Championing Lifelong Learning in Higher Education: The NUS Story

16 May 2023 — From professors to policy makers, those in the higher education (HE) space need no reminder that the half-life of knowledge and skills is shortening, that the world is ambiguous and unpredictable, and that jobs of today may be gone in the blink of an eye, only to be replaced by jobs that we cannot even conceive of today.

This is precisely why lifelong learning has become a necessity, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) is working tirelessly to build a sustainable model of lifelong education for its students and alumni. This was the message conveyed by Professor Susanna Leong, Vice Provost (Masters’ Programmes & Lifelong Education) and Dean (School of Continuing and Lifelong Education) at the recent Digital Universities Asia event organised by Times Higher Education in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Speaking to a full house on the third and final day of the event, Prof Leong reiterated that a lifelong learning mindset must start early, in the undergraduate years. She spoke about the need to reimagine university education, where the T-shaped competency model, with one area of expertise, was no longer enough to prepare students for an increasingly complex work environment. It had to make way for the π-shaped competency model to train multi-disciplinary experts. She also spoke about the six fundamental pillars of the NUS general education curriculum, including Data and Digital Literacy, which she stressed are critical 21st century skills.


Prof Susanna Leong introduces the sustainable model of lifelong education adopted by NUS

The NUS commitment to Continuing Education and Training (CET) and lifelong education requires a fundamental shift in the development and delivery of education programmes and offerings, Prof Leong said. The NUS approach embeds and integrates CET with pre-employment training (PET). This involves creating multiple learning pathways for the adult learner, developing more in-demand, bite-sized, micro-credential offerings, and delivering dynamic and market-driven programmes.

Prof Leong candidly shared that the journey has not been an easy one. Challenges include catering to a diverse student population where working adults sit next to their younger counterparts in the same classroom, and where some older learners may have even more experience applying concepts to real world problems than their professors. Despite these challenges, NUS continues to explore new and better ways of engaging its adult learners, using technology to offer more flexibility to its student population. Prof Leong said that digital adoption is a work-in-progress, but NUS is committed to supporting its faculty in their digital journey to “upskill and reskill too!” 


Prof Susanna Leong speaks to an attentive audience

Many in the audience wanted to better understand the NUS model of CET and lifelong education, and its impact on alumni and learners. At the end of the session, participants raised questions such as how NUS encourages its professors to embrace technology and adopt online and blended learning.

These conversations continued at a workshop lead by Prof Leong and the NUS team later that afternoon, where participants were asked to envision what success in CET looked like to their institutions, and how they would achieve that success. Throughout the hour-long workshop, participants openly shared their CET vision, the route to success, as well as challenges.

Through the active sharing of thoughts and ideas, participants learned that as CET practitioners, they shared many similarities in their struggles. Although there are no easy solutions, there are ways forward as they stand together, learn from each other, and continue to engage with the wider HE community.


Lively sharing during the one-hour workshop

At the end of the workshop, Prof Leong shared this parting thought with the participants, “We need champions, and evangelists among us to tackle the challenges of CET and lifelong education. Champions who can convince others that the journey is not that hard; we can take small steps to achieve our vision. Only then can you change mindsets and move the needle in your respective institutions.”

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25 May 2023