“Reshaping ideas and practices in Asia’s next normal @ TF-NUS PLUM”

By Paul Darrel O. Meneses, AUN Intern
10 May 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-ranging effects on our lives. For instance, many organizations have changed their in-person gatherings to simulated sessions in compliance with social distancing guidelines. With online gatherings such as webinars serving as a means to facilitate communication amongst international communities and organizations particularly in the current pandemic settings, the Temasek Foundation International-National University of Singapore Programme for Leadership in University Management (TF-NUS PLUM) aimed to function similarly by providing an annual online forum for university leaders through a summit to address challenges, exchange perspectives, and develop and advance innovative ideas on ASEAN university governance and management. The theme for this year is "University Leadership in Asia's Next Normal" which aims to reshape ideas and activities in higher education in response to the global uncertainty caused by COVID-19, as well as to explore paths forward for ASEAN higher education institutions as we manage the next normal. Held from April 26-27, 2021, the forum boasted the participation of university representatives and stakeholders from across the region.

The two-day summit began with an opening remark by the National University of Singapore (NUS) President Professor Tan Eng Che, stressing that "universities must improve teaching and learning, student involvement and research in order to adapt to the current world of COVID 19.

In order to teach our students to be flexible and adaptable for new and exciting challenges, we must continue to advance the fast-changing world." During a session entitled "Leadership in the Next Norm of Asia," the NUS Dean of Engineering Professor Aaron Thean addressed how the era of rapid technological convergence is propelling progress. Prof. Tan reiterated at the "Presidents' Roundtable" some of the NUS top priorities during the pandemic, including maintaining the welfare of the community through interventions and helping the graduating cohort through the NUS Resilience & Growth Initiative, which creates jobs through investment, apprenticeship and direct work.

The informative online summit featured an interview of the NUS’ Global Relations Office (GRO)'s Associate Vice President Professor Reuben Wong under the title "South-East Asia in the Next Normal." Speakers from various universities and organizations then recognized that the pandemic called for more international cooperation, while the different countries have their own approach to education. Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti, AUN Executive Director shared that “food, money, education, job, family and internet” are the essentials of being human and having lives secured. He also emphasized that AUN is a strategic networking strategy -- a platform for each university to exercise their own cooperative strategies and that they have to choose the option that matches their universities’ own motives for alliances. Lastly, he asserted that it is a normal human nature that countries tend to cluster around their neighbors whom they know best, who have been with them for a long time. He asserted that as a neo-tendency that a small clustering within the region will be more important, coupled with the tendency of "globalization".

In the panel discussions with representatives from leading industries under the topic of "Future-proofing industry 4.0”, the importance of university-industry collaboration was highlighted namely by Dr Sonny Vu, Chief Executive Officer of the 3-D printing company Arevo, Mr Lim Yew Heng, Group Managing Director of the Grab Regional Public Affairs, and Ms Can Yap, Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice Chairman at Jabil. The panel was chaired by the Associate Prof. Goh Puay Guan at the NUS Business School, who is also academic director of the MSc Industry's 4.0-degree program. Essentially, the panelists addressed the way their businesses have responded to the technical change and effects of COVID-19, as well as the emphasis of the partnership between universities and the industrial sector.