SMU President’s State of the University Address 2023

By the SMU Corporate Communications team

In a memorable event that brought together over 600 members of the SMU community, SMU President Professor Lily Kong delivered her fifth President's State of the University Address (PSOUA) on 12 October 2023 at SMU Hall. Breaking away from the traditional format, this year's address embraced a people-centric approach that allowed faculty, staff, and students to share their experiences and achievements through a series of videos, with Prof Kong serving as the narrator. The President's Address touched on significant developments, strategic priorities, and future endeavours that are shaping the course of SMU.

Strategic Priorities: Vision 2025

Prof Kong began her Address by revisiting SMU's progress in the three key priorities across the University’s strategic thrusts of Transformative Education, Cutting Edge Research, and Engaged City University.

Transformative Education

The past year was marked by numerous achievements in Transformative Education. Two new colleges were introduced, a groundbreaking co-curricular transcript was launched, and existing programmes were nurtured with a focus on innovation. Undergraduate recruitment has been a success, and efforts to enhance coordination for postgraduate recruitment are underway. The University is committed to recognising and rewarding the contributions of its diverse teaching faculty, including adjuncts and affiliates.

Prof Kong walked the stage as the ‘master narrator’ of the PSOUA.

Cutting Edge Research

In Cutting Edge Research, SMU hosted several important research conferences and in research grant applications, the University saw an increase in grant income. Quality, not just quantity, is emphasised, with a focus on enhancing the quality of publications, academic impact, and societal and economic impact. Key thematic research areas include Digital Transformation and Sustainable Living, with an exploration of measures beyond academic metrics to assess impact.

Members of the audience enjoying Prof Kong’s informal style of presentation.

Engaged City University

SMU's commitment to being an Engaged City University is evidenced by the establishment of the President’s External Engagement Council (PEEC). PEEC is responsible for coordinating strategies in Internationalisation, Industry Engagement, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Alumni Engagement, and Brand and Reputation Building. These initiatives aim to position SMU as a quintessentially Asian institution through internationalisation, foster connections between academia and industry, encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, harness alumni support, and promote engagement with the community.

Enablers: People, Resources, and Infrastructure

Underpinning these strategic priorities are the enablers: People, Resources, and Infrastructure. The President discussed efforts related to Infrastructure, including the use of sustainable building materials, workplace transformation initiatives, and Project Optimus, a service transformation project. She emphasised the importance of clear objectives, empathetic leadership, strong planning, preparation, execution, communication, and realistic workloads in these initiatives.

Celebrating Our People

Prof Kong acknowledged the contributions of faculty, staff, alumni, and benefactors who have generously supported the University. Initiatives have been introduced to support faculty and staff, including enhanced leave benefits and policies. For students, financial aid has increased, well-being support has been provided, and initiatives like SMU Mental Health Week have been launched.

Future Outlook

Looking ahead, Prof Kong announced that in 2024, SMU will embark on a strategic visioning exercise to define a new vision, mission, and values for the University beyond 2025, as well as the next five-year strategic plan. This inclusive process will involve various stakeholders, including the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and industry partners.

SMU's 25th Anniversary Celebration

Prof Kong concluded her address by sharing the exciting news that planning for SMU's 25th Anniversary celebration in 2025 has already begun. The celebrations will commence on Patron's Day 2025, and she encouraged everyone to get involved and share their ideas for this significant occasion.

The President's State of the University Address 2023 was well received, with a survey indicating that 100% of respondents found their experience of attending the event to be Excellent/Very Good/Good. As President Kong noted, the engagement and participation of the entire SMU community are crucial as the University continues its journey of growth and transformation.

In closing, the President expressed her gratitude for the dedication and commitment of all members of the SMU community, reinforcing the importance of their ongoing support in shaping the future of the University.

Ms Roma Goodlander, Client Director at SMU ExD, posing a question during the engaging Q&A session.

Comments from members of the audience

I enjoyed the PSOUA 2023 as it gives a holistic take on what we have achieved under each of the three pillars of Vision 2025 and what will be the road ahead. It was a refreshing change of format too with Prof Kong letting the videos do some of the talking, with various leaders of the University presenting their take on the recent and future developments.

Yuanto Kusnadi, Associate Professor of Accounting (Education), School of Accountancy

The inclusion of short clips was refreshing as this allows the audience to hear from fellow colleagues, students and alumni speaking in person. The audience was impressed with the President’s sharing of the University’s achievements and her plans ahead. We appreciated her emphasis that the University is about “us”, not “you”, not “me”.  Everyone plays a part.

