Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's 50th Anniversary Dinner

3 May 2013

Mr Tang Kin Fei
Chairman of Ngee Ann Polytechnic Council

Mr Chia Mia Chiang
Principal of Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very happy to be here this evening with you to celebrate Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s 50th Anniversary or Golden Jubilee. Congratulations!

In 1963, Ngee Ann Polytechnic was founded as the Ngee Ann College. The first cohort had 116 students. It offered degrees in language, commerce and technology. The College, later on the Polytechnic, developed in tandem with Singapore’s progress. As our economy took off, it offered diploma programmes in response to demand from the industry. It progressively expanded the role in technical education, focusing on hands-on, industry-oriented training. Now, Ngee Ann Polytechnic is a vibrant tertiary educational institution with excellent partnerships with industry, especially with the small- and medium-sized enterprises. It offers new courses to cater to emerging industries like Clean Energy Management, Multimedia and Animation. It has 16,000 full-time students and 130,000 alumni. So I would like to congratulate all the staff, students, alumni and supporters on your 50th anniversary!

The polytechnics in Singapore are a jewel in our education system. They offer a first rate tertiary education to a large segment of our students. They provide high quality, practice-oriented technical training for jobs. They lay a strong academic foundation especially in technical subjects, mathematics and science, for those who go on to further their studies. They also imbue, nurture in our students, a values-based education - to nurture good citizens and caring Singaporeans.

These polytechnics have very few parallels in other countries. International investors and MNCs come here and tell EDB that our polytechnics enhance our competitive advantage, especially in manufacturing. International educational experts come to Singapore from all over the world to study our polytechnic system. More than 40 per cent of our students in every cohort attend polytechnics. They graduate as confident, skilled adults, with a strong desire to improve themselves. They excel in many fields and we can see this in the CVs of the Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Alumni Award winners tonight. For example, Mr Aziz Merchant who is in marine engineering, Ms Dionne Liew who is in nursing, Mr Rakesh Gupta who is in IT, Mr Boo Junfeng who is in film-making and Ms Fanny Lai who is in conservation. Quite a range and they are all here tonight with us - congratulations to them all!

Graduating from polytechnic is thus the beginning of better things in life. Polytechnic graduates can be proud of their achievement. I know they see their time in the polytechnic not as the completion of their education, but as the basis for them to upgrade themselves further, educationally and in their careers. Many of them do start working and they are highly sought after by employers. Within six months, 90 per cent of them have secured jobs. Some go on to study for a university degree straightaway. This is one possible pathway for the academically inclined. We are providing more opportunities for polytechnic students to do this, for example through SIT and UniSIM. SIT has part of its campus here with you. I hope those who choose this path and choose to go on to study for a degree do so not just to gain a paper qualification, but because of their interest in the subject, and because it is relevant to their future plans.

Polytechnic graduates need not see a degree as the only avenue forward. As the diversity of your Alumni Award winners show, many other good options are available. You can work for a few years, you can start a business and then you gain experience, understand yourself better and be better able to decide what your next step will be. These life lessons will complement your polytechnic education and help you to go further in life. Many have done so successfully, for example, Mr Darran Nathan who was Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s most outstanding graduate back in 2000. He was awarded the Ngee Ann Kongsi Gold Medal which comes with a scholarship to study at any university in the world. But instead of doing his degree immediately, Darran decided to become a technopreneur. He worked on the computing platform he had developed in the polytechnic to speed up computers to run faster. After his National Service, he co-founded Progeniq Private Limited in 2005 – a company producing computer hardware and software accelerators. Progeniq’s technology improves the performance of server farms and helps digital animators speed up the production of visual effects whether it is in Hollywood films or Bollywood movies. Darran is also here tonight – so well done Darran!

The Government will continue to strengthen the polytechnic sector. We will be investing $7 billion over the next five years, expanding existing campuses, building new facilities, introducing new courses and improving the quality of technical education. Therefore, ensuring that our polytechnics continue to produce graduates with a wide range of skills and strengths which complement workers emerging from other educational pathways.

Beyond polytechnics, we are also enhancing our education system across all levels to cater to students with many different inclinations and talents. We are starting young. In fact, we are extending to the younger end - to pre-school, making a major effort to upgrade the pre-school sector to give our young a good start in life, including piloting MOE-run kindergartens. We are upgrading our schools, making every school a good school. We are upgrading our ITEs, investing in modern facilities and programmes, for example in ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio. We are upgrading our universities and expanding them, providing more publicly-funded places. We are emphasising character- and values-based education at all levels and creating multiple pathways to excellence.

Within this overall thrust of education being one of our priorities in our government policies, we welcome Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s 4th Strategic Plan. It is aligned with our vision of a strong polytechnic sector. Ngee Ann Polytechnic will forge a closer nexus with industry - working with companies to solve actual problems, inviting industry partners to give lectures and so on. It will improve its Learning Model to produce more well-rounded students and introduce more overseas programmes to broaden students’ perspectives and it will develop students who care for the less fortunate in society. So it is not just academic education or professional and technical education but also a rounded education to be a good citizen. The Government will give Ngee Ann Polytechnic and the staff and students our fullest support.

Singapore is in the midst of a critical transition – from a fast-growing, developing high income economy to a more mature economy, developed, and upgrading itself, trying to stay at the leading edge of the community of nations in a fast-changing and uncertain world.

To succeed in this, we need to prepare our students and workers for the future and Ngee Ann Polytechnic has a big role to play in this. It has made many contributions to Singapore’s progress over the past 50 years. I am confident you will continue to play an important role in Singapore’s transformation and upgrading. Congratulations once again and I wish you many more good and ambitious and successful years ahead. Thank you very much.