THE PATHFINDER

Ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist be­hind Belt and Road-fo­cused study cen­ter in Sin­ga­pore aims to pro­mote a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the China-led ini­tia­tive

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE -

It did not take Rathakr­ish­nan Govind long to put his hand up and of­fer to open the Belt and Road Multi-Cul­tural Stud­ies Cen­tre in Sin­ga­pore.

The mo­ment he learned of the con­cept, the CEO of the Lon­don School of Busi­ness & Fi­nance (LSBF) Global, the Sin­ga­pore-based in­ter­na­tional arm of a pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion head­quar­tered in the United King­dom, pounced on the idea.

Four months later, in July this year, the Sin­ga­pore cen­ter was jointly launched by LSBF and the Over­seas Ed­u­ca­tion Col­lege of Xi­a­men Univer­sity in East China’s Fu­jian prov­ince.

The first of its kind in Sin­ga­pore, it is set up un­der the aus­pices of China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and funded by the China Cul­tural Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is a trade and in­fra­struc­ture net­work pro­posed by China in 2013 to boost con­nec­tiv­ity between Asia, Africa and Europe by re­vi­tal­iz­ing the an­cient Silk Road routes.

The China Cul­tural Her­itage Foun­da­tion is ad­min­is­tered by China’s Min­istry of Cul­ture and tasked with pro­mot­ing co­op­er­a­tion and ex­change in cul­tural her­itage between China and other coun­tries.

“In­ter­na­tional busi­ness can only be done when you know the lan­guage and cul­ture of the coun­try. This col­lab­o­ra­tion between us and Xi­a­men Univer­sity is based on this foun­da­tion,” said Govind.

Now that the first phase of launch­ing the cen­ter is out of the way, he and his team are look­ing at the next step: Con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the of­fer­ings, with the first to roll out in Jan­uary 2018.

In the pipe­line are plans to of­fer transna­tional ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams that will help busi­ness­peo­ple gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Belt and Road. Stu­dents are an­tic­i­pated to be ev­ery­one from C-suite ex­ec­u­tives — tra­di­tional chiefs such as CEOs and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cers — to mid­dle-level man­agers and en­trepreneurs.

They will also have the chance to gain in­valu­able in­sights and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Chi­nese cul­tural nu­ances, busi­ness eti­quette and ex­pec­ta­tions, and even hard skills like tax­a­tion rules.

“Any­one in­ter­ested in do­ing busi­ness in China should at­tend a course at the cen­ter. The knowl­edge that they pick up will be prac­ti­cal and im­me­di­ately ap­pli­ca­ble to their dayto-day work,” said Govind.

Upon com­ple­tion of each course, stu­dents will be given a cer­tifi­cate by Xi­a­men Univer­sity.

Govind, 52, re­called that when he first learned about the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive in 2013, “the two pil­lars that ap­pealed to me the most were peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tions and in­crease in trade”.

“It is my per­sonal be­lief that Sin­ga­pore can be a con­duit to help com­pa­nies un­der­stand how Chi­nese busi­nesses work, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to how they clinch deals over­seas,” he said.

That the con­cept of the Belt and Road Multi-Cul­tural Stud­ies Cen­tre has risen out of the ini­tia­tive makes per­fect sense.

“If bridges and friend­ships can be made with­out arms, through peo­ple-to-peo­ple bond­ing, then I think we will have built a bet­ter world. It is also about in­creas­ing trade between coun­tries. If through the cen­ter, we can build more con­nec­tions, then why not?” Govind said.

That was why, when the cen­ter was first spo­ken about in his pres­ence in March this year, he jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to start one in his home coun­try, Sin­ga­pore.

In fact, he learned about it while work­ing on a dif­fer­ent deal at Xi­a­men Univer­sity. He had gone there to sign an agree­ment to launch the univer­sity’s bach­e­lor of man­age­ment in ac­count­ing and bach­e­lor of eco­nomics in in­ter­na­tional eco­nomics and trade at LSBF.

Dur­ing the same meet­ing, he learned about the Belt and Road Multi-Cul­tural Stud­ies Cen­tre. Im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­ing the po­ten­tial, Govind vol­un­teered LSBF Sin­ga­pore as a host.

“I am truly ec­static to know that LSBF is the first pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion in Sin­ga­pore to se­cure a project re­lated to the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. This is go­ing to be a game changer,” he said.

Govind rec­og­nizes that ink­ing this deal is a boon for Sin­ga­pore’s pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, which has been fac­ing chal­lenges of late.

The num­ber of com­plaints against pri­vate schools in­creased between 2014 and 2016 from 698 to 783. The main griev­ances were is­sues sur­round­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive mat­ters and fees.

The Sin­ga­pore govern­ment went so far as to set up a Com­mit­tee for Pri­vate Ed­u­ca­tion in Oc­to­ber 2016. It over­sees the in­dus­try and is in charge of in­tro­duc­ing new mea­sures to bet­ter pro­tect stu­dents and make in­for­ma­tion more trans­par­ent for them.

As a re­sult, a record 25 pri­vate schools shut down last year, up from 18 in 2015, as many strug­gled to meet the new stan­dards.

Mov­ing for­ward, Govind hopes that the Sin­ga­pore govern­ment will pro­vide more sup­port for the Belt and Road Multi-Cul­tural Stud­ies Cen­tre. “I would like to see them of­fer fund­ing, and per­haps even send their govern­ment of­fi­cers to come and at­tend our pro­grams.”

He is cur­rently in talks with the LSBF team in Lon­don to ex­plore open­ing a cen­ter in the city.

But he is not stop­ping there. Govind will try to bring them to key cities in the re­gion. Out­side of the cen­ter, work­ing with a Chi­nese univer­sity is some­thing the sea­soned ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist has de­sired to do for the past two years.

“All of the uni­ver­si­ties that pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions work with tend to be from the West. But I feel that the world has started to re­volve around Asia. If busi­nesses are com­ing here, the ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards and qual­i­fi­ca­tions should be Asian too.”

He feels that Asian uni­ver­si­ties tend to lack the re­sources to go global, and there­fore are less prom­i­nent and well­re­garded than their Western coun­ter­parts.

“Asian ed­u­ca­tion em­pha­sizes cul­ture too, while the West fo­cuses on tools. When stu­dents come here to study, they get the chance to learn about the way of life and build lo­cal con­nec­tions — this is where all the op­por­tu­ni­ties are.”

Govind started out as an of­fi­cer in the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Unit of the Min­istry of De­fence (Sin­ga­pore). “I’m a con­sum­mate plan­ner,” he said. “Be­ing in the army taught me to plan for ev­ery pos­si­ble sce­nario. It’s about com­mand, con­trol and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Th­ese ideals held him in good stead wher­ever he went, in­clud­ing in run­ning the vol­un­teer man­age­ment team of the Sin­ga­pore Youth Olympic Games Or­gan­is­ing Com­mit­tee, and be­fore that, a startup in de­fense equip­ment.

“I’m a thrill seeker. I like to look for new and ex­cit­ing things to do.”

He joined LSBF in 2013 as its man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and led the school to be­come one of the most re­spected pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in Sin­ga­pore — at­tract­ing stu­dents from the rest of Asia while de­liv­er­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized pro­grams.

If busi­nesses are com­ing here, the ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards and qual­i­fi­ca­tions should be Asian too.”

CEO of the Lon­don School of Busi­ness & Fi­nance Global PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Rathakr­ish­nan Govind says in­ter­na­tional busi­ness can only be done when you know the lan­guage and cul­ture of the coun­try.

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