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QS World University Rankings 2021: Q&A with the National University of Singapore (NUS)

QS World University Rankings 2021: Q&A with the National University of Singapore (NUS) main image

The top ranked university in Asia in the QS World University Rankings 2021, the National University of Singapore (NUS) narrowly misses out on a spot in the global top 10, placing 11th in the world. It also achieves impressive scores in the ranking indicators, placing 12th in the world for academic reputation, 18th for employer reputation and 26th for international faculty. Singapore itself is a fantastic city for students and graduates alike, ranked 20th in the QS Best Student Cities ranking and one of the world’s most important business hubs. 

So, what makes NUS such a world-beating university? We spoke to NUS President, Professor Tan Eng Chye to find out more…

What sets you apart from the universities you consider to be your competitors? 

We are constantly innovating, with a focus on building a strong talent community. We were the first in Asia to pioneer an entrepreneurship education program, which began first with a presence in Silicon Valley and is now an extensive network regionally and globally. We are concurrently deeply committed to lifelong learning, because the half-life of knowledge and skills is rapidly falling in the digital age.

On the education front, we review and adjust our education model regularly to meet the changing needs of our students and society. New programs and initiatives are introduced, and existing ones are modified accordingly to ensure that our students are equipped with skills and knowledge that will help them stay relevant.

The University set up NUS Enterprise, our entrepreneurial arm, in 2001. The much sought- after NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) program under NUS Enterprise has benefitted over 2,800 students since its launch in 2002, NOC alumni have also gone on to found 600 start-ups. In addition, we have also significantly grown our entrepreneurial ecosystem in Singapore and overseas through the establishment of start-up hubs like BLOCK71 in Singapore, San Francisco, Suzhou, Jakarta and other cities, as well as on-campus start-up facilities to provide support to the start-up community.

On the research front, we focus our efforts on attracting, nurturing and retaining a diverse pool of researchers who will collectively push the boundaries of multidisciplinary research that address real-world challenges. These strategic areas of interest include health innovation, Smart Nation, sustainability solutions, and materials science.

How important are international students to you as a university?

International students, most of whom join us under our extensive student exchange program, add diversity to the University. The different perspectives and insights they bring to NUS foster cross-cultural interaction and dialogue and enrich the University community. They also play an essential role in helping NUS improve our curriculum further to stay globally competitive. We very much hope that apart from the academic and student life experiences, these students would leave us with a better understanding of NUS and Singapore. 

How does your location contribute to student experience?

As a global hub centrally located in Asia, Singapore is well-positioned to bring the best of east and west together. From an education perspective, NUS has earned the reputation for combining the strengths of the Western education model and practices with unique Asian perspectives.

Our transformative education experience encapsulates a good mix of classroom-based learning as well as experiential learning opportunities. While NUS students go through rigorous academic programs that empower critical thinking and inculcate an enterprising spirit, they are also exposed to global learning experience through the University’s collaborative degree programs with some of the world’s top universities and overseas exchange programs. 

What role does research play in the success of your university?

We see research, teaching and entrepreneurship as key intersecting pillars of NUS. Research, as well as teaching and our entrepreneurship ecosystem, has helped to inspire innovations at the University. It enables the discovery of new knowledge, applications, solutions and skills, which in turn informs what we teach, and how we innovate. 

As a research-intensive university, NUS push research boundaries through multiple disciplines. Our researchers work to innovate and develop solutions that meet the present and emerging needs of Singapore, Asia and the world. Research is imperative to NUS’ continued growth, and we are committed to supporting successive generations of researchers who can contribute to the innovation ecosystem in Singapore and beyond. Many of our faculty, researchers and students have received recognition locally and globally, for their research work that have advanced knowledge, application and solutions in the areas of healthcare and disease prevention, material sciences, energy, environmental and urban sustainability, amongst others. 

How does your institution help prepare students for the world of employment?

NUS place a strong emphasis on equipping its students with the new knowledge and skills needed for the future of work. We refresh our offerings with new degrees, multidisciplinary specializations and programs in areas of importance in the new economy, such as business analytics, information security, fintech, urban mobility and sustainable cities. Our students are also required to acquire quantitative reasoning and computational thinking skills to help them build a strong foundation in handling and interpreting data, which will become increasingly critical in future. 

We make it a priority to proactively prepare our students, alumni as well as the Singapore workforce for lifelong learning, as we recognize that the nature of jobs will change rapidly along with the short ‘half-life’ of knowledge and skills. NUS is the only university in the world that automatically enrolls its students for 20 years with the introduction of the Lifelong Learners Program in 2018. This program makes it seamless for our alumni to return to NUS after their bachelor’s degree, to take up courses to upskill and reskill, and stay relevant in the workforce.

In addition, NUS offer a suite of programs aimed at instilling a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. The NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) Program, for example, immerses students in global entrepreneurial hubs with full-time start-up internships and part-time entrepreneurial classes at prestigious partner universities. 

We also encourage our graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research staff to commercialize their research through start-ups based on deep technologies through the Graduate Research Innovation Program. Indeed, the University has committed S$25 million to co-create up to 250 companies by 2023 – a first in Asia.

How can you foresee the current covid-19 pandemic affecting university life?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented disruption to communities and economies worldwide - and universities, including NUS, have not been spared. We have been extremely cautious with the resumption of campus operations, because the safety and well- being of our students and staff come first. So, while safety measures in the last two months have meant that much of the learning has taken place online, our COVID-19-related research has continued with pace, and university business continued, albeit online.

After a ‘circuit breaker’ period that lasted from 7 April to 1 June 2020, Singapore is now gradually re-opening. The University is taking a phased approach to resuming campus operations. Classes for the special semester are currently online. When the new semester begins in August 2020, we are likely to have in-person classes for class sizes of 50 and fewer, and online learning for classes that are larger than 50. We are keeping a very close watch on the virus situation, so our current plans may change, depending on the national safety measures. The safety and well-being of our students and staff come first.

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Written by Julia Gilmore
Julia is the Assistant Editor for TopUniversities, publishing articles for students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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