The University of Oxford’s links with Southeast Asia date back to 1682, when the directors of the English East India Company first proposed two lecturerships in Malay Language and Literature. Since that time, many Oxford-educated figures have had an impact in the region including Sir Richard Olaf Winsted, founder President of Raffles College, Singapore. Winstedt was the first British scholar to undertake a systematic survey of Malay literature for historical purposes, and laid the true foundation of a scientific approach to the writing of Malayan history.
In keeping with its truly global scope, Oxford University Press has a wide presence in the region including a publishing branch in Malaysia and Singapore and offices or agents in the Philippines and Thailand. Oxford has educated or provided visiting fellowships to many famous leaders of Southeast Asia, including: King Vajiravudh of Siam (Christ Church, 1899) and former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (St John’s, 1985); Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah of Brunei (Magdalen, 1997); Timor-Leste’s First Lady Kirsty Sword-Gusmão (Refugee Studies Centre, 1990) and current President, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr José Ramos-Horta (St Antony’s, 1987); and Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (St Hugh’s, 1964).
The Asian Studies Centre at St Antony’s College, founded in 1982 as the successor to the Far East Centre, is primarily a co-ordinating organisation which exists to bring together specialists from a wide variety of different disciplines. Geographically, the Centre predominantly covers South, Southeast and East Asia, and is host to the Taiwan Studies Programme, Programme in Modern Burmese Studies the South Asian History Seminar Series and the Southeast Asia Seminar Series. Recent seminar topics include Southeast Asian history, politics, religion, economics, culture, and society. The Asian Studies Centre supports comparative research on Asia, and research on regional themes, to encourage debate and dialogue within the diverse student body of St Antony’s College and across the University more generally.
The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies is a Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford, established in 1985 to encourage the scholarly study of Islam and the Islamic world. The Centre has hosted a number of Southeast Asian Islamic scholars and public figures through its distinguished lecture series, including two Prime Ministers of Malaysia; Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad and HE Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Southeast Asia is a major player on the global stage, and growing ever more so. Recognising this, the University of Oxford has created Project Southeast Asia, with the ultimate aim of establishing a Centre for Southeast Asian Studies – a home for Southeast Asia in the heart of one of the world’s premier universities. The Project acts as a focal point for academic and research activity, bringing together many of the most distinguished scholars in the field of Southeast Asian studies, together with the best and brightest new academic talent, for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge about countries in the Southeast Asian region.
While emphasising core disciplines of history, politics/international relations, anthropology, human sciences, medicine, and development studies, it also addresses and offers input into important contemporary issues facing Southeast Asia, such as regional security, infectious diseases, environmental change, ageing and sustainable development. It supports research, student degree programmes, library and archival resources, institutional exchanges and academic events, and ensures that the most talented students, regardless of need, will be able to study Southeast Asia at Oxford.
Libraries and Museums
The Bodleian South East Asian collections cover material relating to Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Although less numerous than the collections relating to other regions, the South East Asian collections contain some important manuscripts and good concentrations of printed material in European and in some South East Asian languages, for example Burmese and Vietnamese.
The Pitt Rivers Museum holds a collection of photographs of late nineteenth-century Thailand, showing royal buildings and religious sites in the capital Bangkok, street and river views and a number of portraits. It also holds a collection artefacts on Borneo tattooing. The Ashmolean contains substantial collections of Southeast Asian art, particularly from Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.
The University’s largest presence in the region is through collaborations on Tropical Medicine. Oxford’s Tropical Medicine Laboratories are among the largest-scale and most enduring research facilities run by any university overseas. Oxford scientists have established a network of excellence in the study of tropical diseases in East and South East Asia and links groups from across the Asian continent to Oxford and the UK.
The majority of the research in the region is undertaken in two Wellcome Trust funded major overseas programmes: the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, Thailand and the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) based at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Oxford leads the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), established in 1979 as a research collaboration between Mahidol University (Thailand), Oxford University and the Wellcome Trust (UK). MORU conducts vital research into tropical infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid, avian flu, and other tropical diseases. Established in 1991 and hosted by the Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, and the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) specialises in dengue fever, influenza and tuberculosis.
In addition to these major programmes, Tropical Medicine also brings together a number of sister groups in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and Nepal, and collaborators around the world.
The Young Lives project is a long-term international study following and documenting the lives of 12,000 children over 15 years in 4 study countries (the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India alongside Ethiopia, Peru, and Vietnam). Investigating the drivers and impacts of child poverty, it aims to generate evidence to help policymakers design programmes that can break the poverty cycle.
