ST Education Forum: Universities must provide industry skills, collaborate or risk disruption, says Education Minister

Education Minister Lawrence Wong urged universities here to continue to strengthen and deepen their collaboration with companies. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Universities must continue to provide industry-required skills and deepen collaboration with companies and partners, or risk disruption, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (Feb 5).

To make the point, he cited the example of technology company Dyson in Britain, which set up its own Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in 2017 to train a ready supply of engineers to tackle a shortage of such professionals in the British economy.

Speaking at The Straits Times Education Forum 2021 on Reimagining Universities, Post-Covid, Mr Wong said: "They (Dyson) set up Dyson Institute because of their difficulties in getting engineering graduates in the UK, so they had their own institute to meet this engineering skills gap.

"At the start, Dyson Institute offered degrees in partnership with the University of Warwick. Now it's been granted its own degree-awarding powers, so it doesn't need a university anymore; it's become a university in its own right."

While Mr Wong felt that such drastic measures are not currently necessary in Singapore, he urged universities here to continue to strengthen and deepen their collaboration with companies.

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"Our polytechnics do very well in this regard, and the universities increasingly will also have to take a lead from the polytechnic sector in getting industry inputs to shape curriculum," he added.

Also speaking at the forum, organised in collaboration with Singapore Management University, was SMU president Lily Kong, who highlighted her university's efforts to engage with industry partners and industry-related skills.

Pointing to SMU's collaborations with technology giant Google and local healthcare group SingHealth, she said: "Work-study arrangements are now very much a part of what we do. We have programmes that are co-developed with Google Singapore, for example, in data analytics, and co-delivered by Google practitioners and we've internships with Google partners.

"We have a work-study arrangement with SingHealth in health economics and management co-created with the senior leaders in SingHealth so that even though we're not producing doctors and nurses as some of the other universities do, we produce those who can run hospitals."

SMU has two formal training programmes in partnership with SingHealth. Since 2009, SMU has offered the SMU-SingHealth Graduate Diploma in Healthcare Management and Leadership, and since 2018 students at SMU have been able to take Health Economics and Management as a second major.

Mr Wong, who also co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, exhorted universities to continue to push the frontiers of knowledge and discovery, and be part of the broader ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship and enterprise within the country.

"In our fight against Covid-19, for example, we have also seen how such university-academic-industry collaboration has been most useful, for example, in developing test kits and other solutions to fight the virus," he added.

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