Research and teaching innovations spawned by the Singapore-MIT Alliance, global perspectives on engineering education and the need for ongoing technological advances and innovation in Southeast Asia were among the topics discussed at the program's second annual symposium in Singapore in January.
More than 75 MIT faculty, students and administrators, including President Charles M. Vest, Provost Robert A. Brown, Chancellor Philip Clay and Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti attended the three-day event. This year's symposium highlighted teaching and research benchmarks achieved by the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) since its inception in 1998. Brown spoke of SMA's exciting growth during the past three years, addressing the "remarkable involvement of faculty" and the quality of graduate students in the program.
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan and Minister of Education Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean were among the keynote speakers. "SMA is a clear example of a successful innovation that benefits the Singaporean economy," Tan said. "SMA will help spearhead our [Singapore's] competitive advantage in the global marketplace through the creation of new frontiers in science and technology."
SMA is an innovative global engineering education and research collaboration among the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and MIT. At the symposium, also attended by SMA industry partners and alumni, Vest called SMA "the world's most technologically advanced point-to-point synchronous educational program. SMA will continue to be one of MIT's select institutional distance-collaboration alliances: a grand, living example of the emerging global university."
Promoting global engineering education and research, the alliance stretches across 12 time zones to offer graduate degree programs in manufacturing, engineering and computer science.
Forty-four MIT faculty from eight departments and three schools collaborate with 46 Singaporean colleagues to provide graduate education and research supervision to 146 SMA students. Many SMA courses also are offered to MIT students. More than 440 MIT students have participated since September 1999.
According to SMA research, 89 percent of MIT students who take SMA classes find that the SMA courses are as good, or better, than their non-SMA courses; and 90 percent of SMA students who have attended both MIT classes at a distance and MIT classes in Cambridge, feel that they learned the material just as well at a distance.
One new innovation featured at the symposium was WebLab, an MIT research project funded in part by SMA that provides SMA students with virtual access to laboratory equipment.
NO MORE 'STUFFED DUCKS'
SMA provides a valuable alternative to the Southeast Asia educational model in which students are filled with information like "stuffed ducks," said Morris Chang, chairman and CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. "The grand objective should be to stimulate curiosity for knowledge in general, to develop independent thinking, and the habit and discipline of lifelong learning."
Teo commended MIT, NUS and NTU for their daring challenge of old attitudes about distance education and described SMA as testimony to the forward-looking vision of its partner universities.
For more information, see the SMA web site.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 6, 2002.