The past, present and future: Internationalisation of Singapore’s higher education

On 16 September 2019, Dr Lucie Cerna from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and A/P Meng-Hsuan Chou from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) paid a visit to The HEAD Foundation to understand more about the internationalisation efforts of local Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Singapore has always adopted an international outlook, shared Prof S. Gopinathan, Academic Advisor to The HEAD Foundation.

One of the interesting things about Singapore is that the early origins of the university were international in the sense that we were part of the colonial empire – Raffles College, and the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States Government Medical School were the early institutions which gave rise to the University of Singapore and the University of Malaya.

There was also an international element in the way the then Nanyang University was established; Nanyang University was uniquely an institution for teaching and learning through the medium of Mandarin. Although it was specifically an endeavour for the Singaporean Chinese community, the University also served as the Chinese-medium university of the region. While the internationalisation of Singapore’s higher education is not a new phenomenon, concerns surrounding it, especially on student mobility and placement, have only sprouted up in recent decades. The rise of the Singaporean middle class, coupled with an excellent K-12 education system, gave rise to a significant increase in the demand for places at local universities; an issue embedded in the emerging debate around inequality and opportunity in Singapore. As Singapore takes a pragmatic and utilitarian approach to education, in particular post-secondary and higher education, it is imperative to not lose sight of the wider functions of university—promoting knowledge for societal advancement and development. Prof Gopi concluded his sharing by emphasising that Singapore needs to rediscover herself and her place in Southeast Asia and greater Asia. Singapore’s current reference points are top universities in the United States and the United Kingdom, but the rise of China and India and the growth of Southeast Asia should not be overlooked. Our higher education system needs to foster collaboration and integration at all levels—from exchange and internships at the student level, research collaboration and exchange at a faulty level, to harmonisation of university qualifications at the institution level. It is only through working with each other can we grow as a region. The HEAD Foundation is honoured to share our insights on education in Singapore with Dr Cerna and A/P Chou. The Foundation has previously organised a dialogue on higher education with Prof Anthony Welch. Click here to read more.

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