
allotment of land was an enormous vote of confidence in the INSTITUTEs future.
Bender now used the fact of this gift in soliciting the large donations needed.
The United States did not, after all, abruptly abandon its financial
support of the institution. Until 1975, U.S. financial support for the INSTITUTE actually
increased and Colorado State continued to run the school on a contractual basis much as
before. Nevertheless, the removal of AIT from SEATO made it possible for the school to
achieve a more international and nonpartisan identity. Certain countries that had not been
party to SEATO could now successfully be approached for assistance, e.g. Canada, Denmark,
Japan, Taiwan, and West Germany.
In 1968 architectural and engineering firms commissioned by the British
Ministry of Overseas development drew up a long-range development and construction program
for the new Pathumthani campus, which AIT approved in January1969. The United Kingdom also
pledged to donate architectural and engineering services to the extent of U.S.$750, 000 to
design and build the first components of the complex. At the same meeting Ungphakorn
announced the first fruits a "commitment of U.S.$5.5 million by Thailand, the United
Kingdom, the United States, and Australia." Bender saw in this commitment
international recognition of AIT as a "challenging, far-sighted project, one that is
not for tomorrow alone but for the next century as well."
Work on the new campus began in January 1971 as a multinational
endeavor: the main academic building was contributed by the United States, the
administration by Australia, and a laboratory by Lee Foundation of Singapore. On 14
February 1973 King Bhumibol officially opened the campus. President bender spoke
confidently of the institutions future, pointing out that "the AISIAN INSTITUE
OF TECHNOLOGY, as you see it today on this new campus, is well founded, adequately
financed, has a nucleus of fine facilities, a well qualified international faculty, and a
truly regional, carefully selected student body." Having accomplished his task of
establishing AIT as an independent institution, he turned over the presidency to Dr.
Harold E. Hoelscher of the University of Pittsburgh. Ungphakorn handed over his gavel as
chairman of the board to Vice-chairman Mapua.
Bender had been AITs leader for a decade, first as dean and after
1967 as president. In partnership with Ungphakorn, Bender had succeeded in ensuring the
survival of the institute, in establishing its independence both from SEATO and
Chulalongkorn and in building the new campus. He had enhanced the schools visibility
and status in the academic world and found it new government supporters, among them Japan,
which had contributed a U.S.$2.5 million conference center.
Institution building was the hallmark of Benders administration,
but his dramatic success in the area did not overshadow advances in AITs academic
programs during the same years. Public health engineering had been introduced as a field
of study in 1964, along with courses in river pollution control and industrial waste
treatment; in 1968 these courses were expanded to create a separate division of
environmental engineering. Meanwhile, in 1966 a new division was added in transportation
and geotechnical engineering. Systems engineering was added in 1971.
In 1970 AIT had begun offering a doctorate in engineering andat
the other end of the academic scale"diplomas" for students who completed
three trimesters of instruction in special fields. In 1972 AITs curriculum was
reorganized into formal divisions of engineering, each of which became a separate
administrative unit. These were (1) environmental and chemical, (2) fluid and energy, (3)
systems and management, (4) geotechnical, and (5) structural. A division of industrial
engineering was added in 1973.
During President Hoelscher's two-year tenure (1973-75), AITs
computer services were updated to keep pace with advances elsewhere. To make this
possible, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration gave AIT a
CDC-3600 computer system. Subsequently, Hoelscher worked out an agreement between the
INSTITUTE, USAID, and IBM World Trade Americas/Far East Corporation to establish a
regional computer center on campus. The center opened in 1975 with the installation of an
advanced IBM system. The same year an engineering laboratory, funded by Taiwan, was
constructed. These additions enabled AIT to move aggressively into the field of contract
Despite the enormous momentum of the Bender years, and important new
additions to the campus under Hoelscher, AIT had financial problems in the
mid-1970sa not unusual condition of funds not keeping pace with spending. AITs
faculty became alarmed. It presented its concerns to the board of trustees with the result
that President Hoelscher resigned and Bender was asked to resume the presidency until
confidence and financial stability were restored. Dr. Thanat Khoman of Thailand now became
chairman of the board of trustees.
