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Speech By Mr Heng Swee Keat At SIM University Convocation 2013

Speech By Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister For Education, At The First Session Of The SIM University (UniSIM) Convocation Ceremony 2013, 9.45am On 16 October 2013 At SIM University


Professor Cham Tao Soon,Chancellor, UniSIM;
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, UniSIM;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;

  1. Thank you for inviting me to join you in celebration of this significant milestone in your education journey. I congratulate all of you on your achievements. I congratulate too your families, whose support has made it possible for you to embark on, and now cap off, a most demanding and rewarding journey. Today celebrates not just those of you in cap and gown, but all – lecturers, loved ones, friends and fellow students – who made possible not just this day, but the many meaningful days leading up to today.

UniSIM Graduates, Life-Long Learners

  1. I am very happy to join your celebrations because this is no ordinary convocation, and you are unique graduands. UniSIM is a unique university that allowed you to take up a university education whatever your stage in life, the moment you felt you were ready for it. And the story behind each one of you graduating today is its own inspiring tale of a true commitment to learning and pursuing your passion. Completing a part-time degree programme at UniSIM was not easy for many of you – it is hard work, with challenges that not many can understand, to juggle career and study and family. Your perseverance is truly worthy of praise.

  2. I visited UniSIM recently, and had the chance to talk to several UniSIM students and alumni. Talking to your peers, it struck me that UniSIM students are not made to learn; yet, you are made for learning. What do I mean? You are not made by others to learn because the decision to dedicate your precious time in these last few years to better yourself could not have been made for you by anyone else. You made the personal and, for many, difficult decision yourself. Many of you started your degree programme after you started working, when the stakes involved for your university schooling were all the higher. This shows a true grit and determination that you should feel very proud of. Your faculty and fellow students already admire this about you, your co-workers will appreciate this about you, and your children will have in you a role model for true lifelong learning.

  1. Yet you are made for learning, for by seizing the chance to learn more, so that you may fulfil your potential and go on to enrich other people's lives, you show yourself to be the best kind of learner. The trademark of UniSIM students and graduates is knowing yourself – knowing what you want to learn, what you hope to achieve, and how hard you will work to reach your goal. This is what makes you stand out..

  1. When a school has such students, coming from all walks and stages of life, the classroom itself becomes a learning environment like no other. Your UniSIM compatriots shared with me that at UniSIM, you learn from one another as well as from the faculty. The diversity of work and life experiences in each classroom and the genuine spirit of lifelong learning in each one of you - these have created a vibrant, irreplaceable environment for each of you to grow in the field that most stirs your passion.

  1. Even as you take well-deserved pride in your achievements, do take a moment too to thank your families. To the family and friends who are with us today, you all show us what it means to be supportive parents, partners, siblings and children. Your support gives invaluable courage to any lifelong learner who wishes to pursue his passion. You give our graduands a reason to want to improve ourselves, so that we can be even better children, partners, siblings and parents to you too.

  1. When I speak with those from UniSIM, I get the sense that you feel the same way - that UniSIM for you is not just a place to attain paper qualifications. Rather, the real value of the UniSIM experience is in the skills and the knowledge gained here and the ability to apply what you learn to your work and life.

  1. Take for example Mr Alan Wong from your class who is graduating from the Bachelor of Social Work programme. Alan spent much of his career in the corporate world. Over the years, through interactions with the disadvantaged, he started to feel he wanted to do more to help those in need. His search for the practical knowledge and skills he knew he would need led him to enrol in the UniSIM Social Work degree programme. In the middle of his studies, Alan took the next brave step of leaving his job and starting a fresh career at a Voluntary Welfare Organisation where he could apply what he was learning in class.

  1. Alan is graduating but apparently he hasn’t had enough of school. He is now enrolled in UniSIM’s Master of Gerontology programme. I was told that in the course of his studies, Alan found that he has a special interest in helping the elderly, which is why he is developing his abilities in this area even more. Alan’s story shows that, with the benefit of time and life experiences, we can all gain clarity about our passion and aptitude. What then allows us to turn that clarity into greater ability in our career and purpose in our lives are the fortitude and tenacity that Alan has shown - and that each of you brought into UniSIM from Day One. May you hold on to, and spread, these admirable qualities..

