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Friday, March 11, 2016, 11:11

Singapore emerges as varsity hub

By Karl Wilson in Sydney
Singapore emerges as varsity hub
This Aug 27, 2013 file photo provides a view of Yale-NUS College sign in Singapore. (AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN)

Over the years, Singapore has been quietly building a reputation for excellence in its tertiary level of education.

Today the city-state is regarded as the university hub for Southeast Asia, a place where East meets West and students are offered an education in most disciplines on par with their European and North American counterparts.

Singapore’s universities and business schools have alliances and partnerships with some of the world’s leading universities. These include Yale, Wharton, Johns Hopkins, Kellogg School of Management, and Carnegie Mellon in the United States; the Sorbonne in France; Waseda University in Japan; and the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

Singapore’s first liberal arts college, a partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore (NUS), opened five years ago in 2011.

Tan Tai Yong, executive vice president (academic affairs) at the Yale-NUS College, said that the aim of the college is to “create a fresh perspective in education”.

“(Yale-NUS) focuses on both liberal arts and sciences, with the best from the East and West helping to nurture all-rounded, global citizens,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.

For Tan, a professor of history, the Yale-NUS education “emphasizes broad-based multi-disciplinary learning across the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts”.

“The unique education experience seeks to combine the strengths of established science and liberal arts traditions with the diverse intellectual traditions and cultures of Asia and the world,” he added.

Tan said that the innovative curriculum along with the college’s residential program encourages a spirit of lively debate in and out of the classroom.

“The rich co-curricular and international experiences offered at Yale-NUS are designed to complement the students’ academic learning, broaden their perspectives and … prepare them for a complex, interconnected world.”

According to Tan, the partnership has benefitted both founding institutions.

In Yale’s case it presented an opportunity to play a “meaningful role” in Asia. It also gave Yale an opportunity to innovate in both teaching as well as curriculum.

For NUS it provided an opportunity to educate Singaporean students of high caliber with an added attraction: It allowed local students to pursue a liberal arts education at home in Singapore, while at the same time attracting top students from across the globe.

Tan explained that with a common vision and collective commitment to develop a new model of liberal arts education for Asia, Yale-NUS College builds upon the great strengths of the two universities.

“(It takes the) essential elements of liberal arts education today and incorporates the relevant contexts, thinking and culture of Asia, which will be important for the future and for Asia,” Tan said.

Another global pioneer in business education is INSEAD. They have had a campus in Singapore since 2000.

The Financial Times recently placed INSEAD at number one in its Global MBA Rankings, ahead of Harvard in the United States and the London School of Economics.

Ilian Mihov, dean of INSEAD, said: “Innovation is ingrained in our culture and is at the core of what we do.”

He said that the school recognized the rising importance of Asia more than a decade ago and took the bold step of opening an Asian campus in Singapore.

Since then it has grown significantly, from just 53 MBA students coming from 26 countries when it first started to over 400 MBA participants from more than 50 countries today.

Two years ago INSEAD, with the support of the Singapore Economic Development Board, invested S$55 million ($40 million) in a new leadership development center.

According to Mihov, the aim of the 10,000 square meter center is to make Singapore the region’s premier executive education hub by “combining world-class business research with a rich and diverse learning environment to cultivate a global community of leaders equipped with the culture of business innovation”.

“INSEAD brings the world to Singapore and Singapore to the world,” Mihov added.

Another tertiary institution in Singapore playing a leading role in educating the region’s future business leaders is the Nanyang Business School (NBS), which first opened its doors in 1995.

Ravi Kumar, Shaw chair professor and dean of the school, said that, at the undergraduate degree level, the primary target student audience is Singaporeans.

“At the graduate degree level, we appeal to the best and brightest from around the world, who may find jobs with Singaporean or Singapore-located multinationals after their graduation, to add value to Singapore or find employment globally.”

Kumar said it was the aim of NBS to become one of the leading business schools globally and to help produce tomorrow’s world leaders.

“That is why cross-border higher education is absolutely essential,” he said. “Students who attend NBS have numerous opportunities to study in other countries and in other partner universities.”

He explained that NBS believes that to produce global leaders, graduates need to understand “the business of culture and the culture of business”.

Culture of business, explained Kumar, “refers to the fact that global leaders need to be able to, when working in a foreign country, understand and respect other cultures, adapt to and adopt other cultures and create value for those cultures”.

He added that the same principle applied to senior executives moving from one company to another. They need to understand that they have to adapt their managerial styles to different business cultures, including family firms, government linked companies or private businesses.

“The only way to do this, while they are studying at NBS, is to take our students to different regions, countries, companies and universities to help them understand the nuances of managing and working in that environment,” Kumar said.

He said that as part of the program, MBA students are taken to the United States, Europe and Asia.

“Some of our corporate donors fund internships for our undergraduates in their companies across the world and our faculty and staff monitor or mentor these students as they experience a different culture,” he added.

Tan of Yale-NUS agrees that international exposure is essential in “teaching adaptability, flexibility and the ability to see things from another person’s or culture’s perspective”.

Such opportunities across jurisdictional borders are highly sought-after, he said.

Yale-NUS has a diverse and global student body. At present, some 500 students hail from 38 countries across six continents.

“They are immersed in a living and learning environment within a global community that fosters the ability to analyze issues, reflect critically, solve problems and communicate effectively across borders,” Tan said.

The faculty mix is also diverse, with teachers hailing from places including Australia, Poland and Spain.

Yale-NUS has a Centre for International and Professional Experience, which is committed to helping students have an international experience. This involves working with students on an individual basis to help them determine which portfolio of international and professional experiences best maximizes their learning and broadens their perspectives.

There are a wide range of opportunities to study abroad, as well as summer programs on offer.

“By exposing our students to multidisciplinary and international perspectives, we strongly believe that Yale-NUS students will be well equipped to develop the confidence, creativity and cultural sensitivity to thrive in diverse environments, collaborate across disciplines, and quickly master new challenges,” Tan added.

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