“Internationalism is key to our ambition to be a world-class university,” says Mark Spearing, Pro Vice-Chancellor, International and Professor of Engineering Materials. “Being a world-class university means attracting the highest quality students, academics and collaborative partners. Increasingly that’s measured internationally rather than just within one’s home country.”
The University’s relationships in Singapore have strengthened over the last decade, during which time the country’s ambition to become a key knowledge and education hub in Asia has made it an ideal environment for Southampton to develop strategically advantageous links.
“Singapore’s universities have shot up the league tables in recent years and it has been very effective in attracting educational partners and multinational companies to have a presence there,” explains Mark. “That makes it a very attractive and fruitful place in which to operate.”
“Singapore’s legal system is very much aligned to English law, making collaborations relatively easy to formalise,” adds Diana Galpin, Head of IP, Contracts and Policy within Research and Innovation Services, which provides legal support for University partnerships worldwide.
One of the benefits of collaborative work is that it can open up new funding opportunities; our Singapore relationships bring around £4m a year to the University, mainly through research funding and student fees. However, financial income is only one advantage – the success of these partnerships lies in the many mutual benefits they bring. For us these include a higher global profile, a greater international reach for our research and access to facilities and expertise not available in Southampton.
For Singapore, working with international partners contributes to its ambition to become a major knowledge hub and provides access to some of our most cutting-edge areas of research and education.
These benefits are apparent in the case of EpiGen, a global research consortium established in 2006 that focuses on the mechanisms underlying the interaction between environmental factors, genetic and epigenetic processes and their influence on health across the life course. EpiGen brings together expertise from Southampton, Singapore and New Zealand.
Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development and Chair of EpiGen’s Science Management Group, says: “It has been a fantastically productive partnership. Being able to conduct trials with cohorts in Singapore gives us insights from people with diverse ethnic and genetic backgrounds, and we have been able to link with world-leading expertise in bioinformatics and MRI imaging at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences and National University of Singapore (NUS).
It has also allowed our research to move much faster than it otherwise would. We can go to our partners in Singapore to quickly test and verify observations made in Southampton, allowing us to publish scientific papers that are at the forefront of the field internationally.
As a result, the consortium has been able to attract large infrastructure awards, with industry-associated awards in excess of £30m and leverage of government-related and other funding of over £35m to date.
EpiGen draws expertise from Southampton’s Human Development and Health academic unit, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and Centre for Biological Sciences, as well as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, NUS and University of Auckland.
A*STAR is a key player in several Southampton-Singapore collaborations. A public sector body, it runs 12 research institutes in Singapore across engineering, physical sciences and biomedical sciences subjects.
Another highly successful research partnership is The Photonics Institute (TPI), a ‘best with best’ partnership between Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Directed by Professor Sir David Payne, Professor Swee Chuan Tjin and Professor Nikolay Zheludev, TPI is now a world-leading centre in photonics technology research and photonics education that spans activities from the fundamental science of light to the development of practical applications. It is funded and supported by a range of industry partners and Singaporean national agencies including the Ministry of Education, A*STAR, DSO National Laboratories and the Economic Development Board, Singapore.
Nikolay, who is Deputy Director at Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre and a Co-Director of the Institute, says: “The Photonics Institute is a global model for a world-leading dual research institute. We aim to be a cradle of knowledge and intellectual property as well as a focal point for the development of groundbreaking applications of light-enabled technologies.”
Collaborative maritime and engineering sciences research
The marine and maritime sector is another strategically important interest shared by Singapore and Southampton. The Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) was set up as part of the country’s drive to retain and reinvigorate its maritime industry, which is a significant component of its economy. Recognising Southampton’s expertise in this area, a partnership has developed between SMI and the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI), which includes a joint laboratory funded by A*STAR at its Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC). The IHPC-SMMI Joint Lab addresses important issues in maritime and offshore engineering, with project teams drawing expertise from IHPC, SMMI and NUS. To facilitate this partnership, the University set up the Southampton International Singapore Limited Company as a vehicle for doing business in Singapore; this demonstrates our commitment to a continuing presence there.
Professor Ajit Shenoi, Director of SMMI, says: “This collaboration signifies the high esteem in which Southampton’s scholars in maritime engineering are held. The link enables us to work on real-world problems with research colleagues and companies in Singapore and Asia that we wouldn’t be able to access if we only operated from Southampton. It also gives us another link with some of our key industrial partners, such as Lloyd’s Register and Shell Maritime, which have a presence in Singapore.”
Complementing this maritime research activity, the University’s Institute for Maritime Law runs an annual two-week intensive course in Singapore. In addition, Engineering and the Environment academics help in the delivery of some key modules in NTU’s MSc naval architecture programme.
Educational programmes are another element of the Southampton-Singapore relationship. Southampton is one of a number of university participants in A*STAR’s Research Attachment Programme (ARAP). ARAP is a split-site scheme in which PhD students spend two years at Southampton and two years at one of A*STAR’s research units, co-supervised by academics from both institutions. Since the partnership began in 2009, 31 Southampton students have accessed the programme, giving their research broader international reach and enabling Singapore to bring top international talent into their research institutes.
More recently, another educational collaboration has been forged with the Singapore Institute of Management, where Singaporean students can take a two-year University of Southampton BSc Marketing degree taught entirely by Southampton academics in Singapore, with the possibility of a third year of study in Southampton. The first intake of students will graduate later this year.
Singapore is just one of the University’s numerous global connections, which include significant partnerships in Malaysia, China and through the World Universities Network. With a renewed commitment to internationalism within the strategy framework, the University will be considering future opportunities. Mark says: “Many of our current partnerships are in China or Asia so we may look to target other regions to even out our global reach; this could involve developing existing collaborations such as those in India or the United States.”