27 January 2023

13th AUN Rectors’ Meeting: Singapore Management University’s Approaches towards Interdisciplinary Education and Research

AUN Writer Team

By Chanya Chinsukserm, AUN Programme Officer

In the second agenda “Interdisciplinarity and the Future of ASEAN Higher Education” of the 13th AUN Rectors’ Meeting, Prof. Lily Kong, President of Singapore Management University (SMU) was the first contributor to delve deeper into this particular topic. Despite being unable to attend the Meeting in person, Prof. Kong delivered her meaningful speech and attended the Meeting online. She explained the SMU’s approaches towards interdisciplinarity which deliberately pave the ways for young people to make significant impacts and stipulate the work of universities to improve the lives and livelihoods of local and global communities.

Prof. Kong has mentioned that, in this particular juncture of global history, interdisciplinary education and research are very crucial for higher education. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) are now considerably more prominent and concatenated than they have been in the past. The world is currently facing enormous challenges. Thus, to make a difference in a VUCA world, a transformation journey into interdisciplinary education has become a priority. A key thrust of SMU’s approach to teaching and learning are evident in three dimentions:

  1. SMU’s Core Curriculum
  2. Curated Interdisciplinary Programmes
  3. Individualised Interdisciplinary Majors

SMU’s Core Curriculum is built on three key pillars of learning, namely: 
Capabilities pillar: The courses under this pillar equip students with specific competencies and skills necessary to operate in an increasingly complex, digitised and data-driven working environment. The example courses are such as Computational Thinking, Working and Managing in a Digital World, and Writing and Reasoning. The pillar also incorporates an internship learning programme that is compulsory and credit-bearing. 
Communities pillar: The courses under this pillar help students understand the economic, technological, and cultural systems that structure interactions with communities by closely examining Singapore society and Asia-Singapore’s continental context. Included courses are such as Economy and Society; Climate, History, and Society; Technological Solutions to Urban Challenges; and Food Cultures. A credit-bearing community service learning programme is also incorporated within this pillar.
Civilisations pillar: The courses under this pillar immerse students in fundamental and perennial debates that cut across time and space. They are also to encourage critical dialogue between multiple and competing traditions of thought and problem-solving. The flagship courses are Ethics and Social Responsibility and the course titled ‘Big Questions’ which addresses major themes annually, such as war and peace; happiness and suffering; global and local. A global exposure requirement is incorporated within this pillar.

Curated Interdisciplinary Programmes are created under the belief that complex real-world problems cannot be solved with methods and knowledge from any single discipline. For instance, the Computing and Law Major addresses the changing landscape’s need for IT professionals with a strong grounding in law and regulation. This specific major also cultivates potential policymakers and regulators who are conversant with technology and law to create an innovation-friendly business environment. Consequently, professionals who are equipped with both technological and legal skills can identify new opportunities, deliver new services, and reimagine ways to create value.

As for Individualised Interdisciplinary Programmes, SMU is taking a step further through the recently established College of Integrative Studies (CIS). At CIS, enrollees in the college’s Individualised Major will leverage their strengths and areas of interest in order to meet the dynamic needs of industry and society. Students can select from SMU’s entire suite of undergraduate courses to design a major that is unique, cogent, and aligned with their intended area of inquiry. This gives them the opportunity to explore interests across traditional disciplinary boundaries and develop a well-rounded interdisciplinary skillset. Every student on the Individualised Major is paired with a faculty advisor to guide them in their learning and select from one of the two following tasks: 

  • Professional track where students get guidance from industry mentors for close exposure to industry and real-world problems; and 
  • Research track with guidance from dissertation supervisors for students with interest in a research, government, or policy-making career. 

Another notable feature of CIS is that it gives students flexibility to defer the declaration of their degree programme. This gives them an invaluable window of opportunity over their first year to explore their interests across the range of disciplines available at SMU, ultimately enabling them to make a more intentional and informed decision. CIS will serve as an incubator of interdisciplinary learning where students will learn to move with confidence between multiple disciplines and develop skills to manage the interrelated issues of a complex world.

Further, SMU has also just launched the College of Graduate Research Studies (CGRS). CGRS aims to develop research students who are trained to undertake cutting-edge research across disciplines, enhancing integration and interdisciplinarity across the various Ph.D. programmes at SMU. CGRS will provide interdisciplinary courses that students from all Ph.D. programmes may select from. CGRS will support existing schools and facilitate their development of intellectual interdisciplinary content through programmes, such as the PhD in Law, Commerce, and Technology offered by the Yong Pung How School of Law and the PhD in Asian Urbanisms offered by CIS. CGRS will enhance co-learning experiences and intellectual dialogue across SMU schools for postgraduate research students. It will also strengthen networking, cohort building, and collaborative opportunities among postgraduate research students.

Most importantly, Prof. Kong’s speech encouraged AUN universities to consider collaborations with SMU. “We welcome all faculties to visit SMU to engage in mutual learning about interdisciplinary education, and we welcome your faculty who may wish to pursue interdisciplinary PhDs with SMU,” she urged. 

In addition, SMU has launched a Multi-disciplinary and Knowledge Exchange Research  (MAKER) workshop series to provide a platform for facilitating inter-school and inter-disciplinary research conversations. The MAKER Workshops invite faculty members from different disciplines to share their work in thematic areas, for example, Food Sustainability and Security; Sustainable Supply Chains and Logistics; Sustainability Governance and Financing. To go beyond the initial conversations, SMU also connects interested faculty groups to public agencies and funding opportunities to convert the discussions into research agendas and projects. SMU welcomes collaboration with AUN partners in this area and works to address problems in the most difficult periods of human history.

In the upcoming weeks, stay tuned for more of the important and exciting interdisciplinary journey ahead!


Article by: Chanya Chinsukserm