By Adrien Chee and Freda Peh
Students should be challenged and inspired, for them to achieve their best for the service of the country and the world, said NTU’s new president Subra Suresh on his vision for the university.
“We have to inspire them to a greater calling than just getting a degree, and getting a job. It must be bigger than this,” he said.
“It could be creating jobs, starting a company, going into public service — it could be just solving a mathematical theorem that nobody else can solve, because that pushes the boundaries of human intellect.”
Professor Suresh took over the role as NTU president from Professor Bertil Andersson last December, and is now helming the university’s direction towards long-term scientific research and advances in technology.
He believes that the “Smart Campus” vision, which involves transforming the university into one that harnesses technology for ease of learning and living, is an investment that will add value to NTU students and their global competitiveness.
Recent technological advancements, such as flipped classrooms à la The Hive, are intended to help students learn better. Flipped classrooms offer students access to teaching content on their own and FaceTime functions with professors to facilitate team-based learning.
NTU alumni will also be given credits to take post-graduation classes, allowing them to “continually rescale and upscale”, said Professor Suresh.
Citing the Lee Kong Chian Medical School’s use of Virtual Reality (VR) and field classrooms to teach anatomy as an example, he said that the combination of voice, data, 3D slicing and rotation makes technology “very beneficial” for learning but is not without “its downsides”.
Having taken a “Virtual and Augmented Reality” elective in her school, Chiew Yee Xin, a final-year student at the School of Computer Science and Engineering agrees with the positive impact of such technology.
However, she raised concerns about its limitations, particularly the lack of first-hand experience for students.
“There was no VR equipment provided and the 3D scenes in the lessons were only rendered on computers. Information like the types, applications and issues of VR (were) hard to grasp. It’s only after I played a VR game myself that I learnt about its potential,” the 24-year-old said.
Similarly, Daniel Kong, a second-year student from the School of Humanities, agrees that new technologies will only be helpful if they can be integrated well into existing systems.
“If NTU wants to push this initiative further, it needs to design accessible systems that people feel confident tackling rather than being overwhelmed by something that is too complex to use,” the 22-year-old said.
These are the tools of today that will be essential for NTU students to achieve their potential.
Said Prof Suresh: “The challenge should be a positive challenge — the faculty and the university should inspire students, inspire them to achieve their best.
“You come to NTU and you get a degree, we expect you to change the world and improve the human condition. The purpose of an NTU degree is not to get a job but be a productive leader of the local community and global community. Our alumni are expected to be leaders.”
NTU to be test-pad for smart initiatives
NTU is looking to solidify its status as Singapore’s largest smart campus to maintain global competitiveness through cutting-edge research.
The university will push to incorporate advanced technology in the daily experience of students and faculty.
Students can expect greater automation of everyday services on campus such as dining, hall living, public transportation, health services and banking.
NTU president Subra Suresh highlighted that while the university is doing very well in the number of strong high-end publications per faculty, the space to “try out and see what works and equally what doesn’t work” will allow NTU to play “a very powerful part” in leading Singapore’s technological advancement.
As Singapore’s largest campus spanning across 200 hectares, NTU is in a unique position to lead the Smart Nation initiative helmed by the government through testing of advanced technology before rolling them out on a larger scale, he added.