Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Opening of ITE Headquarters and ITE College Central on 8 November 2013

8 November 2013


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen


I am very happy to be here today at ITE HQ to open this ITE HQ & College Central. I have already been here several times in this last year; we have had several events here, including the National Day Rally. Each time I am here, I have been impressed by the enthusiasm of the students and the support of the staff, and today I got an even warmer welcome.

This opening today completes ITE’s transformation towards “One ITE, Three Colleges”. This is ITE HQ & College Central and it joins ITE College East in Simei and ITE College West in Chua Chu Kang. It will become a College of “Creativity and Innovation”, focusing on creative design and interactive media, aerospace and marine technology, engineering design and manufacturing technology. It will stimulate applied learning so when you study Aerospace, you have an Aerospace hub. We have a Boeing 737 here and so you can gain hands-on experience maintaining, repairing, inspecting and overhauling aircraft components.

It will house the Centres of Technology and also Specialised Centres to be built in collaboration with industry for example, the ITE-Bosch Rexroth Industrial Automation Centre, Centre of Excellence in New Media with Toon Boom and in time, others. It will develop students outside the classroom for example; modern sports facilities – a very huge Indoor Sports Hall on the top floor, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, even a skate park. We will have a Centre for Music and the Arts. We will have this convention centre here. ITE Epitome, a retail mall for students’ products and services from all three ITE Colleges. So I like to congratulate ITE Board, management and students on this very important milestone!

ITE's Journey

ITE’s journey reflects the Government’s commitment to develop every student to his/her full potential. We recognise that students have different talents and interests: some are academically inclined, while others excel in skills-based work. Therefore, our education system offers diverse pathways for students to learn at their own pace and to develop their unique skills. This is why the Government has consistently invested in vocational and technical training. We started doing this back in 1960s, 50 years ago with the Singapore Vocational Institutes. Then in 1979 we set up the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB) to take over all vocational training, and we mounted a concerted effort to upgrade skills of workforce. Then in 1992, we established ITE as a post-secondary programme so that all students would complete secondary education first before going on to ITE.

Tay Eng Soon Convention Centre

A passionate advocate for ITE was the late Dr Tay Eng Soon who was the Senior Minister of State for Education. He was convinced that learning should be applied towards something useful, and should not take place in a vacuum. He recognised the importance of skills to improving Singaporeans’ lives. He guided and nurtured the VITB and polytechnics, and set up ITE in 1992. He also started ITE’s Centre for Music and The Arts to develop students’ talents, confidence and public-speaking skills through music, arts and culture. You got a small sample of talents and energy in their performance just now. So, ITE has quite naturally and fittingly named awards and prizes after Dr Tay, for example, there is a Tay Eng Soon Scholarship for ITE graduates who go on to pursue studies at the polytechnics. There is a Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal to the most outstanding graduate in each polytechnic who was formerly from ITE. We have several scholarship winners and gold medallists with us tonight.

Here as we mark the completion of the “One ITE, Three Colleges” journey, it is fitting that we associate Dr Tay’s name with this new campus. Therefore, we will call this Convention Centre the Tay Eng Soon Convention Centre. I hope the name will inspire future generations of students to aim high and do their best. I am very glad that Dr Tay’s family is here with us this evening, his widow Ros and his children Lucy and Robert and their spouses. Thank you for being with us. 


ITE is a critical pillar of our education system together with our polys and universities. It gives students a solid foundation for lifelong learning and relevant skills for future employment. And because the ITE has done a good job, our students find good employment quickly after graduation. From the ITE and polys, within six months, 90% of the students find jobs. Their starting salaries have been rising. Many outstanding alumni have made their mark in society – some of them are here with us this evening. Universities produce graduates who also find jobs readily and graduate unemployment rate in Singapore is one of the lowest in the whole world. It is a remarkable achievement, considering the situation in so many other countries. In Southern Europe, Italy, Greece and Spain, youth unemployment is a major social problem, in some cases exceeding 50%. Students who graduate may pass five to 10 years without finding a job, and then time has passed and it becomes very difficult to start a career, ever and lives are blighted. 

Even in our region with vibrant economies, it is not so easy. China has a big problem with graduate unemployment. In Hong Kong, youth unemployment is much higher than general unemployment. But we have no such problem in Singa-pore. The credit goes to our students who have studied hard, the education system which has trained them well, and the economy which has created jobs for them, abundantly.

