In a quest to extend my knowledge and understanding of higher education around the world, I had the occasion to visit the National University of Singapore (NUS) in April 2014. A quick bus tour through the campus revealed a large, urban campus not unlike a U.S. research university filled with research facilities, academic buildings, residence halls, sport complexes, administration buildings, faculty offices and much more.
NUS began as a small medical college and in less than a century has become a large, vibrant complex for higher education in Singapore and in Asia. A review of NUS’s website further reveals the depth and breadth of the university and its importance to the region. Impressive!
And then we visited the newest addition to the University – University Town (known as UTown). Even more impressive! UTown is described as “an educational hub complete with residential spaces, teaching facilities and study clusters, UTown has created a lively intellectual, social and cultural environment that distinguishes the University through excellence in learning and student engagement”.
As we toured the complex, we were informed by the undergraduate and graduate student guides of the benefits and uniqueness of the newly developed UTown. We visited the Educational Resources Center with its highly interactive use of space and technology followed by the Cafe and Plaza areas designed specifically to engage students (undergraduate, graduate) in conversations. Undergraduate students and graduate students live in the multi-story and multi-building complex with the graduate students serving as mentors and resident advisors. According to our guides, the students have a voice in the services provided and the selection of the businesses allowed in UTown; if the service is not high quality, the businesses will not be allowed to continue in UTown (very different decision-making processes here).
Located with UTown is the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE), an international research campus and innovation hub with access to students and faculty of NUS. CREATE houses a vibrant research community with interdisciplinary research centers, technology incubators and access to Singapore corporate laboratories.
NUS University-Town (UTown) provided us a glimpse into higher education in the future which values innovation, sustainability and technological enhancements and actively promotes interdisciplinary educational opportunities, research experiences, and corporate and civic engagement. Key to success seems to be its attention to and the robust efforts toward work-life integration.
Although smaller in scale, the efforts of the Virginia Tech Graduate School especially the Graduate Life Center (GLC) and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative have followed along a similar path. NUS UTown stands now as a model and provides excellent examples of programs and initiatives for us to consider.