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Learning for a new age

Senior officials from three Singapore-based tertiary institutions share their views on postgraduate education in the age of disruption


"Together with our partner universities, we will continue to drive transfer of knowledge and skills into new areas, enabling companies and individuals to better respond to their rapidly changing operation environment to stay ahead of the curve." - Lee Kwok Cheong

"We leverage technology to provide a blended-learning environment for our executive programme participants. As part of our curriculum, we employ a variety of online-learning platforms to meet individual needs." - Kevyn Yong

"At Kaplan, we work closely with our university partners to constantly review the curriculum offered here in Singapore ... to ensure each cohort of students is taking away the most relevant and updated learning outcomes." - Rhys Johnson


  • Lee Kwok Cheong, CEO, SIM Global Education
  • Kevyn Yong, dean of ESSEC Asia-Pacific
  • Rhys Johnson, senior vice-president and provost, Kaplan
  • Moderator: Francis Kan

The Business Times: Many jobs and industries are being disrupted by new technologies. What new skills will workers require in the near future?

Lee Kwok Cheong: As more companies embrace technology and go global, workers will need to be innovative, creative and have the ability to work across diverse cultures. Skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and project management will still be valued by employers across all industries. The emphasis is on the mastery of competencies and application of knowledge and skills.

Beyond those skills, workers need to be adaptable as job scope may be less defined. Amid the slowing economy, companies will value staff who are enterprising and able to push the boundaries be it in improving processes, solving problems or going into new territories.

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Kevyn Yong: As people progress through their careers, they will need to undergo retooling (learning of a newer version of something you already know and upgrading of existing skills) and uptooling (learning something new).

And I believe today's workers will benefit from developing skills in the areas of digital transformation, innovation, smart technology, and leadership development.

We are clearly in a digital age, so it is imperative to attain "digital fluency". In some cases, it may be necessary for the individual to transform digitally - that is, introduce technology into their work process.

In other cases, the transformation may not be a necessity but they still need to understand the disruptions that technologies and digital changes can cause to the industry, and respond accordingly to those changes.

Regardless of the type of disruptions, critical challenges, and new competition will always surface with time. As the industry develops, new trends and technologies are introduced, and past successes will not be sustainable unless one continues to improve and innovate.

One area of innovation that has been a part of our lives and will become increasingly prevalent is smart technology - or artificially intelligent machines.

Artificially intelligent machines have been around to improve people's lives (for example, driverless trains in mass rapid transport systems) but it is clear that innovations in this area are advancing rapidly and it'll become a more prevalent part of our daily lives (for example, driverless cars and taxis).

Finally, and perhaps still the most important, is leadership skills. A lot of people are talented functionally, and they are good at technical skills that they were hired for. Generally, employees at this level do not get opportunities for leadership development, and they need to be groomed before they are able to assume higher-level roles.

Rhys Johnson: A postgraduate degree gives the holder critical thinking and analytical skills to thrive in the new economy.

Dynamic technological advances will continue to offer challenges from time to time and workers should continue to enhance the technical skills that are relevant to their respective sectors.

However, those holding postgraduate qualifications will be best-positioned to adapt and capitalise on the opportunities that arise.

BT: How are your institution's postgraduate programmes preparing students for this new reality?

Lee Kwok Cheong: Our postgraduate courses are mainly offered by the Russell Group of UK Universities, such as the University of Warwick, University of Birmingham and the University of Manchester. These universities are known for their research excellence and links with the business community. The postgraduate courses emphasise applied learning with real case-study applications and practical assignments.

For example, the University of Warwick's postgraduate programmes offered at SIM Global Education (SIM GE) are developed with industry to address their needs. Coursework is designed for students to apply concepts and tools to solve company problems. This is beneficial to companies too as through their staff, the companies are able to approach a business issue as they would with an external consultant.

Kevyn Yong: Four elements - digital transformation, innovation, smart technology, and leadership development - have been built into the core of our executive education programmes.

For instance, the ESSEC & Mannheim EMBA Asia-Pacific programme offers an innovative curriculum that encourages participants to re-think and imagine new possibilities with familiar topics like business models, market access, and organisational change.

To this end, we engage our participants in leading-edge knowledge on digital business models, human-centered-design-driven entrepreneurship, and leading strategic change and implementation.

Rhys Johnson: At Kaplan, we work closely with our university partners to constantly review the curriculum offered here in Singapore, making necessary upgrades to course contents and learning methodologies to ensure each cohort of students is taking away the most relevant and updated learning outcomes.

BT: How are you leveraging technology to more effectively achieve your goals?

