DPM Lawrence Wong at the Singapore Institute of Technology's 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner

DPM Lawrence Wong | 20 March 2024

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Singapore Institute of Technology's 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner on 20 March 2024.


SIT Chairman
SIT President
My Cabinet and Parliamentary colleagues
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to join all of you this evening to celebrate SIT’s 10th anniversary as an autonomous university. It is so good to see many familiar faces, all of whom have played a key part in SIT’s journey.

SIT’s Journey

Singapore’s most valuable resource is our people, that is why the government invests heavily in education and human capital. When we invest, we know that it is not just a matter of spending money and expecting instant results. Especially in an area like education, it is a journey – you start from planting the seeds, and then provide constant tending and nurturing along the way. Very often, the fruits of past labour will only emerge many years down the road. This is why you will find efforts spanning multiple generations of leadership.

SIT is one such seed that we had planted, which many of us in the government had the opportunity to be involved in.

In fact, you can trace it back to 2005, when then Education Minister and now President Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam introduced the Polytechnic-Foreign Specialised Institutes scheme. This allowed the polytechnics to offer degree programmes in partnership with overseas universities.

Later, Eng Hen, when he was the Education Minister, expanded the concept so that instead of one Polytechnic each overseeing individual collaborations, we brought them all together under one unified platform, which was the Singapore Institute of Technology.

Later in 2012, when Swee Keat was at MOE, he asked me to chair the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015. The committee assessed that there was scope to increase the university cohort participation rate for young Singaporeans, to open up more degree places, but we wanted to explore a different pathway that would better suit the diverse abilities and inclinations of our young people. That is why we studied the applied degree model, visited overseas institutions that were reputable in this area, that offered such applied degrees. We were very impressed at what we saw because these institutions have close linkages between classroom learning and industry applications, and had very effective work-study programmes. That is why we decided that there is a role for such universities here. The ones overseas were successful and well-regarded by students, the industry, and they had excellent graduate outcomes.

We decided to adopt this applied degree pathway in Singapore to cater to Singaporeans who prefer more applied and hands-on learning. Of course, the question then was, how do we go about implementing this? When we looked around Singapore at that time, SIT was clearly best placed to do this. Rather than create something completely new, why not just build on the SIT model. Hence, the committee recommended to make SIT Singapore’s fifth autonomous university, and that happened 10 years ago in 2014.

Over the last decade, SIT has grown further with the support of subsequent MOE ministers – Ye Kung came aboard in 2015 and now more recently, Chun Sing. SIT has built up its capabilities and now confers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees solely in its name. Your student enrolment has increased. Your graduates – SITizens – secured excellent outcomes. 9 in 10 found employment within six months of graduation with an average monthly starting salary of more than $4,000.

All in all, it has been a long but very rewarding and fulfilling journey.

I have shared what it was like for some of us in the Government working on this over the years. For all of us, it was a labour of love. That is why many of us are here today for this special occasion. Of course, while the government can plan and decide on policies, it takes much more than that to deliver a successful outcome. That is why I also want to acknowledge many others who have been involved in this undertaking - SIT’s leadership management, academic faculty and staff, all your SITizens past and present, as well as industry partners and donors. Tonight, I would like to acknowledge, appreciate, and recognise all of you for your many contributions. Thank you and congratulations to SIT!

SIT’s Role

The government's approach towards education is to invest in education continuously and steadily. But our approach to education is not static. It is continually evolving. We do not claim to have the best system or to have all the answers. We want to learn and improve, drawing from experiences around the world like what we did when we set up SIT as an autonomous university, so that we can continue to ensure every Singaporean develops and realises their full potential. On the whole, we are not doing badly. For example, look at our school system and the outcomes we have achieved. Our students consistently score at the top of the tables for Reading, Mathematics and Science in the OECD Student Assessment Test – they call it PISA. PISA does not test rote learning; it tests students’ ability to apply what they have learnt to unfamiliar settings and real-world contexts. We should draw some confidence that our students do well in these tests, compared to their counterparts in other OECD countries. If you look closely at the test scores, we do not just have high averages – children from lower-income Singapore families substantially outperform children from similar backgrounds in advanced countries, and do better than even the average child in some of these countries. These are excellent outcomes by any standard but, we are not standing still. We are continuing to review, experiment and find new ways to improve our system, especially to recognise different skills and talents, and to provide a fuller range of pathways for our students to progress. Another area of education that has seen significant change over the past decade is the preschool. Over the last decade and more recently in the last few years, we have invested considerable amounts in preschool education. It is a recognition that early childhood matters to life outcomes and social mobility in Singapore. Our subsidies in preschool are geared towards lower- and middle- income families so that every child can be assured of a good start in life. We are continuing to review and take steps to make pre-schools more affordable and more accessible. We have made moves over the past decade, and we will continue to do so in this direction.

