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SMU unveils plan to become one of the top universities in Asia

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SINGAPORE: The Singapore Management University (SMU) has unveiled a bold 10-year vision, in which it aims to become one of the top three universities in Asia recognised for its courses in business and social sciences.

The "SMU Vision 2025" aims to develop the university into a world class institution. SMU President Arnoud De Meyer, who has been in charge since 2010, says that means having a credible reputation, top notch faculty and attracting the best students globally.

"First of all, whenever anybody thinks about a university of social sciences in Asia, we should be one of the top three on their radar screen. So, my first measurement or my first metric would be if anybody from anywhere in the world - Chile, Belgium, Sweden or Australia - thinks about a top quality university in social sciences and business management in Asia, we should be there immediately as one of the reference points," said Professor De Meyer who will continue to head the university till 2018.

TO BECOME A WORLD CLASS INSTITUTION

He also outlined three thrusts to achieve that objective.

The first is to create an innovative learning environment for students to apply their knowledge and come up with solutions to global issues. To do this, the university launched a pilot experimental course called SMU-X. It involves getting practitioners from businesses and non-governmental organisations to be mentors to students.

For instance, companies can work with students to come up with ideas that tackle quality management issues. This might involve designing apps that can improve their ability to better deliver services. The university plans to introduce SMU-X in all of its courses.

“In fact, what is interesting is, in a few cases the companies have asked the students: 'Can you do an internship with us? We want to a go a little bit further with the implementation of that',” said Professor De Meyer.

“And so you get that whole learning process: Understanding what the problem is, getting a facilitation by the faculty member, the mentorship by somebody in the industry. So it's a three-way interaction. The faculty, the students and the mentor from the industry, they work together and they solve the problem together."

The second part of the vision is to develop cutting-edge research projects which are multi-disciplinary in nature and benefits not just Singapore, but countries elsewhere. For one, the university recently set up its centre for research on economics of ageing.

"We are not in the position to come up with mechanical devices to help people move around. We are also not equipped to come up with any medical solutions,” said Professor De Meyer.

“What we actually can look at as a social sciences university is the sociology of what it means to have more elderly people around and what are the economics of an ageing population. We will do in the coming years, surveys every month, to see how people look at retirement, how they prepare themselves for retirement, what goes through their mind in terms of ‘what kind of financial security do I need’."

Besides that, the university’s School of Information Systems is also studying traffic management in the city to avoid congestion.

Professor De Meyer says undertaking quality research projects also improves the university's learning environment, as researchers share and discuss findings with students. It will also attract quality academics.

The vision's third thrust involves integrating the university within the community around it. This means sharing spaces and facilities with the public and companies around the university.

Looking ahead in the next ten years, Prof De Meyer also raised the point that universities can play a bigger role to promote lifelong learning.

”If you graduate today, that is not a license for the rest of your life,” he said. “Probably every five to ten years, I will have to change jobs, I will have to learn a new set of skills and capabilities. So, the role of the university, first, will be to engage much more in this continuing education of high quality.

“As an academic institution, we have the responsibility to be at the top of the learning pyramid in the sense. But there is a role for academic lifelong learning. Most of the universities are not completely set up for that. We are used to work with students in between 18- and 28-years-old, and while we do a bit of executive education, we haven't fully committed ourselves to lifelong learning.

"I think that will be the first change in the educational landscape - the fact that universities will move wholeheartedly into continuing education.”