The education landscape in Asia is rapidly transforming. Driven by the need to respond to the complexities of globalisation and technological change, education reform has become a top priority for many Asian countries. Educational leaders play a vital role in facilitating these changes in education systems. Therefore, strengthening and improving leadership development at all organisational levels is a major priority for all educational institutions. While it is possible for educational leaders to develop their abilities through years of experience, well planned executive education can be a quick and effective way to fill the leadership skill gap.
With the mounting need for educational leaders to expand their personal capacities to be effective in leadership roles and processes, it is foreseeable that the demand for executive education for educational leaders in Asia will be on a rapid upward trajectory. Singapore is poised to become a leading hub for developing the effectiveness of Asia’s educational leaders. This can be largely attributed to two crucial factors: (1) Singapore’s status as one of the top education systems in the world, and (2) Singapore’s status as a regional executive education hub.
Singapore’s educational institutions — its schools, polytechnics, and universities — are among the most admired in Asia and the rest of the world. Singapore consistently ranks among the top performers in educational attainment, as measured by the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Singapore’s universities continue to move up on international rankings.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) was recently named Asia’s top university, and was the only Asian university in the global top 30 in the 2015 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. According to the recent Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, NUS and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are among the top 15 institutions in the world. In addition, NUS and NTU retained the first and second spots among the top universities in Asia respectively. For these reasons, educational leaders from other countries in the region often look toward Singapore and its education policies and practices as models and are eager to learn from the success of Singapore’s education system.
Singapore’s offerings of executive education are also among the best in the region. Following Asia’s meteoric economic growth over the last decade, the demand for executive education for business leaders in Asia has been on a rapid upward trajectory. Singapore in particular, with its strategic geographic location and close proximity to key ASEAN growth markets, has developed into a hub for executive education in Asia. At present, high quality executive education courses are offered in Singapore by both local business schools (for instance, NUS Business School, Singapore Management University, Nanyang Business School) and international business schools with a local presence (for instance, INSEAD, ESSEC, IMD Business Schools). The Financial Times’ latest Executive MBA Rankings feature all of the institutions listed above in the top 50. The presence of these institutions in Singapore allows people to pursue exceptional executive education, while gaining an in-depth understanding of the Asian business context. At present, these executive education programmes are housed within business schools and are generally targeted at leaders running business organisations — general managers, functional managers, C-level executives and Board-level executives. Leadership is certainly not restricted to the business world — we need effective leaders for education, too. Executive to benefit not just those leading corporations but those leading schools and universities.
At the intersection of Singapore’s prominence as a top education system and a top executive education hub lies Singapore’s potential to be a leadership development hub for educational leaders in Asia. Leadership development programmes for educational leaders are popular in the West.
For example, The Principal’s Centre at Harvard’s School of Education offers a variety of leadership development programmes designed to strengthen the leadership skills of school principals and other school leaders; a Singapore variant was established at the National Institute of Education but it was short-lived. The Harvard Institutes for Higher Education offers leadership development programmes for higher education administrators, including department heads, deans, vice presidents, provosts and presidents. However, the leadership development programmes offered by institutions in the West are not necessarily tailored to address the leadership needs of schools in the Asian region. There are differences in leadership needs even across different countries in Asia — the leadership development programme for Indonesian educational leaders might focus on a very different set of leadership skills as compared to a programme for Thai educational leaders.
Singapore has the potential to emerge as an executive education hub for educational leaders in Asia. At The HEAD Foundation, we have signalled our steadfast commitment to the development of Asian educational leaders with a proposal for a leadership centre that will offer a dedicated learning space for educational leaders from the region. The overarching goal of the proposed centre is to build leadership capability in the region especially with regard to its educational institutions. Our underlying philosophic approach to leadership development is grounded in a belief that organisations are more effective when all the participants are treated with dignity, have meaningful work, can readily connect with and contribute to the community they serve, and have opportunities to participate in shaping the future of the organisation and how it is governed.
We aim to be the premier leadership centre in the region predicated on the values described above. The intention is that the centre will deliver customised bespoke leadership programmes for educational leaders in all sectors, schools, post school institutions and relevant government and non-government organisations. It will also maintain relationships with alumni and offer them continuing development programmes, briefings on current trends and opportunities for voice and service. Finally, our plan is that the centre will convene leaders to explore pressing social and educational issues and develop and promote possible remedies.
In short, the proposed leadership centre aims to be a platform for educational leaders from other countries in the region to meet and to learn from the successes of Singapore’s education system.
Madeline Ong is a PhD Candidate in Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
Henrik Bresman is Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, and Senior Adviser at The HEAD Foundation, Singapore.