The National University of Singapore: At the nexus of East and West

January 1, 1990

6 October 2011

Like the entrepôt economy that sustains it, the National University of Singapore places a premium on cross-cultural fluency, quality and desire to make a global impact, says Tan Chorh Chuan

Singapore is a unique place - a small city-state with no natural resources. To best fulfil its role for the country, the National University of Singapore (NUS) focuses on attracting and nurturing talent, on taking a global stance and on fostering innovation.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of NUS is that we are global in outlook. Our vision of "a leading global university centred in Asia" is expressed in many ways: we recruit worldwide for faculty and students; we develop educational innovations to prepare students for a globalised world; we conduct and apply high-impact research; we play active roles in key global knowledge networks; and we strive to provide thought leadership.

The many distinctive global educational programmes we have developed are all based on two key ideas.

First, we believe that our graduates will stand out by virtue of becoming highly effective in diverse cross-cultural settings in addition to gaining intellectual rigour and critical thinking skills. Second, we believe that our programmes should not only be rigorous and challenging but should also offer students unique learning opportunities through strategic collaborations with overseas partners whose strengths complement ours.

Accordingly, we have worked systematically to "bring the world to NUS". Our campus community is a diverse one, with students and faculty from more than 100 countries. The process of internationalisation will receive a transformational boost from our new University Town. This site, which opened this year and will be fully operational next year, is a major complex with state-of-the-art residential, learning, arts, cultural, sports and social facilities and spaces.

Residential learning will enable the 2,400 undergraduates living in the town's four colleges to study in small classes that allow individuals from diverse backgrounds to offer a variety of views that help the group gain a deeper understanding of both global issues and Asian perspectives.

At the same time, we are running many schemes that "bring NUS students to the world". More than 50 per cent of our undergraduates benefit from overseas learning opportunities, half of which involve academic programmes that last six months or longer.

We have more than 60 joint-, double- and concurrent-degree programmes with other prestigious universities around the world. Our seven NUS Overseas Colleges in key hubs offer a year-long entrepreneurship experience to our students.

Strategic partnerships have boosted our trajectory of growth. For example, the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore has enabled NUS and US-based Duke University to pioneer innovations in medical education and to collaborate on research into diseases in Asian populations.

NUS' partnership with Yale University to establish the Yale-NUS College in Singapore will strive to develop a new model of liberal-arts education for the 21st century that brings into dialogue and interaction the ideas and contexts of East and West. These endeavours are emblematic of NUS' status as a global university.

In research, NUS has invested substantially in recruiting top faculty and has focused on building a number of peaks of excellence.

At the leading edge of this effort are our three Research Centres of Excellence in quantum technologies, cancer science and mechanobiology, and five integrative research clusters in finance and risk management, biomedical sciences, ageing, integrative sustainability solutions and Asia-related studies.

We believe that these initiatives will leave NUS well placed in its quest to achieve global impact in knowledge creation and application.

Institutionally, NUS has undergone three major shifts over the past decade and a half that have allowed us to become nimbler and more responsive to the complex global higher education landscape.

First, NUS has moved from being a primarily teaching-based institution to a research-intensive global university. Second, we have made fundamental changes to our delivery of education, ensuring greater breadth and flexibility to facilitate multidisciplinary learning and a rich, well-rounded student experience. Third, in 2006 NUS became a not-for-profit company; now, although still publicly funded, we enjoy much greater autonomy to set and pursue new directions and seize fresh opportunities.

However, while organisational transformation is crucial, we firmly believe that the fundamental determinants of success are the quality of our people and leadership, and our fierce commitment to excellence. Hence, attracting, nurturing and retaining talent, whether students, faculty, researchers or staff, has been the single most important priority for NUS. Within this, we have a special focus on identifying and grooming dynamic and able leaders who are driven by a strong sense of collective purpose.

As Singapore becomes a major global city distinguished by innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, NUS sees itself as a pioneer of education and research to support continued national development and to contribute to the growth of Asia and the world. Located in the heart of a rising Asia and at the nexus of East and West, NUS is well positioned, through world-class education and research, to help address the many complex challenges - and opportunities for advancement - that Asia and the world will face in the future.

Tan Chorh Chuan is president of the National University of Singapore

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