SUTD Aims to Be a Top Design-Led Technology University With New Leadership, Vision and Strategy

11 Mar 2024
  • New mid-term growth strategy "SUTD Leap" aims to propel SUTD to the forefront of Design x Tech education and research. 

  • A greater focus on Design which will take on a central role in the University’s curriculum and ethos.

  • New Vision "Trailblazing a Better World by Design".

  • Leadership transition planned for 2H 2024.

    • Existing Provost will assume the role of President.

    • Existing Head of Architecture and Sustainable Design Pillar, who is a top industry leader, will assume newly created role of Deputy President/Chief Innovation & Enterprise Officer.

    • International search to commence for new Provost/Chief Academic & Innovation Officer.

  • New leadership will combine academia and enterprise – a rare pairing in the university world.

From left to right: Prof Phoon Kok Kwang, Provost, SUTD; Mr Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman, SUTD; Minister Chan Chun Sing; Prof Chong Tow Chong, President, SUTD; Prof Tai Lee Siang, Head of Pillar, Architecture and Sustainable Design, SUTD.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), which shattered preconceived notions of university education when it was formed 15 years ago, is planning to do so again with a bold new strategy aimed at propelling it to the forefront of the Design x Tech space by redefining the way education is envisioned and taught.
SUTD, which was the first university to incorporate design thinking and design innovation into its entire curriculum over a decade ago, will embark on a new strategy "SUTD Leap" aimed at redesigning higher education with a greater focus on design and deep tech so as to nurture design x tech innovators1 and innovator leaders going forward. The University also aims to redefine research by carving out a whole new segment in the entire research spectrum.
"We have bold dreams to turn into reality, to cultivate new generations of design x tech innovation leaders. Who knows? The next ‘Steve Jobs’ could well come from SUTD!" said SUTD Chairman Lee Tzu Yang.
Design and technology go hand in hand, he said.
"We can have the most amazing technological innovation but it must address human needs and challenges, or even create new demand. This is why Apple has been so successful. Top design innovators like Apple and Dyson create and apply novel technology, processes, and solutions within the realm of design to address challenges, improve functionality, and work with others to enhance user experiences. Today, our complex challenges such as population health and sustainability call for both technology and design-led innovation to spur behavioral changes for a better outcome. There is a worldwide need for talent in the design and technology field to tackle our most pressing problems," he said.
Indeed, with effect from 2024, all SUTD graduates will be recognised as design x tech innovators by an external accreditation board led by the Design Business Chamber Singapore. Design x tech innovators, who do more than innovate, are highly valued in industry because they are technically grounded practitioners with a diverse toolkit of capabilities (including human-centred design, business strategy, research, organisational change and learning) which can be applied to many diverse challenges and contexts.
Design, said SUTD President Professor Chong Tow Chong, is still not fully developed and applied in universities although there has been growing acceptance amongst industry. This has been borne out by the reception to SUTD’s Design and AI programme, which was launched just four years ago. In that short period, student intake has doubled, and the first graduating batch of students are seeing strong interest from industry.
Prof Chong believes that the growth of Design AI reflects industry’s appreciation for rapid and deep solutions for complex problems which combine holistic consideration for social, economic and environmental impacts.

SUTD President Professor Chong Tow Chong giving the speech at the launch event.
"We often read about how there are 'too many graduates chasing too few jobs these days'. This is a global phenomenon that has, of course, come under the microscope with the rise of AI. I would venture to say that it is not that there are too many graduates. Rather, it is that there are not enough graduates who are technically grounded design x tech innovators and leaders, trained in critical skills which the world needs now, who can lead and champion innovation, ready to solve complex problems which the world faces now and the future. In other words, SUTD graduates!" he said.
SUTD Leap, which is a multi-year, multi-pronged strategic plan that is still being developed2, aims to create an environment that promotes design and creative co-solutioning with industry partners by bringing the real world into campus and vice versa through an unusual "cross-pollination" of academia and enterprise. It will build upon SUTD's strong ties with the private sector, with top industry executives expected to join the University to co-create curriculum and serve as inspirational role models for students. Similarly, SUTD academics and researchers will be placed in industry to lend support to key projects. By blurring the lines between academia and enterprise, students will be able to grow and innovate in a connected environment – and get a true sense of what real world demands are like and to manifest the power and value of design in the real world.
Key to the successful execution of the new strategy is the transition to a new leadership team – one that breaks away from the conventional university structure of having a President and a Provost oversee the administrative and academic tracks respectively.
Announcing plans to make way for a new leadership team in the second half of the year, Prof Chong said the time had come to "hand over the baton".
"SUTD has been a part of my life for the last 15 years. I have seen it grow from a makeshift campus in Dover with just a few classrooms, to being a highly respected tech and design powerhouse in the world of research and education. Strong foundations have been laid in the last decade and a half, and the time is right for the next generation of leaders to bring it to even greater heights," he said.
Under the new leadership structure, Prof Phoon Kok Kwang (KK), who is currently SUTD Provost, will take over as President. He will be assisted by Prof Tai Lee Siang, who currently heads the Architecture and Sustainable Design (ASD), in a newly created role of Deputy President/Chief Innovation and Enterprise Officer (CIEO). An international search has also commenced for the role of Provost/Chief Academic & Innovation Officer (CAIO), a role which will also be redefined as part of SUTD Leap.
Commenting on the impending leadership changes, Chairman Lee said: "The appointment of KK to President and Lee Siang to Deputy President is hugely significant. KK is a heavyweight in the academic world, highly respected as a pioneer in data-centric geotechnics, and the winner of some of the highest awards in civil engineering such as the American Society of Civil Engineers' Alfredo Ang Award and the Norman Medal (twice), whilst Lee Siang is a widely respected figure in the architecture and sustainability world, having helmed top architectural firms, the World Green Building Council and held a key leadership position in Building and Construction Authority. To complete this picture, we are also looking for a dynamic innovation-led academic who will serve as Provost and CAIO. Together, they make a formidable trio with their networks in the academic and corporate worlds, local and global."
In line with SUTD Leap, the University today unveiled a new Vision, "Trailblazing a Better World by Design".
Prof Chong, who was been with SUTD since its inception in 2009, said: "When we opened our doors 15 years ago, we had a tough time convincing parents to send their kids to SUTD. We were not only a new university, but an unconventional one, with a totally new degree and curricular structure, something people weren’t used to. We did not have traditional engineering degrees such as civil, mechanical, electrical engineering. We were focused on technology and design, bringing together design-thinking and inter-disciplinary learning in everything we do to make a positive impact on society. We were always ahead of our time, introducing artificial intelligence into our courses even before it became a catchphrase.
"Our trailblazing spirit has only grown stronger with time. This is why we have decided to review our Vision to reflect more accurately who and what we are as a community. Our new Vision 'Trailblazing a Better World by Design' is something every SUTDian aspires to. We will continue to redefine design, education and research, working together with industry throughout the educational process to nurture technically grounded leaders who embrace risks to continuously innovate for a better tomorrow," he said.

1 Design x Tech Innovators are design innovators and leaders who are grounded in technical expertise.
2 New initiatives will be announced as they roll out.