Thursday, 6 November 2014

Universities' Role is To Create Singapore's Future

Creating Singapore's Future
Singapore Future Sacrificed for bogus Top World Universities Ranking Standards

A great University is committed to organizational excellence at all levels and departments, so as to provide professional support to sustaining excellence in teaching, research, and professional service to society.   Through its research and educational programs, as well as various campus activities, a great University must also develop leaders for all sectors of the society and prepare them to address the challenges facing the community and nation.

”The Task of the University is the creation of the future, according to philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue”. One may also recall another famous saying in 1943 by Winston Churchill that “the empires of the future are the empires of the mind”.

The activities that comprise campus life should be designed appropriately to create a dynamic energy that enriches students’ lives and provides the benefit to the entire University community in their learning and discovery journeys, as they create, invent and re-invent new futures.  

For many Singaporeans, the notion of going on to a university, if not for life-long learning, but for at least one degree and followed by some postgraduate study, shapes the aspirations of the vast majority of youths and parents.

For some, their aspirations are limited by a merely pragmatic, instrumentalist view of universities: a degree provides a meal ticket, a narrowly prescribed set of skills, a higher salary, on average, than non-graduates earn, and a powerful hedge against joblessness.    For them, a brief and simple “pass-fail” outcome may sum up all a university may represent.   Such naivety clearly benefits no one.

Today’s Millennial generations devote little time for thinking about any future other their own.

The emergent realities of a rapidly-evolving, knowledge-based future accelerated by globalization to a more competitive and challenging world will demand a radical re-think about the value of higher education.  

As Singapore embraces and engages the Knowledge Economy of the 21st Century, our Universities have become key institutional pillars most capable to build for us new competitive and sustainable advantages grounded on human capital infrastructure and the public value of the human talents and intellectual assets. Universities will need to respond to the challenges of the knowledge era by re-examining and strengthening their roles in the areas of knowledge dissemination, creation, and application.

In the face of its Mission Task of Creating Singapore’s Future, our Universities should not be obsessed with the hollow, meaningless pursuit of bogus World Universities Ranking standards of dubious excellence.

graduates in the knowledge era have to be flexible and adaptable to a context where often dynamic change is the only constant; they have to become life-long learners to be able to adapt to the fast pace of change and constantly upgrade their skills and knowledge. They will confront social realities where their knowledge and skills rapidly become obsolete as knowledge and product cycles become increasingly smaller. 

Learning without being taught, together with a Reality-Learning curriculum, is the only effective andragogical strategy whereby Professors act as learning facilitators to nurture their students to become self-directed, life-long learners.

At the basic level, effective university graduates need analytical and problem-solving skills, and inter-personal and communication skills that will enable them to work with others. Co-operative learning by leveraging and synergizing with the competencies of others increasingly make sense at a time where no one person has the ability to quickly identify and engage the subtle changes in the strategic operating environment for decisive actions.
They must also be creative and entrepreneurial, able to invent new ideas and products that will create possible futures and capture new markets.

Given the explosion of knowledge and technology, it is no longer possible for universities to teach its students all there is to know in order to be ready for the workplace.  Universities can only teach their graduates “how to learn to learn" and develop new social competencies conducive for personal, team and professional engagement.
Learning for the future is best achieved in a cross-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary mode within the knowledge structure and mode of inquiry of the respective disciplines.

University education must also prepare students for a world of new jobs which have yet to be designed, and challenges that are beyond today’s imagination.

In short, universities have to expose undergraduates to a broader range of skills, in order to prepare them for workplaces that need parallel multi-disciplinary and systems approaches to problem-solving and decision-making. Universities can no longer just focus their students to solve past problems which most likely will never recur. 

It is therefore fraudulent and irresponsible for bogus World Universities Ranking standards to misdirect and divert teaching excellence efforts to fallacious and spurious factors such as increases in foreign Professorial staffing, foreign students enrolment and to staff-student ratio, instead of valid vectors in the holistic environment of learning and discovery relevant to the world beyond and outside the universities walls.

Faculty members likewise must reach out beyond their hitherto comfortable “ivory towers” to immerse with industry, businesses, community and society so as to maintain their continuous relevance with regard to the context of knowledge applications.

Professors can introduce students to uncharacteristic ways of thinking, distinctive methods of inquiry, and fundamental conceptual frameworks as well as major achievements in the field.    They should increase intellectual curiosity and initiate continuing interest in the subject matter. Faculty should employ thoughtful and creative pedagogy that is challenging, rigorous, and features learning experiences that especially characterize the specific field of discipline.

Universities Create The “Ships” to Singapore’s Future
The future is yet to be determined. Many possible Futures exist for us.  As we maintain Mission Focus and adopt fresh mental perspectives, to broaden our impact on businesses, community and society, we will embark on the journey of real future creation, instead of proclaiming the Mirages of False Rankings, that is within our grasp and rightfully belongs to Singapore.    

We shall build and sail the following “Ships” into the Sunrise of Authenticity and Achievements towards the next Horizon:

1)    Scholarship: The creation and application of knowledge, with an emphasis on scholarly inquiry, research, experimentation, investigation and creative production.

2)    Entrepreneurship: The creation of employment opportunities from discoveries, innovations and the creation of new business ventures.

3)    Citizenship: The ability to apply knowledge and skills for responsible community life and action.  Both faculty and students must commit to active public engagement and ethical purpose.

4)    Stewardship: The responsibility of the university is to carry out its unique role in society, which is to promote intellectual inquiry.   Faculty members of the university community are stewards of knowledge and entrusted to instill in their students an appreciation for the responsibilities that accompany education.

5)    Leadership: Motivating faculty and students to take actions that would not otherwise have been taken.  Leadership is measured by the extent to which an individual or groups of individuals can influence and energize the ideas, actions and capabilities of others toward the betterment of society, and the creation of a better future society.

6)    Partnership: Mobilising faculty and students to work collaboratively to address complex issues and problems, both within the university and beyond the boundaries of the university campus.  A university cannot expect to be able to provide problem solutions by working in isolation.  It can only do so by interacting with others. By working in partnerships, faculty members will gain an understanding and appreciation of what can be accomplished together with businesses, industry and the community that could not have been accomplished alone.

It is fitting here to recall an observation by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew some 45 years ago when he addressed a Youth Leadership Meeting: It is amazing the number of highly intelligent persons in the world who make no contribution at all to the well-being of their fellow-men

Authentic Impact is indeed the only justification of scholarship and learning.  It is the raison d'ĂȘtre of Singapore Universities, NOT bogus ranking standards of dubious excellence.

“Wealth flows directly from innovation,
not optimization;
that is, wealth is not gained
from perfecting the known,
but by imperfectly seizing the unknown.”
Kevin Kelly

“Knowledge is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.”


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