President’s State of the University Address 2021

SMU President Professor Lily Kong gave her third annual President’s State of the University Address in a hybrid event on 24 September 2021, with around 50 members of faculty and staff joining her at SMU Hall and some 650 participating online. She gave a progress report for the past year and discussed SMU’s strategic priorities, planned initiatives and enablers towards achieving the University’s goals for the years ahead.

In last year’s Address, she had announced an ambitious programme of initiatives that would help to propel SMU towards our SMU2025. Prof Kong said that all units were very responsive to the strategic plan and over 200 initiatives have been submitted and supported for implementation from FY2020 to FY2023. They span across our three strategic priorities, and strategic enablers. Some are now in the planning stage, others are in progress and some are already completed.

To help the community make sense of all that is going on she used the metaphor of a plant for the different types of initiative. A plant’s roots, stem, leaves and flowers are all important in enabling it to thrive, just as the different categories of initiative reinforce and support each other and together will help the University to advance towards SMU2025.

The Roots of Our Plants

Fundamental to our progress towards SMU2025 are many initiatives that function like the roots of our plant, drawing water and nutrients from the soil and supporting the plant above.

For example, IITS and OBI are collaborating on the eForms project which aims to progressively equip up to 20% of colleagues with digital processing skills and automate 100% of simpler forms and processes in 15 months’ time.

The SMU Digital Learning framework includes a range of education enablers such as collaborative project-based tools and digital assessment, use of Artificial Intelligence to personalise students’ learning, and provision of student learning data to undertake analysis and track learning outcomes. There will also be initiatives to implement support platforms for students and faculty development, and digital and physical infrastructures to enhance digital teaching and learning.

Our Sturdy Stems

The stem is the centre of the plant, without which there can be no leaves and flowers. Within SMU’s context, it is formed by our educational and research initiatives. They enhance, sharpen and expand our value proposition, and they can be introduced rapidly within existing frameworks and structures, she said.

Examples include enhancements to the undergraduate core curriculum and new modules in the strategic priority areas of digital transformation, sustainable living and growth in Asia; a new LLM track in Law and Technology to be introduced; proposed research on smart cities in ASEAN, and research symposiums and workshops being organised on green finance and sustainable ageing.

Our Verdant New Leaves

From the stem come new leaves, drawing energy and turning nutrients into growth. Initiatives which will differentiate SMU and which require a degree of structural change to effect are our leaves.

For example, we will move from offering work-study electives to a full work-study degree for the very first time. This will be achieved in the new Bachelor of Software Engineering at the School of Computing and Information Systems. It requires a new structure, and co-design with an industry partner so as to closely integrate classroom learning with structured work experience and training.

New degree programmes are of the same ilk. Our new leaf in this regard will be a PhD in Law, Commerce and Technology.

Our Blossoming Flowers

The flowers of a plant are more difficult to nurture and tend, and generally take a longer time to emerge, said Prof Kong. In our context, they are initiatives which we believe will significantly differentiate SMU, mark a key step forward which can only be achieved through making substantive structural changes or even require building new structures.

Over the last year, many colleagues have been involved in brainstorming, studying, data-collecting and discussing how we contribute to more sustainable futures as a city campus. This has resulted in a vision, titled “SMU: Towards sustainable futures”, activated by four strategies:

1.            Embed Sustainability Thought and Action Across Campus Functions

2.            Develop Sustainability Leaders Through Education

3.            Develop Research Leadership in Sustainability

4.            Develop Resilient Communities

Q&A Dialogue

In an engaging dialogue session, Prof Kong took a wide range of questions from members of the audience in SMU Hall and online.

Among the topics covered, she spoke about the benefits of face-to-face interaction in SMU’s distinctive pedagogy, the strength of the OneSMU Spirit shown by participants in the SMOO Challenge virtual charity race and long-term strategy planning for SMU beyond 2025.

A video of the event and a script with slides are available to SMU faculty, students and staff on the President’s Sharepoint page.

Comments from members of the audience

One theme that stood out for me is that of unity. Our vision, strategies, enablers and drivers will come to naught unless we are committed – at every rank and file – to work towards a common vision. The University cannot excel unless all its constituents are doing excellent work towards common goals. The President highlighted the diverse efforts and achievements of staff, faculty and students to that end.

Prof Lee Pey Woan
Vice Provost (Faculty Matters), Office of the Provost


I always enjoy hearing Prof Lily's plant and garden metaphors. For me, they are a powerful way to think about SMU as an organization, visualize our unique roles and promote a nurturing environment for us to shape young minds into future graduates who are eager and able to bring meaningful impact in the world. I am extremely excited and optimistic about the future of SMU as we advance in our strategic priorities and I am very proud and privileged to be a part of the SMU family working towards achieving our goals.

Dr. Darlene Machell de Leon Espeña
Assistant Professor of Humanities (Education)


I thoroughly enjoyed myself and think it’s probably the best PSOU I’ve attended. I know that what we do is just as important to enable the eventual flowering of beautiful blooms in our SMU garden. I left the PSOU feeling most proud and grateful that I belong to a university with a very wise and intelligent President who charts the course ahead, with steady Hands to steer us through, and with much Heart to care for us throughout the journey. Thank you Lily!

Jimmy Ye
Director, Office of Student Life, Office of Dean of Students


The two “Everyday Heroes”, Gilbert Ong and Haslindah Shamsudin, highlighted during the address was the most memorable. While the pandemic impacted everyone in SMU, the stories of both of them really brought up to our awareness that some of our colleagues have gone through personal challenges and shown tremendous resilience to excel at work.

Jack Lim
Executive Director, SMU Academy


It was an honour to be invited to attend the event. Being there brought back fond memories of the time when we interacted freely with colleagues across the University. The atmosphere in the room was positive as we felt we had together contributed to an impactful year despite the odds being against us.

Flocy Joseph
Head of Commercial, SMU Executive Development


Prof Kong drove home a message that the University is on its way to achieve SMU2025, but it can only be done as OneSMU and with the engagement of people from all levels. She hoped that everyone can feel they have a stake in SMU and not be afraid to adapt and change along with it to achieve our goals.

Denise Yong
Senior Manager, School of Accountancy


It was very heart-warming to see that the hard work and achievements of SMU’s staff and faculty being recognised. Prof Kong’s quotes and metaphors added warmth to the entire presentation. The quote, “Too many people think the grass is green elsewhere but the grass is green where you water it” was especially memorable for me because this year I’ve realised the importance of being adaptable.

Lim Jian En
President, SMU Students Association