Europe “talks too much” about investing in universities and research, while Singapore "acts”, the president of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has claimed.
Bertil Andersson said that he first made this distinction between the regions “as a joke” when he left his post as chief executive of the European Science Foundation in 2007 to become provost of the Singaporean institution, but it has “become a reality”.
Speaking at the Universities UK and UK Higher Education International Unit's International Higher Education Forum 2016 on 1 March, as part of a panel discussion on "What is a global university?", Professor Andersson said: “Singapore is one of the countries that in the last 10 years or 15 years has invested maybe the most in academic research globally, if you compare it to the size of the country."
He added: “The Singaporean government walks the talk when it comes to investment in research and academia. Of course in Europe, [ministers] say they invest in [the] knowledge society but sometimes it’s only talk.”
He added that many universities in continental Europe are “too national in their way of working” and Singapore would be a “role model” for them.
He cited Singapore’s rise up world university rankings as evidence of the country’s higher education success; since 2011, Nanyang Technological University rose 119 places to reach 55th in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016.
The institution was also the fastest-rising young university in the THE 100 Under 50 Rankings 2015, which ranks the top 100 universities under 50 years old.
Professor Andersson also spoke about the university’s collaboration with Rolls-Royce, which has included several research partnerships since 2005 and a jointly-invested S$75 million (£38 million) corporate lab, focusing on research in electrical power, manufacturing and computational engineering.
He said that he asked a former chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce why it chose to partner with NTU and “one of the main reasons” was that “Rolls-Royce is a global company with global customers and global employees and NTU is such a global university”.
He said that 75 per cent of staff at the university are international, many of whom are “top people from the US and top people from the UK and Europe”, while 100 different nationalities make up the student cohort.
However, Professor Andersson admitted that encouraging home and international students to mix “is an issue”, and provided one piece of practical advice: ensure that all restaurants on the campus serve a variety of cuisines.
“If you have one Chinese restaurant, another Indian, a McDonald’s, then you will have a clustering. You cannot have that,” he said.