In the May 1975 graduation ceremonies, 143 students received degrees or
diplomas, thereby swelling the ranks of AIT's graduates to nearly 2,000. At the ceremony
AIT also awarded its first honorary degreeto King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
During his second term as president, Bender saw several capital
projects completed and presided over yet another expansion of the curriculum. Agricultural
and food engineering as well as human settlements development were now established as
separate divisions. His main task, however, was to reassure AITs funders of the
viability of the institute and to prepare the way for new leadership. He succeeded in
both. The Australian and Canadian governments agreed to guarantee funding for a period of
three years in the amount of U.S.$2.8 million each. As Vice-President Pama recalls,
"that was manna from heaven. . . . a tremendous morale booster for the faculty and
for [other] donors as well."
Having turned the financial situation around, Bender, in January 1977,
handed over the presidency to Dr. Robert Banks. Banks had taught hydraulic engineering at
the school and had also served as director of research during his pioneering years; in
1976 the board invited him to return as vice-president and provost. His term as president,
which lasted six and a half years, has been described by AITs unofficial historian
and longtime faculty member, John Hugh Jones, as "one of magnificent growth under
quiet unassuming leadership."
Indeed, Banks's tenure is notable for expansion in all fields.
Enrollment grew from less than four hundred to nearly six hundred students, and the
faculty grew from fifty-three to eighty-nine full-time members. Innovations in the
curriculum continued, with the upgrading of agricultural and food engineering to
divisional status and the addition of divisions of computer applications and energy
technology. The Asian Regional Remote Sensing Training Center was established as well as
centers for foreign language training and continuing education.
Meanwhile, the campus sprouted new buildings as Banks shrewdly matched
potential donors with AITs growing needs. A "Resident Village" for
students was funded by Thailand in 1977, followed by the "Australia Village" in
1978 and the "German Village" for married students in 1982. "Korea
House," an octagonal student center donated by the Korea Traders Scholarship
Foundation, was also completed in 1982. After the West German government built a new
facility to house AITs division of energy technology in 1980, France agreed to fund
a second building, which was completed in 1983. Japan's presence on campus was highlighted
dramatically with its donation of a U.S.$4.6 million library and media center, which
officially opened in 1981. In 1984 Taiwan funded a U.S.$494,000 extension of the
laboratory facilities at AITs Regional Experimental Center.
Among Banks's innovations was seeking local currency contributions from
regional nationsin contrast to those from industrial powers. Although relatively
small, such donations were used to fund seminars, student research, and faculty exchanges
in the area. In this way Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri
Lanka all made useful contributions to the work and growth of AIT.
In his final annual report in 1983, Banks described AITs
financial position as "somewhat cheerful," noting that "during the fiscal
year 1982-83, the INSTITUTE received U.S.$11,484,194 in cash and kind contributions from
24 governments, 11 international agencies, 9 foundations, 23 national government agencies,
and 20 business enterprises, or a total of 87 donors."
What accounts for this impressive array of support? Partly it was
Banks's own insights into the motivations of potential donors, as well as the enterprise
and enthusiasm of AITs Vice-President for Development Pama, its faculty members,
board members, and loyal friends. But as Pama and others hasten to point out, what really
''sold'' AIT was the productthe quality of the graduates it was producing.
It had been the dream of Pote Sarasin and other founders of the school
to educate technocrats in Asia, for Asiamen and women to build roads, harbors, and
irrigation and communication systemsthe infrastructure that would make major
industrial development possible. By the late 1970s and early 1980s it was clear that AIT
was doing just that. A survey conducted by the school in 1982 revealed that 94 percent of
its graduates were working in developing countries in Asia. Moreover, AITs students
were strategically located across a broad economic spectrum. They could be found in
business, higher education, development-oriented non-governmental organizations,
andmore than a third in government agencies and state-supported enterprises.
They were the living proof of AITs success and its best ambassadors. By the end of
1983 its graduate roster included students from twenty-two Asian countriesstretching
geographically from Afghanistan to Papua New Guinea.
