Malaysia should seriously consider setting up an academic advisory panel for higher education. Singapore set up one in 1997. Take a look at the composition of its members here. Singapore panel’s is really impressive in its diversity and the quality of the people on board. Besides the obvious benefit of tapping into these talented people’s expertise, it would be easier to forge collaborations with the foreign universities in question if their Vice Chancellor or President is on the advisory panel.
For an example of how an advisory panel may benefit Malaysia, see the story below of the panel’s recommendation on how Singapore should go about setting up a fourth university. Singapore’s careful approach has prevented the problem of low quality institutions, like what happened in Malaysia, when governments rushed into opening universities without proper consideration. Singapore Management University took three years of planning before it was launched.
Composition of the IAAP for the 6th Meeting
Dr Tony Tan
Chairman, National Research Foundation and Singapore Press Holdings
Mr G Leonard Baker Jr
Sutter Hill Ventures
Dr William Brody
Johns Hopkins University
Dr Robert A Brown
Prof Ernst Buschor
Prof Ashok Misra
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Dr Kari Olavi Raivio
University of Helsinki
Prof Gu Binglin
(unable to attend the 6th meeting)
Dr Hiroshi Komiyama
University of Tokyo
Prof Rafael Reif
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Prof Alison Richard
University of Cambridge
Prof Paul Romer
STANCO 25 Professor of Economics
Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
Dr Henry T Yang
University of California, Santa Barbara
After the vision, the challenges
Academic panel endorses new varsity; hiring top faculty is key
WHAT is the one thing that will be key to the success of Singapore’s fourth university?
The recruitment and retention of high-quality faculty, according to the International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP), after it discussed Singapore’s plans to expand the university sector.
So, now that the vision for the university landscape has taken shape — one that the panel strongly endorsed, especially for its greater diversity — the bigger challenge will be to ensure that standards at the new varsity are comparable to those of the established universities.
The timeframe for its establishment has not been fixed — the only guide is that it took three years to set up the Singapore Management University — but the IAAP has cautioned that “rapid expansion, without due regard to the quality and rigour of programmes, can have negative outcomes”.
IAAP chairman Tony Tan is confident that top faculty will come. “Now that “Singapore is better known for the quality of its universities, its research opportunities and its good quality of life, it’s much easier to recruit good faculty,” he said.
The experience of SMU is one indication of whether Singapore can pull it off, according to IAAP member G Leonard Baker Jr. “I remember thinking: This is really hard — if Singapore can pull off SMU, it will be extraordinary. Not only has it happened, but it has happened in a way far exceeding anyone’s expectations,” he said. “So, I would be more confident of the success of the new university than I would have been 10 years ago.”
Another challenge for the new university would be to establish a distinct identity. SMU president Howard Hunter suggested, “I think the key is to be bold, jump in and try new things — that’s how it can create an initial identity.”
While the disciplines to be offered at the new university — design and architecture, engineering and applied sciences, and business and information technology — are not unique, the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector envisions that, with a clean slate, its edge over the established universities will be an interdisciplinaryapproach to education.
Singapore’s established universities are moving in this direction, but National University of Singapore President designate Professor Tan Chorh Chuan explained that more needs to be done in “academic advising” so that students can put together a “coherent” education from the many choices available.
He likened it to offering students many “a la carte dishes”, perhaps too many, vis-à-vis “a full meal”.
One thing that NUS is confident about is its ability to establish a liberal arts college.
Professor Tan stressed how it had set up the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in 2003 in collaboration with the Peabody Institute and its parent Johns Hopkins University.
Possible partners for the college include the Tri-College Consortium in Philadelphia, consisting of three private liberal arts colleges: Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore.
The IAAP recognised the “practical challenges” in setting up such a college. At the same time, the panel “strongly” encouraged its establishment, as it would be of “strategic importance” to Singapore, to nurture students “who think from first principles” and to attract more top international students.