The new Education Minister, Ng Eng Hen, set out Singapore’s education policy in a speech recently. His full speech can be found here. I have excerpted the parts on Universities below. In a nutshell, it seems that Singapore’s plan is diversification of institutions, research collaboration with reputable foreign universities and developing extensive global exchange programmes for local undergraduate students. All very sound and sensible moves.
The Malaysian Education Ministry and Vice Chancellors of universities in Malaysia should study some of these initiatives carefully with a view to emulating them.
27We have three publicly funded local universities: the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Management University (SMU). NUS and NTU have established themselves as world-class research universities, ranked amongst the top 100 universities in the world by the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings in 2007. SMU, though young, has quickly established a reputation for producing high-quality graduates who are confident, street-smart and articulate.
28To add value to their students, our universities must maintain high standards of admission and performance. They must also act as strategic engines for Singapore’s long term economic advancement. Thus, our universities have developed programmes to nurture and groom top talents.
29Take for example, NTU’s C N Yang Scholars Programme. This is an undergraduate programme designed for top science and engineering students. C N Yang Scholars are assigned faculty mentors who guide their entire academic programme. The programme provides a strong and broad foundation in the basics of science and mathematics, and empowers students to delve deeper into any discipline in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and to develop an interest in forefront research.
30There is also the University Scholars Programme (USP) in NUS. Graduates from this programme participate in interdisciplinary modules on a range of topics, from Human Relations and Ethics, and the Environment. Part of the programme involves student interaction with top universities around the world, such as Waseda University in Japan.
THE FUTURE – A GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP OF QUALITY INSTITUTIONS
31Let me now turn to the future. With growing affluence, and rising aspirations, it is inevitable that more Singaporeans will seek to upgrade themselves through higher education. This is a good aspiration, and one that the Government will help Singaporeans achieve. The Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector is studying the set-up of a 4th University in Singapore. But for the full benefits to flow through to individuals and Singapore, we should ensure that higher education remains relevant and add value.
32To achieve these goals, our institutions in varying categories will have to upgrade themselves to remain attractive. As the numbers grow, so does the competition. Even top Universities all over the world have had to respond to new competitive challenges. They are stepping up their R&D, and are out to get more funding. In Australia, you have the Australian Research Council (ARC), which provides support for the highest-quality research. The University of New South Wales is a clear first in terms of ARC projects funded for Business and Economics, and Engineering, while the Australian National University leads in the field of Science. On the global scale, as exemplified by academic powerhouses in the US such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and UK universities such as Cambridge University – the drive is also to be research-intensive. In Singapore, our Prime Minister chairs a high-level Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) to lead our efforts in enhancing our R&D capabilities and promote innovation and enterprise by encouraging knowledge creation in the fields of Science and Technology. The RIEC has identified three strategic research sectors for Singapore, in the areas of Biomedical Sciences, Environmental and Water Technologies, and Interactive and Digital Media, and has committed S$1.4 billion to fund their development.
33Established universities are also leveraging on their large endowments to attract the best researchers and students. For example, MIT’s endowment fund stands at nearly US$10 billion for a student enrolment of 10,000, including 6,000 postgraduate students. For some, large endowments allow them not even to charge students. For instance, the Cooper Union in New York, the US’ top undergraduate engineering college, has an endowment of US$300 million for a total enrolment of 900 students, all of whom are admitted on full tuition scholarships of about US$120,000 each.
34This drive to be research intensive, to attract top students and faculty together with collaboration with industry and defence science organisations will result in an ecosystem that allow only a few universities to excel in that stratosphere. There will be re-positioning and even relegation in this race. It is no longer about what they teach – in fact, MIT has put almost all its undergraduate and graduate course contents on the Web for all and sundry on MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW). It is about putting key elements together to sustain the ecosystem and differentiate. One strategy to differentiate is to integrate. For example, Stanford University’s degree programmes in Design bring together the Design Group of the Mechanical Engineering Department in the School of Engineering, and the Department of Art and Art History in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Stanford students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, the humanities, and education can also come together at the d.school to work on projects that require multi-disciplinary points of view. Such integration and collaboration allows students to synthesise knowledge from different disciplines and come up with innovative solutions to problems.
