IAAP Commends Singapores University Sector as Forward-Looking, and Calls for More Holistic Evaluation of University Impact

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Singapore’s universities have climbed international rankings and must continue to make impact in areas of national priority

The 11th meeting of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP) was held from 27 to 29 June 2018. The IAAP, comprising distinguished leaders in academia and industry from around the world (see Annex for background and composition of the IAAP), advises the Singapore Government on the development of Singapore’s university landscape, and major trends and directions in university education and research.

Highlights of the 11th IAAP Meeting

2. The 11th IAAP meeting, themed ‘The Role of Universities in Defining Singapore’s Future’, discussed three focus areas – the value and content of a degree education, lifelong learning, and impactful research. These revolve around the three national priorities for our publicly-funded Autonomous Universities (AUs). The Panel also recommended the development of a holistic evaluation framework for our AUs to better measure how well they have met the national priorities, as a complement to current international ranking indices.

Value and content of a degree

3. The IAAP emphasised the need for educational models of our AUs to keep evolving in view of changing economic and social needs. The AUs should offer their students a foundation with adequate grounding in fundamentals, but also the breadth needed to enable them to keep learning through life. The IAAP also affirmed the AUs’ efforts in offering more structured experiential learning opportunities, through internships and work-study programmes.

4. The Panel affirmed the value of ensuring a diversity of pathways and models of university education, to cater to different learning styles, aspirations and interests. However, university ranking indices are driving institutions globally to converge towards a common approach to university education. The Panel recommended that each AU continues to find its unique mix of applied and academic learning within its offerings to maintain a variegated university landscape.

5. The IAAP also commented that employers should look beyond graduates’ academic qualifications, give stronger recognition of achievements and experiences outside the classroom, and strengthen their assessment of graduates’ soft skills such as resilience and adaptability in their hiring decisions.

Lifelong learning

6. The IAAP was of the view that Singapore is a leader in advancing lifelong learning and supported the AUs’ establishment of separate units to develop lifelong learning, and the introduction of industry-relevant modular courses. They welcomed the restructuring of Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), a university of lifelong learning, into the sixth AU.

7. The Panel noted some challenges that would have to be addressed. For instance, adult learners may have intrinsically different learning needs and interests, compared to young students. The next phase of development in lifelong learning could be to strengthen support for adult learners in particular by strengthening advice and curating their learning options as they chart their learning journeys. The Panel recommended that Singapore take the lead in developing a framework for assessing quality and developing recognition of lifelong learning courses.

Impactful research

8. The Panel recognised the AUs’ efforts to align their research priorities with the national Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) agenda, such as the establishment of dedicated Innovation and Enterprise (I&E) offices. Going forward, this effort requires dual emphasis. First, to be centred on excellence and motivating breakthrough research. Second, the AUs should do more to better strengthen linkages between university and industry. This could include providing faculty with sufficient exposure to industry projects, hiring industry practitioners to support teaching, collaboration in research, and the creation of new enterprises.

Holistic measurement and evaluation of AUs

9. An overarching topic that emerged through the discussions was the evaluation of our AUs. Keeping in mind the differentiated AU landscape in Singapore, the IAAP agreed that our AUs should therefore be evaluated against distinctive missions of each university. This will be more relevant than existing one-sized international ranking methodologies, and will ensure that the work of our AUs is aligned to the diverse needs of students, the workforce, employers, and our society.

10. Thanking the IAAP for their contributions, Deputy Prime Minister & Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: “I thank the IAAP for their insights and advice on how our AUs should keep evolving so that we equip our people with the skills and confidence to keep learning, and to occasionally reinvent themselves in life and contribute to our society.”

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