Salient: An organ of student opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 23, No. 5. Wednesday, June 15, 1960
The Asian Regional Co-Operation Seminar
The Asian Regional Co-Operation Seminar
During March and part of April this year three New Zealand students went, as representatives of the New Zealand University Students' Association (NZUSA), to the Asian Regional Co-operation Seminar held at Kuala Lumpur, the capital of the Federation of Malaya. They were Mr E. A. Woodfield, then Vice-President of NZUSA, D. B. Kenderdine, then President of the New Zealand University Student Press Council, and Mr B. C. Shaw, Secretary of NZUSA.
14 Asian Countries
Delegates at the seminar came from 14 Asian countries including Australia, Israel and New Zealand, which could be regarded as merely on the periphery of Asia. The main reason behind the attendance of these countries is the fact that they all have national unions of students but are isolated from any regional activities on a student level either due to political reasons, in the case of Israel, or due to location, in the case of Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand attendance at the seminar was due to the fact that the majority of the international interest of N.Z.U.S.A. has been and is focussed on the Asian region.
Mainland China, Burma. Nepal and Afganistan were also invited but did not attend, which perhaps is unfortunate, especially in the case of China, but it did mean that the basis of co-operation (a desire, unimpeded by political considerations, to help one another in the solving of our student problems) already existed before the calling of the seminar.
The aims of the seminar were twofold. Firstly to discuss specific means of co-operation on a student level in such fields as the disemination of information on student activities, extending and helping student travel in the region and student welfare schemes. Secondly to discuss and understand the problems facing the countries of Asia today—particularly in the educational field. Like Selwyn Toogood, I will return shortly to give you the results of these discussions.
Seminar At K.L.
The site of the seminar, the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, was a beautiful 500 acre campus equipped with buildings and hostels which any New Zealand university would be proud to own. The only real inconvenience to New Zealand visitors, apart from the staple and unvarying diet of boiled rice, was the fact that the morning sessions were some 15 minutes walk from the residential hall after which, for the first week or so a change of clothing was desirable if impractical; and the fact that you could start from the plenary session hall in brilliant sunshine and then within 200 yards of the hostel be caught in a tropical shower which would leave you 199 yards out and completely wet through.
Socially the seminar was well organised with a weekend break for a trip to Port Dickson (a seaside resort) and the old Portugese settlement of Malacca. Several of the delegations including New Zealand, put on an " evening," either showing films of their countries or demonstrating the dances and songs associated with their cultures. The New Zealand evening, kindly financially supported by the New Zealand High Commission, was looked forward to by the non-habitual rice eaters as an occasion when "English" food would undoubtedly be served, but began with a meal consisting basically of curried chicken, the curry being in the best Indian tradition!
Back to the results of the discussions. In the field of practical co-operation the seminar has recommended to the Ninth International Student Conference to be held in Klosters, Switzerland, in August of this year that certain steps be taken in the following fields.
With the desire of ail participants to be fully informed of the activities of students in the region the seminar is recommending that a news distribution scheme be established. All participating national unions find national student press organisations within the area will forward at regular intervals summaries of the activities of students in their respective countries to one central country. There this material would be compiled into one bulletin and sent to all student organisations and newspapers in the region. This will mean, as far as New Zealand is concerned, that we will have access to a valuable documentation of the life of students in an area where previously insufficient information was available. However it is realised that the press organisations in some of the participating countries are at the moment barely sufficiently well experienced to cope with such a project. The period between the conclusion of the seminar and the Ninth I.S.C. is to be used to experiment with the distribution of news from one country to all the others.
Should this news distribution scheme be successful, and if approved by the Ninth I.S.C., it will be used as the basis for the establishment of an Asian Student Press Bureau which will have as its objectives not only the distribution of news but also the raising of the standards of the student press in the Asian region.
At the seminar the various schemes to promote student welfare at present existing in the universities of the region were reviewed and it was found that apart from Israel, Australia and New Zealand very little in the way of welfare schemes (student health schemes, concessions, cooperatives, etc.) existed in the participating countries. Therefore the seminar recommended that a special short term seminar be held for the purpose of reviewing all student welfare schemes that could be put into operation to the benefit of Asian students. Such a seminar must involve students and countries which are in a position to operate any of the possible schemes and should be led by experts in the organisation of such schemes.
It was realised at the seminar that any extension of student travel within the area was difficult in view of the distances that are involved in travelling, and that so few students were financially in a position to travel very widely. However it was considered that a travel handbook should be produced which would list all the concussions that are available to students in the way of travel, accommodation, etc. This handbook will be made available to New Zealand students wishing to travel in the area, as is the European travel handbook at present.
Contemporary Asian Problems
Although most of the time was devoted to the discussion of the above schemes the discussion of contemporary Asian problems was full. These questions were discussed at plenary sessions of the seminar with ail participants present. The meetings usually took the form of a lecture by a guest speaker followed by discussion. On three occasions panels were formed from the participants to discuss the "Impact of Colonialism on Education," "Does the future of Asia depend on Neutralism" and the "Language problems in Asia."
It was from these discussions that emerged the very definite fact that the students of Asia were not only aware of the problems facing their countries, but also that they were, as Individuals, far more concerned with the development of their countries than are New Zealand students as a whole. Asian students are prepared to devote themselves to their nations and peoples in a way which is not fanatical, but really very intelligent. They appreciated the fact that they were being given an education and did not take such a privilege as granted or as on opportunity to carve for themselves an easy and comfortable life.
I left Malaya with a strong impression of the ability of Asian students and their sincerity.