I think that's also where SMU became very different. Well we have a 4-year accountancy program, versus a 3-year accountancy program in other universities. So why do our students spend one more year? So how then do we place them as valued employees with the Big 4, the big accounting firms in Singapore? So we had a deep conversation with them. And you know the accounting industry, the Big 4, came together and they agreed on certain things. So we brought them back to the table and asked, What is your major need? And we want to make internship compulsory and we are offering you these kids for 10 weeks against 8 weeks, which was currently practiced. So they told us what they didn't like, Please don't send me anymore interns during your summer break because that's the lull period for the accounting industry. We don't need more hands. And they are not learning much. If you want to give them the deep dive, come in when it is our peak period and we can use them, we can really test them and they can really contribute. So when's your peak-period? December to February/ March That's during term time. How could we send our students there?
So beside the all-rounded program that we give our accountancy students, we needed to meet the needs of the employers. Some universities were already supplying our needs for that summer period. We don't need more.
So I had a deep conversation with the (then) Dean (of Accountancy). Here's our issue. What can we do about this? Can we make some adjustments to the curriculum, to the calendar so that your students will get an extraordinary, real-life, deep-dive into their accounting industry? And that would also mean that they would get first offers for jobs if they did well. So is there any possibility of shifting the term? Making some adjustments?
It was really difficult. You had to move the curriculum and the Registrar's Office. You had to move the instructors. Who would want to teach during a modified term? And then you have to tell the students that there's going to be some changes to their lives:[You can't go (on holiday) with the other students. You come (back) to term when people are already having holidays.] So we sat down and I am really grateful to (Prof Pang) Yang Hoong, the Dean of the Accounting School. She said, We will do something. So she had conversations with her faculty. I think these were really great professors who understood the need to serve the community as well. They agreed that we will do a modified term so that we can release our students for the peak-period in the accounting industry, for them to have a deep-dive into the attachments. And the students, who did well, would get the first jobs. And they (did) get job offers, and they know what it takes, and they get to be in the front of their bosses, their potential bosses. So if they're really good, they get picked up very easily because they are doing real work. So, I think, kudos to the Accountancy School and to the Dean. They sacrificed for the good of the students.
So, my dream has been always, and some of my fellows from the 1999 batch of appointees, they think that I'm sentimental. And they said that you should stop being sentimental, times have changed. But I tell them, I say, no, so long as I've got life in my body and some strength in my brain, I'm going to just carry on thinking of new programs. So that's how the Arts and Culture Management program came about. I scanned the universities around the world. Firstly, there was no arts management program at the undergraduate level again. And then, at the master's level, it seemed to be like a terminal degree, like the MFA [Master of Fine Arts]. And then it seemed to be always arts management.
And so I was looking around and I thought because they have got these arts management programs and all that, the one thing that I found that was missing in this arts management thing was the cultural component. So I thought if we could offer a program called Arts and Culture Management at the undergraduate as a degree program, it'd be really super. So I shared that vision with Arnoud, he said, good. He appointed me to chair a task force and the task force, I put the members together, so we went around the world looking and setting up collaboration and all that. But somebody had cold feet, just when we're about to push forward.
But now I'm glad to say this idea of the degree program for Arts And Culture Management is back on the board again. Because they have now realised that maybe we should have actually begun that way and just got it through. Just as we were bold enough to get new programs going in. So that has been a very, very interesting journey. I think the arts and culture management is something that most people think still should be at the graduate level. But I've got probably one of the best persons in the whole world dealing with this. It was the guy in charge of the Chicago Art Institute [School of the Art Institute of Chicago]. And today he's an older man, the chancellor of the Chicago Art institute, Anthony Jones, very distinguished scholar-professor. And he was advisor to the Singapore's ministry many years ago when NAFA was being formed, LASALLE was being formed, SOTA was being formed. So he's the guru. So I thought I'd better get the guru onside. And he was so excited, in fact he has just written a letter of disappointment to say, what's happening? This is like four years now, things should move, that kind of thing. So he's getting old, too, he's 74. So he wants to see this really come in.
You get opportunities to do these internships and we had already set up our internship system where students apply for internships that they want. I’ll tell them that here we don’t assign you to an internship like they do in the other university. You apply for the internship you want, you get into the company, it’s like doing a job interview and it’s like getting a job. And when you do an internship well, there is an opportunity for a job at the end of that. And many students took that challenge and so even though we were four years versus three years, we had no lack of applicants and students come into the programme and they actually enjoy what they do and I would say that the students actually are our best salespeople. Over the years, when I’ve done interviews, I have found so many applying to us who applied to us because they said—my brother is in the programme, my sister has gone through the programme, or my cousin has gone through the programme, or my friend has gone through the programme. And what we need is to make sure that we give a very good educational experience to our existing students. They enjoy, they find that they learn from the programme and they are the ones that are most effective at selling the programme, you know, to their friends and to their siblings and so on.
There were broadly three ideas. The person must have a very global perspective. Second, the person must be extremely articulate, be able to communicate, not just among ourselves but with different races from different parts of the world. Third the person must be given some opportunity to contribute to society. So that’s why we have community service within our programme. As for the academic content of the programme, it’s pretty standard business programme with two distinctive features. We have a core group of business courses, then you have the various electives.
Basically, we talked to industry folks [about] what are the good things of local grads [graduates], what are the not-so-good things of local grads. Before the creation of each school, we talked to industry people. And for the case of SIS, a lot of the industry folks told us, “Don’t bother to go down the road of computer science. You can’t compete with the Indians; you can’t compete with the Chinese. So if you want to do IT, do something that is more relevant to business. Marry IT with business. That is something that is needed by the industry.” So, before we created the business school of SMU, we also talked to people. And we constantly hear the fact that, “Hey, the local grads from NUS and NTU are very strong technically, they know the content, they know the subjects, they know how to do things, their technical competency is very high, but they lack confidence, they are not as articulate, they don’t speak naturally, they don’t ask questions, they are passive.” So some of these attributes, we reckon we need to fix.
If we are going to be competitive we need to differentiate SMU from the other two. We have to do things they are not able to offer. So it became natural that we should adopt the more MBA pedagogy in the classroom. So, as you can see, the way we design the whole SMU infrastructure, there is no lecture theatre. Everything is the MBA-style classroom. Some flat, but mostly multi-tiered. The whole agenda was, “Let’s bring MBA teaching pedagogy into the undergraduate curriculum.” And as a result, every kid would carry with her or him, the name tag. The professor’s role is to facilitate, is to get the kids to talk. Now along the way, some of the faculty are not so adequate in facilitating, they end up prescribing projects—because when you have projects, the kids would talk, the kids would interact and so on so forth. So projects became a natural add-on as a result of this interactive pedagogy. And [for] some of the disciplines, interaction tends to be lesser. So from very early on, there was this requirement that we want every course to have interaction, whether it is statistics or English or whatever else. So the interactive pedagogy, the small classroom was all by design from the outset. One thing to strengthen the confidence, the interactive, the speaking competencies of the kids. And it works. Yes, after four years of talking in class, it comes naturally to them, second nature to them.
And then there’s a project going on in the law school now which has gotten a lot of worldwide attention and which involves a number of our students. There’s a young professor named Mahdev Mohan, and Mahdev is a Singaporean, educated in the UK, came back and is on our faculty. Mahdev has been involved in the team prosecuting the Khmer Rouge leaders for their crimes against humanity. And right now he’s back and forth between here and Phnom Penh with a second series of trials after the first series that finished, I guess the last one finished about a year ago. And now this is the second series of trials. And that’s engaged a lot of our students in doing research, the background, interviewing witnesses, gathering data, gathering evidence. Yale sent a team to work with Mahdev and our students on that project, and all those around the world. There was a story in the International Herald Tribune just this week about some of that work. Now that was driven by a faculty member who’s then brought students into it. This Philippines project was really driven by students. Another teaching project in Sikkim [India] that our students have been involved in for years. So it’s gratifying to see that kind of work being done.
I am so glad you used the word government. Because even in 2001, 2002, we recognised that corporates will take a longer time to get buy-in, but Singapore Government do spend a lot of money on talent development, and we want a piece of that action. The other thing is we know which government agency we want to go after. We wanted to go after the EDB [Economic Development Board]. And why the EDB? Because the EDB are the talent which comes from overseas, so many of their scholars have American education, understood the interactive approach, loved the case study approach and therefore they will give us support, that's one. Two, they are the ones who will be attracting a lot of MNCs [multinational corporations] to come into Singapore. So if they have a great learning experience with us, when they talk to the MNCs, they will be hearing about us, so that became a strategic positioning.
There's a FIREfly Program which is a very critical piece of executive education partnership. FIREfly is the name that the EDB give to their high potentials, their fast-track talent within the company, within EDB but not just EDB, the whole of Ministry of Trade and Industry which consists of the seven sisters. EDB is the eldest sister and then you have SPRING, you have IE [International Enterprise Singapore], and you have the Energy Markets Authority, and some of the other smaller agencies. But they are all under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. So with the EDB behind us, we know that we will get wonderful feedback if we do a great job. So it's high risk, but that's exec ed. You need to have that high-risk component and then you can reap higher returns.
We pitched for the FIREfly Program, but we knew that on our own brand, we will never get it because EDB buy brands. So, in that first three years, EDB did not give us their mandate, they gave it to INSEAD. So, from 2001 to 2003, we knew that it went to INSEAD and that, you know, INSEAD professors had access to those talent for a period of close to about eight days on an international business program. And CCL [Centre for Creative Leadership] was the other partner to the INSEAD program and CCL was doing the Centre for Creative Leadership. They were the ones doing the soft skills.
So, we didn't get the deal, but we didn't give up because 2000 to 2003, we were already building our Wharton partnership in one or two open-enrollment programs and we were rapidly recruiting faculty. So our faculty was being honed with a lot of the small-style interactive pedagogy. So we all knew we will have a pipeline of at least five to six great faculty that we could field.
In 2002, second half, EDB actually put up another RFP [request for proposals] saying that they have tried the INSEAD model and they would like to see who else is willing because there's a contract up for renewal. It's a three-year program so there will be a contract for renewal. This time round, we knew that we have to really have a brand name to partner with us. So we went to Wharton who has already got this relationship with us and we say, Can we use your name to come up with a design so that we could pitch for this deal? Janice said, That shouldn't be a problem, you know, please go ahead. And so we sit down with counterparts in Wharton and do up a great proposal and send that in. Unfortunately, someone knew about this, mentioned to INSEAD, who is also in the running to try and get the program, and INSEAD told Wharton that, Hey guys, you have a strategic partnership with us, so you should not be partnering with SMU to put in this proposal. So, Pat, it was such a downer because it literally, we were told that we cannot put the Wharton name in there. We have to pull out, take it back and we won't get the deal. And it was a wake-up call because I then realised that even in executive education, you could get blocked, you could have a partnership, but the partner would tell you that you are the second partner, a lower partner, and their hands are tied. They cannot partner with you because they have their own strategic partnership with another entity.
