Monday, June 13, 2005

where is NTU going

Thinking back to the recent attempt to change NTU's name to 'Nantah', one can't help but speculate that its just the tip of the iceberg in a larger identity crisis our dear institution is facing.

NTU's mainstay used to be in engineering. Well, it still is, but a main problem is that much of Singapore's economy has moved on. There'll always be place for engineers in any industrialised nation, but the number of such local jobs is definately falling in line with global trends and relocation of industries across borders.

Nanyang Business School, one of the pillars of NTU, is facing stiff competition from SMU, especially now that it no longer has a monopoly over locally recognised accountancy degrees.

NUS also already has a head-start in the bio-sciences arena. And now, NTU, anxiously trying to find a new niche, is launching a no-holds-barred replication of humanities and theoretical science courses in order to have a wide-enough spectrum of courses to be considered a 'full-fledged' university.

Do we really need to go there? I know that the universities have been granted independence in most of their management and decision matters but is a head-on collision and replication of courses necessary? Is NTU trying to be the jack of all trades, having lost its past niches in providing practical education to the masses?

The stark reality of the open market is here to stay. Isn't it better to focus on our strengths and defend or build upon our existing core competencies rather than keep taking new shots in the dark at the next 'big-thing' in the market?

As much as a university is an entity grounded in practical considerations, it ought to transcend the mere economics of job prospects and qualification marketability. We all know how uncertain the economy is. One moment its the bio-sciences, the next its the hospitality industry, after that its the transport and communications and then its the integrated resorts. As a country we need to put our eggs in as many baskets as possible to ensure the populances' economic survival.

However, that is not the way a unversity ought to decide or chart its path of growth.

Ask any potential undergraduate where he intends to go. SMU is now the choice for most business aspirants, while a 'liberal arts' person would go for NUS's FASS. Theoretical sciences also belong in NUS (apart from a recent transmigration of staff into our School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences). People seeking a industry-specific, practically oriented education in engineering will choose NTU.

But the recent plethora of changes in curriculum reeks of confusion.

An all-rounded education isn't going to happen by making students take more general modules or expanding the different types of degree programmes offered. It only happens when internal core curriculum are overhauled and methods of assessment and teaching are re-oriented towards thinking, understanding and application. And where best to start than in its core competencies, pushing them to higher levels of engineering, R&D, and industry applicability.

We need to focus on our strengths and our practical orientation, in which we're losing badly to SMU amongst the business faculty. Otherwise, whichever way you look at it, NTU will just always end up playing second fiddle to some other entity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Copied from S.C.S:
Title:NTU's incredible lies about history of Nantah
Author: jon Sherwin
Date: June 30, 2005

I found the following paragraphs on NTU's website:

"The university has a distinguished lineage with roots that go back to
1955. We began as Nanyang University (Nantah), the first
Chinese-language university in Southeast Asia, through donations from
all walks of life, with the Yunnan Garden campus donated by the
Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan.

Nanyang Technological Institute was reborn on the same campus in 1981
with government funding to educate practice-oriented engineers for the
burgeoning Singapore economy. In 1991 we became Nanyang Technological
University with the absorption of the National Institute of

My translation of the first paragraph into Chinese (GB code):

“本大学具有杰出的血统 -- 根源追朔自1955年。我们在各界人士的捐助下
(包括新加坡福建会馆所捐助的云南园校园),出生为南洋大学(南大) --
东南亚第一所中文大学 。”


Anyone with a sense of history can tell you Nantah was founded by late
Tan Lark Sye in 1953 but unfortunately closed down by Lee Kuan Yew in
1980. (PAP supporters among Nantah alumni always insist that Nantah
was "merged" with Singapore University to form the NUS ["no, no, no,
not closed down", they yelled] make it more palatable to public perception).
On the other hand, NTU was founded by Lee Kuan Yew in Nantah's old campus
as NTI in 1982 initially and upgraded to NTU in 1992.

And don't forget that Nantah is a real CHINESE university (the only
Chinese university outside of China and Taiwan so far) while NTU is an
English university with a non-significant "Department of Chinese". (NUS
has one too, nowadays, which decent university in the world does not
have a Chinese Department?). So you see, other than sharing the same
premise, the two universities have no commonality AT ALL, what "lineage
with roots" are they talking about ?

The fact of the matter is this: the property of now defunct Nanyang
University was confiscated and given to NTU, the whole campus was
ransacked and almost demolished, the old buildings torn down and replaced
by new ones, the beloved Nantah Gate was defaced and cut off from the
campus by the highway (They wanted to tear down the Gate but no contractors
dared to take the contract).

After Nantah was closed down in 1980, no one heard about Nantah or Tan
Lark Sye on media until 1989 when someone in PAP sensed that China was
going to be reckoned with as another powerful country on earth. They started
to see the economical value of Nantah's name (which they hastenly discarded
in 1980) in pursuing the Chinese business, but the regime had been most
to Nantah and Tan Lark Sye, the big question was how could they erase this
thorny historical blackmark in people's mind ? The whole PAP propaganda
machinery with the help from media has been working on this single idea ever
since. They seemed to have found the solution to their problem, namely, to
modify and distort the history of Nantah and NTU ...

First they changed the Chinese abbreviation of NTU from LiDa to NanDa
(i.e. Nantah) on Chinese media which created an illusion on the mind of
Chinese readers and audience as if Nantah was still alive. Later, Dr.
Su Guaning started to push renaming of NTU's official name to "Nanyang
University" which naturally met opposition from silent Chinese
community in Singapore and Nantah alumni. Consequently the idea was
dropped in 2004 (the rumor has it that Lee Kuan Yew was annoyed by comments
made by oppositions of renaming and requests by some supporters of renaming
rehabitate his most despised enemy Tan Lark Sye) while they were planning a
huge ceremony to be held in June of 2005.

With name-change or no name-change, now they just want you to sincerely
that this angmo NTU is the same Nantah built in 1953 by Tan Lark Sye with
the help from Chinese people of southeast Asia, and it has been operating
1955, as if nothing had happened in the year of 1980 ("No, no, no, we never
closd down Nantah, what happened in 1980 was just your imagination, honey").

How can people believe such shameless fabrication and distortion of
history? (Don't tell me Singaporeans are so gullible and stupid. Are they