The university sector across the globe often comes under attack for offering out-of-date programmes that lack relevance to the needs of industry.
But SMU is keeping a step ahead thanks to its key partnerships with industry, according to the Straits Times Education Forum held in partnership with SMU on 10 February. The forum, held online and in person, explored the evolving role of universities in Singapore and beyond.
Industry partnerships are the key
SMU’s President Professor Lily Kong told the forum the university sector’s ambit has expanded to be more inclusive of adult learners wherever they are on their career journey.
“We’ve realised that the traditional approach [of teaching] is just not going to work.”
That’s where SMU’s co-creation and co-delivery approach comes to the fore with real-world projects to meet classroom and workplace demands,” she said.
“We collaborate with industry partners, such as McKinsey, KPMG, EY and Google Singapore, to co-create programmes to ensure our co-delivery is exactly what they need.”
SMU’s partnership with Google to run a data analytics programme, for example, is two years strong. It sees year two and above graduates undertake a six-month internship to earn credits through work-study at a Google partner company.
Meanwhile, SMU’s accountancy students can elect to do a minimum 20-week internship with partner KPMG Singapore, as part of the SMU Work-Study Elective Programmes. There they’ll tackle cyber risk and forensics in a real-world workplace while training to become the next generation of cyber-criminal combatants. Another elective sees students conduct data modelling, visualisation, business data management, and analytics in an internship with EY Singapore.
They’re among the 12 business organisations in the public and/or private sector with whom SMU currently collaborates.
Hands-on real-life projects
At the education forum, Prof Kong stressed the importance of moving beyond theory to real-world practice in university programmes. Such experience in the workplace allows students to develop essential and much-needed future work skills including critical and analytical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity, communication, teamwork and resilience. The World Economic Forum has listed these as among the top job skills required for the future.
She said: “Our students are adult learners whom we support to actually work on real projects in the workplace, not a theoretical project we imagine and conjure up.
SMU’s partnerships help students grow their portfolio of skills and expand their knowledge base, for which they should take responsibility as lifelong learners, said Minister for Education of Singapore Chan Chun Sing at the Education Forum.
“Our survival as a country will depend on our resilience and that will come from the diversity of skillsets our people have and how well they hold those skillsets,” he said, adding that students should switch from just front-loading their education before going into the workforce, and instead also keeping an eye out for learning on demand throughout their lives.
Upskilling for lifelong learning
Mr Chan estimated that up to a quarter of Singapore’s local workforce will need to upskill each year as they take on new jobs every four or five years in their working life.
“The definition of success for our education system cannot be just how well we produce a cohort of 30,000 to 40,000 students each year for the job market. It should be how well we do that, plus retraining and upgrading about half a million adult learners each year.”
A key outcome of this upskilling is ensuring Singaporeans can collaborate across disciplines, cultures and perspectives to “create something new,” said Mr Chan.
He pointed to SMU’s plan to allow some students choice in designing their own curriculum to customise their university degree courses. SMU offers 300+ double major combinations and more than 20 double-degree programmes. All undergraduate students also undertake a holistic Core Curriculum of 12 course units spanning Singapore and Asian studies, capabilities, civilisations and communities.
As well, SMU’s location in the heart of the city has spurred it to actively create a sense of citizenry among its students. For example, SMU’s students who live at the Prinsep Street Residences can co-learn and create their own programmes across five themes: academic programming, community service, future leadership, entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship.
Prof Kong said universities remain very relevant for preparing graduates for the new economy.
“Universities are evolving to do so, but as importantly, they have a vital civic role. Our responsibility goes beyond preparing graduates for jobs.
“We can nurture engaged citizens and cultivate meaningful involvement in the community, be it through community-based participatory research, volunteer work or initiatives that support social development,” she said.
See also: The Evolving Role of Universities.