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MIT, Singapore launch collaboration for global engineering education

Professor Lim Pin, vice chancellor of the National University of Singapore (left), MIT Provost Robert A. Brown (center) and Nanyang Technological University's president, Dr. Cham Tao Soon, at yesterday's ceremony formalizing the collaboration between the three schools.
Professor Lim Pin, vice chancellor of the National University of Singapore (left), MIT Provost Robert A. Brown (center) and Nanyang Technological University's president, Dr. Cham Tao Soon, at yesterday's ceremony formalizing the collaboration between the three schools.

MIT and Singapore's two leading research universities announced yesterday that they are teaming up to create a new global model for long-distance engineering education and research.

A memorandum of understanding to create the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) was signed in Singapore by key officials from the three institutions at 11am on Tuesday, Singapore time.

Described as the first truly global collaboration in graduate engineering education and research, this large-scale experiment may result in an "exportable model" for distance education. This unique alliance spanning 12 time zones and half the planet may have far-reaching implications for the future of distance learning on all scales.

"Through the alliance, Singaporean students will be able to enroll in several new graduate programs in areas of strategic importance to both countries," said Provost Robert A. Brown, the Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering. The degree programs, slated to enroll their first students in July 1999, will be created and delivered by faculty from the three institutions, using a combination of faculty and student exchanges and state-of-the-art communications technology.

Starting with two graduate programs offered through the National University of Singapore (NUS) in July 1999 and a third program to be offered by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) within a year, the alliance is expected to grow to five graduate programs after two years. The programs will include a professional master's-level degree, as well as master's and doctoral-level research degrees.

The first two programs to be launched at NUS are:

  • Advanced Materials
  • High-Performance Computation for Engineered Systems, an operations and research effort done jointly with MIT's Sloan School of Management and the School of Engineering

A third program, Manufacturing Systems and Technology, will model MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing program, a collaborative initiative of US manufacturing firms and MIT's Sloan and engineering schools. It will be offered later at NTU.

The preliminary estimate for investment and costs on the part of all parties in the first year is in the range of $18 million to $20 million. The initial period for the alliance is five years. The program can then be extended for an additional five years.

"The Singapore-MIT Alliance is a bold new model for global university collaboration," said Professor John B. Vander Sande, dean of the School of Engineering. "It will create highly visible, high-quality graduate education programs in areas of strategic importance to the United States and to Singapore and will form a new paradigm for distance collaboration in research and education."

MIT seeks to establish programs that expand its educational and research impact to a global format while maintaining its focus as a US-centered residential research university. For 30 years, MIT has collaborated with institutions in other countries to bolster research and academic interests consistent with their national needs.

In addition, MIT's strong focus on undergraduate and graduate research will be fueled by faculty and student collaborations with NTU and NUS. Both institutions have modern facilities and aim to provide a world-class engineering education to students throughout Singapore and Southeast Asia.

"MIT's reputation as a starting place for entrepreneurs who make a significant economic impact is widely known and admired," said Professor Lim Pin, vice chancellor of NUS. "It is hoped that in the substantial institution-level collaboration we envision, some of the dynamic entrepreneurial culture of MIT will rub off on the Singaporean partners. These skills are especially important in a knowledge-based economy."

"The collaboration is timely in this age of globalization, as it allows NUS, NTU and MIT to work together toward a new paradigm of international collaboration across two continents," said Dr. Cham Tao Soon, president of NTU. "Experience gathered through working together in the alliance would also allow NUS, NTU and MIT to seize major opportunities in a world of increasingly international education."


In the post-Cold War economy, more corporations operate on a global rather than a national basis. "In our increasingly technologically competitive global economy, it is imperative for US engineers to work on all levels with their counterparts in locales and cultures around the world," Provost Brown said.

"This unique collaboration with distant partners will allow us to strengthen our research, our education and the global outlook of our faculty and students," he said. "Through programs such as this, MIT takes a leadership role in the accelerating globalization of science, technology and commerce."

Independent since 1965, Singapore, an island nation of three million, has managed in a relatively short time to attract multinational companies such as Motorola and Intel to its strategic location as a commercial hub of Southeast Asia. Its ambitious goal is to ensure its economic future by propelling forward research, development and innovation in the country as a whole, as well as drawing the best students in all of Asia who are seeking a high-quality, technically based graduate education.

Singapore aims to be the world's first "intelligent island," where state-of-the-art computer technology is available to virtually all its citizens. Within the next few years, IBM, Visa, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft -- just a few of the major companies that have branches in Singapore -- will wire homes and offices with interactive media services such as videoconferencing and on-line shopping.

MIT's first major involvement in Singapore occurred between 1991 and 1996, when more than two-thirds of the faculty of the Sloan School traveled to Singapore to help establish the then-new NTU School of Accountancy and Business as the leading MBA school in Singapore.

Last year, at the invitation of Singapore Deputy Prime Minister of Defense Tony K. Tan (who earned a master's degree from MIT in 1964), 25 MIT faculty members led by Merton Flemings, the Toyota Professor of Material Science and Engineering, conducted a four-month assessment of the educational infrastructure and engineering programs at NSU and NTU.

Among the team's recommendations was the establishment of an alliance with a leading technological university that would include an interchange of faculty, students and curricula to do research and offer post-graduate degree programs.

Professor Flemings has been named MIT co-director of the SMA and Professor Ilang Chang Chieh, NUS deputy vice chancellor, is the Singapore co-director. Anthony Patera, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, will serve as deputy director.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 4, 1998.

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