Population ageing is one of the most significant societal challenges confronting the world today, and a particularly acute one for many Asian countries. This was the topic addressed on 26 November 2019 at the Singapore Management University (SMU) – Renmin University of China (RUC) Global Forum. More than 200 attendees, comprising silver industry representatives, senior healthcare administrators, gerontology scholars and researchers, as well as journalists packed the Renmin University of China (RUC)’s Hall of Chinese Classics to participate in an engaging discourse on “Retirement and Positive Ageing – Insights and Perspectives from China and Singapore”, leaving only standing room in the auditorium.

As a global-city university in Asia, SMU’s journey to make meaningful impact in this global demographic phenomenon extends to the cross-fertilisation of ideas across borders. In this 8th edition of the Global Forum, thought leaders and experts from across the academia, industry and government in China came together with those from Singapore and SMU, to share experiences and insights, and more importantly, better prepare for an ageing world in the digital era. The event garnered much interest from both Singapore and the Chinese media, with coverage from leading news agencies including The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Xinhuanet Singapore, China.com.cn, Beijing News Radio, and CN Women.

In her welcome remarks, SMU President Prof Lily Kong highlighted how the Global Forum served as a platform to convene thought leaders from both countries to exchange knowledge and learn from each other’s practices and experiences on common societal challenges. This reflected RUC President Prof Liu Wei’s comments that the strong partnership between both universities had allowed the collective contribution of wisdom from the Orient to tackle the global challenge of ageing populations.

In his keynote address on “Retirement Adequacy – Evidence from Singapore”, Prof Bryce Hool, Director of SMU’s Centre for the Research of Ageing Economics (CREA) encouraged greater emphasis to be placed on financial literacy and health awareness programmes to better support retirement adequacy and healthy ageing. He added that insurance against large healthcare costs was critical and shared how Singapore’s long-term care insurance model helped to address concerns about the affordability of such insurance.

Mr George Chan, Executive Chairman of TCL Healthcare Equipment, who centred his keynote on “China Healthcare Industry Prospects”, highlighted that the industry should leverage information technology for accelerated growth. Keynote speakers from China, RUC’s Vice President and Director of its Institute of Gerontology, Prof Du Peng and Mr Wang Qian, Counsel, Department of Ageing and Health, National Health Commission of China (NHCC) likewise provided compelling insights at the Forum. Prof Du shared his observations and insights on China’s experiences and challenges in ageing policy and practices, while Mr Wang advocated for a health service system that would cater to the needs of individuals in totality based on one’s life cycle.

After a working lunch, seven panelists from Singapore and China exchanged views on the topic, Ageing in the Digital Era. Representing the Singapore side were Assoc Prof Tan Hwee-Pink, Academic Director of SMU-TCS iCity Lab; Ms Chan Su Yee, CEO of NTUC Health Co-operative Ltd; Mr George Chan and Mr Wu Lei, Executive GM, Xinhuanet Asia Pacific Co Ltd. Prof Zuo Meiyun, Director of RUC’s Research Institute of Smart Senior Care, moderated the session.

Assoc Prof Tan shared how technology played an important role in the elderly care ecosystem, citing a study he conducted which used sensors in bed pressure mats. The data revealed a strong correlation between poor sleep quality and mild cognitive impairment – a condition that placed one at increased risk of developing illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. He also highlighted the potential of Internet-of-Things in reducing maintenance requirements and improving durability of smart devices, as well as in lowering labour costs.

On the role of technology, Ms Chan shared that a key consideration would be its applicability in silver services. She shared with the audience examples of how technology had helped to reduce caregivers’ burden in providing daily care for the elderly, such as in toileting and bathing tasks.

On the sidelines of the event, SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business and RUC’s School of Finance inked a new collaborative agreement for SMU’s Global Masters of Finance programme. Faculty from both institutions also explored potential areas of collaboration at an interest-matching meeting. In addition, SMU’s Dean (Postgraduate Professional Programmes) Associate Prof Themin Suwardy conducted an information session for RUC students to pique their interest in SMU’s slate of Master’s programmes.