UNSW builds high-level engagement in Timor-Leste

08 Dec 2023
UNSW delegates meeting Timor-Leste officials

A senior delegation from UNSW travelled to Timor-Leste as part of broader efforts to achieve societal impact in the region.

The visit built on the University’s long history of engagement with Timor-Leste and sought to amplify UNSW’s role as a critical intermediary and strategic advisor for governments, the United Nations (UN), regional universities and civil society.

Senior representatives from UNSW Engineering, Medicine & Health, the Sustainable Development Reform Hub, the Global Water Institute and the Institute for Global Development travelled to Dili to strengthen the University’s existing partnerships and explore new opportunities for ongoing engagement.

Building relationships and learning from partners

UNSW’s existing partnership with the UN was deepened at a roundtable discussion with the UN country team, convened by the Timor-Leste Resident Coordinator Funmi Balogun and representatives from 17 UN agencies operating in the country.

The meeting identified new opportunities for institutional partnerships for advocacy and collaboration with the Timor-Leste government on UN strategic imperatives. This built on work in 2022 to develop a series of regional activities enabling UNSW to engage with the UN as a knowledge partner.

The UNSW delegation visited the Centro Nacional Chega! to increase their understanding of issues emerging from reconciliation and healing after conflict in Timor-Leste. This museum is housed in the Portuguese-era Old Balide Prison, where Timorese resistance figures were interned by the Indonesian military during the 24-year occupation of Timor. 

UNSW Institute for Global Development Director Associate Professor George Varughese said the museum visit was a particularly important part of the trip and provided context to help the delegation better understand the strategic priorities of the country and the contribution that UNSW expertise can make.

“In Timor-Leste, the post-conflict developmental context is profoundly shaped by trauma and the legacy of colonial occupation,” he said.

Briefing on government priorities

The UNSW team also met with UNSW alumnus and Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta and representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry for Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Health. 

The delegation was briefed on Timor-Leste’s plans to accelerate the blue and green economy, diversify the wider economy, and expand oil and gas production, agricultural output, and investment in education, public health and infrastructure. 

The meeting with President Ramos-Horta concluded with plans for his reciprocal visit to UNSW Sydney in early 2024.

Enhancing collaboration in education and capacity building

Over five days in Dili, the delegates visited local education institutions, including the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL), Universidade Catholica Timorense and the Dili Institute of Technology. Underpinning each of these meetings was a commitment to collaborating across education and research, with MoUs currently being explored. 

Opportunities to co-develop and deliver industry capacity-building initiatives in the health, food services and water sectors with UNTL are being considered, and UNSW Engineering will support the development of the Timor Journal of Engineering by providing reviewers.

Professor Stephen Foster, Interim Dean of UNSW Engineering and one of the delegates, said the trip helped cement collaborations with other universities.

“Our longstanding friendship with our near neighbours, the peoples and communities of Timor-Leste, transcends borders. Through partnerships with universities and ongoing collaborations, we strengthen both of our communities, building a future of shared knowledge and progress,” he said.

A significant focus of the visit was exploring how UNSW can help build local capacity in key sectors. Delegates from the UNSW Sustainable Development Reform Hub met with the Timor-Leste National Institute of Statistics to consider how they can help develop local capabilities in oceans and natural capital accounting, and related public policy advocacy.

Since the Timor-Leste visit, the Kirby Institute and School of Population Health have advised the Hungarian Embassy in Jakarta on the development of a scientific laboratory at the Universidade Catholica Timorense.

A long-term vision for impact

The delegation’s visit has helped build UNSWs institutional relationships by strengthening the University’s reputation as a trusted and strategic knowledge partner that can help address sustainable development challenges in the region.

“UNSW is uniquely positioned to provide expertise from medicine, science and engineering to accompany Timorese society and government," said A/Prof. Varughese.

“Our visit to Timor-Leste built on recent UNSW visits to Fiji and Papua New Guinea, seeking distinctive intersections of University capability with country context.”