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Assistant minister urges universities to continually support preservation of languages, cultures and traditions


Miri - 12 July 2010 – The pressures of a globalised world weigh heavily on communities, governments and organisations worldwide, and it is important that the world’s languages, cultures and traditions are not lost in the pursuit of development and material wealth, according to Datuk Lee Kim Shin, Sarawak Assistant Minister of Infrastructure Development & Communications and Assistant Minister of Urbanisation.


He said this when officiating at the opening of the Displacement, Division and Renewal – Borneo Conference 2010 at Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) on Friday.


The 2-day international conference was jointly hosted by the School of Foundation & Continuing Studies at Curtin Sarawak and the Research Unit for the Study of Societies in Change (RUSSIC) at Curtin University’s main campus in Perth, Western Australia.


Lee added that academics have a great role to play in such preservation efforts as only through the dissemination of research findings from humanities research projects and activities can countries fully understand the challenges faced by their people and governmental agencies, as well as the international community, in coping with the fast-changing world environment.


“Universities must continue to support and encourage research undertakings in the social sciences, and culture and heritage preservation, as they form the substance of our identities,” he said.


Also present at the opening ceremony in the university’s Harry Perkins Lecture Theatre were Professor Ian Kerr, pro vice-chancellor and chief executive of Curtin Sarawak; co-directors of RUSSIC, Dr. Aileen Hoath and Gina Koczberski; conference convenor and dean of the School of Foundation & Continuing Studies Beena Giridharan; senior management staff and academics of the university, and some 50 conference keynote speakers and delegates from Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Brunei, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.


Datuk Lee, who is also the chairman of Curtin Sarawak’s management board, said he was pleased that Curtin Sarawak and RUSSIC were co-hosting the conference as it brought together researchers and academics from both campuses and showed the commitment of both campuses in sharing their research experience and capabilities.


He also noted that Curtin Sarawak has made tremendous progress in the promotion and implementation of its research, which included the establishing of the Curtin Sarawak Research Institute to strengthen its research activities. In addition, the substantial research funds granted by the government and the private sector was due recognition of its research performance.


Professor Kerr, in his opening speech, said one of the biggest challenges facing the world today is that of displacement of populations due to political instability, civil unrest, economic disadvantage and natural phenomena. Economic migrants and minority groups driven by property and high unemployment rates in their home countries may find their cultural identities and languages at risk of extinction in their newly-adopted countries. Urban migration may also cause loss of traditional knowledge systems among communities.


“It is therefore important to examine how national and international policies affect outcomes in these issues. At present, studies are still lacking in many areas of social sciences and humanities research,” he said.

The Displacement, Division and Renewal – Borneo Conference 2010 was a sequel to the ‘Crossing Borders’ Conference held by Curtin Sarawak and RUSSIC in Miri in 2007. It was also the third in a series of Borneo-related workshops and conferences hosted by the two Curtin campuses.


The conference sessions over the two days included paper presentations on religious and ethnic conflicts in South India and Kalimantan; migrant indigenous resource conflicts in Sarawak, Papua New Guinea and Central Sulawesi; refugees and displacement in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Christmas Island and Mindanao; and indigeneity and conservation in West Bengal, the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, and Australia. The resettlement and shifting livelihoods and identities of communities in Sarawak and Madhya Pradesh; and development-induced displacement in Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Kuala Lumpur, were also discussed. 


Datuk Lee Kim Shin giving his address at the opening of the conference.


Professor Ian Kerr (left) presenting momento to Datuk Lee Kim Shin.


Group photo following the opening ceremony.