Published on 15 Apr 2021

New president unveils his vision in inauguration address

O​n 22 February, NTU celebrated the official inauguration of Professor Subra Suresh as the university’s fourth president and his installation as the inaugural Distinguished University Professor. 

In front of an audience of more than 2,000 dignitaries, invited guests, faculty, staff and students who packed the Nanyang Auditorium, Prof Suresh accepted the certificate of appointment from Minister for Education (Higher Education & Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung, and the Distinguished University Professor Medallion and Chair from NTU Board of Trustees (BOT) Chairman Mr Koh Boon Hwee.

Addressing the assembled audience, Mr Koh highlighted that the position of president is a highly influential one, “because many future leaders of Singapore and the world sit in our classrooms.”

​In addition, he went on, it is influential because the president spearheads the creation of new knowledge and innovation, and contributes to the foundations of Singapore’s future. With his outstanding track record, it was no wonder that Prof Suresh caught the attention of the search committee.

After Mr Koh’s address, the newest member of the NTU BOT Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, who first met
​Prof Suresh in 2011 at an event in California, took to the stage. Describing the new president as one of those rare people who is as interesting as an individual as well as an intellectual, he lauded Prof Suresh for his visionary leadership of institutions such as the US National Research Foundation and global outlook evidenced in the setting up of the Global Research Council. He also highlighted the new president’s unwavering dedication to inter- and multi-disciplinary research, and efforts to bring greater ethnic and gender diversity into research fields.

“Prof Suresh’s ability to see further than others has long been the hallmark of his career. In fact, he may not just see further, some of us actually wonder if he can see around corners as well,” Sir Leszek said.

During his inaugural address as newly installed fourth president, Prof Suresh shared the story of his own career and outlined his vision for the young, research-intensive university. Built on four prongs, his vision is:
  • To establish NTU as a great global research university
  • For NTU to become a unique global pioneer and a testbed for innovation through its Smart Campus
  • Be a transformative leader in education
  • Engage with global industry
To realise this vision, he announced three new initiatives. Among them is a new institute which will study the impact of the technological revolution on society. The NTU Institute of Science & Technology for Humanity will take a leading role in shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution by harnessing NTU’s key strengths in areas such as AI and machine learning, robotics and 3D printing, internet of things, autonomous systems and mobility, cyber security, personalised medicine and environmental sustainability.

“This revolution is characterised by the unique convergence of the physical, the digital and the biological worlds,” said Prof Suresh, who added that “Industry 4.0 is projecting a pace of technological and societal change that is unprecedented.”

The new institute will synergise and coordinate activities at the intersections of technology, natural sciences, social sciences, arts, policy, regulation and governance, business, medicine and ethics across the entire university.

“It will serve as a forum for discussion groups, research projects, symposia, educational activities, policy development and as a vehicle for a new era of exploration of how humanity will interface with technologies to enrich the human condition,” said Prof Suresh.

To continue attracting the best and brightest young scientists, Prof Suresh also announced a new postdoctoral fellowship that will complement existing talent development schemes, such as the Nanyang Assistant Professorship and the National Research Foundation Fellowship.
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The Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship will “further accelerate NTU’s rise as a global university,” said Prof Suresh. It will be awarded to up to 12 postdoctoral fellows recruited from around the world every year and is for a period of up to two years​.

The third initiative announced is the NTU Digital Arts Prize which will recognise “global artists and technologists with extraordinary creativity,” said Prof Suresh.

Open to global competition, winners will be selected by a panel of judges from around the world. The award will be given out once every two years and comes with prize money in the “tens of thousands of dollars”, quoted The Straits Times.

Speaking to local media, Prof Suresh, who is an avid photographer, explained the university’s emphasis on the arts, saying, “One cannot be a complete human without an appreciation of the arts. And I’m speaking as an engineer.”

The ceremony concluded with the Distinguished University Professorship presentation to Prof Suresh, with the citation read by NTU BOT Member Professor Alexander Zehnder.


O​n the origins of the chair

The Distinguished University Professorship is a chaired professorship, and during the presentation of the intricately carved Peranakan-designed chair, NTU Board of Trustees Member Professor Alexander Zehnder talked about the origins of this tradition​, which dates back more than 1,000 years to ancient Cairo.

After being nominated, each professor was assigned a niche with a bench seat in the wall of the university, where he would lecture to crowds of students sit​ting at his feet, said Prof Zehnder. But, he added, "We don't want to hide our Distinguished University Professor in a niche!"