Chula Employs the “Speedboat Strategy” to Drive Innovations for Society

To celebrate its 105th anniversary, Chula President announces the success of the “Speedboat Strategy” in managing the university in a volatile situation to drive social innovations, focusing on being a research university that teaches, revising its curriculum, and building graduates’ competencies in line with the world of the future.

During the past few and rather difficult years most of us have faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, Chulalongkorn University has launched several innovations and studies to serve the society, such as CU-RoboCovid – a medical support robot, the COVID-19 screening kit “COVID-19 scan”, COVID-19 sniffing dogs and devices, nasal spray, automated vaccine filling machine, survival kits, the “ChulaCov19” mRNA COVID-19 vaccine and “Chula-Baiya” Protein Subunit Vaccine from tobacco leaves, etc.

These innovations are the result of the “Speedboat Strategy” and Chula’s vision for the future under the leadership of Professor Dr. Bundhit Eua-arporn, President of Chula.

Professor Dr. Bundhit Eua-arporn
Professor Dr. Bundhit Eua-arporn, President of Chulalongkorn University

“I have set the vision of Innovations for Society as the core of university management to harness knowledge and wisdom to make society a better one and to move towards being a research university that teaches.  Chula graduates must be equipped with the skills of the 21st century, and possess the quality of global citizens while excelling academically so that they are well recognized by employers around the world.  More importantly, university administration must be involved in managing national and global public issues to build a better future society.”

This is the direction in which Prof. Dr. Bundhit has been steering Chula toward for the past six years. Not only has Chula ranked No. 1 in Thailand for the 3rd consecutive year and top 16 in the world in THE Impact Rankings 2022, but most importantly, Chula has been maintaining its role as the university that serves and brings continuous change to society in line with the motto “when society is troubled, Chula has the solutions”.

On the occasion of the 105th anniversary of the founding of Chulalongkorn University, Prof. Dr. Bundhit discusses the concepts behind the “Speedboat” strategy, the direction and approach of university management, and the university vision aimed to be realized in the future.

“Speedboat” strategy helps Chula weather the storms of disruption

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered societies, the world, and the way people live at all levels and aspects of their lives, including work, school, economic and social life.  Although the pandemic has begun to subside, technological and social disruption will continue to affect people’s lives and social patterns. The future remains obscure.  Change is certain. This is a challenging world that higher education institutions must embrace, keep abreast with and set trends for the era.

Universities need to simplify and focus on goals,” Prof. Dr. Bundhit said of the future direction of higher education institutions. “To manage a university amidst challenges, every organization should set clear goals. When everyone in the organization has a clear goal, they will devote their full strength to the Need to Do and, and not waste too much time doing unnecessary things (Nice to do).”

Since the day of his first appointment as President (2016), Prof. Dr. Bundhit has adopted the “Speedboat” strategy and tailored it in such a way as to make organization management leaner and swifter.

Why Speedboat Strategy? Chula is a university under government supervision.  It is a large organization with an old structure and rigid system like a big clunky ship with an outdated motor. Whether operating, turning, moving forward, or halting, it takes a long time.  It is not agile. Nor can it keep up with the changes. In the present and future world, changes happen rapidly and there are always new opportunities in store. If you keep hanging onto the big ship and heading in one direction, you will not be able to keep up with the game.”

Reforming long-standing systems and institutional structures is not an easy task. Since people in the system are used to the old patterns and systems, a good solution is not to knock down old ones, but to create new ones to do new things.

We have to break up into smaller boats to do new things, which requires new people.  In addition, we also need to set up a new working team of agile members with a positive attitude who can seek new opportunities in different directions and environments to deliver quality work that benefits society.” explains Prof. Dr. Bundhit.

Over the past few years, many of Chula’s “Speedboats” have pioneered new waters and proven the success of this strategy that has disrupted the society. Innovation Hub (iHub), for instance, which has incubated over 300 start-ups with portfolios of commercial innovations that have generated almost 17 billion baht market valuation; the BaScii program that has signed an MoU with the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET) of the University of California, Berkeley granting Chula students the opportunity to learn innovative startup how-tos in Silicon Valley (Boot camp, Silicon Valley Innovation Leadership Program); CU Enterprise (CUE) that supports Chula’s startups by raising funds from the government and private sectors to create and develop innovations that benefit the country; Degree Plus program, an open education platform that promotes “Online with Human Touch” education

dissemination to the general public.

BaScii program

Cultivating Future Leaders

The main product of the university is its “people”.  Chula focuses on creating future leaders or leaders who go out to serve society.  The modern world needs leaders who have the skills and competencies to learn and apply knowledge to make them work in the real world.

Aside from academic knowledge, Chula students need to be cultivated for competency to solve complex problems and have good characteristics to manage and live in a fast-changing, tough, creative and out-of-the-box world.

Therefore, Chula’s direction and the people-building process have changed from the kind of teaching, in which students sit and listen to lectures in class, to students and professors learning together through research and knowledge application to solve real-world social problems.

