Black tie dinner at the Alumni Weekend in Asia. Photo credit: Lionel Lin
Black tie dinner at the Alumni Weekend in Asia. Photo credit: Lionel Lin

Alumni celebrate and strengthen ties with Oxford at largest Alumni Weekend in Asia

From scientific insights to a gala black tie dinner, Oxford’s research and traditions were shared and enjoyed during an action-packed three days in Singapore.

More than 500 alumni, guests and University staff took part in the stimulating and prestigious activities at iconic locations in the city state as part of the Alumni Weekend in Asia.

Highlights included viewing Shakespeare’s First Folio, attending a gala black tie dinner, learning about the University’s latest research, listening to the Keble College Chapel Choir, and watching Dark Blue alumni crews row against their Cambridge counterparts.

View highlights (24 photos) on the Oxford Alumni Facebook page

View group photos (159 photos) on the Oxford Alumni Facebook page   

The event from 24 to 26 March was Oxford’s second Alumni Weekend in Asia. The next Alumni Weekend in Oxford takes place from 15-17 September 2017, and the next Alumni Weekend in Europe takes place in Rome from 16-18 March 2018.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University, emphasised the strong links between Oxford and Singapore when she addressed alumni at the Marina Bay Sands complex. Her remarks included reference to the 1,880 alumni currently based in Singapore, and the rapidly rising number of Oxford students from Southeast Asia.

The academic programme featured Oxford researchers showcasing their latest projects and perspectives, ranging from mental health treatments to quantum mechanics.

Professor Ben Sheldon, Head of the University’s Department of Zoology, demonstrated how evolution is generating insights into today’s problems. By understanding how evolutionary diversity and adaptations have evolved in the past, research inspired by evolution is improving the understanding of the Zika virus, leading to new controls for Dengue fever and inspiring novel engineering designs in flight. Oxford’s Blue Bear iMORPH project, for example, has re-created the wing shape of birds and eagles to create an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle with unique properties. Professor Sheldon said: ‘Evolution is an incredibly powerful process and idea; birds have solved a problem over millions of years which we can then copy.’

Another popular session focused on the future of consumer-product interaction. Dr Rhonda Hadi, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University’s Saïd Business School, explained the importance of touch (haptic sensation) when using digital devices, from the ease of using touchscreen mobile phones to the immediate connection created by vibrating wearables. She said: ‘Sometimes nothing is more powerful than how a product literally makes us feel.’ 

Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Principal at Jesus College and Professorial Research Fellow in Computer Science, continued by referring to Artificial Intelligence (AI) already embedded in consumer products, especially mobile phones. He raised concerns about how such products capture and use such information, and their regulatory and social implications. Overall, however, he was optimistic, particularly because of the potential for autonomous vehicles, and for robots to assist the elderly. Sir Nigel said: ‘Don’t worry about the machines taking over. The threat to our future is not Artificial Intelligence. The real threat to our survival is natural stupidity.’

Professor Richardson was also one of the Alumni Weekend’s academic speakers. Her session was an opportunity for those present to learn more about her research on terrorism. She emphasised the critical role that education has to play in encouraging debate and challenging violent extremism.

Other events at the Alumni Weekend included the display at the National Library of Singapore of Shakespeare’s First Folio (dating from 1623, and owned by the Bodleian library). The alumni rowing competition near the Marina Bay barrage ended up with victories for Oxford in the women’s race, and Cambridge in the men’s contest.

Hugh Dolan (Trinity, 1997) and his wife travelled from Melbourne to Singapore for the Alumni Weekend. He said: ‘The conversations have been really stimulating. It is amazing to be able to meet so many alumni from diverse industries. We have had a wonderful time.’

Margaret Hall (St Anne’s, 1969), who lives in Kuala Lumpur, is a committee member and past President of the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Malaysia. She said: ‘The Alumni Weekend is an excellent opportunity to broaden your horizons, and to meet people based in the region. I studied Geology so I greatly enjoyed the talk on The Power of Evolution.   I am also interested in finding out about other topics and the programme offered good choices. These events are a perfect way to re-connect with the University and my college.’