DPM Teo Chee Hean at Temasek Polytechnic’s 25th Anniversary Dinner & Dance

SM Teo Chee Hean | 20 November 2015

Speech by DPM Teo Chee Hean at Temasek Polytechnic’s 25th Anniversary Dinner & Dance on 20 November 2015.


Mr Lee Kok Choy,

Chairman of the Temasek Polytechnic Board of Governors

Mr Boo Kheng Hua,
Principal and CEO, Temasek Polytechnic

Members of the Temasek Polytechnic Board of Governors

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to join you tonight. It’s wonderful to see many familiar faces here. This is a significant year for Temasek Polytechnic as you celebrate your Silver Jubilee together with Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.

Polytechnic Education in Singapore

The beginnings of polytechnic education in Singapore can be traced to the start of Singapore Polytechnic in 1954. Since the early years of Singapore’s economic development, our polytechnics have trained Singaporeans to take up skilled jobs as new industries were introduced in Singapore.

But the polytechnic system as we know it today only began to take shape in the 1980s, championed by the late Dr Tay Eng Soon.  It was during this period that the Government decided to significantly expand and upgrade polytechnic education, to build up the skilled manpower needed to support Singapore’s industrialisation and the shift towards higher value-added, higher technology activities. For a start, new teaching and other facilities were added at Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. New courses were also introduced.
The education reforms introduced by Dr Goh Keng Swee from the late 1970s, and subsequent refinements made to the school system in the 1980s and 1990s also helped increasing numbers of students to complete their secondary school education. Demand for polytechnic places was also growing, as more better-performing O-level students chose the polytechnic route.

To give as many students as possible the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to succeed in an advanced economy, we started Temasek Polytechnic in 1990, followed closely by Nanyang Polytechnic in 1992.  By 2000, close to 4 in 10 students from each Primary One cohort were progressing to the polytechnics, a significant increase compared to less than 1 in 10 in 1980.1

Temasek Polytechnic

A lot of thought and effort was put into the planning for Temasek Polytechnic – the first polytechnic to be established after more than twenty years.  In particular, Dr. Tay wanted a campus which was well-designed, to signal the importance that Government was placing on polytechnic education. He took a personal interest in securing the beautiful site by Bedok Reservoir to be the permanent campus for Temasek Polytechnic. I was still serving in the SAF at the time, and had the opportunity to be involved in the early process of planning for Temasek Polytechnic’s permanent campus, as Dr. Tay wanted to draw insights from how MINDEF had designed SAFTI Military Institute. As it turned out, several years later, one of my first official events as Minister for Education was to accompany then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for the official opening of Temasek Polytechnic’s permanent campus in 1997.  

The Temasek Polytechnic founding team also deliberated carefully over the type of courses it should offer, with consideration given to meeting the manpower needs of emerging sectors, and providing greater diversity of courses to fulfil students’ interests and aspirations. For example, seeing the growth in the service sector at the time, the team decided that TP should offer a diploma in Tourism Management, the first time that such a course was offered by the polytechnics.  The course, which has broadened its scope to become the Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management, has since graduated more than 4,300 students, with many alumni pursuing fulfilling careers in the industry.

I am happy to see how Temasek Polytechnic has grown and developed over the years. In 1990, Temasek Polytechnic started with an initial intake of just 735 students in four diploma programmes in business and design.  Today, TP takes in around 5,000 students each year, with an enrolment of more than 15,000 students in over 50 full-time diploma courses in applied sciences, business, design, engineering, humanities and social sciences, and IT.  Students in Temasek Polytechnic also have opportunities to participate in other activities that enrich their learning.  For example, more than one-third of last year’s graduating students had participated in an overseas immersion programme, which helps to prepare students for life and work in today’s globalised world.   

Polytechnics and Lifelong Learning through SkillsFuture

Today, 95% of our P1 cohort go on to post-secondary education, with more than 46% going to our polytechnics. And we want to take education even further, and make lifelong learning the norm for all Singaporeans through SkillsFuture.

This is not entirely new. From its early days, Singapore Polytechnic had provided part-time programmes targeted at working adults.  But the scale at which we want to provide lifelong learning opportunities has expanded. Just as in earlier phases of improving our education system we had provided primary education, then secondary education, and then post-secondary education for all, we now want to provide continuing education and lifelong learning for all. When the Ministry of Education was considering expanding polytechnic places in 2002, a key reason why we decided to set up a fifth polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, was that the polytechnic sector would shoulder a significant share of skills renewal and upgrading for our workforce. Given the polytechnics’ close links with industry, they were well-placed to provide continuing education and training in a diverse range of practice-oriented programmes. This would help ensure lifelong employability for Singaporeans.2

Lifelong learning has become even more important today, especially given the pace at which new industries and new types of jobs are created, and some old ones are disappearing. Through SkillsFuture, we want to help Singaporeans deepen their skills and fulfil their aspirations in a wide variety of fields, throughout their lives. Our polytechnics and ITE play a leading role in this effort – by strengthening skills training for students before they enter the workforce, and providing opportunities for working adults to deepen or acquire new skills throughout their working lives.

I am happy to know that Temasek Polytechnic is already actively involved in some of the SkillsFuture initiatives. For example, it has worked with industry partners to offer new Earn and Learn Programmes, and skills-based modular courses.  

Partner-in-Education Awards

Given the synergistic and long-standing relationship between polytechnics and industry, it is fitting that Temasek Polytechnic has chosen to acknowledge the contributions of its industry partners with its inaugural Partner-in-Education Awards tonight.  Please join me in recognising the awardees and Temasek Polytechnic’s other industry partners for providing valuable training and learning opportunities for our students, so that they attain industry-relevant skills and experience.  


Let me congratulate Temasek Polytechnic on your first 25 successful years.  You have nurtured 100,000 graduates, enabling them to realise their aspirations and potential. You have developed many win-win relationships with key industry partners.
Guided by the leadership, dedication and passion of your management team and staff, I am confident that Temasek Polytechnic will continue to produce good graduates who do well in life and contribute to Singapore in meaningful ways.

15.    I wish Temasek Polytechnic many more good years ahead, as we work together towards a better future for Singaporeans and a better Singapore.

16.    Thank you.


[1] By 2000, the intake to the polytechnics had increased to 17,500, from just 4,600 students in 1980.   Ministry of Education, Education Statistics Digest 2014 (http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/education-statistics-digest/files/esd-20...)

[2] Speech by RADM (NS) Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence at the Second Reading of the Republic Polytechnic Bill, 8 July 2002. (http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2002/sp24072002a.htm)