Universities 'need special office for lifelong learning'

They should guide learners on what courses to take and when: Tharman

UNIVERSITIES should set up a dedicated office to better organise their lifelong learning efforts and help adult learners, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

Mr Tharman said continuing education courses are vastly different from undergraduate ones in terms of admission criteria, faculty members and the credentials achieved. There is thus a need for a dedicated office overseeing continual learning.

Such an office "will have to be an entrepreneurial outfit - going out to get learners, companies and employers to collaborate", Mr Tharman said at the end of a three-day International Academic Advisory Panel meeting.

The panel, now in its 10th edition, meets every two to three years to advise the Education Ministry and Singapore's universities on education and research trends.

Mr Tharman is chairman of the panel, which comprises 13 other representatives from leading organisations and universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University.

At the meeting, the panel commended the progress that universities here have made in achieving a cohort participation rate of 30 per cent last year - one year ahead of schedule.

Mr Tharman said universities should ensure that their lifelong learning outfits cater not only to their alumni.

"It will be for a much broader reach of potential learners; graduates of other universities, both local and foreign; as well as those who don't have university degrees but want to learn a particular skill or module," he said.

The universities can guide people on how they can stack up online courses so it adds up to something valuable, said Mr Tharman.

"We shouldn't leave individuals on their own to figure out what to take, when to take and hope that somehow it would be recognised. We have to provide some sort of scaffolding."

The Government will support the universities in setting up this office, he added.

Mr Tharman also said that it is important to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of both undergraduate and lifelong learning courses to ensure they add value to an individual.

There is a "profusion" of learning options of varying quality, he said. "We need constant evaluation of the effectiveness of what we are doing," he said, adding that this is still a new field.

National University of Singapore president Tan Chorh Chuan, who attended the panel meeting, expects the lifelong learning unit to be up this year. He said the new unit will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach and work closely with industry partners to ensure that its courses are relevant.

Professor Tan said: "The advantage of not having (the unit) within a certain school is that you are able to more easily recombine. You can take professors from different disciplines, who can give the kind of multi-disciplinary perspective necessary for students to have a better understand of a particular area."

leepearl@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Universities 'need special office for lifelong learning''. Print Edition | Subscribe