SINGAPORE - Geographer Lily Kong, 53, who made history three years ago with her appointment as the first woman provost of a publicly funded university here, is scoring another first. She will soon be the first Singaporean academic and social scientist to helm the Singapore Management University.
SMU on Tuesday afternoon (April 3) announced the appointment of Professor Kong as the fifth president of the 18-year-old university, which in recent years has stepped up its research and course offerings in the social sciences. She will take the helm from current president Arnoud De Meyer at the start of 2019.
Well known internationally as a social, cultural and urban geographer, Prof Kong is also widely regarded as a thought leader in the study of social and cultural change in Asian cities.
SMU board chairman Ho Kwon Ping, who announced Prof Kong's appointment, said the university launched a global search seven months ago after Prof De Meyer asked to step down by the end of this year.
Mr Ho said: "We are very pleased that our seven-month search process culminated in the university appointing, for the first time in its history, an internal candidate and a social scientist as president. Prof Kong's candidature stands out from a long list of over a hundred candidates and an impressive shortlist of a handful of highly qualified candidates."
Prof Kong was an academic leader at the National University of Singapore for more than two decades before she joined SMU two and a half years ago. But Mr Ho noted that within the short space of time as SMU's provost, Prof Kong was instrumental in driving many projects, such as enhancing SMU's student and faculty quality, developing educational programmes, and growing the impact of the university's research.
She implemented major revamps to the university's undergraduate admissions process, including the introduction of Discovery Day Sessions for strong applicants. This led to prospective students rating their admissions experiences even more favourably, and successfully raising the quality of the student intake.
On the academic programme front, Prof Kong set up and led a panel that recommended revisions to the undergraduate curriculum structure and the delivery of a distinctive core curriculum. She also championed the introduction of new interdisciplinary majors and tracks, including the popular politics, law and economics; smart city management and technology; and healthcare economics and management programmes.
From August 2018 onwards, SMU will introduce residential living and learning at the revamped Prinsep Street Residences, a key project that Prof Kong has led.
Last year, she also led the successful establishment of the SMU Academy, which has since received more than $20 million in funding from SkillsFuture Singapore over three years to enable SMU to offer skills upgrading courses for working adults.
Mr Ho also praised Prof De Meyer's "visionary leadership" of SMU for the past eight years. It was during his watch that the SMU Vision 2025 was set in motion to make SMU an iconic global city university in Asia that excels in tackling the world's complexities and impacting humanity positively, he noted.
He highlighted Prof De Meyer's involvement in SMU's internationalisation efforts and the launch of postgraduate programmes that have transformed the university from a "single product" university to a "multi-product" university.
He also brought up the brainchild of Prof De Meyer - SMU-X, an experiential learning programme where students tackle real-world problems by taking on projects from companies and community organisations.
Mr Ho said the award-winning pedagogy is now well on its way to becoming an integral part of SMU's way of teaching.
"This will be an important blueprint in SMU's developmental map and will distinguish SMU from other leading institutions," he added.
At the request of the board, Prof De Meyer has agreed to assume, on a part-time basis, a role in continuing to help shape SMU-X.
Prof De Meyer is a leading figure in business school management, having spent more than two decades at Insead and served as the founding dean of the school's Asia campus in Singapore. He headed Cambridge University's Judge Business School before becoming the fourth president of SMU in 2010.