It was not only students who helped develop AIT. As Pama says, the
school attracted faculty members who "came to us because they believed in the
school's experiment. The moment they came they were totally immersed in making a
contribution; after they finished their tours, they became our strongest ambassadors of
goodwill in their respective countries," both encouraging their governments to
support the INSTITUTE and suggesting to the INSTITUTE projects with the best potential for
The infectious enthusiasm of AITs faculty and board members was
among the factors that attracted its next president, Professor Alastair M. North. In 1980
North, a research scientist in the field of polymer and molecular processes, had just
completed a term as deputy principal of Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland. When he
was invited to fly to Paris to interview for the presidency of AIT, he thought it was a
hoax. An engineering school in Bangkok? Interviews in Paris? But having discovered that
his principal had recommended him to the search committee, he went. During his interview
with the head of the search committee, the Canadian ambassador to Thailand Fred Bild, he
became intrigued by the challenge and when offered the position "had absolutely no
hesitation in accepting it."
One thing that struck North was the support AIT had not only from the
government of Thailand but from other Asian governments. This stood in dramatic contrast
to attitudes in the United Kingdom and the United States at the time, where universities
were little appreciated by government and even under attack. To illustrate, North likes to
tell of a meeting in Taiwan just three weeks into his new job, during which the prime
minister of Taiwan said: "If it was not for the graduates of your university who
built the roads, built the dams, built the harbors, which started this country's rising
development and its economic progressif it was not for your graduates, this country
would not be where it is today. It's a debt we can never repay. How can we help you?"
When he assumed the leadership of AIT in 1983, one of North's goals was
to involve the faculty more fully in academic planning. His idea was that AIT should not
grow by grafting new fields to old ones in response to donor interest or to initiatives
taken by individual faculty members but that it should expand in accordance with a faculty
determined master plan. The first fruit of this effort was the "1985-1988 Academic
Plan" that identified three areas for development: first, integrating management
skills with instruction in classical engineering; second, managing natural resources; and
third, developing a training program in manufacturing technology. In accordance with the
plan an environmental research station, which was donated by Germany, was opened in 1988,
and in 1989 AIT admitted the first students to its new School of Management.
Today the INSTITUTE is also moving rapidly into the field of
computer-assisted manufacturing. With such technology, North says, "you can have a
dream tonight and you can have a product on the shelf at the shop by tomorrow night."
Over the years AITs student body and faculty have become
increasingly diverse. In the beginning students from Thailand, the Philippines, and Taiwan
dominated. But since 1967 and AITs separation from SEATO, the student body has
become more diversified and today almost all countries in Asia are represented, including
the People's Republic of China (as a consequence of which AIT now terms Taiwan
"Chinese Taipei") and Vietnam; indeed, the head of AITs computer science
division is a Vietnamese citizen. The school prefers that no nationality account for more
than one-fifth of the students enrolled.
Diversity, of course, has potential disadvantages as well as
advantages. Miscommunication between people of different cultures is one. From the
beginning AIT has attempted to overcome this problem by fostering a single-language
environment on campus. English is the language of instruction and research, and it is also
the language in which the vast majority of AITs students communicate with each
other. Although no one is accepted who lacks sufficient command of English for
graduate-level study, AITs language center helps students who want to improve their
language skill. And for students studying through the medium of English for the first
time, there is a pre-master's English booster course.
Communicating through a common language that is virtually everyone's
"second language" helps create camaraderie among AITs diverse students, as
does the school's policy of forbidding studentseven Thaisto live off campus.
One consequence of this policy is that AIT is a "foreign enclave" within
Thailand. (Some of its non-Thai students do learn Thai, but usually only for social
purposes. More often than not AITs students studying languages other than English
are pursuing German, French, or Japaneselanguages useful in doctoral programs or
postdoctoral work after leaving AIT.)
Politics is a potential problem in such a diverse student body.
