PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore University of Social Sciences Ministerial Forum

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 4 September 2019

Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore University of Social Sciences Ministerial Forum on 4 September 2019.


Chancellor of SUSS, Mr Stephen Lee, Chairman Mr Richard Eu and Members of the SUSS Board of Trustees, President of SUSS, Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very happy to be here for your first Ministerial forum. The last time I visited your campus was 2012 when you were still UniSIM. Since then, you have undergone quite a few changes. You are now our sixth Autonomous University (AU). You take in full time students, but your main mission remains to cater to working adults – unique among the AUs. You specialise in lifelong learning and offer the most number of part-time degree programmes, with 12,000 students today. You have built up a strong capability in adult learning and teaching, including through your Institute of Adult Learning (IAL).

Your student profile is quite different from the other AUs, because most students are a bit older in the 20s or 30s - I can see from looking around the room. You do not have to put your hands up. Many of you are poly graduates. You are more mature, you have worked a few years, you know the job market, and you are clearer about your life goals. For you, enrolling in SUSS is a major decision, especially if you already have family commitments and children. But you decided to do it, you are determined to succeed, it requires grit and commitment. We will invest in you, we will help you to make it and support you to fulfil your aspirations. So go for it, or as young people say it, FTW1. Of course, I also hope that you will keep on upskilling yourself after you graduate, throughout your working life, not just when you are in your 20s and 30s, but into your 40s, 50s and beyond.

At the 2012 National Day Rally, after I visited UniSIM, I spoke about two of your students whom I had met, Alfred Toh and Natalie Chen. They were married and studying at the same time. Midway through the course, they had a child, so they paused their studies, the baby comes first. When their baby was a bit older, both Alfred and Natalie resumed their courses, and eventually graduated.  I am happy to report that both of them are doing well.

Alfred is working at Daikin. He was there as a marketing executive. Since then he has been promoted three times and now oversees Daikin’s home automation unit. Natalie is at the ITE. She was a lecturer. She moved up to mentor new lecturers. She was offered a managerial track role but she turned it down because she preferred to teach. Even better, they have had a second child, so now they have two boys, a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old. So SUSS, with its flexible programmes, made all these possible. It is a happy story, but I do not think Alfred and Natalie’s story is unique. Because in Singapore, if you have the will to succeed, you will find opportunities to improve your lives, and to fulfil your aspirations.

That was my message at the National Day Rally nearly three weeks ago. I had three key points: One, no one will be denied education in Singapore for lack of money. Two, this government plans long term, and three, in Singapore, with this government, what we say, we will deliver. I covered a whole range of issues at the Rally. I talked about preschool – making preschool more affordable, especially for middle income parents – not so rich, not so poor, but having to take their kids through this very important phase in their early lives, and making a good quality government-funded preschool option available to all Singaporeans like HDB for housing or like the restructured hospitals and the community hospitals in healthcare. I talked about tertiary fees – that we would lower fees for SIT and SUSS for general degree programmes. That we would significantly enhance bursaries for full time university students, especially for the lower income students, but also the middle income ones as well. Some of you who are here should benefit from the enhanced bursaries from the next academic year. We have not yet revised fees and bursaries for part-time students. We looked at them, but we think that these fees and bursaries should be affordable for working adults, but we will review this and if necessary, we will adjust them. I also talked about raising the retirement and reemployment ages, and CPF contributions for older workers. I talked about climate change – a very long term problem, but a very important one. I talked about our future development plans for Singapore, including the Greater Southern Waterfront, and the state of the economy, amongst other things.

We have been tracking responses to the Rally speech. It is very interesting. There is a clear difference in the reaction of the young Singaporeans compared to the old Singaporeans. Everybody likes preschool fees coming down. Everybody likes university bursaries going up and fees coming down. But on the other subjects, the interests were different. For the young people, climate change resonated, because they see the urgency of the problem and they want to do something about it. For the older Singaporeans, some of them think climate change is ‘after my time’, and they are focussed very much on the immediate things –  retirement and reemployment ages and CPF increase for the older workers, and the economy – will my job be ok? Will I have to claim overtime? Will my family be secured? These are more immediate issues. They may see their own retirement approaching, they are concerned whether they can continue working, remain active, and save enough for when they eventually actually retire. This is quite understandable. What resonates with us depends on our stage in life, our life experiences,what we have seen, and what we are preoccupied with. I hope that each of us will also try to see the perspectives of others who are in different life situations. Young people, you are focussed on the long term and on your future. But young people will grow older. You may not think so, but I assure you, it is so. Perhaps as you grow older, your interests and perspectives will converge closer to your parents’. At the same time, old folks need to care about the future too, and what young people think because these young people, many of them will be their children and their grandchildren. It is the world that their children and grandchildren will live in, and will influence their futures and their lives. If you care about your kids and grandkids, you must want to know what sort of tomorrow will it be.

In that context, I think SUSS students stand just in the sweet spot in between these two groups. You appreciate both perspectives, at least I hope so. Because you are working now, the economy, school and preschool fees, retirement, CPF – all these are things that will affect you immediately. But at the same time, you are young enough, climate change and GSW are things that will happen in your lifetime, and certainly, in your children’s lifetimes. So I hope you will understand the government’s approach.  We take care of short term priorities, but at the same time, we must look far ahead, prepare for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow, to think for our children and their children too. Not many countries or governments in the world, but in Singapore we try to do this very hard. That is how we have secured our livelihoods and our future.

We cannot tell what will happen in the world, we cannot predict for sure what will happen in the world, but I worry a lot that the next decade will be much more troubled for the world and for Singapore than the last one. Therefore, I am determined that we will prepare our people the best we can. I think Singaporeans know that we are as well-prepared as anybody in the world to deal with the challenges ahead. In that spirit, I encourage you to do your best, strive to fulfil your hopes and dreams, work together and make it come true.

It is always very hard to make a speech in few weeks after the National Day Rally. I cannot make the same speech. I have to take a different approach. At the National Day Rally, my approach is long speech, no questions. Today, my approach is short speech so I can take lots of questions. So I will take questions now. Go ahead and shoot. Thank you very much.

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[1] For The Win