So, once again, a second disappointment, we didn't get the deal, but we never gave up. 2005, RFP came out again and EDB told us that please submit a proposal because they actually had two contracts with INSEAD and they were not satisfied with it. INSEAD professors did not want to customise to the challenges faced by Singapore. So you cannot teach EDB like the way you were teaching corporates. EDB officers have to realise why are they doing an international business program, because they need to understand business and think strategically about how to entice those businesses to Singapore. So they cannot just do a one-size-fit-all program. We have no recourse to go back to Wharton because we don't even know if we are allowed to. We went with Chicago.
So, that was the start of a great relationship. We don't have an exclusive relationship only with Wharton, so we could partner with Chicago, just as we could partner with Carnegie Mellon. So we went to Chicago Booth and we ask them, �Would you like to submit a proposal with us? They worked very hard with us. Four days of training in SMU, four days in Chicago. We brand them as being the university in the city. We are already in the city, so EDB is very near us. They are at Raffles City, we are at Bras Basah, so it's a no-brainer. We brand our location, we brand the fact that our kids is already out in the market.
So in 2005, we won the contract in partnership with Chicago. And EDB officers started to know what it's like to have a program in SMU. We won the second contract another three years after that with Chicago. But three years after that, we bid for the program without the Chicago name and we got it. So, that was so satisfying because we went all the way up with our own brand name and we got the contract without having to leverage on another bigger brand. And I think that's the kind of journey, the satisfaction of building a brand, but it takes time and it takes very committed faculty and a very committed team. And that's how we do the customisation. So EDB was just one of the many. And then we have a very long relationship with IBM, so IBM is another very long-term client. They do about six runs a year in the early days. Up till today, we still have IBM as a client and IBM is now doing fifteen runs a year of one-week program with us.
In line with the fact that when we were developing the business curriculum, that it would be unique compared to the other two universities, so in the same way, the accounting programme had to be unique compared to at that time, only competitor, NTU. So I was very mindful of the fact that at the time when we started, the NTU programme was at least 35 years old. And we were going to be a new kid on the block, and for the accounting programme to succeed, we had to offer something different and something tangible. So one of the first things that we, that I felt we had to do, was to make sure that by the time we start taking in students into our programme, the students must be assured that the programme is accredited by the Singapore regulators so that they can practice in Singapore.
So when I drew up the accountancy curriculum, I actually looked at what was done in NTU. At that time, of course, I was very familiar with that and then the accounting faculty that were part of the start-up team helped me to brainstorm and we were looking at what were the features of the NTU programme that we liked and then what were the features of the NTU programme that we didn’t like. And then based on that we decided that we were going to draw up our curriculum to make sure that we incorporate features of NTU programme that we liked and then we were going to leave out those things that we didn’t like and then we were going to bring in additional qualities which the NTU local graduates we feel did not have. So I spent probably about one month developing a draft of the curriculum. And there were two people on the start up team that were very helpful in helping me to draw up the curriculum and that was Leong Kwong Sin and Michael Gan.
And so we had the first draft of our curriculum and then we knocked on the doors of major accounting employers. We went to the, at that time there were five accounting, we call them the Big Five. So we were knocking on the doors of all the Big Five and we met with the audit partners, the tax partners of these firms and we did our presentation on, you know, our curriculum, what we wanted to cover in there. We even had course syllabus, syllabi of the various topics we wanted to cover and then we invited employers’ feedback on the curriculum and we also asked them, what do they think local graduates are strong at, what did they think local graduates lacked? And so feedback from them were very useful, like they will tell us that local graduates, local accounting graduates, are technically very proficient but they are not as confident, they are not as articulate, they are not quite able to see the big picture, you know, compared to foreign graduates, for example, they are not as able to voice their opinion and so on. So we took all of those feedback and then we made sure that we incorporated them into our curriculum.
And when we were done with that, then we applied to the Institute of [Certified] Public Accountants of Singapore [ICPAS] for accreditation and we also applied to at that time, the Public Accountants Board [PNB] for accreditation of our programme. The accreditation from the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore were obtained just before we launched the programme. And they were actually very reluctant to do so because they said that, “Nobody accredits a programme that is not yet in existence.” And they said, “You should be running for a while first before we consider accreditation.” And what I said to them was, “I can’t afford to run for a while first before I get accredited, I must be accredited now.” And I gave them assurance about the fact that we had sought employers’ feedback and so on and in the process of seeking employers’ feedback, we actually also invited employers to play a part in helping us to train students.
So it was a, a concerted strategy to invite, for example, partners from the Big Four to come and teach courses that are very practice oriented. Because the proposition we had for them was that, we have our faculty who are trained in top universities and so they have all of the academic knowledge but they have the practical experience and they can bring those into the classroom so that all of those knowledge are passed on to our students as soon as they become relevant. If we wait for them to go into the textbooks, then by the time our faculty teach all of those topics, they are at least three, four years out of date. And so we actually had employers’ buy in, and that’s why we’ve always had adjunct faculty who teach things like tax, who teach things like audit, so when I explain this to the institute, they said, “Okay, I will give you provisional accreditation.” And that means for the next two, three years, I had to send in yearly reports of our students’ progress; I had to send in reports showing the quality intake of our students; the qualification of our faculty members; I had to send in course outlines, sample exam papers, student exam results and so on. So I did that for two years and then when they looked at that and then they said that, after two years they said, “Oh, you are okay, so you are accredited.” And so from day one we were able to tell applicants that if you come into our programme, you are accredited like the NTU programme. So that was quite helpful in that, actually the very first cohort of accounting students who applied into our programme were already quite good.
And at that time, the business programme was in its second year and accounting programme was in the first year and we had our share of really outstanding students and that was first year of our programme. And I think it was because of the fact that we make sure that we had employers’ buy in, so we had the employers saying that we support the programme. And I think that was a very, very important step that we took. And that made sure that from day one as far as our accounting programme is concerned; we never had quality issues as far as students are concerned.
And so by the time we launched accountancy degree, the agreement with the business school to offer double degrees was already there. So when we offered our accountancy programme in 2001, there were students from the business school who actually applied for accountancy as a second degree. So we had in that first cohort of accountancy students about ten business students who applied for accountancy as a second degree. And the accounting students who came, a lot of them also came because of all the visits that we made to the various junior colleges to explain our programme. So the first cohort that we took in, we took in about 80 students.
The reality is that most companies when they are looking at somebody with 5 years of experience, they are not going to make them the general manager. They are looking for them, hiring them for very specific things, whether it is Sales and Marketing or it is as a Financial Analyst. And so what I found that we needed and what I think we need in Asia, and I think we need them in the West because what we started doing, now the Western universities are now copying, is what we call the specialized Masters. So it's a specialized Masters in Innovation Management, specialized Master in Corporate Communications, specialized Master of Information Technology and Business. So in the U.S you have a Masters of Information Systems and you have a Masters, let's say in Marketing. What the industry needs are Marketing people who know how to use Information Systems. So SMU has invested quite a bit in specialized Masters and that has added to our strength. So let's say when I came here we had about 4 or 5 Masters Programs, JD were already here. Maybe we had 6, I don't remember the exact numbers but now we have close to 20. By the end of 2008, I joined in July but by the end of 2008, we had graduated about 400 students in the Post Graduate Professional Programs. Since then, we had graduated 3000, so we scaled up almost nine, ten times. This year for graduation, for commencement, the number of Post Graduates is only slightly below the number of Undergraduates graduating. Anyways the number of postgraduates has increased very rapidly, but I am also delighted to say that our placement record has been very good and we just had some very very good feedbacks from Financial Times in addition to the ranking for the Masters in Wealth Management. They had indicated that SMU is one of the youngest universities to get ranked in the top 100 and I believe we came in at thirtieth or something. But we moved in very quickly and my assumption is that because some of these rankings require at least three or four years of graduates with at least a certain number of graduates per year that within the next two or three years I expect many more of the SMU programs to be ranked globally.
It is smaller. By virtue of smallest of size, there will always be, there will always be this distinguishing feature. With smaller size, smaller classroom size, smaller everything, there’ll be a greater sense of intimacy. So that will continue. But in terms of the actual programmes we’d offer, and I’m talking about many years down the road, I think it’s always going to be simply a matter of finding niches for yourself. Now, SMU has found certain niches already. Clear niches, the fact that we’ve always said the exciting areas of education are really at the intersection of traditional disciplines. Bearing in mind that traditional disciplines were set up in the 19th century—biology, physics, chemistry—those are all 19th century constructs. Today, the most exciting areas would be between art and computer science, its animation. Between physics and biology, biophysics and so on. Now we’re not involved in all those areas, but to the extent that we are going to be offering joint degrees in law and in business, in business and accountancy, in economics and law for example, we will be of interest to other students, and we’ll distinguish ourselves that way. Now, when NUS goes that direction, we’ll be less so.
We have said that if we had to ever use a simple way for stating, in twenty-five words or less, what our ambition is—and you always have to use other examples, other names of institutions to give people an impression—what we’ve said in our strategy sessions in the past is that, we want to be an LSE [London School of Economics] but with a Princeton type of setup. Princeton type of setup because it’s US-style education, liberal arts sort of thing. So, the style will be like Princeton, style and size, but the offerings will not be like Princeton. LSE, because a social science university. And of course management. So we don’t see ourselves as being management only. I think that’s quite limiting. Law is already, we’re moving beyond that, but we would probably want to offer a wider range of the social sciences. So it’s basically a marriage, imagine LSE and Princeton marrying, and that should be your SMU.
As the Government had earlier decided on collaboration with the Wharton School it was natural to use it as a starting block for the design of the SMU curriculum. However, we made various changes and additions to make the SMU curriculum more unique. For instance, we decided to implement a compulsory internship component to ensure that its students graduate with some work experience. It will make them more employable. Further, employers also get to know the quality of our students. Another compulsory requirement was community service. We wanted to inculcate in students the spirit of giving back to society and to nurture students with a heart. Another addition was a course module named Business Study Mission which we had implemented successfully in the Nanyang MBA program. We saw the importance of developing in students a global mindset. Study trips overseas, visiting companies, interacting with top management - all these would provide our students with a better understanding of operating in different cultures, as well as economic, political and legal systems. The BSM has now become a very popular feature of the SMU undergraduate curricula.
To differentiate the SMU program with other local universities, we decided on a broad-based curriculum spanning 36 subjects compared to their 24, and interactive seminar-style pedagogy with small classes. We saw these additions as important to grooming graduates who are confident, dynamic, able to think out of the box, and with good communication and presentation skills. However, it would require us to extend the program to four years compared to three years in the local universities. We perceived, however, that these improvements would add value and provide our students with a more rigorous education, and enable them to thrive in an increasingly dynamic and global environment. The fact that the employment rate for our graduates each year is closed to 100%, demonstrates that employers have found them appealing.
