Speech By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education at SUSS Convocation 2019, Session 1, Wednesday, 9 October 2019, The Grand Hall, Level 4
1. I am happy to join you today at the opening session of the SUSS Convocation Ceremony 2019. For the graduands, this is a significant milestone in your lives, and I am honoured to be able to share in this joy with you and your families.
2. This is the third convocation for SUSS since it became an Autonomous University (AU) in 2017. Although SUSS is the newest and youngest AU, and I hope it will be the most energetic and dynamic. Notwithstanding its youth, its history goes further back, and can be seen in a few phases.
3. The first was the start-up phase. The University has its roots in the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), which was started in 1964 by the Economic Development Board. The focus of SIM then was to train the workforce in professional leadership and management skills through short courses.
4. The second phase started from 1992, and was the diversifying phase. SIM was selected by MOE to deliver three degree programmes with The Open University of the UK, to support the upgrading of teachers. It also explains why today, SUSS is still delivering degree programmes for teachers.
5. The third was the take-off phase, from 2005. As its programmes became widely recognised and valued by industries, SIM set up SIM University or UniSIM to offer part-time degree programmes for working adults. The Government supported this move as it would help our workforce remain relevant in the face of economic restructuring. Further, it supported our efforts to nurture a culture of lifelong learning amongst Singaporeans. UniSIM was therefore granted degree-awarding powers in its own name, and admitted around 450 part-time learners in its first cohort. This was a major breakthrough at that time.
6. In 2008, UniSIM’s programmes also started to attract MOE subsidies, to support more Singaporeans to upgrade through its part-time degree programmes.
7. It is now in its fourth phase, which is its establishment as the sixth Autonomous University in 2017. It is now contributing to the growth of the number of publicly-funded full-time university places for Singaporeans. UniSIM became one of the pioneers of the applied degree pathway. This recognised its strong nexus with industry through its part-time offerings, and blend of theoretical teaching and real-world applications.
8. It was at this time that the institution was renamed SUSS, or Singapore University of Social Sciences. A lot of thought went into the name. Various names were proposed by the faculty, but eventually SUSS was chosen because it conveys the unique proposition of the new University. It underscores the need for students to have a strong sense of community even as they pursue career successes, and that we need to balance economic growth with social development. And part of the social development objective of SUSS is to ensure that adults learners and workers can continue to learn and upgrade their skills and knowledge throughout their lives.
9. It also helped that when we Googled SUSS, all the hits were quite good!
10. In line with its unique proposition and character, SUSS has a few unique practices and features amongst the AUs.
11. First, an open and inclusive admissions policy. The university may not realise this, but this is quite unique to SUSS. If you walk around the campus, you will realise that SUSS has a more diverse student body than other universities, with adult learners – many with extensive prior work experience – studying alongside fresh school-leavers. Such diversity adds to the richness in the classroom, and better appreciation of the relative strengths of different student segments.
12. Second, SUSS has pioneered several innovations in teaching and curriculum, to help working adults learn better. For instance, SUSS recognises that mature learners would have picked up relevant skills through their work experience, and hence accords credits for prior learning. This allows mature learners to complete their programme in a shorter time. More importantly, it encourages learners to see education differently – not as one discreet block, but a journey interspersed with workplace experience, hands on and classroom learning
13. Third, SUSS has a unique law school, focusing on community and criminal law to address the shortage of legal professionals in these areas. To better meet the needs of the fast changing profession, the law school has also been embracing technology to deliver legal education using innovative models. For instance, it incorporates the use of virtual reality and augmented reality in its modules, which then allows students to virtually visit crime scenes in class to facilitate discussions. And I strongly encourage the law school here to continue to embrace technology, because this is a reality in the profession today, and the new legal professionals must embrace and understand it.
14. Fourth, is the focus on social sciences, and a strong emphasis on developing individuals in the 3Hs – the Head, Heart and Habit. This means having skills for their professions (Head), but more importantly, the passion for service to society (Heart) and lifelong learning (Habit). For instance, those of you who were in the full-time Bachelor programmes would have participated in community engagement projects to reach out to the less fortunate in Singapore and the region.
15. One such community engagement project was Project Maka-Tao, which took place in the Philippines. As part of the project, a team of 14 SUSS students raised funds to support the construction of a canteen for the Wangan National High School. They also developed business lessons for the high school students under the guidance of an SUSS faculty, so that the students know how to run the canteen sustainably and viably.
16. Fifth, since 2014, all full-time undergraduate students have to undergo an Overseas Experience programme, which has a strong focus on Asia, as part of their graduation requirement. This will enable students to broaden their horizons, develop cross-cultural competencies, and build friendship networks in the region. These are the non-academic but invaluable lessons and soft skills of a modern university education.
17. Finally, with SUSS’s emphasis on a well-rounded, skills-based curriculum, its graduates are well sought-after in the market. Amongst its first batch of full-time Accountancy, Finance and Marketing students, more than a third received job offers before graduation, and 96% gained employment within six months of completing their final exams.
18. SUSS graduates have entered various fields. Some started their own companies. Many went into the social services sector, to contribute to society and the community. I encourage SUSS to recognise the students who undertook these diverse and less travelled paths. So I am glad that SUSS has started an award to recognise graduate entrepreneurs this year.
19. While we celebrate SUSS’s achievements, it is still improving – in its curriculum, overseas exposure experience, and linkages with industries. Just like all of us who continually improve ourselves through lifelong learning, SUSS too has to continually improve. It will continue to reach out to working adults better, and develop holistic techniques to recognise their work and life experience when evaluating admission applications. In a similar vein, SUSS is also working to systematically recognise and validate work experiences for credit recognition of adult learners.
20. I hope graduands today will inherit the SUSS DNA of constantly learning, and constantly improving. Coming to an SUSS graduation ceremony always feels different, because of the diversity of the graduands. A few of you may even be older than me, and have more years of work experience. You are truly an inspiration to everyone. Many of you are stepping into the world of entrepreneurship – I admire your resourcefulness, hunger and passion. Others have decided to contribute to social development, and I salute you for your heart and compassion.
21. You represent the many paths of fulfilment and success of modern Singapore, where success is not measured only in monetary terms, but in terms of your contribution to society and the difference you are making to others.
22. The theme of this year’s Convocation Ceremony is “Go Make Your Mark”. I don’t think I need to say more. Congratulations!