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Singapore universities, MIT expand graduate distance education program

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--The National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) signed a Memorandum of Understanding Monday to take the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) to the next level of graduate education and research in science and engineering.

The largest interactive distance education collaboration in the world, SMA takes advantage of state-of-the-art synchronous and asynchronous facilities to achieve seamless instruction across 12 time zones. The voice delay is less than a second between the Cambridge, Massachusetts classroom and the Singapore classroom.

SMA-2, a new five-year program starting in July 2005, is designed to involve more extensive research. For the first time, it will provide students in Singapore with the opportunity to earn a Masters degree from MIT as well as graduate degrees (Masters or Ph.D.) from the two Singapore universities. Graduates now receive a certificate from MIT for their participation in the Singapore-MIT Alliance. Currently in Singapore, 38 Ph.D., 172 S.M. (Professional Masters) and 29 M.Eng. (Master of Engineering) students are enrolled in SMA programs at NUS and NTU.

SMA was launched on Nov. 3, 1998 with the aim of setting a new standard in international collaboration in graduate science and engineering education and research. It has created innovative programs that now stand at the forefront of graduate education in Asia and the world. Currently in its fourth year of operation, it involves about 50 professors from MIT and another 50 from both NUS and NTU in the teaching of courses and supervision of research. SMA has graduated 227 Professional Master and 21 Master of Engineering students from the Singapore universities who took an intensive 13-month program in such areas as Advanced Materials for Micro and Nano Systems, High Performance Computation for Engineered Systems, Innovation in Manufacturing Systems and Technology, Molecular Engineering of Biological and Chemical Systems; and Computer Science.

SMA is a source of top-notch talent, graduating engineering leaders from Singapore, China, India, Vietnam, Australia and other nations who combine academic excellence in the engineering sciences with the entrepreneurial spirit and a global outlook. About 75% of the foreign SMA talent stays in Singapore upon graduation. Some of the major companies in Singapore that have hired these SMA graduates include Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Philips Electronics, Singapore Airlines, Apple Computer and Dell.

SMA has provided an opportunity for NUS and NTU to learn and improve institutional practices by adopting and adapting best practices from MIT. The interactive distance technology has enabled live beaming of seminars by Nobel Laureates and other distinguished faculty from MIT to audiences at NUS and NTU.

Three successful SMA Annual Symposia have provided a showcase for SMA's research results as well as allowed for intellectual exchange between MIT and Singapore Fellows and students and researchers from Singapore research institutes. As a result of close multi-institutional interaction and collaboration, an SMA Ph.D. student won a prestigious best paper award last year at a major conference, the International Symposium on the Physical and Failure Analysis of Integrated Circuits.

Next phase

In 2005, the Alliance enters a more ambitious five-year phase: SMA-2, the next step toward a long-range vision of an enduring partnership characterized by extensive research and teaching collaboration. SMA-2 will place greater emphasis on Ph.D. research and education, and greater interaction with industry and research institutes. The scope of SMA-2 will also be expanded beyond four engineering programs, incorporating the Life Sciences. Like SMA-1, SMA-2 will be funded primarily by the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry -- through the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the Economic Development Board (EDB) -- and the Singapore Ministry of Education, NUS and NTU.

All programs will offer a Ph.D. degree from NUS or NTU. The Ph.D. programs will mostly take the form of NUS/NTU degrees with an SMA certificate from MIT, as currently practiced in SMA-1. At least three of the programs will offer a Masters degree. Students will receive two degrees, a Masters degree from MIT and a Masters or Ph.D. from NUS/NTU. These students must satisfy the admission and degree requirements at each university as defined and approved by the respective faculties in accordance with standard institutional policies.

The teaching and research components of the programs will be tightly coupled through both Inter-University and special "Flagship" research projects. These projects aim to foster collaboration between faculty members of the Alliance universities; provide opportunities for individual student-faculty mentoring; develop the core programmatic disciplines; establish links to the academic programs; and yield high-impact research results relevant to the Singapore economy.

The broad areas of interest in SMA-2 include Advanced Materials, Bioinformatics, Biological Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Computational Science and Engineering, Computer Science and Technology, Electronics, Genomics/ Molecular and Cell Biology, Manufacturing Systems and Technology, and Micro and Nano Technology and Systems.

A spokesman for A*STAR said, "A*STAR has several partnerships with renowned overseas universities and research centers such as Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, the University of Washington at Seattle and the Karolinska Institute of Sweden. SMA-2 with its increased emphasis on research through Ph.D. training opens up opportunities for interaction with A*STAR's research institutes in their mission of fostering world-class research and developing local R&D human capital in Singapore."

Ko Kheng Hwa, Managing Director of EDB said, "The expanded scope of SMA2 will help Singapore develop high level human capital needed for our increasingly knowledge-driven economy. To realize this, SMA-2 will engage industry more intensively in its education and R&D programs."

Robert A. Brown, MIT Provost said, "The advancement of the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) into its second phase guarantees that SMA will continue in the elite position as a premier model for intensive collaboration in education and research between great research universities, no matter the distance between collaborators. I am very excited about the prospects for success."

Professor Shih Choon Fong, NUS President and Vice-Chancellor said, "SMA-2 aspires to be a wellspring of innovation and scientific/engineering talent for knowledge industries in Singapore and beyond. SMA 1 and 2 tie in strategically to the NUS mission -- 'to advance knowledge and foster innovation, educate students and nurture talent, in service of country and society.'"

Professor Lim Mong King, NTU Deputy President said, "The second phase of SMA is being shaped to be even more strategic with enhanced opportunities for multi-faceted cross-institutional collaboration. We expect to attract more and better students and trigger enthusiasm in more faculty members to engage in active multidisciplinary exchanges with MIT faculty and other partners, contributing to an even more leading-edge research-intensive environment in NTU."

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