There were several components. I've always been a believer in the integration of theory and practice. So experiential learning is important, and also Singapore is an island nation with no hinterland. And therefore, global exposure is important because our graduates have to be able to do business across borders. And so those were the two important components, experiential learning and global exposure. The third element is really our world is getting more and more uncertain and the students are soon to be starting in jobs that may or may not exist five, ten years later. So we have to equip them with the ability to switch careers, switch into new opportunities that may arise. But fortunately, SMU was already doing it. When I got here, there were over 70% of the students had double major. So with double majors, what do we get? We get the flexibility of thinking across disciplines, and that flexibility of thinking actually prepares the students for change. I also wanted to make sure that in the educational effort, particularly if we think of experiential learning as important, that SMU has good corporate relations for internship so on and so forth. That was already in place. So many of the things with the Undergraduate program were simply strengthening the good work that was done under Tan Chin Tiong. And on the margins pushing things in terms of new content, one important thing to me is flexibility that the students have and the flexibility to take courses across the colleges and also the flexibility of going abroad. I am happy to say that as of now, 88% of our students have global exposure and our goal is to get to 100% within a year or two. And I don't think any university is close to where SMU is on global exposure. We have 100% of our students with experiential learning with internships. Nobody is close to us. We take other things like I talked about double majors; many universities talk about it, but our students do it. So I am quite proud of what SMU has done.
The executive program, the executive development programs are needed for primarily two things: one is, actually three things. One is of course to bring them more resources that we can then add to the faculty research and the PhD support pool. Second is it builds up a relationship between us and the corporate community and that relationship is quite instrumental in getting internship for our students, jobs for our students so that bridge is very important. And the third thing and perhaps I am a minority in believing this, minority amongst faculty, is that I feel that it is absolutely necessary for faculty development. And the reason I feel it is necessary is that most of the disciplines at SMU, not just business, we take Law, it is a very professionally oriented discipline, or we take Information Systems, Information Technology, in all of these we need to know how to walk a talk, how if we have some ideas, how do we get them implemented. The second reason, the additional reason for faculty development is that I don't believe that all the knowledge that is there is between the ears of faculty in a university. I know some very very smart people in the business community who can dance circles around me. And so we need to be learning from them, we also need to understand that the rate at which information has been generated has been increasing every year. And as a consequence, when I was finishing my undergraduate, companies would hire you as a management trainee, they would train you for two years before you actually moved into a job function. Now they want students to be able to do that immediately. And so we don't have the luxury of sequential learning; that you learn academics and then you do experiential learning and then you actually do things. We need to integrate the two. For a variety of reasons, I really really see the need for closer collaboration between industry and academia and faculty develops so much better by working on real problems that need resolution. And when I look at my own research, the papers that are the most highly cited; their origins did not come from academic literature reviews. Their origins were looking at problems that industries said they needed some solutions to.
I think even as early as 2001, which is eleven years ago, many corporates have been sending their talent to what is called open-enrolment executive programs. An open-enrolment executive program is one-size fits all. It's actually a two-week or one-week program, non-degree, no exams and you'll always get a certificate of attendance at the end of that program. It's a very good start-up kit for many of the talents in the companies because executives come from different disciplines and when you do an executive program with a management university or a business school, it's a little bit like a topping up. It's a quick MBA without the rigor of the MBA. It allows you to think about what management skills, the toolkit you need when you go up to a certain mid-level or senior-level executive position. So, many corporates are using this toolkit in order to quickly polish their talent to understand the challenges of being a business leader. And each layer of your talent will need different types of polishing so an executive program is exactly that. It is a fast-track, quickie, to get you thinking and aligning yourself to the challenges of being a leader or a manager.
We actually use the word professional education about six years after executive education came about, so I wouldn't lump them together. The professional education programs are a little bit deeper. So we actually, for example, have a current program with the SingHealth [Singapore Health Services Pte Ltd] talent. SingHealth is a hospital, so they have lots of talent, clinicians and non-clinician professionals. And to understand and align themselves to the management terminology in the SingHealth family, it cannot be taught like one-size fits all. So, it's a little bit deeper, it has modular, it may not lead to a degree, it has some form of assessment, but it cannot be done in a one-week, two-week executive-type environment. So, professional education is a little bit of a hybrid between an actual master's degree and a non-degree perspective, so somewhere in the middle.
At that time we went and looked at several universities, how they use IT in their teaching rooms. We know what was being used in NUS, NTU. If you boil down to the pure technical difference, there is not much difference in the equipment that’s being used, right? I mean those are standard things people use, overhead projectors, they use whiteboard, they use whatever it is. So we were asking ourselves, but if we want to have an interactive type of teaching environment what do we need? We need to get the technical equipment into the room and yet seemingly out of the way. Sometimes equipment can interfere with your teaching. So we looked at how Wharton designed their rooms, how Harvard designed their rooms.
When we first started in Bukit Timah, the temporary campus, we built actually two experimental teaching rooms. There were a few of us who are more gung-ho in IT types, people who loved to play with gadgets. [We] go in there, propose new things, try, cannot work, throw it away. Seem to be a waste. We even try sound systems without mikes and things. The acoustics will cost us a bomb So people revert back to mike and things. We tried with two projectors which worked quite well for some of us; some of us do want it. We tried with the first handwritten tablets to be massively used in Singapore, so much so that Microsoft was so happy, invited two of us, Themin [Themin Suwardy] and myself, to give a talk in their…I still remember how people make use of tablets to teach.
The first one is actually with Wharton, so we have a one-week program where we call it the Managing Technology or �Managing New Business.� I can't even remember the actual title, but it's a one-week, hodgepodge where we pull the big brand names. Raffi Amit from Wharton. We have a wonderful I think, technology professor, I can't remember his name. Then, Chin Tiong, myself, Augustine Tan, literally holding the fort and selling the Wharton-SMU name.
And we were running ads in Economist, in Business Times, in Straits Times. We were using ads because those were not the days when you could use social media.
The thinking was that since the two [existing] universities are three-year programmes, our third university wants to have four-year programme, where are we going to get our students? That’s the worrying part, which was totally unnecessary. But like everything you start anew, you tend to be a bit careful, so we were still trying to cram the four-year programme into three, which we did in NTU. In NTU, we had a three-year programme, but it is also a broad-based university. Our business school is broad-based, so I wanted to do the same thing; I wanted very much here in SMU that we should have broad-based education. I think if we have too narrow an education, it’s not going to be good for our students, nor is it going to be good for our business in future. So I wanted them to have science, I wanted them to have the humanities, we’re talking 15 years ago, it’s like, this is not on.
The Applied Economics programme, on the other hand, is really designed for part-time students like the MBA, but the content is very different from the MBA—and that one is being designed to be a revenue generator. Right now about twenty-five students per year are coming in but we would like to grow that to about forty. And while the other [research] ones, the master’s and PhD in economics really developed the academic foundation for economics, this one puts its emphasis on applications; understanding of concepts; being able to interpret, use this knowledge of concepts to interpret how things are working out in the real world; and essentially being able to apply methodology to answer real world problems. No need to learn how to prove a theorem—but what you need to know are the concepts, and what the theorem is saying, and what the theorem and concepts are offering by way of understanding what’s happening out there, and how to cope with problems that you see.
Recruiting students again you’ve got to give the talk. We had to go to junior colleges to talk, alright, and that’s quite challenging. So again you got to tell these prospective students what it is about SMU law which would be better than NUS law, or different, at least. And again that was not easy, because, you know, NUS was in existence for 50 years, you know, so we are new, we’re totally new so, yeah, so we have to explain the distinctive. And the distinctives would be the holistic curriculum, because there’s this significant portion of non-law which we believe is actually very important. And indeed it is, it is because when you graduate and go out and practise, you find that the learning curve is very steep. You’re trying to advise your client on a particular thing, let’s a say a financial transaction. To properly structure it and document it you’ve to understand the financial structure. So we were very sure that the context of law was very important. Yeah and that was one of the attractions of our programme. We also included compulsory law courses which NUS did not have as compulsory, but which we thought were important to give a law graduate the skills and knowledge to excel in practice.
Some unusual courses would be that we have this course called, Economic Analysis of Law. This is something that was first started, I think, by the Chicago Law School. Right, so that was unusual. One reason why I included that was that I had the privilege to meet up with this gentleman called Gerhard Casper. He was President Emeritus of Stanford. He was also before that the dean of Chicago Law School. So we met him because he was part of the QAFU team, Quality Assurance for Universities. So I had a chat with him. A brilliant man, really brilliant man. He suggested that is one course that we should have. So we have that course.
We have another course called Commercial Conflict of Laws. Conflict of Laws is about how in an international environment the laws of many countries come into play. And Singapore is so international in its transactions, you know, and this area of law, which is very difficult area of law, keeps cropping up and it becomes more and more important. So we decided to make that compulsory as well. And there were another, two or three other courses. So apart from being holistic we had these core law courses which we thought were critical for cultivating very good lawyers.
Actually we just worked on our own. And you just reminded me of something. When we were planning our curriculum we came up with certain distinctives, distinctive features of our curriculum. And interestingly enough, a few weeks later, Harvard Law School, the Harvard Law School, announced changes to the curriculum. And they came up with three changes. Two of them were what we had included, and third one we were considering. So I thought it’s not bad, that on our own effort we came up with a programme which included things that number one in US also thought were important.
And then the community service project. We had a Singapore group that I won’t name come, and they were looking at all we do and they said, “How can you mandate that people do community service? That seems silly. If it’s mandated it’s not service.” I said, “On the contrary, a lot of these kids have never seen, say the other part of Singapore or some other less developed parts of Southeast Asia.” If nothing else, they’re exposed to a part of society that they would not otherwise be exposed to. And for many it’s a transformative event. They also, in many instances, do a lot of very good work.
Well, another example in this community service was that beginning about 2002 or ’03, or sometime several years ago, there was a project that students got involved in, in a small community in the Philippines, not too far from Cebu. And they had been involved in things like helping build a community centre for older people, and they had worked with the schools on certain training programmes for kids, and also helping build some play facilities for younger children, a variety of different projects over time. And from the initial group that went, another group went back and this has kind of grown over the years so that we have a regular connection with this particular little town. And a substantial number of students go there every year to work on these projects. And the mayor and the town council have become so fond of our students and appreciative of what they’d done that they passed a resolution making all of them honorary citizens. And the mayor and a couple of members of the council came here to make a presentation to me to thank SMU and its students for having done this. Not too many universities in the world have kids who are doing that kind of thing.
We have the enormous advantage of being a city campus, being here in the centre of the city and thus being a visible presence of an academic institution. Visible for everybody, everybody knows the buildings of SMU at the end of Orchard Road. Perhaps we haven’t really exploited and leveraged that position as well as we could, in terms of having impact on the business community. We are a university for the world of business. We’re not a business school—we’re a university, but for the world of business with the different components that I referred to a little bit earlier. We can make a difference in the way people manage, whether it’s in business, whether it’s in government, whether it’s in NGOs. For example, in NGOs, what the Lien Centre is doing is very important, in my opinion, in trying to influence the quality and the professionalism of management in NGOs. And I hope that in the long term we will be successful in influencing them.
