NUS to focus on infrastructure, teaching, and lifelong learning

Prof Tan speaking at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit

As it charts the way out of the COVID-19 crisis, the University is focusing on building robust infrastructure, improving learning outcomes and promoting lifelong learning, said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye.

He added that these will help the University to adjust to the rapidly-evolving higher landscape sector, and likewise better prepare its graduates for structural changes in the workplace.

“Our aspiration and our orientation has always been global,” said Prof Tan, who was speaking on 1 Sept at the opening plenary of the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit.

“We would not want to reduce our global ambition because of COVID-19. But the truth is that the world has changed. With the higher education landscape globally and locally, NUS must also adjust to the new landscape.”

One lesson from the crisis is regarding the need to have a very robust IT infrastructure, and Prof Tan said that NUS will accelerate the implementation of this.

Secondly, there is the need to “innovate and better leverage on technology to ensure that the learning outcomes are far superior than the usual teaching and learning that we had pre-COVID,” he added.

Additionally, the University will focus on lifelong learning to ensure graduates are able to thrive in the workforce of the future.

“We are seeing quick structural changes across industries, local as well as global. Our main job is in preparing students for their career, and we feel that it’s impossible to teach our students everything within their four years in our University,” said Prof Tan.

“They have to be imbued with the spirit of lifelong learning. Universities can play a very critical role in lifelong learning.”

Other speakers at the plenary session included Mr Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer at Times Higher Education; Professor Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Auckland; Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, and Professor Henrik Wegener, Rector at the University of Copenhagen.

They agreed that higher education will continue to be integral as countries find their way out of the crisis, and that universities need to continue to adopt a global outlook.

“I believe that globalisation and international exchange will remain the top of the agenda for your universities,” said Mr Baty, as he summed up the session.


Clockwise, from top left: Prof Sir Muscatelli, Mr Baty, Prof Freshwater, Prof Tan, and Prof Wegener at the opening plenary

Prof Tan also spoke at a session featuring universities from the Universitas 21 (U21) alliance, a grouping of research-intensive universities that focuses on cross-border collaborations and knowledge exchange.

That session also included Prof Sir Muscatelli; Professor David Garza, President of the Monterrey Institute of Technology; Professor Luc Sels, Rector of KU Leuven; and Professor Shearer West, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nottingham.

“There are tremendous challenges for universities right now, in the near term future, and perhaps in the long term future,” said Prof Tan, who is Deputy Chair of U21 and will be appointed Chair from May 2021.

“The whole idea is on how we can more effectively leverage and synergise strengths as well as best practices so that the whole is actually greater than the sum.”

In this regard, he noted that “U21 is well-positioned for the immediate term and also for the future”.

Prof Tan noted that some research work is already being done around the clock, with researchers passing on the project across time zones to collaborators in different countries.


Clockwise from top left: Ms Simpson, Ms Rhodes-Taylor, Mr Ferns, Ms Farquhar, Mr Sudbury, and Ms Lim-Rajaram

NUS Chief Communications Officer Ms Ovidia Lim-Rajaram shared the University’s experience in handling communications during COVID-19, and spoke on how the crisis has changed the communications landscape.

“COVID communications at NUS was fast, factual, focused,” said Ms Lim-Rajaram.

“We focused on the various roles of the university – as a place of teaching and learning, as a top research institution, as an employer and as a trusted source of information and expertise.”

She said that COVID communications was treated as a whole-of-university effort. “Everyone inside the university became reputation amplifiers.”

A standout example of public communications was NUS Medicine’s COVID-19 Chronicles comic series, which uses cartoons to speak to the man on the street in a very relatable fashion. The comics have been translated and used overseas – other than conveying public health messages, their added appeal lies in their depiction of everyday life in Singapore.

The panel on reputation management and communications also included Ms Louise Simpson, Director at the World 100 Reputation Network; Ms Andrea Farquhar, Assistant Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs at McMaster University; Mr Alan Ferns, Associate Vice-President of External Relations and Reputation at the University of Manchester; Ms Tania Rhodes-Taylor, Vice-Principal of External Relations at the University of Sydney; and Mr Mark Sudbury, Head of Global Network Development at the World 100 Reputation Network.

Ms Lim-Rajaram noted that COVID-19 has changed the communications landscape.

“We’ve learned how to do things online, we’ve learned how to get things done even though some of us are in different parts of the country. So I think that communications people will become more creative. We’ve become used to a wider suite of things available to us.”

She added, “What we want to do, at least with my team, is to explore the positive things that we’ve gained and the ideas that we’ve had, and see if we can mix things up a bit. This is the time for experimenting… to find even better ways to communicate with the public.”

The Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, which was held online this year from 1 Sept to 2 Sept, was attended by more than 900 delegates from over 80 countries.


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