Saturday, April 01, 2017

INSPEM's 15th Anniversary and Outlook

Today is INSPEM's 15th anniversary. The Institute for Mathematical Research of Universiti Putra Malaysia was formed 15 years ago on 1 April 2002. I was not there at its very beginning and in fact did not hear about any news of its groundwork in forming the institute prior to that date. So I am writing this from an 'outsider' point of view. I was told that it was meant to be an institute at a national level but never knew any plans of how this is going to be realised. Practically I think it is more realistic for it to stay as a research institute in UPM, particularly in this period of financial constraints, but perhaps with a very open outlook, welcoming other national and international researchers to be part of the institute's bigger family. This is very much the situation for many well-known institutes e.g. like RIMS in University of Kyoto, Fields Institute in University of Toronto, IMS in Stony Brook and many others. Even places like Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences and Institute for Advanced Study are closely associated to the universities respectively in Cambridge and Princeton.

If one is to think in terms of 5-year phases, we are now at the beginning of the fourth phase. The first two phases 2002-2006 and 2007-2011 can be said to be the formation phases. I joined the institute during the second phase where all research institutes in UPM were undergoing restructuring. The third phase 2012-2016, I guess is the beginning of an international outlook. By that phase, we have already started to 'export' our conference International Conference on Research and Education in Mathematics (ICREM) when Indonesia agreed to host the ICREM5 conference. In 2014, we received the status of Emerging Regional Centre of Excellence (EMS-ERCE) from European Mathematical Society.

In 2016, the Malaysia-Italy Centre of Excellence for Mathematical Sciences (MICEMS) was officially launched, for which INSPEM is a major actor.

Thus, the international platform for INSPEM is already there.

While realising that my term as Deputy Director ends 31 May this year, please allow me to comment on what could be the further progress of the institute. An often-made mistake that I see in other organisations is the abrupt change that takes place when the leadership changes. Changes are best done when there are things that are not working or when things get stale. Change for the sake of change is unwise and traditions have their values. I see organizations are very much like any other dynamical systems. If changes are too abrupt, the system may take time to respond and if not careful, the system may grow unstable and the instituted change may not yield the intended results. So when the institute changes director earlier last year, we were careful not to introduce many changes.

A possible fourth phase of INSPEM could be the internationalization intensification phase given our earlier two achievements. For instance, around the corner is the visit of Politecnico di Torino's Rector Prof. Marco Gilli and his delegation, here to follow-up on MICEMS. This is an opportunity for us to draw programs together with our Italian counterpart. We also have our EMS-ERCE roles. Part of this was to make our institute available as training ground for new-generation of academics and researchers of neighbouring countries as well as our own. The closest EMS-ERCE at the time was VIASM in Hanoi, which has Field medalist Ngo Bao Chau (chair of scientific council) to their advantage. Vietnam being a certain distance away may make our institute still has a geographical advantage to this region. This is however no longer true with Maths Department, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Indonesia is recently included as another EMS-ERCE. Perhaps with our MICEMS collaboration, the institute can still be a centre of attraction within the region. Another possible attraction is our recent MoU with Universitat derBundeswehr, Munchen via Prof. Stefan Pickl. Again with ITB, we can strike a synergistic cooperation with them since there has been a long traditional tie with our institute. Our next ICREM this year will in fact be held in Bandung and we can discuss future programs there.

Having said this, whatever strategies to be taken by the institute is very much dependent on the institute's leadership and management. I certainly hope that the institute do take leverage on whatever strength and opportunities that we have so far. May our goal to have the institute to be of international repute will be further realised. I must say that I have the pleasure of taking part in shaping the institute thus far.

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