A university for the community: How Chulalongkorn is nurturing minds to tackle societal challenges

Chulalongkorn University’s CU Innovation Hub nurtures talents and develop innovations that transform how Thais live, learn, and play. Vice President for Strategic Planning, Innovation, and Global Engagement, Associate Professor Natcha Thawesaengskulthai sat down with EDUtech_talks to chat about what it means to have a university education, the importance of Sustainable Development Goals and how education institutions can encourage entrepreneurship.

EDUtech_talks: How do you develop innovation and research capabilities and mindsets amongst your staff and students?

Dr Natcha: We have our CU Innovation Hub, which is an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem at the University and that is one of the sandboxes of Chula. Changing mindsets means letting people explore future possibilities and resist to possible failures. We keep encouraging them to have an entrepreneur mindset by coming up with new ideas, trying new initiatives, and meeting new people. An entrepreneur in my opinion is a professional value-provider contributing greatly to society in terms of both social and economic impacts. This is also in line with our vision and strategies.

21st century skills paradigm is also critical, to be able to communicate your impactful ideas and to effectively collaborate with other people, you have to come up with creative ideas to solve difficult problems.

All this has been incubated in our project-based learning, where students participate in a social innovation project. Our project-based learning has now become blended learning classes where before we would give them the project in their traditional classrooms.

EDUtech_talks: Could you share with us how blended learning for entrepreneurship is delivered in and how digital tools has supported these programmes?

Dr Natcha: This is part of our sandbox, CU Innovation Hub. We have a degree programme called Bachelor of Arts and Science in Integrated Innovation (BAScii) which is the first of its kind for undergraduate students and we coach the project-based learning at the undergraduate level. We also have it for non-degree programs like upscale rescues. We found that there are big demands in digital technologies such as AI and robotics, which will play a vital role in the development of smart cities, health solutions, and sustainability.

Hence we have this program to bring together arts and science in developing integrated innovations and it has been very successful during the past two years.

Our students and alumni have also developed start-ups that produce education technologies and solutions. We have learning innovation centre, helping to develop new teaching pedagogy, for example, using augmented reality (AR). In our Faculty of Medicine, students can learn how to operate by viewing bodies and organs using AR. Now, learning can happen anytime anywhere, faster and cheaper. The students can also repeat their learning as many times as they want. The centre has so far offered more that 300 active learning methodologies using several different kinds of technologies.

At the same time, we also need the facilities for project-based learning. In the past, when we look at traditional classrooms it’s just a row of tables. However, for project-based learning we need smart and interactive classrooms. There are digital learning experiences where, students are effectively working in groups.

With the digital learning platforms, Chula is on anywhere anytime. We provide more than 100 classes free online for both students and the public. Currently, we have more than 1 million people enrolled in our courses. The students have a new style of learning which, they can learn from home and arrange flexible schedules.

EDUtech_talks: What would be your advice to other schools who are looking to build an entrepreneurship program like Chulalongkorn University?

Dr Natcha: Everyone can do it, because I think an innovative ecosystem is just a platform that helps people to come together to think and do good deeds for their society. Actually, we also developed an innovative ecosystem at our demonstration school, which is at the primary and secondary school levels, and it works well. Innovation is not only at the university level; it can go down to the primary and secondary schools too. You just have to find the key educators who are supportive of this vision and leave with the goal of bringing people together and nurturing future leaders, developing new solutions for society.

I would say, the next generations are so capable. They are so talented but they just do not have the space to work on their ideas. They do not have the teacher or leader to empower them and to facilitate them to do amazing work.

So, I very much believe in our next generation of students and people. We just need to provide them the sandbox environment, and a teacher who understands them, and gives them opportunities to think critically, especially about social issues. They will be very proud when their product or service is on the shelf. We have got this type of platform for more than five years, so there have been a number of products we have in the marketplace. We are providing this product to the community and citizens for purchasing.

We have a pipeline of research works that we are focusing on, particularly in five clusters, health, education, BCG, sustainable societies, and deep technologies. During COVID-19, we have had a number of start-ups and innovations that helped the healthcare industry. This is something I think is aligned with the new generations’ objective of life. They feel proud of it, what they learn in class can really impact society.

It’s a win-win for everyone, and education is really about developing a good human well-being, not only the students themselves but at the end they feel they are part of this big world, becoming global citizens. This is something I think is aligned with the new generations’ objective of life. They feel proud of it, what they learn in class can really impact society.

Read the full interview with Assoc Prof Natcha in our latest E-book release “In Conversation With…” download your free copy here.


Hi! I am Edlyn, the Community & Marketing Manager for EDUtech Asia and EDUtech_talks.

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