Visit to Singapore

Greetings from a very hot, humid Singapore. I’m here for the month of November, partly to understand better the challenges of operating a campus 11,000 km from home, and partly to develop a future strategy for our presence in Singapore.

Our vision for Singapore is a sustainable presence in research, teaching and engagement. NU has been operating here for a good number of years (long before I joined the organisation) and it is fair to say that we have been very successful. We particularly welcome our on-going collaboration with Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), with whom we have delivered a successful series of degree programmes. Indeed, next year will see the graduation of our 1,000th student.

Times change however, and it is time to look at how we wish to operate in the future. On the one hand, SIT has recently gained status as an autonomous University in Singapore. This will mean ultimately that our relationship with them will change, as they formulate and deliver their own strategy as an independent unit. On the other hand, we need to look carefully at what we are trying to achieve here. Despite our success in delivering teaching in Singapore, it is a fact that this has had little impact on our standing in international league tables. Indeed, in my view delivering teaching programmes alone worldwide will never improve our rankings – without wishing to belittle our teaching effort, international ranking in the main is based on research profile – one only need look at the drivers for the various league tables to see that this must be the case.  So a significant aspect of my task over the next month is to determine how we can grow our research presence here. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this is not straightforward (otherwise we would have done it already!). There are after all two world-class Universities here already, namely the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). I will be visiting them both during my stay and indeed have already paid a first visit to NTU.

I am heartened by the fact that a significant driver for research in Singapore is impact. In a  country with few natural resources the knowledge economy is very important, and research funding is heavily directed to work that is of direct relevance to the prosperity and sustainability of Singapore. This fits perfectly with the NU  Civic University philosophy and closely parallels our vision for Science Central – ‘Digitally Enabled Urban Sustainability’. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, Newcastle and the region was a powerhouse of innovation (that has declined and subsequently rediscovered itself), whereas Singapore is ‘on the way up’. I’m sure there is some interesting work to be done in comparing the two.

I’ll be reporting back on my findings to Executive Board in early December, in the expectation that we will be able to clarify our future strategy in Singapore early in the New Year.

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About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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