Welcome Address By
Professor Bertil Andersson
President, Nanyang Technological University Singapore
Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Seminar
‘Developing innovative minds: how to foster independent thinking as student numbers rise’
Lecture Hall 1, Nanyang Executive Centre, NTU
Friday, 16 June 2017, 2.00pm
Dr Joanna Newman, ACU Secretary General,
Prof John Wood, Former ACU Secretary General,
Members of the ACU Council,
Distinguished delegates, colleagues and guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s wonderful to be here, and a very warm welcome to NTU!
It is absolutely fantastic to see you all here this afternoon, and I am very happy and proud that the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) has chosen NTU as the venue for this seminar. NTU is a wonderful, tropical campus. I’m a Swede who has lived on the campus for 10 years, and it’s fantastic.
This is the second time the ACU conference is being held – the first was in India a couple of years ago. There are many people I know here, and I would mention two. One is Dr Joanna Newman. (Dean of NTU’s College of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences) Professor Alan Chan and myself have worked together to develop a fantastic programme in humanities with King’s College. We went there, worked and interacted (with them) and agreed to bring (then-King’s College Vice-Principal) Joanna to NTU – so welcome to NTU! The other is (former ACU Secretary General) John Wood, whom I knew from a long time ago.
It has been fantastic to come from Europe, as head of the European Science Foundation (in Strasbourg), to Singapore. It has been very rewarding. When I took this job, I was asked “why are you leaving this prestigious post in Europe, the nice red wines and foie gras to go to Singapore?” And I said, “Maybe in Europe, we talk too much. In Singapore, they act.” I said it as a joke. But importantly, it became a very rewarding reality, which I am very thankful for.
The Singapore academic scene is (relatively) quite new. If someone asked me 20 years ago to go to Singapore, I’d have to ask why? Today no one says this if they have an offer from Singapore. Singapore is of course a young country which celebrated its golden jubilee two years ago. NTU is also a young university, only 26 years of age and founded in 1991. Until 2000, NTU was basically more for educating engineers and teachers for Singapore. But from around 2005, we started to expand academically to include other fields such as science, the humanities and the arts, and of course most recently the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine with Imperial College London. Dr Tony Tan, the President of Singapore, was the one who brought me over from Strasbourg to Singapore. He had the vision to create the Singapore academic and research ecosystem as you see it today.
NTU is today number one when it comes to citation impact in Asia. We are also number one among the young universities (aged 50 and below), and last week, we were 11th in the QS world rankings.
I’m often asked how a university like NTU could have had such a rapid transformation. The answer could be very simple and complex, because it is about people. We managed to recruit talent from top institutions around the world. We also had funding, but more importantly, there was a culture of acceptance and change that helped this rapid transformation.
There is of course a lot of fuss who is the best. This was the first time we were ranked higher than NUS. But the most important thing is that this small island state with about five million people has two universities in the top 50, and probably only Switzerland among the small countries could challenge that.
At NTU, we also emphasise the strong connection between learning and teaching. We have over 33,000 students, two-thirds of which are undergraduates. NTU is rapidly changing its curriculum and how it delivers education. For the latter, problem and team-based learning is at its centre, and facilitated by modern technology.
At NTU, classrooms, which traditionally are where students consume lectures, are systematically replaced by the flipped classroom. The Hive, our iconic building which you may have seen, is a symbol of this transformation.
The seminar today is about developing innovative minds, and how to foster independent thinking as student numbers rise. These are all important topics. Although participation in higher education has gone up, so has the resources in terms of the creation of new institutes.
So, I look forward to hearing the outcomes from this discussion from a Commonwealth perspective. Enjoy the talks and the discussions, and I hope you will also get a glimpse of our beautiful tropical green campus.