Research - Societal Challenges
in preparation for that, we had talked about our areas of excellence, and we have identified five in the last little while, and they have been good in terms of sort of focusing our minds a little bit on some areas. But as we talked about the areas of excellence, we realized that, what was important to us was, of course, excellence, but excellence in what? To what end? What were we trying to do? And it was very clear to us when we framed it that way that what we were trying to do as a university was to do research that made a difference to society and economy and polity. And so we started thinking about, well, what are the challenges that are out there in the society and economy, etc that we were trying to address? And we started off thinking, should we be talking about Grand Challenges? And that is a familiar concept—Grand Challenges. But we also realize that we were really much more focused on societal challenges.
And so began the very interesting journey of asking ourselves what are the key societal challenges that we see, that we think as a university we can contribute to with the kind of expertise that we have within our university? And we came down to five areas. One is understanding economies and financial markets. The second is about quality of life and social fabric of a society. The third is about managing sustainability. The fourth is about advancing innovation and technology. And the fifth is about navigating borders and boundaries because we are living in Singapore that is so open, that we need to think about it in terms of the mobilities of people, goods, services, capital, and so forth.
These five areas were also attractive because it allowed a lot of our colleagues to have a mission. The research that a lot of colleagues do somehow contribute to one or more of those dimensions. And in that sense, there was a certain sense of inclusiveness, whereas an area of excellence, to some extent connoted that there were those who were not so excellent, who were not involved in those areas. It was not the primary reason why we made the change, but it had a nice salubrious side effect in that sense. These societal challenges have now become concretized. Each of those areas has more granular elaborations which I will not go into at this point in time, because even at this broad level, I think it is easy to understand what it is we are trying to do. We have put in resources, we have encouraged our faculties to step forward with ideas for projects, and there is some quite exciting projects that have been put forward.
Just as an example of the interdisciplinary opportunities that this approach fosters, we now have colleagues in the School of Information Systems and the School of Social Sciences who have gotten together to do research on something that they have titled, Making Smart Cities for All. And it is looking particularly at those components of our community that are sometimes a little bit forgotten, a little bit marginal or marginalized, depending. It might be the migrant worker groups. It might be the elderly. It might be those with mental well-being challenges. It might be the caregivers who are taken for granted so often. And how does the smart city work for them? What I like about it is that it has a real engagement with the intellectual work that is going on around the world, but it also has a very real practical implication for our communities, and it is in this interdisciplinary or at least multidisciplinary—it is bringing different academic communities into conversation with one another. So that is an example of what we are trying to do, and there are more yet, and we are going to continue this effort of putting resources to encourage this kind of work. I am optimistic about what my colleagues will come up with.