Singapore Study Trip – Strategies of Singapore’s Top Universities

From October 16 to 22, 2011, the 8th batch of students of the DLSU PhD in Education major in Educational Leadership and Management (Executive) program were in Singapore, visiting a variety of world-class educational institutions to learn how they address the challenges of 21st century education.

At the NUS School of Computing with my PHDELMX classmates and Sr. Joy Luz, our professor. Thanks to Sr. Maria Nguyen for sharing this photo.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is Singapore’s oldest and largest university, established in 1905, now with more than 37,000 students (28% graduate students). It is also Singapore’s top university, emerging this year as 1st in Asia and 19th in the world in the 2011 Times Higher Education (THE) rankings in Engineering and Technology (E&T). In the 2011 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) E&T rankings, NUS landed 2nd place in Asia (the University of  Tokyo was 1st) and 9th in the world. Considering that NUS was a teaching university until the 1980s, its meteoric rise to become No. 1 in Asia, besting such Asian E&T stalwarts as the Tokyo Institute of Technology (my alma mater, now only 5th in Asia and 20th in the world (QS)), the Japanese imperial universities except Tokyo and Kyoto, and the Indian Institutes of Technology, is amazing.

In front of Tokodai's (Tokyo Insitute of Technology's) Main Building when I was still a student.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is Singapore’s second largest with more than 35,000 students (30% graduate students). Considering that it is only 20 years old, its rise to become 7th in Asia and 26th in the world in the 2011 QS E&T rankings is phenomenal (as is the rapid ascendance of 20-year-old Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which landed 22nd  worldwide in the 2011 QS E&T rankings).

I asked the officials what strategies enabled their universities to attain world-class research standing in such a short time. Interesting that, at least from the perspectives of our hosts, the strategies that NUS and NTU employed seem to be polar opposites. NUS in the 1980s sent its best graduates to the best universities in the U.S. with very strong incentives for them to return — they were able to purchase their own houses upon their return using the salaries that accumulated in their accounts while they were on study leave. NTU, on the other hand, has been bringing in top academics in the world to head its various units. For instance, NTU’s new President is a renowned Swedish plant biochemist, while its new Vice President (Research) is a renowned British clinical scientist. The Director of the Institute for Media Innovation is Nadia Thalmann, who received the prestigious Eurographics Distinguished Career Award in 2010.

One university sent its best people to train in some of the best universities in the world. The other tries to lure some of the best scientists in the world to its campus. Two “opposite” strategies. Same effect: phenomenal improvement of research capabilities. Same requirement: money. Lots of it.

As a private university that aspires to become a leading research university in the region, DLSU needs to build a sizable endowment portfolio to finance one or both strategies.  Failing that, or together with it, DLSU could develop such tremendous goodwill (think Gawad Kalinga) that it attracts a steady stream of noble-minded world-class professors and scientists to assist it gratuitously until it attains critical mass in certain strategic areas, always remembering the Gospel injunction to freely give what one has freely received (Matthew 10:8b).

Up next:

  • Singapore Study Trip – Educating Future Video Game Professionals
  • Singapore Study Trip – Discipleship and Evangelism in Christian Schools
  • Singapore Study Trip – My Former Students Now in Singapore

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