No limits to being better

09 October 2016 | Education
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Prof Tan delivering his speech at UC Berkeley

Many institutions, including NUS, aspire to be stellar universities but this is as much a long-term journey as a destination, said NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan in his keynote speech at the Times Higher Education's (THE) World Academic Summit at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) on 28 September.

Referencing Dr Jamil Salmi's paper on “The Challenge of Establishing World Class Universities” during his speech, Prof Tan said, "Category fundamentals for world class universities include having a critical mass of top talent, ample resources and good governance. But there is need to go beyond these, to think about how you can further differentiate yourself as a university."

Most universities seek to achieve this by accruing significant numbers of talented faculty, staff and students who originate transformative ideas, influence the direction of a particular field, create important new products or services, and ultimately create high impact.

Beyond this, however, there could be additional ways of differentiation. Citing the NUS vision as an example, he said NUS' differentiating value proposition is that it is a national university as well as a global university centred in Asia.

"We want our students and graduates to emerge with a deep understanding of Asia and the world. We strive for world class research standards and aim to develop special expertise on Asia," said Prof Tan.

"We look at how we can be an important node in key networks, and position ourselves as the preferred partner of choice in Asia, and also among global institutions."

He added that NUS' position as a preferred partner was based on a strong and successful track record of creating distinctive value with partner universities such as Duke University and Yale University.

NUS partnered Duke in 2005 to establish Duke-NUS Medical School, and collaborated with Yale University to set up Yale-NUS College, Singapore's first liberal arts and science school, in 2011. Both schools have clearly differentiated models of learning that create distinctive value for the respective partners, faculty and students, Singapore and the wider regional and global community.

“In addition to these," Prof Tan said. "we must also experiment with bold new ideas."

He cited the 2001 establishment of the NUS Overseas Colleges programme as an anchor for entrepreneurial students, as well as the development of "Blk 71" launch pads in San Francisco, USA, China and Singapore, as bold experiments that have become effective differentiators for NUS.

The THE World Academic Summit was hosted by UC Berkeley at its Clark Kerr Conference Center. The summit featured speeches by UC Berkeley's Chancellor Professor Nicholas Dirks, University of Cambridge's Vice-Chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, THE Rankings Editor Phil Baty; conversations with LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman as well as UC Berkeley’s Nobel Laureate for Physics, Professor Saul Perlmutter; and panel discussions involving Professor Dr Bernd Huber, President of LMU Munich and Professor Lin Jianhua, President of Peking University. The two-day event was attended by 300 participants from around the world.

The inaugural US College Rankings by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and THE was also released during the conference in a special supplement published in WSJ on 28 September.