My first point about society and SMU is that we need to take our research and see how relevant that is to businesses and see how we can influence the way they think and they work. That’s not going to happen automatically. We need to make a serious effort in communicating that. And that’s one of the reasons why I come back to that—we haven’t probably leveraged our closeness to business or to government or to some other organisations here around us, that we haven’t completely fully leveraged that to influence them, to communicate what we’re doing in terms of research. We also need to use much more social media to communicate the results of our research. And not only from the faculty but also some of the great ideas that some of the students have. I’ve seen some student papers that I was really very impressed with and I thought—we need to make sure that this is known by the community around us. So that’s the first point, that is, communicate better through our physical presence, but also through social media and anything else that can help us communicate better, the results of our insights of our research.
The second way that we relate to society is through our students’ and staff’s and faculty’s community service. As we all know, our students are required to do eighty hours of community service but many of them do a lot more. And we celebrated in September a million hours of community service, which is when you think about it, impressive as a university, a small university. But I would hope that through that community service and what students learn there, they get an attitude of helping the communities in which they work for the rest of their life, so that we can educate our students in continuing their education, so that they feel that as citizens they have a responsibility to the society in which they work and have to give back to the community. And this goes beyond our students. It’s faculty, staff, but also our alumni. And I would be very happy and I see that some of that is already, happening, where alumni and the students are working together on some of these community service projects. So I hope that, that again is something where we can influence society.
And the third one is something about the holistic experience that we provide to our students. Our educational system is one where we provide a holistic experience to the students, where we tell them, yes, you’re studying accounting or you’re studying business or information systems or law, or whatever you’re studying that—but then at the same time you should understand what’s going on, a little bit of what in the other schools is going on. You should understand how your domain fits in the broader world of business. And at the same time we stimulate our students to participate in the CCAs [co-curricular activities], do some cultural work or some sports or whatever. So we provide a holistic experience. I would hope that students go away from here and keep that holistic attitude and that I think that will have an influence on society, that society is not a collection of a bunch of silos but society’s about interaction, integration. And I would hope that one of the ways SMU can influence society is through our alumni who will keep that attitude of thinking broadly, thinking in an integrated way and perhaps influencing the way their colleagues and their organisations in their communities in which they work.
Alright. In keeping with SMU philosophy of having internships, I think as a preparation for work, SMU law students also have to go for internships. So they typically spend a period of time either with a law firm or as, with the legal department of a company, or even with the legal service, such as the courts, et cetera. So during this period of time they just get exposure to law. And the internship has been very valuable. From time to time when I meet lawyers I ask them, “So how do you find SMU students?” So actually I’ve got very good reports from them. They find our students to be very responsive, responsible. Yeah, so it is very valuable thing.
I just want to add something about the SMU programme. That one of the things that we made compulsory was the study mission, so every law student goes through a study mission. I mean, I think that study mission’s a very valuable experience for SMU students, alright. You go to another country, you visit companies, listen to what the people from the profession industry, the government, and you do some project and report on something. So, we thought that the study mission is, was a very good thing. So that is one of the compulsory aspects of SMU’s law programme.
To groom responsible prospective global business leaders and entrepreneurs, SMU saw the need to introduce a compulsory community service component into its undergraduate program. We felt that this will shape their outlook on volunteerism and giving back to society when they finally graduate. Students have the choice of doing their service in Singapore or overseas. In total, on the 10th anniversary of SMU [Jan 2010], students have performed more than a million hours of community service. A substantial number have rendered service totaling hundreds of hours. Initially, some students showed reluctance but eventually most saw the value of community service in helping others and contributing to their own personal growth.
In Singapore, community service projects include visiting the elderly in old folks home or those living alone in one-room HDB [Housing Development Board] flats, as well as helping the sick at hospitals and hospices. Overseas, the students have been involved in a variety of projects in needy communities. Project Argali in 2007 consisting of 14 SMU students who partnered a local NGO [Non Government Organization] in South Sikkim to improve the living standard and quality of life of its people. The project involves manufacturing chlorine-free paper from the Argali plant which grows profusely as a means of economic livelihood for the community without polluting the environment or cutting down trees. Our students assist with product development and the marketing plan for the paper products.
Another project was a Dare to Dream expeditions in 2007 – 12 SMU students partnered five hearing-impaired youths on a project in India. To better understand the silent world, our students learnt sign language to communicate with the youths. Through this, they learnt about the challenges faced by the hearing-impaired in their daily lives. The group collaborated with an organization in the village named Yuksam to promote eco-tourism as an alternative income source for the villagers. Our students assisted in developing merchandising ideas and marketing strategies for the products to woo eco-tourists to Yuksam. Then of course in the 2004 Asian tsunami, a group of students spent a few weeks in Khao Lak in Southern Thailand to assist in building a children’s home for orphans who had lost their parents in the tsunami.
Well, my brief was very simple. My brief was to try and construct a new syllabus; which would bring out the creative self in all our students. As far as the details were concerned, the dean said, I've got no time for all the details, I am trusting you to do it and you just go do it. But I think that was a very important lesson for all of us at the start because trust was a very important factor, which meant that I could go and ask anyone I like.
So because of that empowerment, I was able to put together a team of adjuncts. I was the only person full-time from here that was doing creative thinking, initially, but I had this wonderful eight, nine people come to help me. And because they were diverse, they came from very different fields a visual artist; a theater person; an architect; Johnny Lau, the guy who created the Kiasu comics and all that; people like him came. So our students learnt a lot of things like an architect can also be a creator of comic books, he can also write poems, and all of these became very exciting platforms for them. They'd never had anything like this in their lives. And when the newspapers asked me, So how do you propose to teach this creative thinking? What's the pedagogy going to be? I said, the pedagogy will depend on each person who is going to come in. But, I said, I can tell you one thing that all of them are going to go through. And they said, What? I said, it's going to be the undoing of everything they have learnt in the last 12 years. Because the last 12 years they've learnt things by rote, they've learnt things by putting memory work. But now when they come in here, all this, out there, they're going to start anew, they're going to start afresh, they're going to start like little babies who're going to learn how to crawl, sit up and then slowly run. And that's why I took charge of the creative thinking program.
I had a class that went from 12 midnight to six in the morning to creatively try and see whether that would be okay. Students loved it. Their parents were not very happy about it, but they loved it. I had a class conducted in Changi Hotel, where one student came up to me and she said, Prof, my father really thinks this is rubbish. He thinks you're up to no good. And he's going to come round at some point to check on me. So I said, Wonderful! So we started the class at 9 pm, and it was residential to the next day. And true enough, Mr Ong turned up at around 11.30, and I was waiting for him. And he came and he sort of looked around and said, Excuse me. I said, Sir, are you Mr Ong? He said Yes. I said, I am Kirpal Singh. Oh, he said, You're the prof? I said, Yes. So I said, would you like to go in? They're doing a little bit of an exercise in the room. There are about nine of them in this room, ten of them in the other room. And this is going to go right through until about four in the morning, then I am going to let them sleep. And I said, this is to test resilience, to try a new way of educational pedagogy because most of these kids don't wake up till about ten, eleven. They sleep at about three, four. At this point, nine, ten in the evening, they are at their best, they're absorbing and all that. So he said no, no, no, that's fine. I just wanted to make sure that she was okay. So I said, fine. And he went off. So I told Pat, the student, I said, your dad came and left.
But I think it was.I think firstly, certainly in 2000 to about 2003, a lot of parents who, in a way allowed or were okay with their children coming to SMU, were also a different kind of, set of parents. I mean their thinking was to say, let's go with the new, let's see what the new is about. And many of them were graduates of the old universities and they probably didn't look back with great fondness on their education, they wanted to experiment. So they were risk-takers as well. I think we have to take them into consideration. So 50 percent of the time, I knew I was going to win anyway because who would send the person to a new school? The other 50 percent was a matter of communication, persuasion, a bit of fun, we had a lot of fun. We found that there is no incompatibility between real learning and having fun. So the old seriousness, which my professor had told me, no laughter and all that, was now out of the window. And the new idea was to have fun, to crack a few jokes, to get things going because in that way adrenaline began to flow. And young people are very creative if only you give them I always began by saying my students, I used to challenge them I said, you've got all these facilities. Some of them said, oh, you want us to be creative in this room? These are all blank things. So I said, Do something! And they said, oh, what do we do? And I said, I don't know. I said, if you go back to the time when you were five or six years old, and you are two little kids in this room, you come up with games, you make imaginary games, you construct things suddenly you're daddy, suddenly she's grandma, and all kind of things will happen. What happened to that creativity? That's when being provoked like that and challenged like that
So, of course, we had classrooms smeared with all kinds of paint and everything. Those days the facility manager came in and said, Kirpal, these are supposed to be clean walls. I said, which is the happier classroom? This one, absolutely boring or that one, with all these creative things? I think it was a lot of trial and experiment, and I think today we have a lot of rules. This is why creative thinking has become almost formulaic. And I still love my colleagues who are teaching this creative thinking, but I think the fundamental idea of making a young person confident and proud of his or her own innate ability to bring something new in the world, that is not really the fundamental aim of today's thing, today's program, and this is why I moved out. Today's programme seems to be more like so what do you know about creative thinking? There are textbooks and all that. But there cannot be any textbook about creative thinking.
The Chronicle of Higher Education was so impressed by our program that they did a whole centre spread on creative thinking program and it hit the world. I think it was in 2004 or something like that. And at that point, some of the better universities in America had already begun to sit up and take cognisance of the fact that in this remote part of the world called Singapore, and in this very new small university called SMU which is often mixed with their Southern Methodist University there was this new experiment taking place.
And I still remember in the first term of the Intro Accounting, Financial Accounting class taught by Professor Gan and when you talk to him, he can tell you more about it. But he had set a project for students to examine the financial statement of a listed company and to give a recommendation as to whether or not you would recommend investing in that company and then he told students that our pedagogy is different, you can do your presentation in any way you like. And there was one group of students who did the presentation using a skit. And the student had looked at the financial statement of Singapore Airlines, SIA, and at that time our chairman [of the board] was also a director of SIA. And so they were using in the skit, they had a cleaner talking to a, I think it was a, someone not very educated about investing in a company—and what does a financial statement mean and what, what is the meaning of assets, what is the meaning of liability, what do those ratios mean and how to read a set of financial statement—to see what it means if you don’t understand accounting. So they were looking at that and then they talk to accounting student at SMU. Accounting student have studied some financial accounting and so tried to explain these concepts. And then even said that our chairman, chairman of SMU is also a director of this company so I think it’s very safe for you to invest in SIA and so on. So the way they did it was really quite interesting and so Prof Gan arranged for the students to do the skit again for, at that time was President Ron Frank, so President Ron Frank and Provost Tan Chin Tiong were invited to view this and they liked it so much, they said when we have our open house we like you to do it for the students at the next open house.
And so when the open house, when we had open house the next March, those students went and did that again and I think they were so willing to do it and they were enjoying themselves so much, I think they did it for two or three groups of students that came to listen during the open house in that one day and that was something to me really quite memorable because it showed us that when you have a new group of students and you want them to do something new and you tell them the pedagogy is new they really go all out to do something different. And that was how we…how I felt, you know, the accounting school started with a group of students that really paved the way for the succeeding group of students to carry on with that, with that very, very innovative approach to learning which we still have today.
So in some ways I was very blessed because my mentor and the prof who took me in hand, a wonderful man call Edwin Thamboo. Prof Thamboo and I have had a sort of love-hate, convoluted, father-son kind of relationship over all these years.