Lee Kwok Cheong: SIM GE recognises our students typically have many priorities from their full-time jobs to family commitments. Our postgraduate programmes are mostly in modular format with flexible class schedules suitable for busy professionals. There are webinar sessions and various e-resources for students to communicate with their lecturers.

For our new programme, Master of Science International Healthcare Leadership offered by the University of Manchester, we adopted a blended learning approach. The majority of the lessons are delivered through interactive lectures, seminars and action learning via the university's virtual campus, Blackboard.

These are supplemented by four face-to-face residential workshops facilitated by the university's faculty member, where students engage with their fellow peers and work on a project. Likewise, for our Master of Business Administration programme offered by the University of Birmingham, students can engage teaching faculty in discussions and clarifications through online consultations via WeBex, one of the many e-platforms that facilitates the need to maintain student-teaching faculty engagement.

Kevyn Yong: We leverage technology to provide a blended-learning environment for our executive programme participants.

As part of our curriculum, we employ a variety of online-learning platforms to meet individual needs.

For instance, some participants learn best when there is a platform for self-learning at their own pace to complement the in-class sessions delivered by our professors and industry experts.

Rhys Johnson: At Kaplan, all our students have access to both our own and our university partners' IT-based support.

In addition, Kaplan is undertaking a programme of teaching space upgrades, based on our widely praised Synergy Pod concept, which will provide a learning environment ideally suited to postgraduate studies.

BT: What are some of your more interesting postgraduate offerings?

Lee Kwok Cheong: One of the more unique postgraduate programmes is the Master of Science in Engineering Business Management (MSc EBM) awarded by the University of Warwick. It has been designed by WMG, University of Warwick in partnership with engineering, manufacturing and other technology-based businesses to meet the needs of professional managers, engineers or scientists.

The focus on value creation for technology-based organisation is a key differentiator of the MSc EBM programme. The programme grooms the individual to be a leader of innovation and operational excellence by providing him or her with the tools to improve the operations, development and profitability of the company business.

The programme is fully taught by the University of Warwick staff academics, and projects are supervised by researchers from SIMTech and industrialists, where the project is undertaken in the company.

Kevyn Yong: At ESSEC, we adopt a learning-by-doing pedagogical approach. For example, the Entrepreneurship Project in our Executive MBA programme combines in-class seminars with applied learning with "live" business cases.

For the in-class portion, we teach design thinking and business model innovation as methods to find new opportunities to create new value, as well as other entrepreneurship-related skills.

After which, the participants take what they have learnt in the classroom and apply them to a real-life start-up.

On one hand, the participants are putting their knowledge into practice by providing free consulting to the start-ups.

On the other hand, the start-ups are providing a real-life business case for students to refine their knowledge in entrepreneurial methods and skills.

Rhys Johnson: We are seeing an increased trend of students taking up our Master of Health Services Management degree awarded by Griffith University. Their profiles are not limited to within the healthcare industry but also professionals from other fields.

This is interesting when we consider the ageing population and how health services in general would need to keep pace in order to cater to an expected increase in demand of such services.

BT: What new plans are in the pipeline?

Lee Kwok Cheong: Together with our partner universities, we will continue to drive transfer of knowledge and skills into new areas, enabling companies and individuals to better respond to their rapidly changing operation environment to stay ahead of the curve.

One of such new offerings in the pipeline is a postgraduate programme on Cyber Security and Management.

Our world is increasingly shaped by cyberspace but as its influence continues to grow, so does the associated risk. The programme focuses on the strategic deployment of cybersecurity within an organisation. Students will develop a clear understanding of the cyberthreat landscape and how to build and manage secure systems that support the strategic growth of a business.

Kevyn Yong: We plan to focus on three areas to continuously evolve our executive education programmes.

First, we are exploring how to better enhance learning with new digital and smart technologies (for example, 3D and virtual reality technologies).

Second, we will continue to invest in the expertise base that supports our programme with new faculty. For instance, we recently transferred four professors to the Singapore campus and hired four new professors. In the coming years, we plan to grow this number and expand our faculty with leading-edge expertise that supports our programmes.

Third, we are also building on our partnerships with industry experts. So far, we already have partnerships with the Action Community for Entrepreneurship @ Launchpad, the Ascott Group, the CIO Academy Asia, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Rhys Johnson: There are plans to launch a series of new postgraduate programmes in the coming years in keeping pace with the projected industry trends and demands.

For example, Graduate Diplomas and Master's degrees in Digital Marketing as well as IT Security are planned to provide up-to-date training and the relevant skill set for our students.


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