AN ECONOMIST ABROAD: THE PUSH AND PULL OF A NEW DEAN
In this exclusive online interview for The AlumNUS, Professor Andrew Rose, who took over from Professor Bernard Yeung as Dean of the Business School in June 2019, talks about his new role and what drew him to the University.
You recently arrived in Singapore after more than three decades at UC Berkeley, one of the leading public universities in the world. What prompted the move?
There were two kinds of forces: the push away from the United States, and the pull of NUS-Business and Singapore. The catalyst was the election of Donald Trump; I actually sent an email to my closest friend at NUS on election night saying that my family and I were ready to leave the United States.
What attracted you to Singapore?
As America turned more nativist and populist, I realised the most appropriate response was to go to a place that welcomes diversity and science. Singapore is nothing if not pragmatic, and the technocratic bureaucracy here appreciates evidence-based logic. The diversity and meritocracy of Singapore are features that I have always found admirable, which explains why I’ve been visiting Singapore regularly for decades. America may be pushing people like me away, but Singapore also exerts a mighty pull! Also, NUS has the advantage of an exceptionally clear-minded leadership team, which I appreciate.
Where do you think NUS is going?
Succinctly, I think of NUS as being committed to the production and dissemination of research — which is, in my view, the proper role for any serious university.
But what about teaching? Many have claimed that instruction is the appropriate goal for a public institution like NUS.
Well they’re not mutually exclusive since research is, in part, disseminated in the classroom. And you never want to forget that humanity only progresses through basic research which spurs innovation. Indeed, that’s the reason governments like that of Singapore fund universities — the spillovers are enormous.
The key reason I care about research in my role as dean is that it’s critical to our students, past, present and future. The reason is simple: universities are not judged primarily by the value of their teaching. They can’t be; teaching methods and quality just don’t vary that much across universities. Where universities differ is in their ability to produce innovative research. Professors at leading universities such as MIT and Oxford aren’t better at delivering lectures; but they’re better at producing the content that goes into the lectures. And as the calibre of NUS research rises, the faculty will attract better students who will create better alumni networks, and the virtuous circle continues. The irony is that it’s very much in the interests of NUS students to have faculty who spend most of their time doing research, and not teaching!
What’s the most exciting new development at NUS Business School?
Well, we have a lot of initiatives going on, but let me highlight one: our growth, particularly in the number of masters-level courses we can offer. We’ve seen tremendous growth in the demand for pre-experience MSc courses, along with continuing growth for our MBA and Executive MBA programmes. At this point, we unfortunately can’t satisfy much of it, because of constraints. We’re working very hard to expand our capacity to deliver high-quality instruction to our students, in two dimensions: space and people. We’re building a new Executive Centre next to the NUS Guild House which will have over 180 rooms suitable for short-term stays by our EMBA and executive education students, among others. We’re also renovating the Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library to provide a number of quality classrooms in order to deliver the classes we need, as well as the small breakout and group-study rooms that students demand at a top-quality business school. Simultaneously, we’re pushing hard to hire another dozen faculty members so that we’ll have the human capacity. It’s an exciting — and exhausting — process.
You have a lot of important work ahead of you; good luck to you and Biz School!