Keeping the Knowledge-givers Happy


by Professor Lai Choy Heng, Vice Provost (Academic Personnel), National University of Singapore (NUS)

In recruitment, NUS is competing with the best universities in the world for the share of the creative class of people. We need established academics and researchers to lead in our institutional initiatives in education and research, and we need budding young faculty with the potentials to benefit from the NUS intellectual environment and develop into world-class teachers and researchers. Being able to identify such a diverse group of recruits is a non-trivial task, and to present the facts about NUS and Singapore in sufficiently attractive light to convince them to come to Singapore is a challenge we think about all the time.

Continuing the intellectual development of our faculty is yet another challenge. We need our faculty to be continually climbing the ladder of excellence, to venture into uncharted waters, to innovate in their pedagogy, and to advance the boundaries of knowledge.

The potentials are there, but NUS will also need to be active in promoting and facilitating the development. Retention of quality faculty depends not only on whether NUS can provide competitive incentives and development opportunities, but also on whether NUS can nurture a sense of purpose, of institutional identification and ownership. One without the other is not likely to be sufficient to achieve optimal retention.

While these challenges could very well exist in other organisations, the approaches to tackling them are likely to be very different. There is less of a strong hierarchical structure within a university, and the faculty members strongly guard their academic freedom in discharging their responsibilities of teaching, research and professional service. Developmental considerations are more individual-centred, and while the general trend could be monitored and possibly steered to some extent, faculty members often surprise us with what they want to and can do. This is, of course, in line with the spirit of an institution of higher learning.

We try to find out what motivates a potential candidate and establish a good fit between his/her aspirations and the University’s requirements and needs. We would invite the candidate to visit our University. For senior hires in particular, we also invite the spouse to come along. We also try to balance a competitive remuneration package with other “attractive” supporting information, such as leveraging on convenient access to amenities, a world-class educational system for the candidate’s children, and an attractive tax rate that Singapore is able to provide. In some instances, housing benefits may also be provided by the University.

We are also paying a lot of attention to the faculty development schemes including mentorship programme, and a transparent appraisal and feedback system. There are also conscientious efforts in cultivating an NUS community, and a sense of common resolve and commitment to excellence. There is a growing sense of shared governance on campus. Faculty members now feel that they can indeed achieve all that they want to at NUS.

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