University-industry partnerships key to preparing graduates for the workplace

Attendees at the PwC webinar included (from top left, clockwise): Ms Caitroina McCusker, Partner and Education Consulting Lead at PwC United Kingdom; Professor Pascale Quester, President of the Swinburne University of Technology; NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye; and Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University

Universities should further focus on their partnerships with industry as they prepare their students for a rapidly-changing workplace, said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye.

This is especially key amid competition from new certification bodies such as Google, which are trying to muscle their way into the higher education market.

“In Singapore, what we see is that the connection with industry will become very important. COVID-19 has shown how fast the external environment can change. We are seeing quite rapid market dislocations,” said Prof Tan, who was speaking on 16 Sep at a webinar on higher education, organised by professional services firm PwC.

The crisis “begs the question of whether universities are fulfilling the role of making sure that graduates are made ready for the ever-changing and complex environment that is outside”, he added.

Additionally, entities that have not traditionally been in the education space are starting to offer accreditation at lower cost and with a shorter time commitment, to attract students who want to upgrade themselves and enter the workforce quickly.

Notably, Internet services conglomerate Google announced in late August that it is launching six-month career certificates that will help Americans to get high-paying jobs in growth areas such as data analytics, project management and user experience design. It is pricing the courses at just US$49 per month.

Despite the competition, universities can continue to distinguish themselves by preparing their students for lifelong learning. “A lot of the things that students learn in continuing education are closely related to what the industries are looking for. So there has to be a stronger connection with industry… that’s of course something that we, in Singapore, are thinking very hard about,” said Prof Tan.

NUS has, over the years, built up strong partnerships with industry – ranging from start-ups to multi-national corporations. As a result, undergraduates are given numerous opportunities to intern at the company of their choice. A whole-of-university approach is also taken in terms of career preparation – other than the NUS Centre for Future-ready Graduates, individual faculties provide career support. They offer modules which are increasingly tailored to ensure that undergraduates are ready for the workforce.

Regional exposure

Despite the travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, NUS remains committed to providing its students with global exposure once it is safe to travel again. South-east Asia is increasingly a focus given the fast-growing economies in the region.

“We are constantly on the lookout. We have to tell our students that Singapore may not have the jobs for you. You have to be better than others to look for jobs elsewhere,” said Prof Tan.


The UKM forum featured (from top left, clockwise) Professor Ir Panut Mulyono; Professor Dato’ Ir Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor; Mr Danial Abdul Rahman; Associate Professor Dr. Abdul Latiff Ahmad; Professor Tan Eng Chye; and Datin Dr Anita B Z Abdul Aziz

Regional exposure was also a key theme at a 14 Sep forum on values-based leadership in ASEAN higher education, which Prof Tan also attended.

The event was co-organised by Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education, and hosted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM; the National University of Malaysia).

Joined by university leaders from Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, Prof Tan shared his hopes for more student exchanges among ASEAN universities.

“Currently a lot of our students go overseas but a lot of them would want to go to the US and Europe. But ASEAN is such an important region. The potential for growth is so huge, and ASEAN is just next door to Singapore… So we are trying to encourage our students to go to ASEAN countries,” said Prof Tan.

He also said that NUS would be happy to host more young faculty members from the region.

“(They could spend) some time in NUS, perhaps half a year to one year, where they can actually interact with our faculty members and therefore build links.”

Overall, the student and faculty exchange programmes would form a very good foundation for ASEAN to be more synergistic, Prof Tan noted.

Core values

At the UKM forum, Prof Tan also elaborated on the core values of NUS – innovation, resilience, excellence, respect, and integrity – and the role that these play in taking the University forward.

“There are certain values that most universities will treasure a lot – for instance, integrity and honesty. For instance, if someone plagiarises or cheats in research, I think you have to come in very strong or possibly even sack the person. This is something that most universities will not condone.”

However, if a faculty member is less innovative or just wants to cruise along, then incentives will be a more appropriate tool. “Normally, I think incentives are better than punishments.”

The UKM forum also included Mr Danial Abdul Rahman, Press Secretary to Malaysia’s Finance Minister; UKM Vice Chancellor Professor Dato’ Ir Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor; UKM Global’s Deputy Director Associate Professor Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad; Datin Dr Anita B Z Abdul Aziz, Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Brunei Darussalam; and Professor Ir Panut Mulyono, Rector of Indonesia’s Universitas Gadjah Mada.


Like this story? Join the NUS News Telegram channel or sign up for the email newsletter for regular updates.