International Deans’ Course: A once-in-a-lifetime experience

Tran Manh Cuong would like to establish a network of friends from all over South East Asia. The Dean from the VNU University of Science in Hanoi (Vietnam) laid the foundation for this in June, as he completed the first phase of an International Deans’ Course (IDC). The training course that is held annually is addressed at newly selected deans and their deputies from developing and emerging countries, who would like to undergo further training in the area of university and faculty management. “The topics of the course all have a very practical orientation. I have learned a lot especially in the area of project management,” says Tran Manh Cuong. The modules cover subjects such as financial management, leadership and communication, quality assurance, internationalisation and change management.

This year’s participants came from all over South East Asia: from Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and East Timor. “I always find it really interesting to meet so many different people and to learn about their approaches,” explains Professor Duu Sheng Ong. The former Vice President of the private institution Multimedia University in Malaysia (MMU) has been a trainer at the IDC for South East Asia since 2014. The subjects he teaches include leadership, research management and quality assurance. Duu Sheng Ong took part in an IDC himself, back in 2008.

Broadening horizons, promoting careers

Following a research stay in Darmstadt as a Humboldt Fellow, he had just returned to the MMU, where he had been made Head of the Centre for Research Management. “I knew very little about management back then, so it was a steep learning curve,” he remembers. Undergoing further training not only broadened his horizon, it also promoted his career: “Soon after I had completed the course, I became the Dean of the Institute for Postgraduate Studies and later the Vice President of the MMU. The experiences I had at the IDC were very helpful for handling my new duties in the areas of personnel management, quality assurance and strategic faculty department management.” To this day, he remains friends with many of the people he met during the course in 2008.

Practical projects called Project Action Plans (PAP) are an integral part of the training courses: Participants not only acquire theoretical knowledge, they immediately put the things they have learned into practice at their universities. Possible projects include the establishment of a new course of study or a career centre, preparation of international accreditation or the development of a strategic research concept. The goal of Tran Manh Cuong’s project, for example, is to encourage more and better qualified undergraduate students of mathematics and related subjects to take up studies at his university. Planning provides for lectures at schools, organisation of a career day and an advertising campaign in Vietnamese media and in social networks.

International Deans‘ Course (IDC)

Since 2007, the International Deans’ Course (IDC) has been held for participants from South East Asia and Africa on an alternating basis. Between 100 and 150 people usually apply for the 30 places. The University of Osnabrück organises the course in cooperation with the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE). The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supports the course as an associate partner. Another International Deans’ Course for Latin America is offered by Saarland University and Universidad de Alicante in Spain. The courses are part of the “Dialogue on Innovative Higher Education Strategies” (DIES) programme of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD) and the German Rectors' Conference that is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation. The goal of the DIES programme is to support higher education institutions in developing and emerging countries through training courses, dialogue events, projects and partnerships, as well as to professionalise their management structures, to align their courses of study according to international quality standards, and to expand research capacities.

Teamwork is the key to success

The participants of the course present their PAPs to each other, they discuss any problems and search for solutions. “Teamwork is the key to a successful IDC,” explains Duu Sheng Ong. “The participants get to know each other so well, that they can talk not only about their achievements, but also their problems and failures. Mutual trust is absolutely vital for this type of exchange.”

In the year of the Corona pandemic, this is harder than normal, as the multi-part course is held online, rather than as a combination of alternating on-site and online learning phases. Additional online meetings took place to allow the participants to still get to know each other at a more private level, and to discuss subjects such as their hobbies, their pets or their favourite coffee mugs. “This was how we managed to form a community over the first two weeks, despite being unable to meet in person,” says Duu Sheng Ong.

The first phase of the IDC for South East Asia usually takes place at the University of Osnabrück. The participants also travel to Berlin for a few days to visit the FU Berlin. In the next phase, they pursue their PAPs at their home universities and they meet for a regional interim workshop. The final module is held in South East Asia.

Khaing Khaing San, Dean of the Department of Geology at Yadanabon University in Myanmar finds that this year’s purely virtual course also has certain advantages: “I enjoy it a lot, because it enables me to learn so much about organising digital teaching,” she points out. “This is extremely useful for me!” Her Project Action Plan is dedicated to the establishment of a new type of study at her department that consists of equal shares of on-site and online learning. “We are currently discussing at my department, which topics can be taught online, how to prepare multi-media lectures, and how to train the lecturers,” Khaing Khaing San explains. Her project is drawn up against the backdrop of an education reform in Myanmar that is intended to enable a far greater part of the population to take part in higher education than has been the case to date. In 2002, Khaing Khaing San spent six months conducting research in Göttingen, thanks to a DAAD scholarship. She is in charge of restructuring her department in the context of the reform: “To achieve this, I would like to learn more about leadership and management in the IDC.”

While Tran Manh Cuong thinks it’s is a pity the course is held solely online this year, he still found that “the first phase was an unforgettable experience.” He took part in UNILEAD back in 2016, the DIES training course for young managers at higher education institutions in developing and emerging countries. Shortly afterwards, he was made the dean of his department. Tran Manh Cuong highlights, however, that the aspect of personal advancement has been the most important part of the training measures for him: “Both courses helped me to become more confident and to develop.”

Learn more about the DIES training courses and DIES-Alumni.

DIES Training Courses

Here we introduce you to the participants of the International Deans ‘Course whom we interviewed for this article:

Dr. Tran Manh Cuong

Dr. Tran Manh Cuong, 42, has been the Dean of the Department of Mathematics, Mechanics and Computer Science of the Vietnamese VNU University of Science in Hanoi since 2019, where he received his doctorate back in 2011. From 2014 to 2016, he was Deputy Head of the Student Affairs Department. The stochastics and statistics expert became the Vice Dean of his Department in 2016, and the Acting Dean in 2018. Tran Manh Cuong took part in an UNILEAD course in 2016, and in an IDC in 2020.

Prof. Dr. Khaing Khaing San

Prof. Dr. Khaing Khaing San is Professor and Head of Department of Geology at the Yadanabon University in Myanmar. She is actively participating in Quality Assurance and transformation of the Education System. She is waiting for her promotion as Pro-Rector of the University by the Department of Higher Education, Myanmar. She eagerly promotes the Quality Assurance of her University and attended the workshop for the implementation of Universities’ Development led by the Ministry of Education, National Education Policy Commission and Rectors' Committee. 2020 she took part in an IDC.

Prof. Dr. Duu Sheng Ong

Prof. Dr. Duu Sheng Ong, 51, teaches electronics at Multimedia University (MMU) in Cyberjaya, Malaysia. In 1998 he received his doctorate at the University of Sheffield. In 2006 he was granted a Humboldt scholarship for a yearlong research stay at TU Darmstadt. Duu Sheng Ong was the Dean of the Institute for Postgraduate Studies of the MMU in 2009/10, and Vice President from 2011 until 2014. Since 2018, he has been the Principal Assessor of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. Duu Sheng Ong took part in the IDC for South East Asia in 2008 and has been one of the trainers at the courses since 2014.


Author: Miriam Hoffmeyer

August 2020

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