Chula forges into the dig­i­tal fu­ture


“CHULA IS now 101 years old and we need to ad­just in or­der to compete with in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions,” says the direc­tor of Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity’s Ur­ban De­sign and Devel­op­ment Cen­tre.

Chu­la­longkorn is No 271 in the QS World Univer­sity Rank­ings 2019 and No 44 in Asia.

“Dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion has had a ma­jor in­flu­ence on our lives and ed­u­ca­tion is no ex­cep­tion, so we need to turn our in­sti­tute into a dig­i­tal and in­no­va­tion hub,” As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Ni­ra­mon Kul­sri­som­bat told The Na­tion Week­end.

“The knowl­edge-based econ­omy and de­mand for well-matched skills have prompted uni­ver­si­ties to ad­just.”

Ni­ra­mon and her team are pre­par­ing “Master­plan 2040” for Thai­land’s old­est in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing, which will be sub­mit­ted to the school’s su­per­vis­ing coun­cil. If ap­proved next year, it is ex­pected to make Chula that vaunted hub of in­no­va­tive learn­ing by 2023.

Ni­ra­mon, an ur­ban ar­chi­tect, ad­vo­cates an ap­proach she calls “ur­ban acupunc­ture” to min­imise the cost and the num­ber of ad­just­ments re­quired by hav­ing all the changes han­dled lo­cally.

“With the motto ‘Adap­ta­tion, shift and open­ness’, we will of­fer mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary stud­ies us­ing dig­i­tal me­dia to en­cour­age stu­dents, lec­tur­ers and out­side ex­perts to col­lab­o­rate on cre­at­ing in­no­va­tions in var­i­ous fields,” she said.

“Open­ness” refers to ad­ding more win­dows to the main school build­ings, in­clud­ing the fa­cades of fac­ulty build­ings fac­ing roads, and to es­tab­lish­ing gal­leries where stu­dent projects can be dis­played. And the Ve­teri­nary Medicine Fac­ulty will have its own mini-clinic open to the pub­lic.

“The mul­ti­pur­pose Sala Phra Keow build­ing will be­come a ‘cen­tre of ex­cel­lence’ with 20 lec­tur­ers do­ing re­search on in­no­va­tions along­side pro­fes­sion­als in var­i­ous fields,” Ni­ra­mon said. “There will be a lab ded­i­cated to floater in­no­va­tion in­volv­ing a ‘cross-pol­li­na­tion’ among sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing, de­sign and busi­ness.”

Di­rectly op­po­site will be a dig­i­tal li­brary housed in a glass cube above the swim­ming pool.

“Stu­dents enjoy dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ences and we have to pro­vide them with fa­cil­i­ties for self-learn­ing and com­mu­nity-based learn­ing.”

To cul­ti­vate cre­ativ­ity, there will be the­atre and botan­i­cal gar­dens.

Fa­cil­i­ties open to the pub­lic around the clock will in­clude a cowork­ing space, gar­den cafe, bistros and a sta­dium.

Blessed with many green ar­eas and big trees, the com­ing changes will make the school even more “eco-friendly”.

“The ren­o­vated build­ings and glass cubes will get their power from so­lar pan­els,” Ni­ra­mon said.

“Stu­dents will be en­cour­aged to use pub­lic trans­porta­tion and we’ll have more mini-coaches for shut­tles to and from the Siam BTS sta­tion, and all ac­tiv­i­ties will have re­cy­cle-and-re­use com­po­nents.”

Im­por­tantly, she said, stu­dents will be in­volved in the trans­for­ma­tion, cre­at­ing the in­no­va­tions they and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will be us­ing at the univer­sity.

An artist’s de­pic­tion of the Chu­la­longkorn dig­i­tal and in­no­va­tion hub.

As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Ni­ra­mon Kul­sri­som­bat

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