Higher education's role in building a sustainable and resilient future

By the SMU Corporate Communications team

Singapore is one of Asia’s great success stories, transforming itself from a developing country to a modern, industrial economy in one generation. Higher education has been seen to be central to its rise as one of the world’s strongest economies. Today, the Institutes of Higher Learning are taking a lead role in shaping, influencing and contributing to Singapore's Green Plan 2030, which sets out the Republic’s aspirations for a green, sustainable and resilient economy.

In particular, IHLs play an integral role in developing a sustainability talent pipeline and the skill sets required for all Singaporeans to capitalise on the growth opportunities in the green economy. Within this context, the Straits Times Education Forum, held in partnership with Singapore Management University, debated why and how the universities must rise up to the occasion once again.

Themed "Higher education's role in building a sustainable and resilient future", the hybrid event took place at SMU Hall at the Yong Pung How School of Law building on Saturday, 11 March 2023. Moderated by SMU's Professor Emeritus of Finance Annie Koh, the Forum started with a keynote address delivered by Minister Chan Chun Sing. He then joined a panel discussion which included Google Singapore's Managing Director Ben King, LinkedIn’s Head of Asia, Talent & Learning Solutions Frank Koo and SMU Provost Professor Timothy Clark. The forum was attended in person by educators and students from schools in Singapore and virtually from overseas high schools and universities.

Speaking at the Forum, Professor Timothy Clark highlighted the SMU Sustainability Blueprint, which charts the University’s strategic focus of contributing its research, learning and other resources to address complex problems of sustainability, faced by the community and the world at large. He also elaborated on SMU’s new University-wide Sustainability Education framework to nurture all undergraduate students with foundational and intermediate levels of mastery of sustainability through their education in SMU.

The event was attended by an in-person and virtual audience of more than 300, comprising students, teachers and principals from schools across Singapore, ST readers, members of the SMU community as well as SMU overseas partner university representatives.

The full story published in The Straits Times (12 March 2023) is enclosed below: 


Singapore education should move beyond focus on grades to a meritocracy of skills: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE - The Republic is known around the world for topping Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings.

But Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Saturday challenged Singaporeans to go beyond excellent Pisa scores and grade performance towards a meritocracy of skills, where regardless of where they start in life, everyone is given the chance to fulfil their potential.

“How can we be an exemplar to the world, a nation that celebrates diverse pathways of success and combines meritocracy with compassion, inclusion, and responsibility?” he said.

Mr Chan was addressing some 300 students at The Straits Times Education Forum held in partnership with the Singapore Management University (SMU) on the role higher education plays in building a sustainable and resilient future.

Another 30 students attended the event virtually.

In his keynote speech, Mr Chan said institutes of higher learning (IHLs) play a key role in building a meritocracy of skills through aptitude-based admissions and by providing different entry points and pathways for lifelong learning.

Beyond providing mass access to education, IHLs also need to tailor curricula to meet individuals’ different needs and strengths, he added.

“IHLs are already moving in this direction by offering options to customise degree programmes, and expanding the range of modular courses for adult learners to customise their learning based on their needs,” he said.

SMU’s new College of Integrative Studies, which will take in up to 100 freshmen in August 2023, allows students to design their own majors with a selection from the university’s suite of courses.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Social Sciences have opened up more upgrading pathways for polytechnic graduates and adult learners.

IHLs also need diverse talents to cultivate diverse ideas, said Mr Chan. “They must go further to source for talent beyond traditional academic profiles – including professionals in other fields who are well-versed in stakeholder management, and can be connectors with industries both local and international.”

He also urged Singaporeans to think beyond themselves and to define success by contribution to society and the well-being of others, rather than individual achievement.

“Every Singaporean is a steward of the world he or she inherits, and must pay it forward to provide more opportunities, access, and networks to those who may be less privileged than us,” he said.

In the area of sustainability, the IHLs are Singapore’s living labs, said Mr Chan. The institutions must be “thought leaders” in imagining future cities and societies, he said. Apart from thinking about the use of energy, this could include other areas like designing cities and systems of transport, healthcare and waste management, he added.

To stay competitive, Singapore must be able to manage diversity and bridge divides, he said.

“IHLs must continue to connect across different disciplines, political blocs and diverse cultures,” he added.

“Our students must develop a curiosity for, and an understanding of, the world beyond Singapore. This is why we have set an aspirational target for 70 per cent of every IHL cohort to undergo an overseas exposure programme, and for 70 per cent of that group to go to Asean, China or India.”

Singapore has a “powerful resource” in its people, said Mr Chan.

“Our IHLs have the responsibility to amplify the capabilities and capacities of our people, and to create solutions and opportunities for mankind to secure a sustainable future,” he said.

Firms prioritise skills over academic qualifications, say top leaders from Google and LinkedIn

SINGAPORE - Employers are on the hunt for skills beyond academic grades in job candidates, said two head honchos at tech firms Google and LinkedIn.

Responding to a student who asked at a forum how skills can be measured aside from looking at grades, Mr Ben King, Google’s country manager for Singapore, said the company looks for attributes apart from what job applicants may have studied or knowledge related to the roles they are applying for. 

A university degree is not required for almost any role at Google, he added. 

Rather, the company looks at things like problem-solving skills, leadership traits and the willingness to challenge the status quo. 

Mr Frank Koo, LinkedIn’s head of Asia, talent and learning solutions, said 40 per cent of hirers globally use skills data when recruiting on LinkedIn.

Mr King and Mr Koo were panellists at The Straits Times Education Forum held on Saturday at the Singapore Management University (SMU).

Questions during the two-hour session ranged from the role of edtech and ChatGPT to how institutions can better collaborate, and the latest A-level scoring changes.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing and SMU provost Timothy Clark were also on the panel, which was moderated by Professor Annie Koh, emeritus of finance (practice) at SMU.

Professor Clark said SMU will launch a co-curricular transcript in April to help students indicate to employers the skills they have learnt outside the classroom.

The challenge for students, said Mr Chan, is to find their interests and distinguish themselves in a world where everyone’s grade point averages are similar. 

The panellists also delved into the skills needed in the growing field of sustainability. 

Mr King said Google searches for “sustainability” in Singapore reached an all-time high in 2022.

The country was also among the top three in the world searching on Google for environmental, social and corporate governance in the past 12 months. 

At LinkedIn, Mr Koo said there are currently more than 1,500 jobs in Singapore requiring green skills listed on the networking platform.

But there is a skills gap, he added, as global job postings requiring green skills have grown at a rate of about 8 per cent annually since 2015, while the share of green talent grew at about 6 per cent each year in the same period. 

Prof Clark said SMU will require all students to have a foundational understanding of sustainability issues from academic year 2023.

In 2024, all incoming undergraduates will need to attain an intermediate mastery of sustainability before graduation.

“Our intention… is that every student who leaves the university has a range of relevant skills for the future economy,” he said. 


Click here for Education Minister Chan Chun Sing's speech.

Photo credit: SMU