Alumni Happenings

A Cross Border Chat With Provost

Written By: Daniel Koh (An Alumnus Stationed In Osaka, Japan)

The provost is the senior academic administrator of a university and the equivalent of a vice-chancellor in some commonwealth nations like the United Kingdom and Australia. Its roles and duties include overseeing academic matters when it comes to courses and research. Some examples include the length of the courses offered by the university and the graduates’ preparedness for the workforce.

I had the chance to interview our new provost, Professor Robbie Goh, who left NUS where he was Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to join us in October 2021. Our zoom chat, was joined by Evelyn, Director of Office of Student and Alumni Relations and Eileen, Senior Manager, Alumni Relations who helped arrange the cyberspace meet-up. Our session covered a variety of topics, from his view of and aspirations for SUSS in academic matters and student development for the workforce, to his exhortations for alumni and his personal motive in taking on this new leadership role. While I had some questions to guide me along the interview, his easy and personable demeanour saw us flitting quite spontaneously to share interesting observations and personal insights. I have captured some of the key highlights and takeaways from the session which I hope will give fellow alumni a better idea of our new leader.

Course Curriculum
Firstly, his viewpoint on the course curriculum, or more specifically the length of the courses offered by SUSS is noteworthy. As a student who completed my degree when SUSS identified itself as SIM University, I could vouch for how we went through an intensive six-week cycle for every module. It was really tough, having to juggle work, education and other personal matters. I could relate to what Prof Goh had to share about his idea of changing the length of courses from six weeks to 12 weeks.

“We talked to a lot of faculty members. We talked to a lot of students. And everybody felt the six-week term was very rushed. And I also felt that it was out of step with the other universities. This means that exchanges between AUs (Autonomous Universities) become very difficult. Six weeks of continual learning, especially for part-time learners, can be really hard to keep up. You barely get started, and it’s already the middle of the term, and you simply can’t keep up with the load. The 12-week term will have the same content and learning outcome within the six weeks of classroom sessions, and in between these six sessions, there will be self-directed learning, catching up, and more breathing space to juggle work-life balance.”

Prof Robbie Goh

Digitalisation & Social Connections

Just like any other university, it is not simply about learning solely. Universities need to prepare their graduates for the workforce. In this regard, a hybrid work arrangement in a digital economy is inevitable. Employers now recognise the need to digitalise and move towards a future workforce where employees exchange face-to-face meetings with virtual ones instead. During the Circuit Breaker, almost – if not, all meetings were held virtually and employers who were not quite ready for this transformation had to make necessary and immediate arrangements, so as to align with the Government’s restrictions. I’ve had my fair share of meetings in my own home and even now, I do still attend meetings from my apartment in Japan.

Unlike those days when attendees of meetings had to dress up, we have friends who dress half-up (dressing up from torso upwards to appear presentable in front of the video) for virtual meetings. Despite this transformation, there is still a need for social interaction. I shared with him my personal sense of feeling distanced from my colleagues, over time with just virtual interactions. Prof Goh agreed and shared his perspective.

“Inevitably, and no matter how sophisticated the metaverse and immersive technologies become, there will still be the need to have regular social events. It is just important, in all kinds of deep human, social, psychological or emotional ways.”

Prof Robbie Goh

Disruption-Proof Education

Alongside this transformation from physical meetings to virtual meetings, certain trends are picking up. There have been many talks about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. In a research conducted by Gartner in 2019, the number of businesses adopting artificial intelligence grew by 270% in four years. That was a whopping transformation that deserves attention in those days. And SUSS graduates need to be prepared for this continual transformation, something that resonates strongly with Prof Goh.

“On the principles of disruption-proof education in the future, firstly, make sure that the core skills [of the programmes] are broad and wide. These include right communication, expression and presentation, digital competencies, quantitative thinking and design thinking skills. Of course, we also need to have the SUSS signature of the human touch, which is community engagement. Overseas experiences, cultural knowledge and languages are also very important, and these will go into the SUSS full-time undergraduate [programmes].”

Prof Robbie Goh

Alumni Exhortations

Invited to share three exhortations with the alumni community, Prof Goh ponders awhile and then eloquently articulated his advice and appeals.

“Aim for excellence in everything that you do. By being excellent, you serve everybody. You serve your company, you serve yourself, you serve your family, and you serve society. Secondly, remember those who are less fortunate. No matter how much you struggled, you are one of the fortunate in Singapore. No matter how bad things go, you are still going to be the top half of society, statistically speaking. Do good to those who are less fortunate. Lastly, remember your Alma mater. Volunteer like what Daniel is doing. Pay it back to the institution. If you are blessed economically, remember your own struggles and help those future students who are likewise struggling. Many of them come from very difficult circumstances. In the workplace, you can provide internships for our students and volunteering opportunities for our alumni. Remember the common mission and values shared by SUSS.”

Prof Robbie Goh

Personal Glimpse

Rounding off the session, I ventured to ask Prof Goh to share some insights into his personal life. He quickly claims that he is not very much an extrovert. He loves outdoor activities; when his boys were younger, he used to bring them out to the reservoirs for gentle hikes and had prata and teh tarik together as a family after that. He also continues to occupy himself with church service and activities on Saturdays and enjoys listening to jazz music and goes for jamming sessions. Sounds like a pro to me.

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