So when I became a student and then his colleague in the department, it was quite interesting, that kind of thing. He was chairman of the Singapore Writers everything.
So he was chairman of the writers festival for like 15 years, and I was his understudy, deputy chairman of the writers festival. And then he said, no, I'm going to go and do other things, you take over the chairmanship. So I became chairman of the Singapore Writers Festival for like 12 years. So that went on, so I have always been a part of the Singapore writing scene and a lot of battles fought and won, some won, a few now winning still.
When it came to the new, the revamp and the creation of the new Singapore Writers Festival, which began with Paul Tan becoming the director. So it was interesting. Paul was my student, right? So we're all sort of inter-linked. So I was talking with Paul and I was on the initial steering committee, the first one of the new revamped one, and we were looking around for venues. So I said, use SMU. He said, SMU? I said, yes. You know, I said, SMU is central, we are right there. He said, wow, but the logistics? I said, all those can be handled. What we need to do is just think it, and then we make it happen. And that's how the first writers festival took place on our campus, the campus green here. It was beautiful.
I wanted to make sure that we had opportunities for both the students and faculty to interact with leading universities in other parts of the world. One of the goals we set early on was to have ultimately, ultimately to achieve a situation in which every student would have an opportunity for substantial overseas experience. Either a semester abroad or internship overseas or community service overseas or something of that sort. We haven’t quite gotten to the one hundred percent mark yet but we’re way ahead of most universities in the world in providing those kinds of opportunities for students. And that was because Singapore—while a wealthy, interesting place itself full of interesting people with a lot of intellectual firepower—is still a small place. And for Singapore to be successful it has to reach out and be connected with the rest of the world and bring the world here and connect with the world. And students can only really do that well if they’ve had some actual experience in another culture, another place. And it also brings fresh ideas and perspectives. So that was, that was something that was terrifically important and still is, and we had good people working on that, and I thank Isabelle Malique who directs the exchange programme. We have now about two hundred exchange programmes for students around the world.
Well the thing that we found fascinating is here we are, starting from nothing. You know although he [Desai] and I have very credible and formidable experience, the school—SMU’s new—and the school [SIS] is doesn’t exist yet hardly, I mean it exists but it’s really, nothing there. And the other two established universities in Singapore, both have a computing school, of one form or another. NUS had the School of Computing, NTU has the School of Computer Engineering and they’ve a lot of overlap [with SIS], and they both had business schools that dealt with the management side of information systems. And more than one of the industry people we spoke with, I say more than one which is a polite way of saying a number of them, said, “Well gee, you know, it’s kind of a refreshing conversation. It’s the first time somebody has spoken to us to have this kind of discussion about this kind of concept for this kind of [business-oriented IT] professional.” I’m sure the other schools had spoken to industry and had advisory panels, I would assume that’s the case, and I’m sure they did it.
But we just did a lot of it. And it was just, it wasn’t something like we run the school and do everything you’re supposed to do as an academic institution, and, oh, we have this little bit of effort we do occasionally to go talk to business. It’s like, no, that was part of our daily work, and…talking to business and—not just saying what do you want—we were a little audacious to have our own ideas of what we think the school should be, just from our own experiences. I didn’t exactly know at that time how to articulate it as clearly as I might today, but there was this…wavelength, that I was homing in on, and then I think Desai had a lot of similar views, and it only reinforced that. So we had a view of where to go, and what we would do is ping this off of people, and see how they’d respond. And through that pinging and hearing the response, we’d refine, and we’d learn. And it was really fascinating because it wasn’t too long afterwards that we’re interviewing students, my goodness. Desai started in April, that’s right in the middle of admission season, you know, and that’s when you have to do the [admissions for the] intake that starts in August, and you know you’re in the midst of figuring out a curriculum. Keep in mind that the majority of courses were SMU standard courses anyway, so we didn’t have to do the whole thing from scratch, but there had to be some SIS courses right from the outset.
And as we were interviewing students on a daily basis—which would occur in the April, May, June period—Desai and I would be doing our regular interactions with the industry because that’s what we were using as a sounding board to help think through how we should put this thing together. And as part of the interview process students would say to us, “Well, how do I know this is a good idea?” Or, you know, “You guys don’t have the experience, why is this the way to do something?” And we would always have fantastic examples. We’d always have the ability to just say (snaps fingers) right there without thinking, well, let me tell you about the conversation I had this morning, with the CIO of this firm, and that firm and that firm, and let me tell you what they’re saying about their challenges, the kind of people they need. So the recruiting of the initial batch of students, the conceptualisation of the curriculum, the design of the curriculum, the interactions with industry, and the pinging back and forth to Carnegie Mellon, it was just all happening at the same time at a very rapid rate. And that’s how it happened.
Over the period I was Dean, I launched PhD programs in every one of the other areas, going from the most strong, the second one was OB, the third one was marketing, the fourth one was strategy in organization, the fifth one was operations management. And we'd probably stop there. And we also in between launched the PhD in general management. You have to afford research. So I had to find ways to generate. So over the period, if you don't mind, I am going to consult my notes, but I listed down all of the post-graduate programs I launched since I was dean. First one was the executive MBA in 2011. That has now had 4 cohorts, and you would probably have seen the other day that we have entered into the Financial Times ranking. You have to have at least 3 sets of students through before you can go into the rankings. We came in as the highest entrant, 36th in the world. That's pretty good. And before launching that, which was in 2011, we did extensive focus groups across Asia. So we actually interviewed about 130 managers, and that's when we got the design of 9 modules, 6 of which were done in Singapore, the other 3 were done overseas. So we picked Wharton obviously because Wharton's relationship to our founding. And then we picked Peking in China, which is a really top research school, and ISB. In 2012, we launched the Master of Innovation. Surprisingly, that's done much better than I thought, and has managed to achieve the same heights of about 40 to 45 students. And I should perhaps point this out. I said that revamp the advisory board at the business school so changed it completely so it's much more representative, not just the finance but manufacturing and service industry and government. So one I revamped the advisory board and two I set up an alumni board of LKCSB and I took each one of these proposals in front of them. I used the advisory board to go through the strategy of the program. They kept asking the question, What's the job after the Master of Innovation? which is interesting question. And of course it is a jolly good question so we tried to answer that more and more. We understood that Entrepreneurship was the term that would, so there was a focus also in the program of entrepreneurship, which we have renewed in Gerry's tenure, well because he is the professor of entrepreneurship which is really hard to find. So Master of Innovation in 2012, and Master of Quantitative Finance, which was a relationship with Cass Business school in the city of London, which is probably, in Britain, the best finance school, LBS is probably the other one. And we launched that in 2012. 2014, we launched the Master of Management degree, which is, if you like, a management study degree for people who do not have an undergraduate degree in business studies or management studies, so tailored for people from the Humanities, from the Arts, from Social Sciences, from Technology and so on. And I pioneered that program in Warwick Business School. When I left Warwick Business School, we had 150 students in the program. When we launched it, the first class we had 70 students and a current one close to 100 or maybe 90. I always knew there was a market for it here. And I think it's a market that makes sense because it makes people job-ready who have not studied. And we also have a partnership with SUTD as well in that program which enables students who have done 4 years of Engineering degree to do the 5th year of management with a number of electives counted towards the master degree. That's worked out pretty well. And of course, just before I gave up, in the last year I launched the distance learning version of the MBA with Instituto de Empresa, which is a Spanish Business School in Madrid. I know the director extremely well and we launched that last year in 2014 and we now have a 2nd cohort in 2015 and that was because I always felt there was a need to be looking at distance learning in the context of Asia. In Quantitative Finance, well that's been a strength of ours for a long time. Master of Management was very much an MBA for people who didn't have a business studies degree. And so I engineered the reengineering of the MBA degree. That took place over 2011-2012 and we were launched in 2013. So we will have by, 2017, 4 cohorts of the MBA program so that we can go into the FT rankings.And I should add by the way, I know you have asked me about post-graduate programs, but I would add, and I also mentioned about the Doctoral programs, which is tremendously important. You should see those 2 things in parallel. The Doctoral programs, in many ways, was financed by the surpluses after the Masters programs. But they are also a source of students, very good students on there, we may be able to attract to do PhDs. And one of the objectives is to get good research, and good doctoral programs. Faculty will leave unless they have doctoral students. Unless you have a flow of doctoral students, you are going to get faculty leaving. So it's part of a virtuous circle, running a business school. If you are providing very good quality masters programs, and I think we do, then the resources we gain from that, we're putting into faculty development, which makes the teaching in those programs better in the long term. So just as it generates good quality research, it also generates good quality teaching. And it is a virtuous circle.
So, I had the wonderful opportunity to design a whole new course for SMU. It is called Financial Markets and Institutions. It is very much in the arena of my own strength. So that was a core course for all our finance majors as well as our non-finance majors, so it's actually a business core, and therefore, you will have a chance to influence many people. So, in the early days, we don't have our six schools, it is just one big SMU, one big business school. So the alignment was towards, we have to get that first batch of undergraduate students out and they have to be so good that no amount of advertising or branding is needed. So, the whole concentration of the energy, both from the academic perspective and the non-academic perspective, was aligned to get the best batch of pioneer students out.
And I think that's a wonderful exercise because we talked to many business people on what do they want to see as the first output from SMU. Many students like to think that they are the customers, but in the eyes of all of us in those early days, they are our raw materials. They are the inputs and we hope that we will have enough time and sufficient interaction to make sure that, four years later, they will be the best output that the market would want. And the real customers are the corporate clients, the government, the non-profit organisations taking our students as their talent. So, in fact, I've already had access to many corporate clients, right smack in the year 2000. We were talking to them about what kind of students and output they wanted. And I think that was a really great exercise because from the mouths of all the corporate leaders, we also know the challenge that they are facing on their own training programs for their own talent, and while exec ed was at the back of my mind, the vision started more with the undergraduate.
I was brought in basically to do three things one was to helm a creative thinking program, which was sensationally new. And because it was going to be mandatory for every single student and that was the first time in the world, in the entire universe, throughout history, that every single student of this new university was going to be subjected to creative thinking, and critical thinking, to balance out.
My second task was to helm the communication part of their core curriculum. That meant drawing up interesting courses which would both equip the students in a more than just proficient standard in English, as well as go beyond that by being a little bit more colourful, witty, both in writing and talking. And in those days, because we thought that communication is going to be very important, what I put in place was to train our students to be able to give interviews to television, radio what were the differences when a newspaper reporter came to you, how to look at the camera straight and talk, and how do you then do a radio interview, those kind of things. So we saw that as very essential. We saw that interviewing over the media was a new way that people might even be recruiting you. So very often they're either going to see you face-to-face but that may came later, the first thing might be a phone call. The potential boss just wants to have a chat, and if you are not very good in telephone manners, those kind of things . So that was my second area, broadly speaking.
And my last area was to look after this thing called general electives', which was all and sundry, anything that did not fit in the first school of business and their component parts came to Kirpal. And I did those three things, I think, with some degree of success. But as the university grew a bit larger, then these three portfolios became harder and harder to manage all three at one time.