Adelene Ang Eng, Senior Associate Director, Student Financial Assistance, Office of Admissions and Financial Assistance

I always enjoy the PSOUAs as they provide me with a deeper understanding of the University's vision, facilitating the alignment of our collective efforts. This year, I found a stronger sense of connection between my own research and SMU’s broader research agenda, especially in the context of sustainable living. Professor Kong's emphasis on research as a means to make an impact, rather than just counting publications, strongly resonated with me. It has provoked me to contemplate what kind of academic career I aspire to achieve in the long run.

Li Jing, Assistant Professor, School of Economics

Prof Kong’s wish for everyone to give some thought about our sense of purpose and mission in our role at SMU. It made me rethink how each one of us, as an individual, could contribute (however small it may be) and make a difference to help SMU achieve its aspirations.

Ang Lay Yong, Assistant Director, College of Graduate Research Studies

I really enjoyed the Address. I learned a lot about SMU's history, strategy, people, and mission. I was really impressed by the achievements of SMU in recent times, especially in the field of research, demonstrated by the impressive numbers of research publications accepted in the world's leading journals.

Bui The Viet, Research Engineer, School of Computing and Information Systems

Prof Kong enjoyed a lively dialogue with participants in the Q&A session.

I appreciated Prof Kong's candid sharing about her challenges and concerns in the Q&A session. Witnessing the human side of our leaders fostered trust and stronger relationships. I am truly grateful for Prof Kong's strong and empathetic leadership, which has been pivotal in SMU's success.

Ling Cheah, Senior Assistant Director, Student Services Hub, Office of Dean of Students

I loved the TikTok-esque videos. They were very entertaining and hearing from colleagues from across the University reinforced the sense of 'OneSMU'. That the event was so well attended already speaks to the extent to which colleagues from across SMU are banding together as a community. The spontaneous applause and laughter further emphasised the sense of fellowship.

Michelle Lim, Associate Professor of Law, Yong Pung How School of Law

I thoroughly enjoyed the PSOUA. Apart from hearing updates on the University in the past year and getting some sneak peaks into what is to come, the new format of having colleagues provide short video updates was refreshing and made the session more engaging. Seeing some of our colleagues in the videos also created excitement and provided some light moments.

Rick Tay, Head, Centre for Global Education and Opportunities

After hearing this year’s PSOUA, I realise how important the President feels it is for colleagues to reach out and find ways to work together, across disciplinary boundaries. As part of an interdisciplinary research team at SOSS focused on older adults and their well-being, my colleagues and I have the potential to enhance connectivity with other schools and institutes at SMU by collaborating on projects that address the critical problem of ageing in Singapore. I feel this is a very important role.

William Tov, Associate Professor of Psychology, School of Social Sciences

The most memorable thing about this year’s PSOUA was the diverse perspectives shared by various stakeholders. Learning about the immense generosity of our donors, which extends far beyond financial support for our students, was truly inspiring. Additionally, gaining insights into the plans for SMU beyond 2025 and SMU’s plan for our Silver Jubilee.

Arpita Tiwari, Business Improvement Specialist, Office of Business Improvement

It was reassuring to see our willingness to get out of our comfort zone, and into becoming a more meaningful part of not only Singapore society, but also the South-East Asian community. The efforts and investments into venturing into Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, show how critical these markets are for the growth of both our student community and faculty experience. These are exciting times to be a part of the SMU community.

Kapil R. Tuli, Lee Kong Chian Professor of Marketing, Lee Kong Chian School of Business

The most memorable feature this year was the format which featured the “Tik-Tok” videos of various colleagues, which showcased the diversity and breadth of work that we are pursuing at SMU. It was youthful, dynamic, and energetic with a professional execution.

Ivy Wong, Assistant Director, Alumni Giving, Office of Advancement

I enjoyed PSOUA because of the various video presentations that were incorporated into Prof Kong’s speech. This made the successes that we are celebrating so much more a success of One SMU. The atmosphere was light-hearted and welcoming, the audience was engaged, and there was a palpable sense of excitement when we spoke about SMU’s 25th Anniversary.

Aidan Wong, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies (Education), College of Integrative Studies

How we should stand together was one of the most memorable takeaways about PSOUA23. All in all, we see how imperative it is to stand as One SMU. As we continue to flourish and bloom with our challenging, mould-breaking initiatives, collaboration and efforts will “determine our priorities and goals” and continue to set SMU apart. It also encouraged me to consider how we student leaders can further promote collaboration as we continue to ignite students' passion in creating a holistic culture for all SMU students.

Ho Soo Wee, President, SMU Student’s Association

Prof Kong joined the audience in the auditorium for a group photo as One SMU.