Virtually all of AITs students come from countries in which questions of political
power, justice, popular participation in government, or economic equity remain far from
resolved. Periodically, of course, these and other issues precipitate political responses
about which AITs students may have passionate feelings. Yet acting openly in
expression of these feelings can be divisive within the school community and at times a
problem for AIT as an institution with close and friendly ties to the government of
A case in point was the suppression by the Chinese government of
demonstrators in Tian'anmen Square in Beijing in 1989. When several AIT students
demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy and were identified as such on television, North
warned that if they carried on public political protests he would have no choice but to
send them home. AIT, however, does not discourage students from organizing on campus
seminars and forums that address political issues.
For the most part AITs students support the "no
politics" policy. They work hard and are more motivated by their own career goals and
Indeed, AIT students are hard workers who spend the vast majority of
their time in class, in the library, in the laboratory, or at work on field projects.
Classes meet year round, with only short breaks dividing one trimester from the next.
This intense life of study and multicultural interaction breeds fast
friendships and loyalties. Pama attributes the school's remarkable camaraderie to the fact
that most students are living outside their own countries for the first time. Living in a
pan-Asian environment, they discover their common humanity. They also realize they are
participating in an exciting experiment. Bonds are closest among students of the same
year, but through an extensive and well-organized alumni association AITs graduates
form an Asia-wide network of friends and associates linked by the common experience of the
The faculty, too, seems to form a bond with the institution. In fact, a
number of foreign professors who came on a short-term basis have since returned as
permanent staff. President Banks is but one example. Moreover, AITs younger faculty
is increasingly made up of former graduates who have earned their doctorates elsewhere and
returned to teach at their alma mater. Today the approximately 120-member faculty is
almost as diverse as the student body, and about half are Asians. The INSTITUTE naturally
prefers faculty members with practical experience in addition to academic credentials.
AIT applies a single salary scale for all teachers and officers that it
hires directlyirrespective of their national pay scales. Quite a few are not hired
directly, however, but are chosen and paid by their home governments; their salaries are a
private matter in which AIT takes no interest. Although this results in discrepancies,
none are dramatic. "Some of our seconded [independently hired] persons are living
quite comfortably," admits North, "but none of them is driving a Rolls Royce
while our directly hired people struggle on bicycles."
A bigger problem with seconded faculty is the "overseas aid
syndrome." Some newcomers to Asia condescendingly assume that since "this is the
way it is done in my country, this way will be good for Asia." In time this attitude
usually changes as a result of the experience of teaching at AIT and working with its more
seasoned faculty. Moreover, faculty members are routinely evaluated by their students, a
procedure organized by the student union but taken quite seriously by the administration.
The heart of AIT is its master's degree program. In any given year
about 80 percent of the INSTITUTEs students are enrolled in it. There is no core
course or set of requirements. Rather, course sequences are set by each of the nine
divisions: (1) agricultural and food engineering, (2) computer science, (3) energy
technology, (4) environmental engineering, (5) geotechnical and transportation
engineering, (6) human settlements development, (7) industrial engineering and management,
(8) structural engineering and construction, and (9) water resources engineering. Master's
degree students finish in two years after five trimesters of study and completion of a
thesis project. The latter, if possible, addresses practical problems in their own
Each division also offers the doctoral degree, which normally entails
nine trimesters of study. Ten percent of AITs students are presently pursuing
doctorates. Another 10 percent are enrolled in the three-trimester diploma programs and in
certificate courses in which they study subjects ranging from irrigation to remote sensing
technology. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand is among the graduates of
AITs certificate courses in the latter.
On a contractual basis AIT also offers short courses for government
agencies, companies, and other client groups in various parts of Asia. These courses vary
from two weeks to three months in length. They are tailored to meet the specific needs of
the clients, who pay all of the students' expenses as well as a fee to AIT. In any given
year a thousand or so participate in such programs. These courses pay for themselves and
contribute to the school's reputation and influence.
Other activities with a "multiplier" impact are joint
programs with other universities. For example, students at Bangladesh University of
Engineering and Technology are permitted to spend one term of their degree program in
study at AIT.
Other parts of the INSTITUTEs outreach efforts are its Asian
Disaster Preparedness Center and Regional Computer Center, with its campus-based
information banks that collate and store data in the fields of geotechnical engineering,
environmental sanitation, engineering resources, and the ferro-cement industry.
