December 2017 | Issue 33
Farewell, dear President


PROF BERTIL ANDERSSON'S NOKIA PHONE

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The Nokia phone via which Prof Andersson received the invitation to join the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector was one of the 10 significant items added to LKCMedicine’s time capsule during the School’s official opening ceremony. The time capsule will be on display at LKCMedicine’s new Heritage Centre when it opens in May 2018.

A single SMS on then NTU Provost Professor Bertil Andersson’s old Nokia phone was all it took to set the gears turning in the genesis of LKCMedicine.

That text message was an invitation to join the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector (CEUS).

“There were three items on the agenda for discussion. The first item was to set up a new university, which later became SUTD. The second was the liberal arts college, which is now the Yale-NUS College. The last and actually smallest part was a new medical school. But right there and then I said to Koh Boon Hwee, our BOT [NTU Board of Trustees] Chair – and he shared my excitement – that we should concentrate on the medical school. And that’s exactly what we did,” recalled Prof Andersson at the Official Opening of LKCMedicine on 28 August.

Just over 10 years after that pivotal day, Prof Andersson is stepping down as NTU President, a post he assumed in 2011. But LKCMedicine will never forget the hard work and dedication that Prof Andersson invested to turn this world-class medical school into a reality.

Before joining NTU, Prof Andersson made his name as a world-renowned plant biochemist and chair of the chemistry committee at the Nobel Foundation. He pioneered research on the artificial leaf, a promising area of sustainable energy research that uses sunlight to produce clean, low-cost sources of energy. After moving to Singapore and going through a gruelling selection process, Prof Andersson was appointed NTU’s first Provost in April 2007, playing a central role in building NTU’s reputation.

In a 2016 interview with The Straits Times, he said, “My job was to get research on the main agenda. We should not just teach, we should be doing research. We should be getting fresh food, not just tinned food.”

Under his leadership, NTU enjoyed a meteoric rise through international university rankings, becoming the fastest-growing research-intensive university in the world. He has worked tirelessly to establish NTU as a world-class university. He initiated many programmes for the university, such as the Nanyang Assistant Professorship scheme to attract young research stars, and recruited some of the best research talent out there, including geneticist Professor Stephan Schuster and biologist and Director of NTU Institute of Structural Biology Professor Daniela Rhodes FRS. His efforts are paying off. NTU is now Asia’s top university based on the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Asia University Rankings and 11th globally in the QS World University Rankings.

Prof Andersson said, “NTU has made fantastic progress, having risen from No 14 when the QS Asian rankings began in 2009. The latest rankings are an outstanding achievement and strong endorsement of NTU’s excellent reputation built up over the years, and I wish to thank the entire NTU community for their contributions.”

NTU President photo (Custom).jpgOver the years, Prof Andersson also built a personal reputation for his inspiring speeches and grand entrances, which saw him scoot into the Nanyang Auditorium to deliver his State of the University Address one year, and, most recently, receive his speech from a drone.

Ever since he was young, Prof Andersson harboured an interest in medicine. He had even set his sights on neuroscience research, before life led him to pursue a career as a plant scientist. But this long-standing interest in medicine and biomedical sciences was why setting up LKCMedicine was such an exciting project for him.

Prof Andersson said in a recent hey! magazine interview, “I have always been interested in medicine, and planning the birth of NTU’s joint medical school with Imperial College London, and seeing it grow up well, has been a high point in my career.”

At LKCMedicine, Prof Andersson has been a mentor and a role model to the School’s staff, faculty and students. He marked every major milestone with the School from the Ground-breaking ceremony in 2012, to the Foundation Laying ceremony in 2015 and most recently the Official Opening of LKCMedicine.

As Prof Andersson prepares to take on various advisory roles back in Sweden, a final farewell dinner was held on 1 November by the LKCMedicine Governing Board and senior management to celebrate his invaluable contributions to the conceptualisation, implementation and development of this young medical school.

In his appreciation speech, Governing Board Chairman Mr Lim Chuan Poh said, “We couldn’t have asked for better parents than Imperial and NTU, and a better President than Bertil [Andersson]… Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are.”