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Shaping educational institutions in the 21st century

26 March 2013

(From left) Dr DeKrey, Prof Tan, Mr Lippincott and Prof Watson during the plenary session

How have major forces such as the economy, technology, organisational management and rankings shaped educational institutions? What are their implications? NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, together with leaders from other organisations, discussed these issues at the Asia-Pacific Advancement Conference by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) on 21 March.

Despite the recent economic downturn, Prof Tan said that NUS has received the continued strong support from the Singapore government which recognises the importance of higher education. This is an "existential imperative" as the country is critically dependent on talent so as to have an edge over the much larger populations in the region.

At the technology level, massive open online courses are manifestations of larger trends and most notably the commoditisation of information, highlighted Prof Tan. Students anywhere in the world can now gain access to free classes. For more mature educational systems, this will imply having to add value to face-to-face learning.

When asked about the importance of university rankings by moderator Mr John Lippincott, CASE President, Prof Tan said that the university does pay attention as people take note of such listings; more importantly, the rankings offer an insight on how the university is faring. However, he pointed to the danger of using it as the main yardstick as this tends to give the perception that only institutions in the likes of Harvard University or Yale University can be successful.

Agreeing, Mr Lippincott said that if institutions plan to meet rankings requirements, they might be marginalising higher education. He cited the United Kingdom's tertiary education system whereby there are different types of universities.

With increasing internationalisation and rankings, it is now easy for one to find information about any university. Prof Tan said that differentiation and the quality of the university experience is therefore key to the institution. This is articulated in NUS' vision of being a leading global university centred in Asia, influencing the future.

Other panellists in the plenary session were Professor Iain Watson, Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Queensland, Australia; Dr Steven DeKrey, President, Asian Institute of Management in Manila, Philippines; and Mr Julian Whiteley, Head, United World College of South East Asia, Singapore.

The three-day conference, which gathered more than 300 professionals from the education industry, touched on various areas such as alumni relations, fundraising, marketing and communications.