4 October 2012
Mixing substantial investments in research with top academics and strategic international collaborations is a healthy recipe that has helped a Singaporean institution grow quickly, says Bertil Andersson
The rise of Asian economies has spawned dynamic universities that are now challenging the established giants of Europe and North America.
Singapore, for example, has made a major investment in its universities and is determined to create a knowledge-based economy through substantial funding for research. Fuelled by strong economic development and strategic national leadership, the management of Nanyang Technological University - a young and rapidly developing international institution - has taken full competitive advantage of this environment.
Chartered in 1991, NTU is one of the biggest engineering universities in the world, with two-thirds of the institution devoted to the discipline. But it is not just about engineering: it also features the Nanyang Business School, colleges of humanities, science, arts and social sciences, and the National Institute of Education, through which all teachers within the Singaporean school system must pass.
In addition, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine is scheduled to open in 2013. The school, a partnership between NTU and Imperial College London, will specialise in advanced healthcare through interdisciplinary research. It will meet Singapore's growing need for more doctors to serve an ageing population.
NTU makes a strong contribution to the economy of Singapore and the surrounding region through its output of graduates and has revamped its educational programmes with a group tutorial and fully student-centric system. This has led to a significant proportion of top students in Singapore choosing NTU.
The university only started to develop as a research-intensive body in the mid 2000s. At that time, the government greatly increased the funding available for research - especially to academia - and NTU successfully competed for substantial sums.
Changes in the tenure system provided a one-off opportunity to retroactively review faculty and paved the way for a new phase of top- talent recruitment, releasing people's potential to successfully compete for external research funding.
NTU's recruitment strategy has focused on several elements. First, by building its reputation as a competitive and high-level research university, it has attracted top senior researchers. It has also built for the future by recruiting some of the brightest and best young researchers in the world through the Singapore National Research Foundation Fellowship and its own elite early-career initiative - the Nanyang Assistant Professorship scheme.
It has taken a strategic approach to research, concentrating on interdisciplinary priority areas including sustainability, healthcare, new media and Asian studies.
More than 65 per cent of the faculty originate from outside Singapore, with more than 70 nationalities represented on staff. NTU's academic partnerships, based on joint PhD programmes, reinforce collaborations with more senior faculty. The university also works with public research institutions in Europe and locally.
NTU considers that it has a national responsibility to ensure that products from its research enter the local economy. While there is a global trend for universities to support innovation through patents, spin- offs and other forms of industrial incubation, NTU believes that it should also work with multinational high-tech companies on joint projects to assist the PhD programme and, in several cases, to use laboratory space on campus.
NTU is proud of its achievements as one of the youngest globally recognised research-intensive universities in the world. Its ambition is to continue to work with a global outlook at the highest level of academic practice and at the forefront of knowledge, collaborating with universities and industry nationally and internationally.
Bertil Andersson is president of Nanyang Technological University