Besides preschool and schools, we know that learning cannot stop when formal school ends. With rapid technological advances, job roles and requirements will change faster than before. That is why we started SkillsFuture around 10 years ago. We have made good progress on SkillsFuture, but there is still much more that needs to be done. We discussed this issue at length in our Forward Singapore engagements last year. That is why in this year’s Budget, we have followed through with a significant enhancement to SkillsFuture through the new Level-Up program.

SIT is well-positioned to play a key role in driving this next phase of SkillsFuture.

First, through your strong collaborations with industry partners. Indeed, this has been the hallmark of SIT’s ethos since your founding. You work closely with the industry to design degree programmes. This enables your academic and research staff to be plugged into industry trends, ensuring that your students learn relevant skills that are in demand. You also integrate meaningful work experience into your academic programmes as we heard just now from Prof Chua. This allows your students to apply the skills learned in the classroom effectively. These close industry linkages will enable SIT to design and deliver more effective Continuing Education and Training, or CET, programmes.

Second, SIT has also been very innovative in developing customised programmes for adult learners. You heard just now what Prof Chua said about the Competency-based Stackable Micro-credential pathway, or the CSM pathway, which SIT has rolled out. Essentially, you have broken up the degree programme into discrete, self-contained parts, known as micro-credentials. A Specialist Certificate is awarded upon completion of each micro-credential. This gives flexibility to adult learners. They can decide what they need. They can sign up for a single micro-credential, or take on multiple micro-credentials and these can be stacked up to qualify for a degree. Adult learners will have the ability to customise their pace of learning and flexibility to juggle work and other commitments. I understand that SIT has even engaged coaches to help adult learners develop their own customised academic and learning plans. SIT’s first CSM offering in Applied Computing was developed in collaboration with SingTel and NCS. Both companies have already sponsored their employees for this programme, which has helped to upskill their workforce. I think it is an excellent initiative. So, good job to SIT for developing this and we look forward to many more of such innovative customised CET offerings and industry collaborations in the future.

Finally, SIT can also help to inculcate the habits of lifelong learning amongst your students or your SITizens and our wider community. This is key to how we evolve and mature as a society. We often emphasize the importance of lifelong learning for economic reasons, because of technological changes, artificial intelligence, new technologies to cope with new ways of doing work, and disruptions at workplaces. These economic reasons are all valid but in fact there are more fundamental reasons to foster a mindset of skills mastery because it is about instilling a deeper culture of excellence in Singapore. It is about taking pride in our work and striving for quality in everything we do, no matter how small, no matter what the job is. It is a big ask for every Singaporean to have such a mindset and to be fair, I never had it when I was young either. I am reminded of my own experience in university. College life, at least in my first year, was fun. The first-year introductory classes were not that difficult. The second reason was because this was my first time in an overseas country, and there were so many things to explore and do. But the awakening came in my second year. A friend came to me and said, you are majoring in Economics, what can you tell me about the economy? And I realised I did not have a good answer. I also realised that I could go through life in college, graduate with a decent GPA but still end up with very little knowledge about the subject I was majoring in. That was my awakening. I started diving deeper into the subject that I was taking. I deliberately pushed myself, I took more challenging classes – I did not do so well in some of these classes, but that was alright because in the end, I think I benefited and learnt a lot more from that experience.

That remains my deep conviction today after going through that long-winding journey in university. Learning is not about grades; it is not about doing well in examinations; it is not even about preparing for a future career; in the end, it is about empowering all of us to improve, to excel, and be the best possible version of ourselves. I hope that is the attitude and mindset that SIT will instil in all your students. 2024 will be a very exciting year for SIT. You will move to your new campus in Punggol later this year. This will not just a new physical home. There will be many more opportunities for you to collaborate with the industry on the latest in digital technologies like cybersecurity because of your close proximity to the Punggol Digital District. Companies can also use your campus as a test-bed for smart urban solutions. There will be many opportunities for applied learning and industry collaborations. I am confident that this move to your new environment will help you strengthen this culture of applied learning and continued skills development and mastery across your entire university.


To conclude, I am delighted to see how far SIT has grown these last ten years, and excited to see how much further SIT will grow in the future.

All these would not have been possible without a dedicated SIT leadership team and Board of Trustees. We have SIT’s founding Chairman Dr Ng Yat Chung here, together with Professors Tan Chin Tiong and Tan Thiam Soon. They all played key roles in steering SIT’s initial growth and development after it was incorporated as an autonomous university. Mr Bill Chang and Professor Chua Kee Chaing have since taken over. I am confident that their leadership and commitment, along with the current Board of Trustees and management team, will take SIT to the next level.

Congratulations once again to SIT on your 10th anniversary, and to a decade of excellence in applied learning, education and innovation. I look forward to your future development and growth as an autonomous university, transforming lives, and advancing the overall well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans. Thank you.