Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at Nanyang Technological University's 30th Anniversary Dinner on 1 July 2022.
NTU Board of Trustees Chair Ms Goh Swee Chen,
Former President Dr Tony Tan,
Minister Ong Ye Kung,
NTU President Professor Subra Suresh,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good evening. I am happy to join all of you virtually for NTU’s 30th anniversary.
This celebration was postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 situation. It is good that we can finally gather physically on campus tonight.
This campus has a rich heritage. Yunnan Garden, for example, dates back to the old Nantah campus.
Transforming with the Times
NTU is a young university. But what NTU inherited from your rich heritage is the spirit of transforming with the times.
You have remained steadfast in your mission to bring out the best in every student. But as the world changes, you have continued to adapt and evolve to create value for your students.
As Subra recapped in his speech, Nantah started as a ground up effort by the Chinese community, at a time when many were uneducated, and university openings limited.
Later, in 1981, when there was a shortage of engineers, Nantah transformed into the Nanyang Technological Institute. Starting with fewer than 600 students, the enrolment grew more than 10-fold in a decade.
As our economy matured, there was a need to groom a wider range of professions. It was in this context that NTU was formed in 1991. Then Education Minister Dr Tony Tan was instrumental to NTU’s formation.
Thirty years is a short time for any university. But NTU has made remarkable strides since your establishment.
Today, NTU is ranked among the top universities in the world.
The range of courses and students have risen sharply – from business and accountancy, to humanities and media studies, to medicine.
Over 250,000 students have passed through your door and went on to make their mark in the world.
Some of your students came from abroad, including Pak Tito Karnavian who is with us today.
Your alumni have fond memories of their campus years. You stayed in touch with them, including recognising those with outstanding achievements.
NTU has made good progress over the past three decades. Looking ahead, the pace of change will be even faster and the waves of disruption much larger.
As we commemorate your 30 years, NTU can continue to transform and make an even greater impact in the decades to come – for science, for your students, and for society. Let me elaborate.
The global progress in science has been remarkable, especially in the last thirty years.
Singapore embarked on our R&D journey in 1991, the same year that NTU was established. NTU embraced the science wave. Today you are a major partner for Research, Innovation and Enterprise or RIE 2025.
NTU is host to several research centres of excellence. One such centre is the Earth Observatory of Singapore, which undertakes fundamental research on earthquakes, tsunamis, and climate change.
You have also identified many exciting areas of focus for research – from AI, to resilient urbanization, to brain sciences – which overtime can shape the future of humanity.
While the pace and intensity of research is high on this campus and in Singapore, our total R&D endeavours are small relative to the rest of the world.
There are many beautiful gardens on campus, but NTU cannot be a walled garden. Science knows no boundaries, and the way to maximise your impact is to collaborate widely.
So, I am glad to hear from Subra that NTU is working with almost 650 academic institutions and industry players across the world.
You must continue to deepen and expand these linkages, within Singapore and with like-minded partners from around the world.
You must remain open to new ideas, talent, and collaborations, and do your best to inspire and nurture your research talent.
As we continue to pursue our goals for RIE 2025 and beyond, I look forward to even greater research impact from NTU.
Second Wave – Students
The second wave is the Students wave. With the pace of change, universities worldwide are rethinking how we approach learning.
The workplace that their students eventually enter is much more complex. Complex problems require multidisciplinary approaches – to appreciate different perspectives, and work in diverse teams.
When I was Education Minister, we started developing our children holistically with 21st century competencies. And its most apt that the training of future teachers takes place here at NTU, in NIE.
NTU caught on to this new wave of learning early, with the Renaissance Engineering Programme in 2011. Last year, you mainstreamed the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Core for undergraduates.
Prior to COVID, some 8-in-10 NTU students gained a more international outlook through overseas opportunities. With borders re-opening, it is critical that your students continue to explore and remain open to the world.
Another related development is lifelong learning. Gone were the days when the skills you pick up in university last a lifetime.
Traditionally, universities focus on educating youths before they enter the workforce. But a university of the future must be part of the lifelong learning movement.
So, I am glad that universities in Singapore – including NTU – have taken an enlightened approach towards continuing education.
PaCE@NTU offers a range of modular courses to adult learners, which can be stacked towards micro-credentials. As importantly, PaCE offers course credits for NTU alumni to encourage them to upskill throughout life.
To fully ride the Students wave, NTU needs to broaden learning through multi-disciplinary and global exposures, and build a lifelong learning relationship with your students.
Your alumni is your greatest pride and joy. In turn, I hope your alumni remain connected to and contribute to your continued success.
A third wave that is now gaining momentum across societies is the need to forge a stronger social compact.
The social compact is under stress in many societies. Disparities are widening, and many communities feel excluded from progress.
Singapore is in a better position, but we are not immune to some of these forces.
DPM Lawrence Wong spoke about this recently, when he launched the Forward Singapore movement to refresh our social compact.
In strengthening our social compact, universities like NTU will have a critical role.
From the early days of Nantah, you have provided educational access to those who might otherwise not have the opportunity.
Today, NTU continues to take in students from diverse backgrounds through your bursaries and scholarships.
But just as important, is the role that NTU students and alumni play in giving back to society.
Subra highlighted that NTU raised more than $1.1 million to support good causes as part of your 30th anniversary celebrations.
Beyond monetary donations, NTU Service Week galvanized nearly 600 students, alumni, and faculty to volunteer their time.
NTU students and alumni are also creating vibrant social enterprises. For example, Givfunds provides low-cost loans to social enterprises in South and Southeast Asia.
I met co-founder Edward Yee during my recent trip to London, and was struck by his passion to make a positive impact in the world.
To each generation of NTU students and faculty – I urge you to continue to change our society and the world for the better.
Universities should not be ivory towers. They should instead be catalysts to create a better world.
Over the past 3 decades, NTU has ridden the waves to transform with the times.
Since I have spoken so much about waves, it is most apt that we are at The Wave – NTU’s newest sports hall, which is also a GreenMark Platinum building.
NTU is seeking to do even better. You recently unveiled your Sustainability Manifesto – with a 50% reduction in net energy and water use by 2026, and carbon neutrality by 2035.
Sustainability is a critical issue of our generation. And I am glad that it is also central to NTU’s plans.
Finally, let me conclude with one final observation. The remarkable progress that NTU has made owe much to the commitment and energy of everyone. Let me take this opportunity to thank a few people.
To Boon Hwee, founding NTU chair and chair for most of NTU’s 30-year history. His vision, dedication, and leadership have been instrumental in bringing NTU to where it is today.
To Swee Chen, who has taken over from Boon Hwee, I am confident that your leadership and commitment will continue to take NTU forward.
My appreciation also goes to past and present members of the Board of Trustees.
To Subra, for your many contributions over the past five years, and for putting forward a compelling NTU 2025 vision. And also to the Presidents who came before him – Bertil Andersson, Su Guaning, Cham Tao Soon.
I have the pleasure of working with all four Presidents in my various capacities.
Lastly, to all of you – the NTU community – to faculty and staff, past and present; to students and alumni; to your many partners – without which the university would not be where it is today.
Your continued support will be vital for NTU to continue to transform with the times, and make an even bigger contribution to Science, Students, Society, and also Sustainability.
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