Singaporean students are highly driven. They have a strong desire to upgrade themselves, especially to get a diploma, degree or if you have a degree, a post-graduate degree. We are providing students more opportunities to do so, more universities places, more diverse paths, more institutions, for example, SIT, UniSIM. So many ideas, but one objective – so that students have the chance to pursue subjects and skills that improve their prospects for employment and for their lives. While we provide these opportunities, I will also like to remind students and encourage you not to pursue the paper chase – just for paper qualifications. 

A degree which is not relevant to industry is not going to improve your employment prospects. That is one of the things which have gone wrong in countries which have serious problem with graduate unemployment. Take South Korea for example, 70% of their students earn degrees, nearly three quarters of young people become graduates. But the economy cannot generate jobs for the 70% of the population who became graduates, so university graduates have a very tough time and in fact has a higher unemployment rate than high school graduates. Quite often, if you are in that situation, if you do your sums, the qualification in which you have earned and paid to earn is not worth the cost of attaining the qualification. May be so in Korea, becoming so in Britain, certainly so in the US with some college degrees earning negative returns.

But there are other positive examples too in the world to learn from. Countries which have recognised these risks and value applied education - for example Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. They have good comprehensive system of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). In fact in these countries, most students who finish compulsory schooling continue with TVET, not with academic training. These are programmes which are run together with companies. Companies co-invest in the TVET programmes; they cover apprentices’ salaries, training materials, and even fund the instructors. Students who study in TVET and do well, emerge proud of their skills and are well respected in society and their families are proud of them too. Our ITE and Polytechnic system has been successful because like the Swiss, Germans and Danes, we focused on acquiring skills and on applied learning. Our challenge now is to continue creating opportunities for our young to fulfil their aspirations in a future which is going to be very different. An economy which is more sophisticated and diversified, where the growth is going to come from productivity improvements and new products and services, not yet dreamt of or invented - where good jobs will require a wide range of high-order skills and expertise and where many existing jobs will be completely transformed by technology and some jobs will disappear entirely.

To prepare our young to seize these opportunities, we have to make two important shifts. First, we have to focus more on applied learning - to integrate classroom learning with real life applications on-the-job, and to encourage students to creatively apply concepts to practical problems, hence the 737 on this campus. Hence we facilitate internships and work attachments and help students to acquire deep skills and to integrate theory and practice - to apply what they learn in ways which will be useful to them in their jobs. We have already been starting to do this across our entire system. We have Applied Learning Programmes in secondary schools. We have applied degree programmes in UniSIM and SIT. We also have Applied Learning as well as industry-relevant R&D in our four existing universities. So first we must push for Applied Learning.

Secondly, we have to promote lifelong learning. Because lifelong learning during your careers – not just one segment of school or university or poly time or ITE time, at the beginning, is the best way to progressively upgrade ourselves to work, to gain experience, to learn new skills, acquire further qualifications and then repeat the cycle throughout our working careers. After graduation, instead of going for a diploma or a degree or a post-graduate degree immediately, work for a while, and then take up a course which is relevant to your work, part-time or full-time, and earn a more advanced qualification that is relevant to your needs and that will help you to advance your interest. That is a practical, I think even ideal model for many students. I hope students will consider this seriously and I hope your families will also consider this seriously. The Government will help you to do this. We are building two new Continuous Education and Training campuses, they will be ready soon. Our Institutes of Higher Learning will play a bigger role in lifelong learning and we will commit the resources and the support to make this an attractive path for people – for young people and throughout their lives. 

Applied Study in the Polytechnics and ITE REview (ASPIRE)

With this in mind, we will launch an Applied Study in the Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) to strengthen applied pathways to enhance career and academic progression prospects for Polytechnic and ITE graduates. To better match students’ strengths and interests to applied pathways and opportunities and to strengthen the role of the Polytechnics and ITE in research, innovation and enterprise. Basically how to promote Applied Learning, Lifelong Learning, enhance your career and your advancement prospects, match you and your strengths to the opportunities which we can create, and to improve ITE, Polys and their roles in our system. So we call it the Applied Study in the Polytechnics and ITE Review- ASPIRE. And it aspires to do good work and Ms Indranee Rajah aspires to chair the Committee - she is here with us. It will involve industry leaders, education institution leaders, and government agencies and it should finish by next year and I look forward to the Committee’s recommendations.


The ITE has done an excellent job, it has a proven brand of education, high international standing, good standing with employers in Singapore, I think good reputation with the students and alumni. I would like to thank ITE’s partners from industry and overseas for your support. I like to thank the Board of Governors, management and staff for their hard work, especially Mr Bob Tan, Chairman of the Board and Mr Bruce Poh, CEO of ITE, and I also like to thank students for showing the world what ITE can do.

Congratulations again on the opening of this college and the HQ. Thank you.