SINGAPORE: An international panel of academic experts and industry leaders has recommended that Singapore should develop a holistic evaluation framework for its universities instead of being fixated on international rankings.
The three-day International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP), which started on Wednesday (Jun 27), was themed The Role of Universities in Defining Singapore’s Future.
The panel, which convenes once every two to three years, was formed by the Education Ministry to advise the Government on ways to develop the university landscape.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who attended the discussions, shared with the media on Friday that a new assessment model was needed, considering the differentiated university landscape in Singapore.
"At the minimum, it has to reflect our three major emphases. One, the value of education; two, how we are doing in terms of lifelong learning; and three, research, and not just research in terms of publications and patents but how it translates into impact - whether it's in improving lives or creating jobs.
"I think we need a much more holistic view of a very complex function that universities are now performing," he said.
Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge University who was invited as a panellist, also pointed out that it is inaccurate to judge all universities by the same yardstick.
“Different universities have different roles. Rankings tend to pull everyone back towards a mean, and make it seem as though there is one model of university that's right. And I think that's a fundamental misconception,” he said.
LIFELONG LEARNING AND IMPACTFUL RESEARCH
During the discussions, panellists affirmed that university education has to become more experiential to help students develop the soft skills needed to adapt to rapid changes.
While they commended Singapore for leading the charge in lifelong learning, they pointed out that more support is needed as adult learners have different interests and needs as compared to younger students.
They also underlined the importance of impactful research in providing an additional platform for industries and universities to collaborate.
Mr Ong noted that this collaboration was a key component in getting students ready for the workforce.
CHANGING UNIVERSITY ADMISSION PROCESSES
Singapore Management University Provost, Professor Lily Kong, who attended the discussions, suggested that university admission processes in Singapore could also be reviewed to ensure a diversity of educational pathways.
This can be in the form of aptitude tests.
“In one of our schools, we will have a group conversation. We pose a challenge or questions and we see how they think on their feet. We're not looking for right answers, but we are looking at how they think and process their thoughts,” she said.
The panel said that all these measures should steer students towards thriving in a diversified education landscape, but employers should also do their part by looking beyond academic qualifications and recognising achievements outside the classroom.