Excellence in Education

Guaning Su


The most predictable feature of modern society is its unpredictability. We no longer believe that tomorrow will look much like today. Universities must find ways to sustain the most cherished aspects of their core values, while discovering new ways to respond vigorously to the opportunities of a rapidly evolving world.

James Duderstadt, President Emeritus, University of Michigan [1]

These words of wisdom at the beginning of the seminal work “A University for the twenty-first Century” by one of the most respected American university presidents of one of the world's best public universities, describe succinctly the mega-trend of change, challenge, modernization and globalization sweeping the world. Whether we reside in Singapore or Saudi Arabia, this mega-trend cannot be avoided. An excellent education system, culminating in the education provided by a major university, must equip our students and graduates to meet this mega-trend head-on and benefit from its ramifications, whether he or she is a Singaporean, a Saudi or one of the foreign students enrolled in our universities.

King Abdulaziz University (KAU), by embarking on strategic planning and convening its International Advisory Board (IAB), seeks to utilize and exploit this mega-trend of challenge, change, modernization and globalization, and harness and exploit the opportunities it provides to develop a university model of excellence. This chapter proposes the philosophy and approach for KAU to develop an educational model of excellence, drawing significantly from the author's experience in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. The author led the transformation of NTU into a major global research university during his term as President from 2003 to 2011. This required fundamental changes in structure, process, staffing, funding and education. KAU is well on its way towards its own transformation, promoted by a dedicated, wise and resourceful leadership and assisted by close engagement with the IAB.

While the changes envisaged by KAU are all encompassing, this particular chapter focuses on undergraduate education and professional education up to the Master's level. Education of Ph.D. level researchers and academics is closely tied to the research enterprise in the university and best left to this book's other authors (see chapter “Excellence in Research”, by Professor Michael Arthur).

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