Dialogue with ASEAN University leaders

Prof Tan (right) leading the dialogue with university leaders from Southeast Asia

The rapidly changing nature of work and massification of higher education in Asia set the backdrop for a leadership dialogue hosted by NUS President, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, on 11 April, which was attended by 30 leaders from 14 universities in the region.

Citing the recent example of Google’s AlphaGo beating Go world champion Mr Lee Sedol, Prof Tan commented, “As technology gets better, computers are able to do more complex-thinking tasks. This is going to alter the types of jobs available.” Given the trends from the change in employment patterns in the US and the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, there could be a potential loss of middle-skill jobs, especially those which can be codified with time. “Therefore, we need to think about a future where jobs are going to change more quickly, where people would need to have skills and abilities which cannot be replaced easily by software or computers,” Prof Tan added.

Echoing similar views, Vice President for the Professional Schools of the Ateneo de Manila University and Convenor of the Ateneo Leadership Institute Dr Antonette Palma-Angeles shared that there is an emerging role for universities to play in society to provide continuing education opportunities for lifelong learning to meet critical higher order skills needed for the future.

When asked about NUS’ role in providing continuing education for Southeast Asia, Prof Tan replied that NUS has been and will continue to be a significant player. It will contribute to training and education through its executive education, public health, public policy and reskilling programmes to the people in the region and beyond. Given the rise in technology, online learning can also make such programmes more accessible to a much wider audience than before.

Delegates discussed the role of higher education in the midst of such changes, raising fundamental questions such as what students are learning in universities today, and how universities can equip them with skills to be future-ready.

plum 2

NUS Provost Prof Tan Eng Chye (centre) engaging delegates at the programme’s keynote session on talent management

There was a strong consensus that universities should focus on abilities that the market needs, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking to meet challenges ahead. This implies that university governance and management need to adopt an innovative and dynamic approach, looking at longer-term planning while being responsive and flexible.

The leadership dialogue was hosted in NUS as part of the Temasek Foundation-NUS Programme for Leadership in University Management, to discuss issues, share experiences, generate and advance breakthrough ideas on the governance and management of Asian universities. Since 2012, over 250 university leaders from ASEAN, China and India have attended this programme.

By Office of the Vice President (University and Global Relations)