“In today’s world, knowledge is accessible without teachers, and knowledge is constantly changing. We can see that much of the knowledge has become obsolete, such as some financial knowledge. These days, there are blockchains, mobile payments, QR-code payments, and so on.  Yet, skills and competency in applying knowledge for useful purposes will always be with the learners. If graduates of Chula have the skills and competencies, they will be able to learn on their own, exchange knowledge with others, create new knowledge, and keep on using it to benefit society.”

Research University that teaches

The future direction of higher education institutions cannot focus on teaching knowledge in general, but rather to build specific knowledge that is appropriate to the social context and the problems of the society (which are always changing).

“Up until recently, Chula has been a Teaching University that produces research with the main focus on teaching, and research as secondary.  But with the direction of creating people to build the future, Chula has transformed itself into a Research University that teaches, which means that the professors must build upon the available knowledge in research, or connect with the outside world, and then pass on the practical experience and knowledge to students to gain specific knowledge.”

Prof. Dr. Bundhit elaborates on specific knowledge that is beneficial to the society that it derives from 1) research, 2) participation in the actual application of knowledge in solving problems, and 3) students going outside the university context to work in the real world (active learning, problem-based learning) and inviting outside professors for discussion.

Curriculum overhaul and educational innovation development

Over the past few years under the pandemic and the “Speedboat” strategy, Chula has overhauled its curriculum to meet more of the global needs, such as the BaScii curriculum which integrates arts, social sciences, and science.  The GenEd curriculum has also been updated to provide students with a general education that’s more attuned to the social contexts, etc.

In addition, learning processes have been migrated from legacy systems using purchased Learning Management System (LMS), such as BlackBoard to Chula’s own LMS, MyCourseVille.  Also, support systems for teaching and learning as well as academic work have been developed, i.e., Digital Transformation through CUNEX App and a lifelong learning support system through Chula Mooc, CU Neuron, etc.

Drive Social Innovations

Chula focuses on the policy to underline and support innovative research that creates a positive impact on society and reduces external dependence. During the COViD-19 crisis, many of Chula’s innovations have served the public, including vaccine research, a nasal spray, patient care robots, automated vaccine filling machines, survival kits, etc.

To achieve success and make a positive impact, every study requires funding and support from various sources. Chula has therefore established CU Enterprise (CUE) as a funding and market mechanism for research and innovations.  Chulalongkorn University Technology Center (UTC) and Siam Innovation District (SID) have also been created to aid researchers in applying their innovations to solve real problems, reorient their work to the needs of consumers, and benefit society while expanding their presence in the consumer market as startups producing innovative products.

Chulalongkorn University Technology Center (UTC)
Chulalongkorn University Technology Center (UTC)
Siam Innovation District (SID)
Siam Innovation District (SID)

“Compassion” and “Wisdom” – the secrets to managing people for excellence

Every change, especially for large and old organizations, encounters friction.

“When we broke up the big ship into speedboats, many people in the big ship were dissatisfied, couldn’t see why we had to do it and didn’t realize that if we kept tethering the speedboats to us (the big ship, Chula), new jobs wouldn’t be created. Some workers often claimed to be restricted by the rules and regulations. Those were just “scapegoats”. People who don’t want to change often find excuses for not changing, thinking ‘it’s okay. I’ll get paid anyway.’ This is a challenge for public university management.” 

“Chula has a large pool of talented people who can be divided into two main categories: good at form, and good at creating results. I give weight to the latter — those who are good at creating results. This group of people will find a way out when they encounter problems.  For this group, I will give them freedom, and guidance, but not directions.  I’ll give them support and opportunities to work easily and produce good results.  Although I may not agree with them 100 percent, if no damage is done, I’ll give them a chance to try.  It’s okay for them to try and fail because they will find solutions and solve problems to gain good results.”

For the Chula President, the art and science of management are to use “compassion” and “wisdom” suitable for the type of people and timing.

“When we have a big workload, we use a lot of wisdom. Whenever we depend on a lot of wisdom, our compassion may dwindle, and we may even insult others.  But if we use compassion together with wisdom, we’ll develop an understanding – the understanding of the existing system, the responsibilities of our people, the external context of the university that is connected to internal factors.  This will make us understand why they didn’t understand what we tried to do, and why they couldn’t do it.  We’ll go and help them look for the reasons. If it can be solved, we’ll help them fix it right away.”

With Prof. Dr. Bundhit at its helm for the past six years, Chula has made many contributions that have had a positive impact on society.  The amount of research on innovations that have ties with the private sector has increased every year.  The CUE research department has received increased funding.  More research and social activities are communicated in the form of academic articles to outsiders. These have moved Chula up the best university ranking list every year.

“There are still a lot of things I haven’t done.  But if we set a little higher goal, even if we don’t reach those high goals, there is a greater chance of success. The next step for Chula that I hope for is that Chula can soon be even better in all dimensions, including academic, as well as research and innovation in which all members of the Chula community have invested for the past six years.  This means that Chula needs to alter its structure and work to keep up with a rapidly changing world,” Prof. Dr. Bundhit concluded.

The sense of kinship and warmth found in the Chula community is priceless and a treasure worth keeping.

Prof. Dr. Pornanong Aramwit Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University

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