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International Experts Affirm Key Directions for University Sector and Call for New Models of Collaboration in Lifelong Learning

Published Date: 17 June 2022 05:20 PM

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The 12th International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP) appointed by the Ministry of Education convened from 15 to 17 June 2022. Comprising a diverse group of academic and industry leaders from around the world (see Annex on composition of the IAAP), the Panel shared its views and suggestions with the MOE and the Autonomous Universities (AUs) on the development of Singapore's higher education landscape.

Highlights of the 12th IAAP Meeting

2. Themed "Re-envisioning Higher Education for the Future", the 12th IAAP discussed the role of universities in a future of economic transformation, including the increasing role of both deep and interdisciplinary knowledge, and the critical need to address global challenges such as climate change, pandemics and inequalities.

3. The discussions revolved around three key priorities for the AUs in a rapidly changing world – developing agile and resilient graduates, committed to the collective good; lifelong learning; and enhancing university teams and ecosystems.

4. A key recommendation from the IAAP was for universities to re-envision their mission and the range of approaches employed to meet the diverse needs of lifelong learners over the course of their educational and career journeys. The Panel put forth several ideas, including infusing more experiential learning into the curriculum, ensuring that both foundational skills like critical thinking and cultural literacy and an adequate depth of learning during the university years are preserved; greater flexibility in learning pathways and modalities, and developing stronger university teams that are themselves forward-looking and agile.

Developing Agile and Resilient Graduates

5. The IAAP considered the future needs of students in the coming decades and affirmed the importance of the AUs' efforts to equip students with foundational competencies and dispositions, including the confidence to learn across different contexts, empathy, and a keenness to address societal challenges.

6. The IAAP observed the tensions between breadth and depth of learning, given the time available to students and the range of learner needs. Real-world problems often required inter-disciplinary approaches and teams that brought individuals from different specialisations together. Nonetheless, the IAAP was of the view that university curricula still had to encourage adequate depth of understanding of a core field, to develop a measure of mastery, serve graduates' needs in the job market and build their confidence in future learning.

7. Panellists hence suggested striking a thoughtful balance between these different objectives. They advocated strengthening experiential and team-based learning that brings together individuals with different domains of expertise to work together in multidisciplinary teams. Curricula can also be organised around central interdisciplinary themes. For example, multidisciplinary teams comprising students from different disciplines such as economics and the natural sciences can work together on interdisciplinary issues, each lending their deep domain expertise while exchanging perspectives to solve problems such as climate change.

Lifelong Learning

8. Recognising the need for employers and workers to embrace lifelong learning to stay ahead of a fast-changing economy, the IAAP endorsed the AUs' future directions in expanding flexible pathways and stackable modules, as well as the shift to more blended modes of learning, to make learning more accessible.

9. The Panel encouraged the AUs to also consider new models of collaboration in lifelong learning. The Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) could leverage their different strengths to curate high-quality micro-credentials for adult learners, potentially delivering this through a common platform in future. In Finland, for example, higher education institutions have joined up efforts to digitalise and deliver more flexible learning. New models of partnership were also needed, with employers recognising their roles as both investor and beneficiary of their workers' training. Intermediaries should work with SMEs to aggregate their skills demands, and consortia comprising multiple educational institutions and companies could also be formed to better meet business needs.

University Teams

10. The IAAP discussed the criticality of university teams and the need for broader diversity of talent including academic as well as industry, technological and administrative expertise, so as to evolve and meet the needs of learners. University administration had to become more service-oriented and digitally-enabled.

11. The Panel emphasised that it was important to retain the autonomy of the universities, and the distinctive passion that enables them to push the frontiers of knowledge.

12. To support multi-disciplinary learning and research, universities should consider platforms to leverage expertise across faculties, with organisation incentives to encourage greater collaboration.

13. The Panel discussed the need to invest in leadership development, and to draw on the complementary strengths and energy of industry practitioners within leadership teams, given the need to meet the new demands of a changing world. It was also critical to identify and provide ample opportunities for young academic talents.

14. Universities should also explore new ways to create a vibrant ecosystem where faculty can keep pace with cutting-edge industry developments and refresh the expertise needed to tackle global challenges. This could be achieved through more porosity in career tracks or joint appointments to bring in industry expertise, creating more industry exposure opportunities for faculty and incentives to contribute to lifelong learning, as well as new modes of collaboration with industry.

15. The Panel recognised that the impact of universities on individuals and society was inherently wide-ranging and long-term, and extends beyond metrics that can be captured by one-size-fits-all international rankings. The Panel recommended that the AUs work together with international partners to develop a more holistic set of metrics, that are also well-grounded in the distinct purpose and mission of each university.

16. Prof Jin Li, President of Fudan University, said: "It is critical for our higher education institutions to nurture individuals who are able to tackle complex global challenges and work towards a better tomorrow. At Fudan University, we cultivate the talents and ambitions of our students towards achieving the 17 sustainable development goals outlined by the United Nations, through frontier research on sustainable development, global cooperation and a strong commitment to society.

17. Prof Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: "Universities are remarkably resilient and through the decades, our ambitions have remained constant: to push the frontiers of knowledge, educate the next generation and contribute to society. As we prepare to meet increasingly complex challenges, university teams should continue to create space for academics to invest in their work, and also continue to add new voices from outside academia, including industry players, to the conversation on enhancing the university ecosystem."

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