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State of the University Address 2011: "Sky-pointing" and changes in global higher education

14 October 2011



Prof Tan recommended three strategies in response to the changing global higher education landscape: focus, differentiate and synergise


About 330 guests attended the SoUA 2011, including NUS Pro-Chancellors, Board of Trustees, senior management, staff and students

In response to new challenges in the higher education landscape, we must focus, differentiate and synergise, said NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan at his annual State of the University Address (SoUA) held on 14 October 2011 at the University Cultural Centre. About 330 guests attended the event, including NUS Pro-Chancellors, Board of Trustees, senior management, staff and students.

Using the analogy of marine iguanas, Prof Tan stressed the importance of reading changes and making timely and appropriate responses. Spotted along the beaches of the Galapagos Islands, marine iguanas have the habit of "sky-pointing", that is, shifting their positions, whenever they feel too hot. In 1995, when a volcano erupted on one of the islands, the sea iguanas, not knowing what caused the heat, pointed to the sky as usual. Many perished as a result. The story highlights the risks of just continuing to do what you are used to doing, even though changing circumstances demand different types of action, said Prof Tan.

In the context of NUS, it is critical to understand the changing global higher education landscape and position ourselves strategically. Prof Tan shared three key trends observed – the globalisation of universities around the world, the dramatic emergence and growth of new peaks in higher education in Asia, and the intensifying competition for top talent among the world's universities. Meeting up to these challenges, Prof Tan recommended three strategies: focus, differentiate and synergise.

Elaborating on "focus", Prof Tan highlighted that in the area of research, we must sharpen our focus to gain maximum leverage from our finite resources, existing strengths and comparative advantages. And he cited the example of NUS' core areas of focus in health research, its initiatives and strategic partnerships.

In pursuit of differentiation that creates distinctive new value, Prof Tan shared that NUS has in the aspect of infrastructure undergone much physical transformation, to provide a richer campus experience and enhanced learning opportunities. One major development along these lines is the newly opened University Town, and in the pipeline are plans for a complementary Campus Core which will offer opportunities for exhibitions and cultural programmes.

In terms of academic programmes, Prof Tan said that over the past years, NUS has differentiated itself in offering different academic pathways and will continue to build on these programmes. Moving forward, the Provost's Office will further strengthen the students' abilities in three areas: clarity of thinking and communications, cross-cultural effectiveness and cultivation of wider personal and professional networks.

On maximising synergy between key programmes, Prof Tan highlighted the approaches of NUS Enterprise to accelerate NUS' efforts at commercialisation and start-up formation such as setting up Enterprise House as a powerful bridge between the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme and their incubator programme. To help NUS start-ups gain access to larger markets, NUS Enterprise has also set up overseas launch pads.

Other than developing synergies between NUS programmes and units, Prof Tan also emphasised the importance of strategic global partnerships and cited the Yale-NUS College as a key example.

Finally, he expressed his optimism that NUS will continue to do well. He said: "Through our individual and collective efforts, we have the will and the ability to succeed, to position our university strategically in the changing higher education landscape, by making NUS a leading global university centred in Asia."

More information available on the SOUA webpage



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