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WEF: Innovations crucial for world’s future

16 Sep 2013

Prof Tan (far left) moderating at the “Building Innovation Ecosystems” session

A visual depiction of the forum debate on the future of online higher education
Photos: World Economic Forum

(From left) Prof Heng, Dr Richard Pascale (Moderator, Said Business School, University of Oxford), Assoc Prof Ho, Assoc Prof Fu, Prof Tan and Dr Malone-Lee in front of the storyboard which captured the main concepts of the IdeasLab
Innovation is an important driver for economic and societal growth, especially growth that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. However, challenges lie in how the conditions for such innovation can be created for societal and economic advancement. Questions to address include the best ways to more effectively foster innovation and commercialisation of new insights and discoveries; the right balance between basic and applied research; support for interdisciplinary and global partnerships; and rethinking the role of government and other stakeholders to provide a more conducive environment.

These were some of the issues raised when NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan moderated the session on “Building Innovation Ecosystems” at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2013. Otherwise known as the Summer Davos of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the event held at Dalian, China from 11 to 13 September this year focused on “Meeting the Innovation Imperative”.

The summer meeting provided a venue for the New Champion communities – including Global Growth Companies, Young Global Leaders, Young Scientists, Technology Pioneers, Social Entrepreneurs and the WEF’s Global Shapers – to engage with forum members and partners. It also facilitated exchange between leaders from industry and key representatives from government, academia, civil society and media.

At the lively “Forum Debate: Is Online the Future of Higher Education?”, Prof Tan was one of the speakers arguing the statement that higher education will be predominantly online in the future.

The proponents in favour of the motion believed online education will open up higher education to groups that today are excluded, allowing greater access. Quality is expected to improve, with the possibilities for online student/teacher interaction and costs at a fraction of those for traditional higher education. Their opponents, however, stressed that education is much more than fact-learning. Besides suffering a high dropout rate, potential employers also perceive that online learning at no or low cost does not provide quality education.

The animated debate ended with an audience vote of 53 per cent agreeing with the statement. However, participants widely accepted that the use of online education will increase and develop in scope and quality, even though many challenges and opportunities exist in developing interfaces between online education and traditional teaching techniques.

On the final day of the WEF meeting, Prof Tan gave his views as a panellist at the session “From Trade Centre to Innovation Hub”. The panel of speakers examined how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can unleash innovation to build and maintain competitive knowledge economies, covering issues such as rethinking education models, investing in people and infrastructure, as well as building ecosystems for a creative economy.

An NUS team from the School of Design and Environment (SDE) and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) also attended the annual meeting to showcase their ideas on urban design innovations at the “IdeasLab: The Future of High-density Cities with the National University of Singapore”. The IdeasLab is an open platform where leading thinkers from the world’s top academic institutions present their current thinking, and the audience and their colleagues interact on their ideas.

Led by SDE Dean Professor Heng Chye Kiang, the NUS group included Associate Professor Fu Yuming, SDE Vice-Dean for Research; Dr Lai-Choo Malone-Lee, Director of Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities; and Associate Professor Ho Kong Chong, FASS Vice-Dean for Research.

The team presented new thinking on four aspects of making high-density cities liveable: enabling innovations that make cities do more with less and provide something for everyone; exploiting better community design for resource optimisation and recovery; using technology for enhancing urban preservation efforts; and creating space for civic dialogue to bridge cultural differences. The session saw active discussion and perspectives offered by the participants that brought about interesting new ideas.