MIT Partners with Island Nation To Build New Technology School

In line with its mission to advance scientific knowledge “that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century,” MIT is working on a new international collaboration that will include aid in overseeing the opening of a new design-based university and an international design center which will both be located in Singapore.

In addition to overseeing the formation of the two new institutions, there are also additional plans which would potentially include the construction of an MIT sister-institution located somewhere along the MIT campus, as part of the new collaboration.

Professor Daniel D. Frey PhD ’97, gave a presentation, “Collaboration with Singapore in Their Creation of a New University,” at the May 20 faculty meeting, along with Institute Professor Thomas L. Magnanti.

Frey said that MIT collaborators are beyond the planning stages but “aren’t quite at the point where we have agreements about this.” Instead Frey describes that “there is an exciting potential collaboration here” and “I think potential is what we can say.”

According to the May 20 presentation, the size of the university is projected to be similar to MIT, with around 4,000 undergrads and 3,000–4,000 graduate students. The opening of this university would be part of the commitment of Singapore’s government to erect a new kind of university centered on “integrated/holistic technologically centered education,” attracting the “the best and brightest” students not only of Singapore, but also from the surrounding regions.

The new school, the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), is intended to be different from current universities and will highlight an approach that is “interdisciplinary with fluid organizational boundaries” and include an emphasis on design and industrial involvement.

Architects are still in the planning stages on the design for the new university campus, which will likely not be occupied until 2013 on the east side of the island.

Frey said that until the new campus’s completion, an existing unused Singaporean high school may serve as a temporary campus for the university, which would open in September of 2011 with 300–500 entering undergraduate students. The new university would add to Singapore’s existing three major universities: National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University.

Likewise, the new design center, called the “MIT Singapore International Design Center” is projected to begin work some time next July. The research program anticipated to carry out “a number of development projects and investigations where this establishment is [closely] tied to the university,” which specializes in design.

Frey said that at the new design center “we’d like to address three different design challenges that we perceive as timely and useful: sustainability in cities, engineering for the developing world, and [the creation of Information and Communication Technology] devices.”

Unlike the already existing programs between MIT and Singapore (the Singapore MIT Alliance (SMA) and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART)), this new collaboration differs largely by the fact that it is connected to the formation of a new university whereas others were connected to existing universities. Another central distinction is that this new collaboration is “independent of [SMART and SMA] in the sense of different funding for somewhat different objectives,” says Frey.

Funding for the estimated $100 million project comes entirely from Singapore’s Ministry of Education and as Singapore’s National Research Foundation, although collaborators at MIT would potentially hope to secure additional sources of funding.

According to the May 20 presentation, the proposed role of the MIT collaboration includes no MIT degrees or MIT branding in name of the new university and no operational responsibility but rather a collaborative role for a limited period of time. As part of this collaborative role, MIT will “help develop and pilot (some) 42 new courses and adapt 40 courses” where MIT graduate students will play an important role in organizing the courses as “funds requested for over 200 TA terms for MIT students,” as well as build an ongoing collaboration with the research institute.

As of the May 20 faculty meeting, the initiative for the new collaboration had support from at least 31 MIT faculty in several different departments, with 15 agreeing to consider spending time in Singapore to help build the new teaching and research curriculum.

Benefits of this new MIT-Singapore collaboration would include “crystallizing and supporting broad design initiative at MIT” as well as “providing resources for undergraduate curriculum development at MIT, support for graduate students, UROP opportunities (in Singapore and MIT), and opportunities in modeling a sustainable city as well as new facilities/infrastructure at MIT” (from the May report). In benefit to Singapore, Frey says that “this university would diversify the educational landscape of Singapore in an important way, and furthermore, the research center is addressing important contemporary issues of Singapore and the region.”

In enthusiastic support of the new collaboration with heavy emphasis in design, Frey describes “these things are being done today at MIT at a certain scale, and we are working very hard to get funding, but this agreement will allow us to work at a greater scale and hopefully with bigger impact.”