Furthermore, AITs Regional Research and Development Center coordinates and markets
the INSTITUTEs research expertise.
AIT is also engaged in contract research. Among the nearly two hundred
problems under investigation by its faculty and advanced students in 1988 were the
application of enamel to improve the performance of agricultural implements; the use of
composted water hyacinths in fish production; solar ponds and their applications; the
improvement of tractor efficiency in paddy fields; economic feeding systems for Muscovy
ducks; and the environmental impact of a proposed power plant extension. Many of these
projects will have concrete applications regionwide as well as extend the reputation of
The most important "reputation multipliers" of AIT, however,
are its students. The institution now boasts more than sixty-five hundred alumni from some
twenty nations; 90 percent of them are employed in Asia, the vast majority in their own
countries. AITs graduates move quickly into middle- and senior-level positions in
government and business and also serve as faculty members in Asia's universities. In this
way, AIT performs a critical bridging function between the Western engineering schools
that have trained most of AITs faculty at the doctoral level and Asian schools where
many of AITs graduates teach. AIT plays a special role transmittingand
adapting to the special needs and circumstances of Asiainternational advances in
Although President Bender's dream of a U.S.$100 million endowment is
still far from achieved, the INSTITUTE has prospered by gaining the support of an
astonishingly wide array of regular donors. In 1988, for example, twenty-three countries
made contributions in cash or kind. Donations from Australia, Thailand, Germany, Japan,
and the Netherlands, in that order, far outstripped those from the United States, although
the latter has been the single largest contributor over the years. The United Nations
Development Program, the Asian Development Bank, and thirteen other major international
organizations also contributed in 1988, as did seven foundations and fifty-five national
government agenciesled by those of Thailand, but ranging from Canada to Vietnam.
Moreover, fifty-one businesses and industries made contributions, most prominently IBM,
which regularly subsidizes faculty positions and also contributes to the special AIT
Foundation/IBM. Altogether such contributions in 1988 came to U.S.$15.5 million.
About the future, there seems to be little doubt. The INSTITUTE
continues to grow in a spirit of prudent optimism.
In 1969 Bender described the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering as
"a school that will concentrate on engineering applicable to the problems, conditions
and limitations of the region." In 1989 AIT faces regional problems that are more
diverse than ever and whose solutions are, of necessity, increasingly high-tech. In its
early years AITs graduates were neededfor the most partto carry out the
tasks of building the basic infrastructure of Third World economies, and in many parts of
the region these basic infrastructural needs must still be met. Asia's rural masses still
require simple and inexpensive technologies, e.g., fuel-efficient water pumps and stoves
and better hand tools. On the other hand, the region's economies have generated new
prosperity and higher standards of living for millions of urbanites and have propelled
Asian workers, engineers, and managers into manufacturing, communications, and
construction fields that require the latest in world technology.
Today AIT must meet both needs. On the one hand, its students use the
latest computers to design appropriate technologies for the still-poor countryside, e.g.,
biogas plants and solar generators. On the other hand, AITs engineers design and
build computer-driven factories, skyscrapers, and satellite communications systems!
Asian Ins'titute of Technology. AIT Review. Bangkok: AIT. Various issues.
______. AIT Today. Bangkok: AIT, 1988, 1989.
______. Annual Report. Bangkok: AIT, 1988, 1989.
______. Asian Institute of Technology, 1959-1989: Thirty Years of Service to Asia's
Deuelopment. Bangkok: AIT, 1989.
"Breeding Brains for the Boom. " Asiaweek, 4 August 1989.
Jones, John Hugh. Concept to Prototype, AIT, 1959-1984: A Narrative of People and
Events. Bangkok: AIT, 1984.
Interviews with Dr. Alastair North, president, AIT; Dr. Helmut Eggers, vice-president
for academic affairs; Dr. Ricardo Pama, vice-president for development; and Dr. Srisakdi
Charmonman, president of the AIT Alumni Association. Interviews and correspondence with
others familiar with AIT. Documents provided by AIT. Visits to the AIT campus.