So one of the understood things that we had as a team was to say that one way in which the SMU graduate will be distinctly different from the NUS and NTU would be we try to make him as all rounded as possible. So what I did was to get people like Patrick Loh, who does science kind of thing, and we said we're going to get you into doing the scientific thing because you run farms, you got organic things involved, so you're going to carve out a new kind of syllabus which will teach people entrepreneurship, the business strategies by which you can set things up. I got a historian from NUS, Malcolm Murfett to come and teach history. But I said the history we're going to teach here is not your usual history. I said, maybe think of four major business major icons say you take the Sony boss; you take the big giant, Bill Gates; you take two from Asia, two from the West, bring them together as a case study because the history of these giants is also a history of the times. You know what I mean? Could this have happened when World War II was going on? What kind of giants emerged from that? Was it defence equipment, defence products that would be the biggest sellers at that time? Or were the defences already in place and they created the war just to make sure the defence weapons sold? So I said, tease your students and all that.
So I picked people I knew, I picked people who were themselves very, very brilliant. Life is not always very kind to the people who are really brilliant. So some of them were frustrated where they were, and so they were very happy to grab at this new opportunity to teach a course which they themselves put in place. Because these courses didn't have to go through the university committees and all of this. What went through the university committee is the broad thing, the creation of a general elective program. And the rest was left to me, and I left it to my wonderful people who came from all over the blooming That's how we went. We wanted to create the East-West thing so we had dances East and West, music East and West, everything East and West, and I insisted on that. Some of the modules still carry on having that same name, East and West. Some of them have changed over time.
But the idea was to create a person who was sensitive, not just to the East, because the idea was a global experience. The new graduate would fit anywhere in the world. The old graduate would fit in Singapore as a wonderful employee. But the new graduate has to be a wonderful employee, whether in Chicago or Dubai or Shanghai or Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak, wherever he or she found the opportunity. So that created the platform by which I chose my professors. I chose professors obviously quite deviously as well. I chose good ones, good rankings and highly respected individuals so the students felt like, wow, they're being taught by somebody special not the ordinary run-of-the-mill prof, that kind of thing. So it was quite an exciting time, yes.
I think the big difference in our world versus the rest of SMU—and this is just using vocabulary and common ways in which people talk about it as an indicator of the difference in mindset—is that the standard way across SMU of talking about the progressive aspects of the learning process was to always focus about what happened in the classroom. That when we have the classroom, students are called on and they speak out and its seminar style. That was true, it is an important thing that happens at SMU. But do your arithmetic, for every one hour a student spends in class, at least in our programme, you’re supposed to spend more than two, more like three to five hours outside of class. Doing what? Doing! Doing what it is that you’re supposed to be talking about in class, right? So from the outset I think we had the strongest emphasis on learning by doing, and the focus that most of that doing happens outside of the class session. And that what you’re really designing in the curriculum, are ways of getting people informed in class, so that they can spend a lot of time in groups, doing what you want them to be able to do. So I think, from the outset SIS always had a much stronger emphasis on what do the students do, and the output of what they do, than the form and the shape of what they do, which is to sit in a class and interactively discuss. And I think you see that in the SIS students today. I think that seemingly simple difference and emphasis has really woven itself quite deeply into just the whole ethos and characterisation of the SIS student. And the performance of the SIS students I think reflects this.
The idea behind the creation of SMU was to introduce diversity into the educational landscape and to offer Singaporeans a more American-style university, as opposed to British-style. The other two are not purely British-style by any means and SMU is not strictly American. They’re all Singaporean in their context, but SMU has a four-year bachelor’s programme, not three-year. And the students are required to take a core curriculum which cuts across many different disciplines. They have to take six courses in common and they have to take four, five courses from a general array of subjects. So they’ll have something in math, science, humanities, the social sciences, and then they’ll do their major subject in the business school, it may be finance or marketing. In information systems, obviously, it’s all of the different disciplines brought together that deal with IT and the application of it in businesses. In law, its law and so forth. By the time they finish four years, they’ve had depth in a particular discipline and also experience with other disciplines to give them some broader understanding of context in which they’re working. So that a law student for instance will have had a course in finance and reading financial accounting materials. May be a little dull but it’s useful for a lawyer to have that skill.
All the students will have had a course in ethics and social responsibility. There’s an interesting one on business, government and society, and the interrelationships with the civil society and governing bodies and politics and enterprise. So we hope that the person who comes out is both deeply and broadly educated and has some understanding of the context of the world in which he or she is going to work. It’s the first liberal arts school in Singapore.
Well, let’s take the ones in information systems as one example. A large proportion of those students are polytechnic graduates, not JC graduates. And many of them do not have the academic indicators which would predict academic success in a way say that the ones who come from JCs with four As and distinctions and so forth might have. But within the SMU environment, the SIS students seem to thrive. They tend to produce a disproportionate number of leaders within student government and student organisations, including a couple of presidents of the student association. Their academic performance in all courses, not just IS courses, is on average way above what their predictors were. I mean the difference is remarkable in what their academic predictor might be and their actual performance over time. And then their success rate on graduation is simply phenomenal. It’s one hundred percent placement, the highest average salaries in Singapore! Not just within SMU but in Singapore, excluding medicine and law, medicine and law are in a kind of different category. But if you take all the business and social science and accountancy graduates from NUS, NTU, SMU, the SIS graduates have the highest starting salaries.
The government was willing to let us embark on a new admissions process and I said that if you were trying to create more entrepreneurs and innovators in Singapore, one could not rely solely on your ‘A’ level grades. Now since Singapore is very exam conscious I think this was another major surprise to them. But the point I made is, I said, “If you’re looking for a great chemist, your ‘A’ level grade in chemistry will be a very good predictor but if you’re looking for the next entrepreneur to I don’t know, to start a hamburger chain or whatever, this is not that great a predictor so you have to look for some other factors.” And they discussed at length how we do it in the United States and they were willing to try. And they were very concerned and I can see this, that it be perceived as fair, because a system that’s just based on ‘A’ level grades as it was maybe 15 years ago is very transparent. So if you say, no we’re taking into other things into consideration, for instance your interview results, that’s not as transparent, so you could see there was some concern about how would this be.
Originally it was easy because, moving to the American model of education with this idea of a different type of curriculum, more broad-based in the first two years particularly before one focuses was very, very different than NTU and NUS. Another difference would be the size of the classes. We use the word interactive. In the United States if you said that people would look at you and say, “What do you mean?” Instead of lectures, more traditional classroom formats, this is much more talking back and forth, projects, internships, much greater focus on leadership which was one of our exciting first year courses; remind me to come back to that. So I think those were some of the differences. Happily, I have to say, an impact of SMU is that the arrival of a third university which broke the mould, if I could use that term [was that] the other two sort of sat up and changes were made. Now of course both of them changed at the top and had other changes but I think competition spurred innovation at all three universities. And another thing I wanted and I hoped this continues was that all three, and now five, but that they don’t have to be clones, but let’s get to size, I was very much against another 15000 student university. I said you have two big universities, why not have one that’s somewhat small. I said Princeton is much smaller than Cornell, much, much smaller in fact. And so once again there was this idea; how big should a university be. And instead of being out on a beautiful campus, not that ours isn’t beautiful at SMU, but it’s a city campus, so this idea there should be some real differences so that students have a choice.
Well of course I come from a business school and I certainly see advertising as a way of getting your message across. But in the very first year, it was extremely important because we didn’t have the visibility in Singapore. So we needed students to apply and to do that you had to have an image, and a very distinctive image. So I do remember interviewing various advertising companies to work on this. This one I really liked because it says “Aspire to lead” with the fish and the koi leading upwards. And that’s what I was looking for in our first students, remember these students, I said they are our pioneer class and they would have a different spirit and they would be willing to take this challenge and do something that was quite different, so I thought this advertisement captured that spirit and because I’d put such an emphasis on leadership and teamwork training also. But that verb aspire to lead, I just though captured that spirit so that was important. It has been aggressive. Now originally we had to have an image and create it quickly. Brand awareness is what people would say but subsequently other presidents and other directors of admissions have had different views. This was really trying to capture the spirit of this new university. I think subsequent ad campaigns have been more closely tailored to look at student applicants rather than the university as a whole.
And so we took the Wharton curriculum and we also examined the curriculum in some top schools in the US and elsewhere and then we decided that we would adapt the Wharton model to suit the Singapore, the local environment. So that was the starting point. And basically what we wanted was to provide a broad-based education and that was something different at that time because in the other two universities, given the history of Singapore, both universities were very much adopting the British system. And British system of education is definitely not broad-based. You know, if you are in business, you study business and that’s it. So the idea of having a broad-based education and then you specialise was something that was quite new at that time. So we adapted best practices in other US universities but primarily still keeping to the basic Wharton model.
We were asked to design a programme that’s very similar to business programmes in the United States a four-year programme. We were initially concerned that we may not be competitive. NUS had a four years honours programme, so we need to make ours direct honours. NTU had a three-year honours by merit programme, and so we have to put in features that would allow students to be exposed to more things, to have a reason why they should stay an extra year, and obviously to make it modular such that those who are very hardworking may finish the four-year programme in three, or at least three and a half.
We looked at the Wharton curriculum to see what nice features it had. We also looked at other US business school programmes. If you were to look across business programmes in United States, you will find very similar courses being offered. So there’s nothing very distinctive about it. Our curriculum is I think very similar to any US curriculum. You will find that it has a core programme with electives [and specialisations].
Dave Montgomery used a phrase that I like a great deal, I think captures a great deal. There ought to be balanced excellence between research and teaching. That the research at least in part, not completely should be integrated into the teaching, that you should try to provide students opportunities to the extent you can. When you get four, five, six thousand students, you can't do that every time, to everybody, but you try to do it as much as you can. My sense is you want to balance the sort of theory, methodology part with practice, but you don't want purely practice, because you want students to be continually looking at existing practice and saying, Why? Why is it that way, why couldn't it be this way? And if they aren't why-ers all the time, and but if-ers all the time, they're likely not going to be particularly good leaders or managers.
So we wanted to build a capacity to make decisions on the part of the students. We also wanted a climate that would increase their self-confidence. Because again, my impressions which may be wrong as an outsider is that the family structure in Singapore is students, or children seen but not heard is going too far but fairly passive in their relative roles, and in business fairly passive in junior positions. We wanted to create a bunch of non-passive, creative human beings who would ask the but ifs and whys of Mum and Dad, and of their bosses, tactfully and politely, but would have something to say that might be a better idea. We wanted to encourage it in them.
One way to do that is the case method. Using cases and using the design of the classrooms to get the students used to learning from each other, and talking to each other, and finding out that they too could think through a problem without somebody called a faculty member taking them step-by-step through that problem and they were capable of exercising that muscle and doing a decent job, even though, heaven forbid, they were undergraduates. So that the classrooms, not only was class-size [important], but the more important thing in those classrooms for me is they're U-shaped and they're banked. Which means, if you design it right, anyone in a given chair in a classroom, by pivoting the chair, can go eyeball-to-eyeball with any other student. If the acoustics are right, no matter where the faculty member is, no matter where anybody else is that's speaking, everybody else can hear at the same level. If you want to have that kind of peer-learning, you need those architectural and acoustic characteristics, and you need a pedagogy, a teaching style, that encourages the kind of behaviour you're after.
