There is indeed unity in diversity.
University leaders from both the Philippines and around the world gathered Friday at the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) with a shared purpose: to respond to challenges posed by this ever-changing world, especially in a time of crisis.
In celebration of its sesquicentennial--or 150th year--the Ateneo hosted the 3-day Presidents' Forum, an occasion for leaders in the academe to engage in discourse on issues such as poverty, education, and multiculturalism.
Entitled "Universities at the Frontiers of Change," the event started Thursday and will end on Saturday.
Major presentations were delivered Friday by key speakers such as AdMU President Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., Hong Kong Baptist University Ng Ching-Fai, Kyushu University Vice President Shin-Ichi Ago (Japan), and Lille Catholic University Director for IESEG School of Management Jean-Philippe Ammeux (France).
Present at the forum were foreign delegates from Australia, China, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Spain and Taiwan. Leaders from the country's universities such as the De La Salle University, Far Eastern University, Miriam College and St. Paul University also took part in the event.
Parallel symposia will be conducted Saturday on specific issues concerning the academe.
Topics discussed in the forum were mainly aimed at striking a balance: between academic excellence and social involvement, between tradition and change, and between ideals and real issues.
"Change for me is not just abstract and academic - it's the realization of hopes and dreams of peoples," AdMU President Fr. Bienvenido Nebres said.
Through education and nation-building, Nebres said that the Ateneo has sought to respond to gaps in competitiveness and poverty for the past 150 years, going beyond the traditional role of universities as leaders of academic knowledge.
"To engage leaders and all stakeholders in the community is difficult and challenging, but it has produced dramatic improvements in the schools," he said.
In order for the country to overcome great challenges such as poverty, Nebres stressed the need to fuse academic excellence and involvement in social institutions. Especially in a time of global financial crisis, Nebres said that now is the time for people to work together and share the richness of their diverse cultures.
"Universities alone can't solve these problems - but we can educate the people's mindset so they can help in solving these problems. Let's build on strengths and not focus on weaknesses," he said.
"We're happy with our initial successes, but we have a long way to go," he added.
For his part, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) President Ng Ching-Fai commended Nebres for his courage, dedication, and love for country.
"I know and I hope you'll be able to solve problems in your country," he said.
The HKBU President, like all other university leaders, saw the value of cooperation among the academe in order to achieve its shared goals.
"Collaboration instead of competition is a better way of sharing ideals. Let's make the world a better place," he said.