Universities for the future of the maker movement: top 5 university makerspaces in Asia

Future of Work



Universities for the future of the maker movement: top 5 university makerspaces in Asia

Faiz Alavi bin Sulaiman
March 17, 2023

Faiz Alavi bin Sulaiman

Faiz is an online content creator of the sorts, linguistic student, comedy writer, and an artful freelance photographer with a passion for capturing the wholesome moments in life.

October 4, 2023

Universities today are adopting makerspaces, creating a home to foster innovation, creativity, and collaborative learning in any field of study. Let's go back a few years and see what makerspaces are and how far they have come since their inception. 

Two decades ago, makerspaces started out as exclusive, high-tech clubs and soon appeared at large research universities because they have the funds and means to fully utilize equipment that most of us today find less interesting and categorize them as toys. 

Then, the costs of manufacturing the equipment went down, which led to makerspaces being spread to art schools, K-12 schools, liberal arts colleges, public libraries, and even community centers.

Me.reka Makerspace, a community hub. Photo from TimeOutKL. 

Innovation no longer takes place in a vacuum or a closed space. Open-sourcing has been the key to some of the most significant technological advancements in the digital economy. The spaces that make this possible are makerspaces where people come and gather, exchange ideas, and collaborate to make the best products with the best prices to get the most out of sustainable living. 

Most makerspaces have adopted an open space concept for their interiors with no private areas and can be utilized by anyone to do anything, from woodworking to robotics. This way, ideas will spread and evolve into prototypes and final products, innovation will happen almost naturally due to this simple push in the design effort. 

In Taylor's Me.reka Makerspace and Sunway iLabs, students and staff of the respective universities are granted access to the space for free. It costs less for them to use the materials than outsiders as the purpose of this is to utilize the makerspace to its fullest potential and make it into a development space for students' or staffs' projects. The open spaces and the collaborative workshops that take place will foster a culture of constant innovation to make things more efficient and better for the people and the environment.

Creativity and the right tools combine to make greatness. Photo from The Malaysian Reserve.

This is where the value of hands-on, experiential learning comes into play. In an interview with Forbes, the directors of the makerspace in Harvey Mudd College stated, "Hands-on learning should be an important part of college curricula everywhere, not just in the sciences and engineering but also in the humanities and social sciences and of course in the arts." 

Let's take a look at five universities around Asia that have already adopted a makerspace and what they have done to progress their students' university experience.

1. The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

HKU's engineering department opened their very own makerspace in their search for innovation and creative problem-solving abilities to be instilled in students. Dubbed as the largest makerspace in Asia, the two-story Innovation Wing covers 2,400 square meters of floor area. Since December 2020, the space is open to all students of HKU to innovate and utilize bleeding edge technologies.

This is no slouch of a makerspace; the HKU makerspace is packed to the brim with the latest and greatest tech to help engineering students while creating a learning space for non-engineering students to learn how to be hands-on in their projects. The space can accommodate 100 students at one time and is fully equipped with comprehensive prototyping facilities and equipment of all engineering natures under the same roof.

Let's talk facilities: 3D printing machines, laser cutting, engraving machines, waterjet cutting machines, measuring tools, hand/power toolsets, and specialized electronic workbenches, and student interest groups can use the computer-aid design studio, multimedia, and soundproof studio, AR/VR studio to turn ideas into reality.

If that isn't world-class, we don't know what is.

Photos of the spaces in the HKU Makerspace. Photos from Mirage.com.

2. Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)

What's better than having a Learning Garden and a Makerspace all in a university library? Having it open 24 hours a day, with access to all students and staff to use at any time of day, seems like a selling point to a dream working space. The CUHK library has precisely that and more, as the space covers all the needs of students, from getting their projects done to hanging out with friends and colleagues to collaborate, innovate and execute plans. 

Of course, when you compare this space to the one in HKU, it will seem like it's more of a library than a makerspace, and that is exactly what they are going for! A makerspace inside the foliage of a library, that's slick, right? So, on to the tech goodies. What do they offer in their makerspace?

The makerspace has:

The coworking space in CUHK. Photo from CUHK website.

3. Seoul National University (SNU)

The SNU Faculty of Engineering launched their own makerspace back in 2016, which may seem like a century ago, what with the pandemic hitting and the global lockdown. The space is made to cater to the ideation, creation, and collaborative efforts of SNU students to be made into reality, which is why it's called the Idea Factory. This factory of sorts came into fruition to support the transition to design education or research, prioritizing discovering and defining new problems by the students themselves, ultimately supporting technology transfer and commercialization of creative solutions.

The Idea Factory is chock full of design implementations that make creating a product easier and more streamlined and cohesive, separating the flow of an idea into a full-on building from having ideation and teaming spaces to a fabrication space. The purpose of the separation is to create a streamlined build of an idea so that creation is not impeded by setbacks or design flaws that might choke a product's flow, which is genius-level designing. 

Operating 24/7, students can use the creative space for ideation, machines for prototyping, and mentoring to find ways to realize their visions any time they want to. SNU's Idea Factory also offers a variety of education and support for creatives and startups, such as the engineering design course, prototyping support, startup incubation, and acceleration.

What the space in the Idea Factory looks like. Photo from Google Sites.

4. Sunway iLabs

Encouraging entrepreneurship in youths is the driving purpose of Sunway iLabs. Launched in 2017, they also look towards stimulating market-driven innovations to help entrepreneurs become more competitive in this rapidly changing environment. With a course called startup foundry available (with no lecturers and no exams, just very innovative classes teaching design thinking), Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship (BMoE), problem-solution fit, and many more classes with speakers and mentors that are experienced in the startup industry.

Just like the other universities on this list, iLabs has a lot to offer. Their strong suit is providing consultation to startups and corporate businesses on how to innovate and get ahead of the pack. They also offer a research and development program to create innovations to accelerate growth and development for companies of any size. They aspire to co-create solutions that fit each company that comes through their doors like a glove.  

Let's get to the makerspace: with 2 Ultimaker 3D printers, laser cutter, IOT kits, and Adobe design software in clutch, and having space to accommodate 40 people in a single workshop, it's free to be used by all Sunway staff and students. 

Sunway iLabs makerspace. Photo from Sunway iLabs.

5. Taylor’s Me.reka Makerspace

Another plug, we know, but we do make a compelling argument. Taylor's Me.reka Makerspace is a collaborative effort between us at Me.reka and Taylor's University to create a maker hub for industry players, academics, and entrepreneurial communities to come and have a good time innovating and creating. 

From consultancies to workshops, Taylor's Me.reka is a place for all that and more. You can rent the space for whatever your maker's heart desires. Taylor's Me.reka also works with the Final Year students to help them execute their FYPs successfully. A program called the MPU 4 Module seeks to change student mindsets on the perception of what universities should be. 

As it is the tradition, Taylor's Me.reka Makerspace also provides the ever so loved labs that we also offer in our Me.reka Makerspace in Publika Shopping Gallery: the Virtual Reality, Design, Electronics, Fabrication labs are all there for you to use at set working hours. Like Sunway iLabs, Taylor's Me.reka Makerspace has specific operating hours, unlike the 24/7 makerspaces in Hong Kong and Korea.

Inside the Taylors x Me.reka Makerspace. Photo from Taylor University website.

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