I’m going to give credit where it’s due. I learned it at Stanford when I first arrived, and I credit Lee Bach [George Leland Bach] who was actually the dean at Carnegie Mellon when Carnegie really revolutionised management education and made the multidisciplinary stuff go. And then Lee came out to Stanford and was really a major intellectual force that supported Arjay Miller and Bob Jadekey when they were entering their deanships.
What balanced excellence stands for is basically—a university is about two things as I see it—it’s about the generation and the dissemination of knowledge. Those are our roles, not one, not the other, but both. And I fully subscribe to that. And what balanced excellence is about is you got to both well.
I think what a dean’s role is to do is to build a portfolio. Every person doesn’t have to do everything…some do and pay them well, don’t lose them, What you want is a balance. So what this translated into at SMU, I tried to make sure that people understood here the young faculty are going to be worried about their research and worried about tenure and stuff like that. And look, I’m not saying that I want you to stay up all night everyday of the week worrying about your teaching, but you better do a good job—our students are important, learning’s important and so is your research—so try to build a balance and do a reasonable job. Because sometimes you’ll find older faculty will advise the younger faculty, well just concentrate only on your research. And I said don’t do it on my watch. (laughter) And there were some people who felt the bite of that.
And on the other hand, I also did a thing called the dean’s teaching awards, a dean’s list for teaching. I would announce them and list them and put them in the faculty lounge so that everybody could see who was doing well. I’ve never really been a big fan of the ‘teacher of the year’ award—that means you’ve got one and only one. Teaching’s more important than that. You’ve got to make the university work well, you got to have a lot of people doing well, and I think these guys are, these people, these faculty are top quartile teachers, just make it public and say thanks.
The dean met with every faculty member every year and talked about their performance. And I always talked about teaching and research, or research and teaching. And it was usually in the inverse order as to what the individual thought was important. If it was a research person I’d start out talking about their teaching, and then say, by the way this research is—it wasn’t an also ran—but I just tried to get the point across that we’re looking for balance, but everybody doesn’t have to be identical. We don’t want a bunch of clones; we want a bunch of innovative people and great teachers in different ways.
So what balanced excellence is about is—not that everybody is utterly in the same balance and all looks alike with the same proportion of this, that, or the other thing—but rather we give strong importance to both of the fundamental dimensions of the university from the medieval days when universities got started. And we give public credit, public thanks, recognition.
The other thing that that I did start and it immediately got taken to the university was the Centre for Teaching Excellence. Basically, I took one of my excellent teachers in the corporate communication area, Michael Netzley, and said, I’m giving you a semester off, and I’m giving you plane ticket, go find out what people are doing for teaching—evaluation, how they help people get better, and bring this back to… And the provost said oh, what a great idea. So we made it a university centre, that’s fine. I did it simply because I didn’t want to fuss around and wait. Because I knew I was only going to be here about three years, so I thought I’m going to go ahead and do it, and if it’s a great idea somebody will carry it on. And Pang Yang Hoong basically supervised that and I think that’s been a success.
Well, one of the things most people don't understand is that lawyers do research in a different way from most of the other subjects. The sort of research I do doesn't involve anybody paying me to do it, it's basically a question of sitting with lots of books and reading them and fitting together the material. And that is probably what sixty or seventy percent of the faculty are doing what sometimes called black letter law that is basically trying to find ways of stating the law more perceptively and accurately. And there it's simply a question of people identifying some area which they are particularly interested in or attracted to and getting on with writing about it. So and as it happens, the vast majority of faculty are productively engaged in writing of this kind, particularly on, we don't have anybody on the tenure track who isn't regularly publishing.
There are people, let us suppose that you're doing work in let's just say criminology that involves trying to work out why people behave in this way and in what ways punishing them would make them behave differently. And that is, typically the work there is much more like working done in social science, it does involve empirical investigation and what actually happens. And we have people doing work like that.
Well, we thought that there were a significant number of people who wanted to study law who already had degrees. And of course there are countries where it's normal only to study law when you've, after you've studied something else. So in the United States, the exclusive path now is to do a four-year college degree and then do a three-year law degree. And what is different about our arrangement is that we have the two side by side and we haven't chosen to put one over the other.
And experience certainly shows that there are a significant number of people who would welcome the chance to do this and because they've already got a degree, we felt able to delete from the law degree a substantial element which is non-law. I mean the law degree is sort of seventy percent law and thirty percent non-law. For people who've already got a degree they would just be doing the seventy percent. It appears that you can certainly do it in two-and-a-half years and if you make extensive use of Terms 3A and 3B you may be able to do it in two years but you have to work very hard to do that. We charge them the same fee however long they take, so it doesn't, there's no pressure on them to do it in a particular time.
As far as I can tell they're pretty much the same. I mean it's too soon to tell in a sense, Neither cohort has actually got into the labour [market], but, it appears that most of them want at this stage to go into private practice or into government legal service and the people from both classes could do that. One of the big things about law is that a lot of people who do law degrees, don't spend the rest of their life as lawyers. It's not like medical [school]; people who do medical degrees nearly all spend the rest of their life as doctors. The attrition rate for lawyers is quite high. I don't think that matters because law is a good training for all sorts of other things. There will be a few, I think, who fall out at the first stage and already decide they want to do something else. One would expect that most of the people who've chosen to do the JD have chosen to do the JD because they wanted to be lawyers. There will be people who started the LLB thinking they wanted to be lawyers and by the time they've done four years of it, they surely want to do something else.
Well I think that the, the, probably the calibre of the students is actually the most obvious. We do actually have very good students. I would say the students are just as good as any of the law schools I've ever taught in. And I have quite a lot of experience.
Oh yeah. Actually a lot of us started with University of Singapore, that was way back in the Bukit Timah campus. So when we first started with SMU in Bukit Timah campus, it was more like a homecoming for all of us. And in the SU [University of Singapore] days, in the NTI [Nanyang Technological Institute] days, the NTU days, even in the joint campus days, it was like lecture, tutorial sort of a system.
I still remember when I was in NTU I was lecturing in one of the lecture theatres that I think it’s LT1 [Lecture Theatre 1] that can sit a thousand people, and it was for the first year and I was teaching OB [Organisational Behaviour], and you can more or less tell that the first 10, 15 rows of students are there to learn, and then those people who are right at the back, you know, they are there because they have to be there and that’s about it. And I always tell my students here that, you know, that as far as I’m concerned I’m teaching a smaller group because they are there because they want to learn. But there’s no interaction in the sense that when you give a lecture, there’s no interaction.
And the tutorial system was different from what we have in our seminar system. The tutorial system is where you have prepared questions and all the students are interested in is your model solutions for the tutorial questions. So at the end of the class every student will ask you, “Can I have the suggested solution?” and I think some people even printed the suggested solution for the students to get them off their backs so as to say. Whereas here in SMU, the interactive teaching style is such that the questions just arise when you are discussing a particular topic so the students ask the questions and you answer them. Sometimes because of the question that the student asks, you have other questions that you think are related so you post it back at the students. And you get them to think about the problems and the questions that arise and, you know, you get them to try and work out some form of solutions. I think it’s a lot more fun teaching in SMU than teaching in NTU or NUS.
Well the [most important] quality was a commitment to this new vision and a willingness to take the risk -- I would call it the high-risk high-return sort of strategy. And to get people who say, “Yes, I want to be in Singapore and I want to try a university where we’re going to have this interactive style of teaching and really have students who were going to be entrepreneurial and articulate and not just regurgitate material. I don’t want to do big lectures and I want to have more collaboration among the faculty”. I tried to find people like that.
Well, I think they were also having it the first time, because no tertiary institutions had adopted that interactive style. And I suppose they enjoyed it and we find that because of the interview, they’re more communicative and more eloquent. So, not much of a difficulty.
I might as well complete the picture because, you know, there’s a lot of questions asking about why SMU is so successful and I would add that SMU exceeded everybody’s expectations, including the people from the core team. And I think there’re several reasons, one is that it was a new kind of education. So this American holistic curriculum was actually very attractive. The seminar style teaching et cetera was extremely important. The city location is also very important. And then, a lot of other things would include the governance, and all the various persons that have come along and played a part. In fact so many people played a part in SMU that it’s so difficult to say who gave what. And it will keep on going, even after 10 years, 20 years.
Oh I would also add that the fact that we interview all shortlisted students is significant, because that expands on the criteria for admissions. In NUS the only people who get interviewed in the past was the medical students, but the SMU process of admissions includes a short-listing, includes the interviews which I think is very important, because what you can draw out of a person in a face-to-face interview is a lot more than what the paper can show, yeah. So I think that was a very good part of our system. But it’s expensive; it’s expensive because it takes faculty time, yeah. So over time, various schools evolved different ways of doing it. So for example, at first the interviews were two faculty to one student. And then it’s now gone to variations, so like the law school, for law school we decided to have three students interviewed by two faculty. For business school I’m told that they even have like, eight students in a group being asked a case, et cetera. So there’re various ways of doing it, but the point is that what you can draw out through interaction is a lot more than what you can see on paper. So I think that was a very good move on the part of SMU to have a more holistic assessment for admissions. And equally on the student assessment, course assessment, that is also holistic. So you have got typically class participation, presentations, and exam. And in the early days we set the rule, we said that almost all exams, exams generally must be open book exams, alright. If you want to make it closed, discuss with the associate dean.
In the year 2003, I had an email from Ho Ching. She was then Temasek CEO [chief executive officer] and she had the vision that Singapore, because of our economic restructuring, should become a wealth management center. So Ho Ching is going to set up a WMI, Wealth Management Institute, but an institute outside of a university can never issue a degree.
But when that email came, I actually told Chin Tiong, Can I launch a Masters in Wealth Management? But launch it almost like a EMBA [Executive Masters of Business Administration] model, which is what they did in the in US under Carnegie Mellon and under the Swiss Finance Institute, the equivalent Swiss banking school today. So they launched it modular like an EMBA. So our Applied Finance is a part-time, evening program but I wanted our Masters in Wealth Management to be a modular program so that I can tap talent from the region. Because if it's a part-time MBA, you need to be located in Singapore, whereas if it's a modular, your students can come from the region. So I wanted to build Singapore as a wealth management hub. So that went in line with the government's initiative to build connections as a wealth management. So the second masters program that came out, out from the business school is the Masters in Wealth Management.
And for years, we have lots of other specialised masters and we actually defer having an MBA. And everyone keep saying, you know, this is amazing, you know, you guys are a management university and yet you don't have a MBA. That's not a happy situation. But the reason is very simple. We actually found tons of MBA in the market. We need to ask ourselves, where is our differentiation and where is our positioning? So when we did finally launch an MBA, that was when we had Doris Sohmen-Pao who came from INSEAD to join us. We knew then straightaway that when we launched the MBA four years ago, we wanted it to be fast-tracked MBA because many of the people who went to MBA these days actually said, we have prior learning, we come with a lot of on-the-job learning. And, you know, this is the Internet age where there is a lot of information. So, if it comes to finding information, you know where to find. So our MBA should not be looking at teaching by silos, and module by module, as though people need the hand-holding. We must have a MBA that allow people to take information and know how to integrate them and get insights. So my mantra then for everything has been, how do we turn information into insights? In fact, I run an executive education newsletter for the last eight years which is called Insights and that's been the mantra.
