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'It is not enough to be digitally proficient': SUTD president on nurturing young talent

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) believes that it needs to come up with new and innovative ways to produce students who are not just digitally proficient because the conventional model of graduate recruitment has evolved in this ever-changing digital world.

That is why the school is working with e-commerce platform Shopee to imbue students with strengths in critical thinking, problem-solving, human-centric design thinking, data science and artificial intelligence (AI), to handle the multi-faceted challenges tech companies currently face, professor Chong Tow Chong, the president of SUTD tells The Drum.

“Nowadays, it is not uncommon for tech companies to work closely with universities to identify talent, share their mission and excite potential hires. SUTD’s partnership with Shopee is timely as it allows Shopee to work closely with SUTD to engage these talents by sharing their industry experience, provide internships and giving the students opportunities to apply their knowledge in relevant industry projects/scenarios, for example, through SUTD final-year capstone projects,” Chong explains.

“These interactions enable them to not only share more about Shopee’s mission with the students but also serves to deepen their understanding about the business. Such engagements are extremely beneficial to both the companies and students.”

He adds: “In this case, Shopee will have a chance to identify potential leaders and hires while the students gain an industry perspective in applying their skills. Co-development of curriculum programmes between industry and University will help to shape better industry-ready students.”

The Shopee-SUTD partnership will consist of two parts. The first is the Shopee-SUTD scholarship that aims to provide financially disadvantaged students with the opportunity to pursue an education in technology and design.

The second is the Shopee-SUTD industry collaboration dialogues that aim to explore further opportunities for Shopee to broaden its support for SUTD’s capacity building initiatives for tech talent in Singapore.

The scholarships will provide a total of four financially disadvantaged Singaporean students with full four-year scholarships that will cover their tuition fees and study-related expenses.

They will be awarded across four years, starting from the academic year 2020 intake. Each scholarship will be worth $15,000 annually and will not require recipients to undertake any service or bond requirements.

The industry collaboration dialogues will see Shopee and SUTD explore additional avenues for industry-university collaboration by combining Shopee’s industry know-how, regional presence, and ecosystem together with SUTD’s educational expertise. 

On why is there a need for a scholarship, Chong explains the 21st century is a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world where the industry has to deal with global challenges like Industry 4.0, cybersecurity, global sustainability, rapid urbanisation, ageing societies and more.

This means these multi-faceted challenges are inter-connected and complex, requiring students to acquire not only hard skills such as AI, data science, product design, systems engineering, but also soft skills like design innovation, critical thinking, communication, creativity, entrepreneurship, a human-centric mindset and teamwork, to address real-world challenges for the next 5 years and beyond.

To cope with this, Chong points out SUTD has developed programmes in AI, healthcare, cities and aviation to tighten the integration between research, education and industry.

He feels these programmes will allow SUTD undergraduates to gain strong competencies in these soft and hard skills because the courses in AI, robotics, natural language processing, design innovation and humanities offered in SUTD involve team projects and presentations.

This will allow students to have the opportunities to acquire and grow their valuable knowledge base while at the same time develop their soft skills.

“We also see the need for students to have an overseas experience. As such, SUTD has availed many overseas opportunities for its students. The overseas experience is extremely valuable as it gives students a first-hand experience of education, work attachment and research attachment beyond the comfort and confines of the Singapore environment. It would give the students a broader global perspective,” Chong explains.

“Not everyone has the means to afford a university education and so the Shopee-SUTD scholarships will provide financially disadvantaged Singaporean students with full four-year scholarships that will cover their tuition fees and study-related expenses. The scholarships will allow the students to focus on their studies and personal development without having to worry about the costs.”

He continues: “We believe that through this scholarship, we are able to provide promising students with the opportunity to gain a high-quality design and technology education at SUTD as well as internships and overseas exposure with Shopee. Eventually, these students will become technically grounded leaders and innovators who will create a better world by design.”

Lecturers like professor Mark Chong, associate professor of communication management at Singapore Management University (SMU) have previously acknowledged that it is difficult for schools to keep up with the speed of change for the industry.

SUTD’s Chong reiterates that as SUTD’s goal is to develop future-ready, AI-proficient, technically grounded leaders who will shape the world, the industry collaboration dialogues with Shopee will enable SUTD to better understand and anticipate the necessary skillsets required for the future of the industry.

“This can be achieved through the deep integration of research, education and industry experience,” he explains. “Shopee is a leader in e-commerce and has an intimate knowledge of the industry requirements.”

“With this knowledge, SUTD can then tailor our courses and projects to nurture these qualities and skillsets in our graduates.”

The Drum previously looked at how SMU is working with Google to conduct career talks at the school, as well as recruitment talks for Google’s Squared Data and Analytics programme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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