35The other strategy is to broaden. Australian universities such as the University of Melbourne are also looking for ways to enhance their students’ learning experience. The Melbourne model offers “breadth subjects” within the curricula for their undergraduate students. For instance, “Critical Thinking with Data” teaches students from any discipline to become critical users of statistics and data-based evidence. The subject deals with judging the likelihood of events, risk measurement and the quantification of uncertainty – skills that are applicable across disciplines.
36Whatever new strategies are required to differentiate and compete, universities at various levels have realised they cannot respond to rising demands alone. They are establishing partnerships and collaborations with other top universities worldwide to provide their students and faculty with expanded opportunities in learning and research. For example, NUS and the Australian National University have concluded agreements to offer several joint degree programmes, such as Doctorate in Physics, Masters of Arts (Southeast Asian Studies), and Bachelor of Social Sciences (Hons) in Actuarial Studies and Economics. Both universities are discussing the possibility of offering more joint programmes.
37Similarly, our polytechnics are collaborating with high-quality foreign specialised institutions, like Wheelock College and Stirling University, to run degree programmes in niche areas such as Early Childhood Education, Food Technology, and Retail Marketing. Our polytechnics are exploring more potential tie-ups, including some with Australian universities, to broaden the offerings of niche programmes, which could include sports & exercise science, interior architecture, process instrumentation and control.
38The Singapore Government also recently launched a 10-year Continuing Education and Training (CET) Masterplan, under which we will work with our post-secondary educational institutions and reputable private players to establish a number of high-quality CET institutes to support our manpower needs. The Ministry of Manpower, with Ministry of Education’s support, is planning to quadruple CET capacity within just two years, from training 22,000 workers last year, to 80,000 workers by 2010. Even here, we are seeking high quality global partners. Take the pharmaceutical industry as an example in the manufacturing sector. Talks are underway between public sector agencies, our polytechnics, NUS and key pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline to set up a Singapore Academy of GxP Excellence (SAGE) that will facilitate the discovery of new technologies in developing and manufacturing pharmaceuticals, biologics and medical devices.
39To successfully implement the CET Masterplan, the Government is topping up the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund (LLEF) with S$800 million this year, bringing it up to S$3 billion. Our target is to grow the LLEF to S$5 billion.
40These concrete examples that I have provided underscore key elements of Singapore’s strategy to provide higher education to maximise our human resources. We aim to build world-class institutions through collaborative partnerships, both local and foreign, private and public, so that Singaporeans can have quality opportunities to attain their educational goals.
Inculcating a Global Outlook Among Students
41We also aim to give our students more opportunities to learn about other countries and cultures, to be World ready. We want to start them young – our target is for one-third of our secondary and junior college students, and up to 50% of tertiary students, to have at least one overseas experience. Students are encouraged to participate in overseas immersion programmes, twinning programmes with overseas schools, overseas community projects, with funding support from the Ministry.
42These opportunities will also be offered in the Universities. Let me cite some examples. NUS students can participate in a student exchange programme for one or two academic semesters in any one of eight Australian universities, amongst some 160 other international institutions. These include Monash University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Sydney. Apart from student exchange programmes, NUS Overseas Colleges, provide NUS students with education and experience in leading entrepreneurial and academic hubs around the world. Currently, 250 NUS students spend up to an academic year in overseas colleges in Silicon Valley and Bio Valley in the US, as well as Bangalore, Shanghai and Stockholm.
43SMU also organises Business Study Missions (BSM) that allow its students to interact with people of different cultures. More than 550 SMU undergraduates have embarked on the BSM in countries ranging from China, India, Middle East, Europe and US. These missions cover a range of site visits, networking sessions and presentations by prominent guests from the private and public sector, giving the students insights into the real-world operations of a variety of industries in different cities.
NTU’s Global Immersion Programme (GIP), available in countries like Vietnam and Switzerland, includes a 22-week industrial attachment or internship alongside a study component. Students on the GIP have worked in exciting environments such as an optic fibre cable company in Beijing and a tissue engineering laboratory in the US.