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Association of East Asian Research Universities (AEARU) General Meeting and Board of Directors (report) - Oct 6-9, 2004 -

Kazuo OIKE

From October 6th to the 9th, 2004, Mr. Irikura, Chairman, Mr. Tsuji, Department Manager and I visited Taiwan where the 10th AEARU General Meeting and the 15th AEARU Board of Directors Meeting were held at the National Tsinghua University in Hsingchu. We landed at Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, crossed the Tanshui River and went straight to the Grand Hotel in Taipei. It had been a long time since my last visit. I thought about the cession of Taiwan and Penghu Islands to Japan in 1895, part of the Shimonoseki Treaty that brought the Sino-Japanese War to an end and the 1897 establishment of Kyoto University.

Taipei cityscapes National Tsinghua University With Tsinghua University students

While landing, I caught a glimpse of Taiwan's mountain range between the clouds. Its average height exceeds 3,000 meters with Mt. Yu, Taiwan's highest peak, at 3,997 meters. The eastern side of the range is a steep precipice facing the Pacific while the western side features wide plains. Being an island formed by the meeting of the Philippine Sea Plate and Eurasia Continental Plate, large-scale earthquakes occur along this inland seismic zone, similar to Western Japan. However, the difference is that Taiwan literally rests atop the plate boundaries.

I'd like to mention, before I continue, that our itinerary for the 7th October featured an early morning forum in Taipei followed by a visit to the National Palace Museum in Taipei in the afternoon and then a late-night voyage to Hsingchu. On the 8th, we attended the AEARU General and Board of Directors Meetings at National Tsinghua University and then toured the Science Park. On our last day, the 9th, we took an early morning train back to Taipei and visited the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering, before flying back home.

AEARU General Meeting

The following is a simple account based on my own notes that does not include details on the AEARU meetings whose minutes will be made public in the near future.

At the forum in Taipei, we heard reports from high-ranking Education Ministry officials as well as from Mr. M.K. Wu, Chairman of the National Science Council. They spoke of a plan to make Taiwan a green "Silicon Island" and, in their 6-year development plan formulated in 2002 called "Challenge 2008", R&D outlays will be increased up to 3% of GDP. I was very impressed when I heard that the first stage of this national project is a disaster mitigation plan in which TW $600 million will be invested annually. The second stage will be a TW $2 billion investment to improve communications.

This year's guest speaker was Mr. Jan Graafman, executive secretary of the Conference of European Schools for Advanced Engineering Education and Research (CESAER) , who presented us with that organization's philosophy. What struck me the most about the presentation, was the point both Mr. Wu and Mr. Graafman made about the importance of involving autonomous organizations at a fundamental level when attempting to reform universities. Especially, the point Mr. Graafman clearly mentioned, that it is crucial to place an importance on autonomy not led by the top management, but by smaller units consisting in the institution.

The Taiwanese government is exploring ways of consolidating education it offers at over 150 universities within its boundaries. In the area of research, some very advanced work is being conducted at the federal university system of Taiwan. As an example of this system, forum presenters described to us, the nano science research plan being pursued in cooperation with the federation university and the Center for Nano Science and Technology, which was established in 2003, together with other research institutes.

Large campus Garden with a pond Student dorm

The new AEARU president was introduced at the general meeting after which I attended the Board of Directors Meeting. Next was lunch at the University's dinning hall, which was designed with the themes of natural, organic, healthy, and tasty. We then took a tour of the university and got a chance to see an extremely high precision, 3-dimensional image of a fly's neuro nerve network at their Neurology Research Center.

I asked Mr. Mingde Xu, President of the National Tsing Hua University, to tell me about his institution's history. He replied that it has a long history with Tsinghua University in Beijing but was newly established in Hsingchu in 1956. Of its alumni, 3 have received Nobel Prizes, 2 for physics and 1 for chemistry. The present student body consists of some 4,700 undergraduates, 2,600 masters and 1,200 doctoral students, of which one-third are women. There are 5,000 students living in the university's 20 dormitories who lead an enjoyable campus life along with many faculty members. At our farewell party, students involved in extracurricular activities entertained us with music and dance.

With Tsinghua University President On campus bicycle parking area University patrol car

Research in Taiwan began in 1936 with the opening of its Natural Gas Research Institute. Now, the Science Park in Hsingchu is world renown. By the end of 2003, some US $11.2 billion had been invested in the Park that holds over 370 high tech companies. The future completion of the Taiwan High-Speed Railway will make possible a mere 19-minute commute to the Park from Taipei. There are already quite a few train cars constructed along the lines of Japan's "Nozomi" that are in operation.

Hsingchu Science Park is also near Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport. It was developed in cooperation with the Industry and Technology Research Institute along with a consortium of 4 universities, namely the National Central University, National Tsinghua University, National Yang-Ming University, and National Chiao Tung University. The Institute was established in 1973 as a foundation with some 6,200 employees supporting Taiwan's technological development. Half of the research conducted there is at the master's level while 9% is at the doctorate level. We also visited the exhibition room showing the technology they have developed. It boasts an open laboratory with 150,000 sq. m. of floor space.

View of the Science Park Industry and Technology Institute

The 1999 Chi-chi Earthquake shook the ground far away from Hsingchu; however, its effect was profound on the high tech industry there. Not many buildings were damaged, but a lengthy power outage left production at a standstill, created substantial losses, and affected the industry worldwide. The earthquake occurred at 1:47am (Taiwan time) on September 21st. Electric power was completely restored to the Science Park only on the 27th, a feat particularly quick for the island. It is believed that because the general restoration of power was late, there were few electricity related blazes.

There are two train lines in Taiwan, the Ocean Line and the Mountain Line, I rode the former on the morning of the 9th and arrived in Taipei in 1 hour and 20 minutes. I then visited the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering and met many people there despite it being a Saturday. The 1999 earthquake as well as the subsequent reconstruction was explained to me in a small amount of time but very skillfully with great attention to detail. I was also treated to a simple explanation of their non-seismic natural disaster mitigation plan. In Taiwan, from long before the great 1999 earthquake, a network of strong-motion seismograph stations was set up to monitor seismic activity on the island and recorded the strong vibration of the earthquake. In Japan, despite the insistence of the Japan Science Council in 1965, such a system was only constructed after the Kobe earthquake. Compared to Japan's track record, Taiwan deserves much praise in this area.

Half of Taiwan's land area is mountainous and only one-third is arable. Its climate is subtropical in the north and tropical in the south and it is ravaged by typhoons 3 or 4 times a year. Heavy rains cause frequent floods, landslides and other disasters.

Deliberations at the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering Laboratory in the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering With the researchers

On October 8th, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUT) recognized the "Taipei 101" as the tallest building in the world at 508 meters. Its construction will be completed within the year. Its plans were already finished at the time of the Great Chi-chi Earthquake; however, they were subsequently reviewed to enhance its earthquake and wind resistance. In 2002 an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 shook the structure's construction site killing 5 workers.

We owe a many people a great debt of gratitude for allowing us to visit Taiwan for those 4 days and 3 nights during which substantial information was exchanged and from which I brought back with me a wealth of material. Within the interchanges and information sharing that occurs between Western Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines, all of which border the area where the Philippine Continental Shelf sinks into the earth's mantle, there is a commonality they share because they all occupy a region where a culture peculiar to mobile belt areas has developed. In addition, they have an especially important aspect, that is, they all share data on typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis and contribute immeasurably in the area of disaster mitigation.

I would be very happy should this trip serve to promote the progression of academic exchanges.

Next year, the 16th AEARU Board of Directors Meeting will be held in Kyoto from May 12th to 15th, 2005.

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