Why National University of Singapore has moved up quickly in university rankings

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-3-24 9:49:29

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has been climbing faster in international rankings as it responded nimbly to a complex and changing world while maintaining its vision to be a global university centered in Asia, said Tan Chorh Chuan, NUS president.

Speaking in a recent interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of a forum here on university management, Tan said NUS has received consistent government support, a good management team that made it possible to attract the best faculty and students and a global orientation centered in Asia at an early stage.

But even attracting and nurturing the talent, though instrumental, is not an end in itself, Tan said.

"It's the means to an end. The means is really excellence, excellence in teaching, excellence in research, and excellence in contributing to discoveries that have an impact on society," Tan said.

NUS is now edging close to the top 20 universities worldwide and is among the top three in Asia in most rankings.

Tan attributed the success of the university to its commitment to achieve its vision as an Asian institution but with a global orientation.

"By being a global university, you can open up many new opportunities for students and education that were not available in the past," Tan said.

The university now sends close to 70 percent of its students abroad through various exchange programs. It also has a very diverse faculty, with about half them from overseas.

NUS collaborated recently with Yale University to establish a liberal arts college with a focus on Asia.

Tan also said that one of the key changes NUS made over the past 15 years centered on giving students broader education, in comparison with the inherited British system where students are encouraged to specialize in their fields.

This is because the world is becoming much more complex, Tan said. The workers in public health, for instance, should not only have knowledge about medical subjects but also have good training in social sciences and management as well.

According to Tan, NUS professors are also being asked to help students get a broad understanding about the subjects.

Looking ahead, Tan said it will be more and more important for the students to be effective across cultures.

"For a small country like Singapore, this is even more important because many of our graduates will work with people from all around the world, in multinational companies, or they may be working overseas," he said.

Tan said the Asian universities are already starting to move up the international rankings quickly and that he saw them going up further in rankings, driven by the huge amount of resources going to them.

The amount of resources going to the universities in Asia are more than what is happening elsewhere in the world and that the universities are doing more research and working closely with the industries on application, too.

The reputation of the top universities in Asia is expected to grow, too, as more and more of their graduates are becoming leaders across the different sectors, Tan said.

"In the top universities (in China), the quality of the students are so high. And these students are growing up and becoming leaders in different sectors," he said.

China spent about 4 percent of its gross domestic product on education last year, achieving a goal that was set years ago.

The word's most populated country has some 2,000 universities and other tertiary education institutions. The number of graduates coming out of universities per year has increased from 1.14 million in 2001 to close to 7 million in 2013.

Many of the students from China are studying in universities in Singapore, too. Many of them are research students.

The NUS and the Temasek Foundation recently jointly organized the five-day Program for Leadership in University Management (PLUM) . More than 50 presidents and deans of top Chinese universities were invited to share their views and practices.

Tan said the forum is a good starting point for conversation.

"It's really because Asia is developing very rapidly. If you look at the world today, the largest investment in education are being made in Asia. Where new programs are being established, the importance of managing them well is amplified," Tan said.

Chen Jun, one of the Chinese university presidents at the forum, said that there has been a "fundamental change" in the amount of resources going to the Chinese universities compared with what they had in the past. Some of the Chinese university chiefs outlined rosy visions.

Tan said that the Asian universities share many challenges and interests and that he was impressed by the willingness of the Chinese university leaders to learn and the clarity of their visions for their universities.

Both Tan and Chen said that they do not plan their work based on international rankings, although they are happy that the rankings of their universities are rising.

It would be "harder and harder" for the university to go further up as it edges close to the top 20 worldwide, given that other competing universities are also well-established, Tan said.

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