In a boost for Asian universities, National University of Singapore (NUS) president Tan Chorh Chuan has been appointed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as chair of a prestigious forum of university leaders. From this year, he will head the Global University Leaders Forum (Gulf) for a two-year term, taking over from Professor Richard Levin, the former head of the renowned Yale University, NUS said in a press release on Wednesday.
The group, which comprises the heads of 25 top universities, was created by the WEF in 2006 as a platform for academic leaders to engage their peers from other sectors in high-level dialogues. It also debates and discusses major trends in higher education and research, such as the impact of online learning on universities.
Members of the "invitation only" group include top universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, as well as leading Asian institutions such as Peking University and the University of Tokyo. NUS is one of six Asian universities in the group, and the only one from Singapore.
Prof Tan, 54, who has been involved in the forum since 2008, when he was appointed NUS president, said: "It is a great honour to be chair of such a distinguished gathering of university presidents. It recognises NUS' standing as a global university... and Singapore's overall prominence on the global stage."
WEF senior director Martina Gmür, who is also head of the forum's network of global agenda councils, said: "Prof Tan's appointment to serve as chair of Gulf reflects his first-in-class background and expertise, as well as the active and much appreciated role he and his colleagues at NUS continue to play in the activities of the forum. We are delighted that Prof Tan has agreed to accept the appointment, and look forward to working with him on strategic issues of concern for the world's premier research universities."
Prof Tan regularly attends WEF's annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland, as a discussion leader or moderator. NUS was also involved in coming up with last year's Global Risks Report which was based on extensive surveys with top business and political chiefs around the world. The report is published annually by the WEF.
One of the likely topics on Gulf's agenda this year is whether online learning has delivered on its potential, said Prof Tan, who is in Davos for WEF and Gulf meetings. He noted that free massive open online courses, called "Moocs" in short, have a high dropout rate, with just 6 per cent of participants seeing them through.
"Many Moocs also do not result in a certificate or degree from the university," he told The Straits Times. "This is an area which would have to develop over the next few years before they can take off in a very big way."