HEPA Forum: Higher Education Adapting to a Post-COVID World


This year’s HEPA Forum covered pertinent topics in the rapidly-changing education landscape around Asia. Representatives from Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and Singapore shared how universities coped with disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in their respective contexts.

‘Technology in education’, ‘Educating a new demographic of lifelong learners’, and ‘Catering to students’ mental well-being’ – these were some topics explored during the Higher Education Planning in Asia (HEPA) Forum, held on 11 November.

The HEPA Forum is an annual event that provides a platform for university planners and administrators across Asia to come together to interact, share best practices, and network. This year was its ninth consecutive run and the first time it was conducted virtually. Jointly organised by Ajou University (Korea) and SIT, the virtual forum gathered over 200 registered participants and more than 20 speakers from Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and Singapore.

Here are some of the event’s highlights.

Opening Addresses

HEPA 2021 President

HEPA President, Dr Michael Fung, opened the event by introducing the Forum’s theme: ‘Higher Education Adapting to a Post-COVID World’. He stated that after the initial shock COVID-19 had on higher education, many institutions had to pivot to online learning and make other adjustments to operate in the new normal. However, it has become clear that many of the disruptions caused by the pandemic are not going away. Institutions need to transition from reacting to adapting in order to stay relevant. The questions are: How can institutions adapt effectively in this post-COVID world? What new trends and opportunities have emerged that institutions can leverage on? Dr Fung shared that the forum would explore these topics and that he hoped the discussions would inspire the participants to bring new ideas back to their own institutions.

Prof Tan HEPA 2021

In his opening address, Professor Tan Thiam Soon, President, SIT, spoke on SIT’s mission to provide a university pathway for polytechnic graduates. He further elaborated on how SIT is uniquely structured to enable active learning in authentic environments, such as how the Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP) marries workplace learning with institution-based learning.

Prof Tan highlighted the importance of having a holistic understanding of the impact of technology in education beyond its use during the pandemic. For example, how reduced physical interaction can affect students’ learning, mental health and well-being. He also shared the need to meet the growing demand to reskill and upskill the existing workforce in Singapore, which has been accelerated by COVID-19.

Topical Discussion 1: Educating a New Demographic

Responding to the Challenges in Higher Education through Workplace Learning by Arthur Poh

Arthur Poh HEPA 2021

SIT believes in competency-based, workplace education that is learner centric and in collaboration with the industry. In his topical discussion, Arthur introduced SIT’s Learning Enterprise Model, where learning modules are designed based on industry needs and challenges.

He shared the four-step process: I-D-E-A, that SIT uses to connect its academic curricula with the industry and economy’s needs:

I - Identifying and understanding the needs of each enterprise by understanding the challenges it faces

D - Develop what success looks like to the enterprise

E - Establish a training plan that is centred on industry demand to better cater to the needs of the workforce

A - Assess how well learners apply their learning by continuously reflecting what worked and what did not

Arthur then expounded on SIT’s Competency-Based Workplace Learning Pathway and how it is being used to support workforce training. He emphasised that recognising and harnessing the prior competencies and experience of adult learners is key to the success of this new pathway. If done well, the result will be a win-win situation for the learner, the enterprise, and the university.

“HEPA is a great platform for like-minded academic administrators and scholars to share best practices in university planning, pedagogy and assessment. In today’s complex world, universities need to collaborate even more as we navigate these challenges. The forum is a timely platform for institutions and academic leaders to connect and work together! Looking forward to the conference in subsequent years.” – Arthur Poh, NACE@SIT

Topical Discussion 2: New Ways of Teaching
Supporting Students on Learning through High Tech and High Touch in our New Normal by A/Prof May Lim

May Lim HEPA 2021

When institutes of higher learning in Singapore switched to full home-based learning, optimising learning outcomes despite the physical distances was a major concern for SIT.

A/Prof May Lim elaborated on how three initiatives at SIT helped to deliver a ‘high tech and high touch’ education, namely: ‘Quest’ and ‘AdventureLEARN’.

Quest is an online platform of adaptive online courses for students to get up to speed on core competency subjects such as Math, Physics, and Chemistry in preparation for their university courses. A/Prof Lim shared that the ‘high tech’ platform allows students to access Quest from anywhere at any time. By providing resources for students to gain the required knowledge themselves instead of giving them the answers directly, students become self-directed learners. Through the learning platform, students build a community to learn together and help answer each other’s questions.

AdventureLEARN is a platform that builds and strengthens learning traits in students. A/Prof Lim shared that the gamified micro-learning platform that provides students with the strategies and resources needed to learn more effectively and track their learning progress. In addition, the platform encourages peer learning through various team challenges.

Coaching as an SIT Educator, A/Prof Lim stressed that applying ‘high tech’ alone is insufficient to transform education in this current climate. ‘High touch’ is needed for students to feel connected and supported. SIT believes in building a coaching culture and eco-system where any of our academic staff can coach students effectively by equipping every educator with coaching skills. Only then, can a learning community be built to facilitate effective learning for the future.

“HEPA is a helpful platform for academic administrators and educators in the region to exchange ideas and learn from one another. The forum addresses pertinent issues for universities to consider and plan forward.” – A/Prof May Lim, Director, CoLEAD

What’s Next?

In conclusion, HEPA President, Dr Michael Fung aptly summed up what is next for higher education. After 18 months of living through COVID-19 and its adjustments, it is timely to build on the gains acquired and carefully consider how we may turn these lessons into opportunities for transformation as our institutions evolve in response to the ‘new world’ order.

Watch the full forum here.


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