So the one-year MBA is almost like an EMBA. We actually target it for integrative learning where every module is interdisciplinary, and that's revolutionary because this is the kind of model that people give to EMBA. We're actually taking a little of the EMBA model to people who are only five to six years out at work. But we want them to know how to integrate and we found that in the last few years, being a T-shaped individual is no longer enough, we are having Pi-shape two areas, yes. So, you might be an engineer in the fast-moving goods space and you need a management skill top-up, because you will have one early job in a particular industry. So, you will have an engineering degree, you will have a particular concentration in a particular industry, but you still haven't got the management skills, so you are now Pi-shaped.
But we are actually in the EMB have a third leg. The EMBA is another market. Have you operated in another country? So now we have the Chinese cup. So, in the EMBA, you have three legs you have a first degree, you have done a couple of jobs, so you have different sector knowledge and you have different market knowledge, so you have become a Chinese cup. The wine cup. The Chinese wine cup has three legs. And the more you have legs, the more you have extendibility, you are stable. So we started with the T-shaped undergrad, a Pi-shaped MBA and a three-legged EMBA, that's my analogy.
We ended up starting the very first PhD programme at SMU, and our first PhD intake was August of 2006. The official approval was February 2006 so that means in 2005, we were working on the planning of the PhD programme. In computer science-like programmes, typical to a lot of technology-like programmes, they’re very PhD intensive, you tend to have large groups, lots of PhD students working on projects with faculty. So faculty coming out of the computer science programmes would move here, and it’s like, “But where are the PhD students? I don’t have any to work with.” We did have a system where we would bring in some research engineers, full-time research engineers as full-time staff, to help some of our faculty who were used to working in this mode and we were able to do that because of some resources from SMU. The point is we didn’t have a PhD programme.
But lo and behold, that’s grown. Now we have thirty-two PhD students. We’ll be taking in another ten or so this year, so soon we’ll have about forty and there could be things on the horizon with some government initiatives that we might be able to expand it, but now that’s a quite solid programme and I think it will get better and better.
In the following year we started a master’s by coursework programme [Master of IT in Business (Financial Services)], a very, very niche programme, focused on IT and business, but focused on the banking and financial service sector. We spoke to about sixty people in industry, “Well, how should we educate students?” is not very effective, but putting something in front of them, based on what you think is important to them and having them react to it is very effective. We did a lot of that, and lo and behold, we now have about 80 professional master’s students. That will grow, over the next few years, and now we have the PhD programme, and then we have the undergrad. So we’re running full spectrum.
There are two reasons in my mind then there will be other reasons other people have. One is I remember our having a board meeting where we said that we need to improve our global profile. We had good faculty, good students but nobody knew about us. They thought about Singapore, they thought about Southern Methodist University in Dallas. So one was the global aspect. The other aspect was, in my personal belief, the balance between research, education and practice. The problem was that we had all kinds of research support available for tenured track faculty. We did nothing, absolutely nothing for research and education track faculty. So if in our mind, it was important to have a faculty member in the research track to be an editor or an area editor or at least on the editorial board, wouldn't it be good if we had practice track faculty who are on a corporate board. Were we providing tools for education track faculty to write cases and provide them support in those areas where we expected them to contribute? Were we sending them to an academic conference at AACSB or EFMD so they could learn the trick of the trade and how to manage academic programs? We weren't doing enough of that. So that were the motivator, those were the two motivators. It started out, really, with the case writing initiative because we have many colleagues from the west who would say, "Do you have a case on China Airlines or China Mobile?" or "Do you have a case on Tata Motors?" So they were asking us naturally, just as we asked our colleagues in Silicon Valley in Stanford to let us know about things peculiar to that part of the world. The idea became that if we could start sourcing cases on Asia, people were calling us anyway, that would help build our awareness, that is, SMU is doing this and SMU is doing that. It would also enhance our own faculty's knowledge about Asia because we were an Asian university. And that way we could contribute globally to knowledge if you will, articles, cases, etc. So the logic is that it would make us more visible to western universities and western corporations. What we found out is it also made us more visible to Eastern universities and Eastern corporations because you take a company like Unilever that has a strong presence in Singapore; they wanted cases for emerging markets. We did a program for them in Singapore. They liked it so much and we had, we were the ones who wrote the case so we had the regional insight and they then took that program into Four Acres London. So we started regionally with Unilever and now we've gone globally with Unilever. So it's turned out the benefit has been big for us in Asia as well because there's not that much content in our research article and case studies etc books that are sourced out of Asia. And so for every ten books and ten articles you can see coming out of the United States, there's not even one coming out of Asia. So we are happy to help in that effort.
The other thing I noticed very soon, very early on, was that students who would be these bashful, shy, innocent ones coming in, within about three, four months were talkative, questioning, engaged, involved, not all of them, but most of them. And that had to reflect to some extent the experience they were having in the classroom. This is not a situation where you can put off your homework to the end of the term, or just write a paper, or just study for some big exam. You’ve got to be prepared everyday that you go to class, which is more like going to work. When you go to work you don’t get to put it off for three months and just read a magazine while you’re at work. And having to speak in class, having to be responsive, having to be engaged, having to do these group projects and so forth, really does make a difference in the maturation of eighteen-, nineteen- and twenty-year-olds. And it’s amazing to see how they blossom. These flowers here are fake [refers to artificial flowers in the recording studio], I know that, but in a real amaryllis, you can see, you can almost see it blossom over a short period of time, and that’s what you see with the students who come in and experience this kind of intense exposure.
And there’s a lot of experiential learning that goes on. It may vary from subject to subject but there’s still a lot of that. I also think that there are two components to undergraduate education here that have proven themselves to be really important. One is the internship, the other is the community service project. In an internship—whether they get paid, whether they don’t—at least they operate within an office or a structured business environment for some period of time. Very few late adolescents have had that experience. And much better that you have it when you’re a student than when you just go to work. Those little things like learning office protocol, or learning how, what the rules are within an organisation, and how you function and all that, terrifically important.
One of the characteristics which many people have remarked to me about SMU—including employers—is the fact that they see SMU students as different from NUS and NTU students in the sense that SMU students are more outgoing, they’re prepared to take more initiative, they can present themselves well. This is because of the way the courses are taught in SMU, not in the lecture format, but more in the interactive discussion mode. It shows that when the students go in after A-levels, they are all the same of course, they all come from the schools in Singapore. But four years of a different type of education has shown that you can encourage students to have confidence in themselves, to be able to sell themselves, to present themselves well, and to be confident in interacting with their peers, with faculty, and later on with the public and with business people. This is one of the strong selling points. Enough years have now passed to make this a recognisable characteristic of SMU, and its one of SMU’s strong selling points.
Well, I had taught couple of classes, but the experience was new in a sense that Social Sciences was a very new curriculum at that time. So every course that I teach would have no precedence in SMU. I started the Research Methods in Social Sciences, which is an unusual course in Singapore because in Singapore, research methods tend to be tied to a particular discipline. So Psychology will teach its research methods, and if you are from Management, you will teach management’s research methods and so on. But this is Research Methods in Social Sciences, so what that means is that students who are majoring in Psychology, Sociology, or Political science, or people who have not decided what to major would be in that class. It’s really interesting because it challenges you to make sure that the examples you give would not be so specific to one particular discipline. It forces you to give examples across disciplines or transcend disciplines, which fortunately is what I really believe in, in terms of problem-based solving since the world is not compartmentalized into disciplines. So that was a good experience, but I must say it was not easy, because research methods is not always something easy to teach, but I really enjoyed it and would like to think that the students enjoyed and benefited from it. So that was just one of the many different courses that I experienced with, but of course the main difference with NUS was the huge lecture style where you stand in front of the lecture hall, speaking to 100-300 students, whereas here, the maximum you get at that time was 45 students and sometimes, if your class is small, it can be 20 students or even 15 students. Most of my classes were between 20, 25 to 45 students. It allows participation, or maybe we should say initially it forces participation from the students and that was actually great because in social sciences, you really need to interact with the students.
The undergraduate program was a jolly good undergraduate program. And what I was pleased about when I got here is, I mean one way of describing it in a simplistic form is it was a modification of Wharton's 4-year undergraduate program. The one advantage of the Wharton program, and a lot of the American programs cause I've been a dean in the United States and taught in United States, is that a 4-year program gives the kids a chance, for 2 years, to figure out what they really want to do before they start looking at specialization and so on. And if you compare that to a British undergraduate degree, there are 3 years, but you know, if you want to do a degree in accounting, you do a degree in accounting; if you want to do a degree in finance, you do a degree in finance. So if you start in it, then you wanted to move over, you had to start all over again. This, to me, provides the opportunity for people to start all over again, point one, but point two, to give them a broad training to start. And I've always believed in broader programs. So when I came in, I was pleased to see that. I pioneered an introductory course Managing Volatility Uncertainty Complexity and Ambiguity. I designed it. It was intended to be somewhat like what I had in Warwick but different in the sense that, it exposes students to management before they get exposed to other subjects so they think about the problem with management. Without having somebody teaching finance and accounting, they immediately say it isn't a management problem, it's a finance problem, it's a marketing problem. Management problems cut across functional areas, cut across disciplines. So this is an attempt to do that. And I think largely, the feedback is good and, obviously we will be changing things and I've monitoring, I've been coordinating the teaching this year. And I reengineered that one and it's very much now a course on business models and business model generation. It isn't a strategy course, it's a course on what I call strategy realization. It's getting people to understand how to operationalize the strategy in practice. So the students have to do projects, they have to bring projects in. Lots of them bring in projects like opening a restaurant, or opening a swimming it doesn't matter what the project is. Getting them to think through the problem in a hands-on way and a project-based way is what we wanted to do there. And I think we've done it. And we have an alternative to that capstone course which we call the Great Books course. So we get students to read eight or ten books, which in different ways can be woven together to give a course on the philosophy of management. If I taught that course and I gave people a set of books, I would pick things like To kill a mocking bird, The grapes of wrath, 1984, and 1984 predicted much of what you see in terms of surveillance now and so on and so forth. And I would go through those. I mean there's some brilliant books out there and I read a lot, Grapes of wrath for example, from Steinbeck would be an example of the death of unions. Catcher in the rye by J.D Salinger, which is again an American novel, but a terrific novel. It's about growing up fundamentally so you could go down the list. And we have a list. I'm averse to too much of Plato's Republican and all the rest of it because you can get that in an ethics course. What I think you need to get to is persuading people, and the other thing which I put a lot of effort into is the redesign of our Ethics and Social Responsibility courses because we took the course over ourselves rather than have half the course taught by, I think it was probably the Law school, and the other half they had designed cases which cut across the whole university.