Young Lives research in Vietnam aims to support government interest in the long-term consequences of poverty in early childhood, and increasing the quality and effectiveness of the education system. Despite Vietnam’s success in achieving near universal enrolment at primary and lower-secondary levels, and high standards in international education tests (PISA), parents and policymakers both remain aware of the need to address issues of access and quality, particularly in pre-primary education and upper-secondary and vocational training.
Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences
2016 saw the establishment of a five year research collaboration between the the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the University of Technology, Malaysia (UTM) in the field of industrial and applied mathematics, with a focus on building up the research capacity and knowledge base for industrial mathematics at UTM through training young researchers.
From 2013 to 2014, researchers from the Department of Zoology and Veintiane Lao PDR, Laos worked together on clouded leopard and other wild felid conservation. Co-operating in field surveys and camera trapping surveys, their final paper called for further research into trade dynamics, cooperation between national enforcement agencies, improved compliance with trade data management systems, the destruction of privately held stockpiles and the revision of existing legal frameworks to prevent illegal trade in these and other threatened wild felids.
Between 2014 and 2017, the Department of Plant Sciences hosted scholars from Indonesia's Centre for International Forestry Research, for a period of two weeks to one month, where the scholars worked on systematic reviews under the Evidence Based Forestry (EBF) initiative.
The On-line language documentation for Biak (Austronesian) project ran from 2009 to 2010. A collaboration between Oxford's Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics, the University of Cenderawasih and the University of Negeri Papua, it resulted in in the first web-accessible repository of transcribed and linguistically analysed text of Biak, an endangered Austronesian language. The database is one of the first, not just for a lesser studied Austronesian language, but for any lesser studied language. Recording and preserving a comprehensive range of primary language data is a vital component of linguists' response to the threat of extinction of more than half of the world's languages. From 2010 to 2011, they were funded by the Leverhulme Trust to document the Austronesian language Dusner, a language with only three fluent speakers.
There are over 600 students from South East Asia studying at Oxford. Nearly half are undergraduates, whilst about 20% are postgraduate taught students and about 30% are postgraduate research students. Just under 40% are studying in Social Sciences, while nearly a third are Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences students.
A number of scholarships are available exclusively to students from South East Asia, including: from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research for Singaporean students; the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarships for Singaporean citizens studying a postgraduate course; from the Singapore Ministry of Defence for Singaporean students who wish to enter the military upon graduation; from the Singapore Public Service Commission; and from the Tan Kah Kee Foundation for Singaporean citizens pursuing a full-time PhD or Master's degree. In addition to these, the Asian Studies Centre administers the Wai Seng Senior Research Scholarship which provides two years of support for a DPhil student working in the field of Asia-Pacific studies.
Societies related to South East Asia include the Oxford University Malaysia Club, the Oxford University Malaysian and Singaporean Students' Association, the Oxford University Indonesia Society, the Oxford Philippines Society, the Brunei Oxford Students’ Society, the Vietnamese Society in Oxford, and the Oxford University Thai Society.
The region has 43 academics working at Oxford, namely from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, with Malasia being the largest source and Vietnam being the second largest.
Professor Jin-Chong Tan (Malaysia)
Jin-Chong Tan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Science and Tutorial Fellow of Balliol College at Oxford. He leads the Multifunctional Materials & Composites (MMC) Laboratory (www.eng.ox.ac.uk/tan), focussing on the design and engineering of nanoscale framework materials, hybrid thin films, porous structures and nanocomposites. These novel materials are useful for a vast range of functional and structural applications, underpinning current and future challenges in energy, environmental sustainability and healthcare. He is the Organiser and Chair of the Symposia on “Hybrid and Metal-Organic Framework (MOF) Materials” in the biennial EUROMAT Conference series. He completed his PhD at Cambridge (Downing College, 2006) in the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, and he was a Junior Research Fellow in Wolfson College (Cambridge, 2006-2010) and a Research Associate before joining Oxford in 2012. He earned a 1st Class degree (1999) in mechanical engineering from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM Skudai), and a Master’s degree in materials engineering (2001) from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore).
Professor Luc Nguyen (Vietnam)
Luc Nguyen is Associate Professor and Tutor in Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute and Tutorial Fellow at St Edmund Hall. His research is in nonlinear Partial Differential Equations and Geometry. After gaining his PhD at Rutgers, Professor Luc Nguyen conducted post-doctoral research at Oxford from 2009 to 2010, then went to Princeton - firstly as an Instructor, then as an Assistant Professor. In 2013 he achieved the Inaugural Junior Faculty Teaching Award from Princeton.
There are over 3,200 Oxford alumni in South East Asia. Over half are in Singapore, with the rest in Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, and Burma/Myanmar, all of which also have alumni groups.