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MDIS banks on the Singapore brand

Education provider has grown beyond partnerships with overseas universities to go global with campuses abroad.

"Our existing campuses in Singapore and Tashkent in Uzbekistan would also allow students from the Iskandar Campus to do twinning programmes so as to enjoy an international educational experience and exposure." - R Theyvendran, secretary-general, MDIS.

IN Singapore, private education is serious business, with hundreds of institutions crammed into this tiny island.

Students who wish to study here have an abundance of choice, says R Theyvendran, secretary-general of Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS).

But MDIS, the city-state's oldest not-for-profit professional institute for lifelong learning, has managed to stand the test of time, despite the stiff competition faced and declining student numbers.

The business has done so by constantly refreshing its infrastructure, expanding its capabilities, and having an "entrepreneurial mindset" that allows MDIS to stay relevant in a saturated market, as well as make its mark in the world, according to Mr Theyvendran.

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He quips: "As a heritage brand of 61 years, MDIS wants to prove that heritage does not equate to being out of touch."

The business has certainly proven itself worthy as MDIS bagged the Enterprise 50 (E50) Award for the second time, catapulting it once again into the leagues of some of Singapore's most illustrious enterprises.

Founded in 1956, MDIS started out with the primary focus of addressing industrial relations of the Singapore workforce and training supervisors on subjects ranging from job relations to industrial safety.

Gradually in the 1980s, the institute began to forge global partnerships with universities from countries like the UK, the US and Australia.

It was also in 1989 that Mr Theyvendran arrived on the scene. He has since been greatly credited for reviving the waning fortunes of the business at that time, steering it back to profitability and keeping it on stable ground.

Today, the institution has grown beyond partnerships with overseas universities; it has effectively gone global with campuses abroad. Capitalising on the "Singapore brand", MDIS has three international campuses aside from the main Singapore one. They are in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Johor, Malaysia; and its most recent addition in Chennai, India.

The year 2008 was particularly significant as it was the year it opened its first overseas campus, he recalls. And of all places, it was in Tashkent, a place most people would struggle to find on a world map. It was the first ever venture of a Singapore education provider in Central Asia.

But the calculated risk has since paid off. From the initial batch of 240, it now has more than 3,000 students from all regions of Uzbekistan studying at MDIS Tashkent, including international students from South Korea, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.


For its second overseas campus in Johor, MDIS was once again the first mover.

Set to open in 2018, the RM300 million (S$97.4 million) self-funded project is the first by a Singapore group in Iskandar, Johor. It will be equipped with "state of the art" infrastructure and facilities, as well as offer "transnational education" for students to be global professionals, says Mr Theyvendran.

He explains: "Our existing campuses in Singapore and Tashkent in Uzbekistan would also allow students from the Iskandar Campus to do twinning programmes so as to enjoy an international educational experience and exposure."

Its third international campus, named MDIS VELS India, is a joint venture with Vels Institute of Science, Technology and Advanced Studies, whose first intake commenced in October 2016. The business has plans to have its own land and building within the next three years.

But it's not just international developments that MDIS is focusing on. The institute recently set up a dedicated nursing school for the training and education of nurses pursuing their post-registration degrees, as part of a tie-up with Edinburgh Napier University, UK.

This was set against a backdrop of an ageing population and all the challenges that came with it, says Mr Theyvendran.

It is this constant lookout for the latest trends and willingness to improve its offerings that have helped MDIS keep its edge over the years.

For example, courses and facilities are reviewed regularly to ensure relevance. Mr Theyvendran says: "As a forward-looking institute, the foundations of new programmes and facilities are strategically laid before the industry realises its needs."

This enables MDIS to equip both students and mid-career professionals with future-ready skills for evolving industry demands.

The institute also spares no expense in investing in speciality equipment to allow students to gain necessary practical skills.

For example, its School of Engineering will be acquiring two additional types of 3D printers. With this acquisition, students' knowledge about design and manufacturing will be expanded and they will also have the opportunity to practise theoretical concepts on actual machines, Mr Theyvendran says.

Regardless of the direction it chooses to go, MDIS emphasises a strong culture of making use of feedback and data in its decision-making processes to drive change.

Dr Theyvendran says: "Such information will allow MDIS to make informed choices, which is an edge in terms of cost-savings, productivity increase, or market acceptance."

But while MDIS is steering its ship as far as it can, it is clear to see that there are headwinds assailing the private education industry.

Mr Theyvendran notes: "Over the last three years, the private education sector was affected by dipping student enrolment, particularly the local students."

This was attributed to an increase in university places, with the relatively new Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Social Sciences. The number of local students is expected to fall further, as the government has pledged to up the intake of the six universities from 15,000 to 16,000 by 2020.

Not all is smooth sailing on the international front either. Students from abroad have declined, largely caused by the rising cost of living as well as competition from other countries such as the US, the UK and Australia, says Mr Theyvendran.

But he is not deterred by the choppy conditions and the uncertain journey - MDIS's win at the E50 Awards indicates that it is on the right course.

Mr Theyvendran says that this validates the efforts of its staff, as well as increases confidence in the university and its industry partners.


It is affirmation that the company is moving in the right direction in terms of its processes and business model, he adds. Far from resting on its laurels, the business will continue to seek growth and to become more productive.

Some plans in the works include increasing the number of SkillsFuture Credit-eligible programmes, with a target of 10-20 per cent of new programmes for 2017-2019.

And in order to shape future-ready graduates, Mr Theyvendran says that another core focus will be on developing stronger industry partnerships for students to gain practical experience in their field. MDIS aims to have 100 new partnerships over the next three years, he says.

Finally, the institute is also exploring the idea of establishing a presence or collaborative partnerships in countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

"We will be delivering our 'Singapore brand' education in the region to not only achieve growth for MDIS, but also to contribute in solidifying Singapore's reputation as a strong regional education hub," adds Mr Theyvendran.