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Mekong Universities Network
 
 
Background
The Mekong River is one of the great rivers of the world. Wetlands of the lower Mekong basin are intimately linked with ecological balance and socioeconomic well-being, nourishing a population of 55 million people of 4 countries: Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Despite their importance, wetlands in the Mekong River Basin have suffered from widespread destruction due to misuse and abuse. Collaboration among universities in the countries of the basin, namely Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam is essential, both in providing effective regional training and in improving understanding and cooperation among researchers and educators of the region. It was thus proposed to establish a network of universities of the region.


Agreement on Academic Cooperation
The first executive meeting was held in Ho Chi Minh City, hosted by the University of Natural Sciences, Viet Nam National University-Ho Chi Minh City, during 13-15 November 2002 to formally create the network, attended by representatives of Rectors and Presidents of potential member universities. A second executive meeting was hosted by the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University, at Salaya, held in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand on 22 May 2003, to exchange information and discuss future cooperation. A Memorandum of Understanding to establish a University Network for Wetland Ecology and Conservation Training in the Mekong Region was signed by the representatives of the 8 member universities, for an initial period of 5 years. In addition, an agreement for academic cooperation at the Faculty level was signed by the deans
of faculties and the directors of institutes involved.

 
Goals of the Network
Immediate goal: to jointly provide academic and practical training in wetland ecology and conservation.
 
Long term goal: to strengthen the capacity of member universities in establishing complete academic programs in wetland ecology and conservation.
 
Partner Organizations
The network has 8 initial member universities, namely the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA-Cambodia), Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP-Cambodia), National University of Laos (NUOL- Lao PDR), Mahidol University (MU-Thailand), Chulalongkorn University (CU-Thailand), Can Tho University (CTU-Viet Nam), Nong Lam University (NLU-Viet Nam), the University of Natural Sciences-Ho Chi Minh City (UNS-HCM, Viet Nam). Last year, 3 more member universities joined the network: Champasak University (ChU) of Lao PDR, Mahasarakham University (MhU) of Thailand, An Giang University (AGU) of Viet Nam. Member universities agreed to establish a website, to be developed and maintained by the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University. The core focal point of the network in Thailand is the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies (MU-Thailand) by Dr Sansanee Choowaew (email: enscw@mahidol.ac.th).
 
Academic Cooperation
The 8 universities will support the network in the following areas:
 
Development and operation of joint practical training courses in wetland ecology and conservation
 
Capacity building for establishment of complete academic programs in wetland science in member universities of the network
 
Collaboration in wetland research, education and communication projects
 
Collaboration in research and education on other scientific and technical areas of mutual concern
 
Exchange of scientists and students
 
Regional wetland conferences and consultations.
 
Academic Exchange
Over the first 5 year period of this network agreement, many visits and exchange of lecturers, researchers and students are being made among member universities. For the academic year 2004, a number of trainees from the first training, especially from Lao PDR and Cambodia, were accepted to further their study at the postgraduate level (M.Sc. in Natural Resource Management International Programme) at the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University.
 
Long Term Benefits
The University Network for Wetland Ecology and Conservation Training in the Mekong Region has several unique characteristics. Its operating activities can contribute to further education for sustainable development for the following reasons:
 
The network provides education and training on wetland ecology and conservation.
 
The establishment and operation of the network takes into account a river basin-based approach i.e. the Mekong River Basin.
 
The priority targets for the network's training activities are junior lecturers and researchers of member universities. In the future, these personnel will become important task force in wetland education, research and trainings region-wide.
 
The network training activities require minimal expertise from outside. Trainers are selected and drawn from member universities within the region. Training is provided using the most available expertise, experience, and teaching facilities of member universities.
 
The network operates regional training activities, using key wetland ecosystems of the Mekong region as natural laboratories for the training. Course contents are field-oriented and emphasize hands-on exercises. Trainees have a holistic view and an insight of wetland ecosystems within the Mekong region. They also have opportunities to share their knowledge and experience with colleagues from other riparian countries and learn from each other.
 
The university network enhances the networking among individual academics, thereby strengthening capacity and enhancing cooperative efforts in wetland communication, education, and public awareness within the Mekong region.
 
For further information, contact: enaps@mahidol.ac.th
 

 

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