  1. Many of you have similar stories to share. The Government will continue to ensure that Singaporeans have such opportunities to learn and re-learn, to allow you to acquire new skills and new knowledge, in order to succeed at each person’s own quest for job and life satisfaction and to make your own special contribution to society.

Launch of New Applied Degree Programmes in 2014

  1. We often associate learning with a formal setting, in a school or institution. But true learning takes place all the time - on the job, in our daily encounters, every day, and anyone can teach us, as long as we are humble and have the spirit and habit to reflect and to keep growing. Learning never stops and learning has no boundaries. But while learning has no end-point, it does have a moment when it starts. It starts the moment the student is ready to learn, and it can start for many more would-be students, if the opportunities are made available. And while learning can take place anywhere, it can happen all the more often in an environment that stimulates and supports learning.

  1. In August last year, the Government accepted the recommendations of the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (CUEP) to increase the subsidised pre-employment university cohort participation rate to 40% by 2020, and to develop a new applied degree pathway through which the majority of these new places would be provided. We made the commitment to this goal because we want to provide more opportunities for our young to pursue higher education.

  1. To create the right opportunities and environment, we took inspiration from the success of UniSIM’s part time degree programmes and added what we have learnt from our past experiences and from other countries. By combining these, we are now ready to pioneer an exciting and unique new approach to university education. Today, I am very pleased to share with you that UniSIM and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) have drawn up their frameworks for their full-time applied degree programmes. I am very pleased to share this because this means that many new university sector learning opportunities are in the making, to better cater to the diverse aspirations of our young. Many more of our young will soon benefit from an intensive, purposeful university education experience like what you yourselves have just had. If they seize these new opportunities with the same commitment and dedication that you have shown, we can expect new and interesting models of success to emerge from the new applied degree pathway.

  1. Let me share a few key features of the new pathway.

  1. The new applied learning programmes will take a very different structure from other university degree programmes. They will integrate classroom learning with real life applications on the job. Students will experience a structured work attachment, with both teaching staff and the host organisation giving them close guidance to help them reach clearly defined learning outcomes. Some of you may be thinking, don’t our universities now already have work attachment programmes? Yes, they do and those will continue. How these work attachment programmes differ is this: they will generally be longer and will offer a deeper immersion than current attachment programmes at our universities. This way, our students will be able to take on fuller, more meaningful projects at the organisations to which they are attached.

  1. We will also integrate the work attachments with the classroom curriculum to help students apply what they learn in the classroom in an authentic work environment. This ensures that they apply their projects to real issues at the workplace. In addition, students will take on an applied project scoped around a work-related issue gleaned directly from their work attachments.

  1. These applied elements will provide students with well-designed learning experiences to let them put their knowledge to practice, and hone their skills or acquire new ones. The classroom curriculum will still be an anchor in their university experience, and it will be rigorous and of a high quality, so that the students develop strong theoretical foundations in their chosen fields of specialisation. At the same time, the exposure to real work environments gives them a good way to apply the knowledge and skills they pick up in the classroom.

  1. With these opportunities, graduates of the applied degree pathway will be well-prepared to put theory into practice, and bring with them a set of skills and experience that will make them effective in their job or in whatever endeavours they choose to pursue. They will also find themselves able to move seamlessly from the classroom to the fields of pursuit and back, at any point in their careers.

  1. These are the broad common elements across the applied degree programmes. UniSIM and SIT will each establish their own niche and specialisation, and over time, I’m sure, their own innovations and best practices as well. Our young people with an interest in largely Science and Technology disciplines can look to SIT, which aims to develop best-in-class specialists with deep technical expertise.

  1. UniSIM will be the place for young people keen to take up programmes in business, human and social services, among others. Regardless of disciplines, both schools will of course hope to nurture mature and confident graduates with the ability to unlearn and relearn in changing environments, and who want to make a difference to those around them, whatever their profession.

  1. I am happy to announce that UniSIM and SIT will launch their full-time applied degree programmes next year, in 2014. Since we announced last year that we would be launching an applied degree pathway, there has been strong interest from students and parents asking my Ministry to do this as soon as possible. Naturally, we are keen to do so, to allow more students to more immediately benefit from the new pathway. But my Ministry first worked extensively with both UniSIM and SIT to be sure our starting slate of new programmes is a solid one that will give the pioneer group of students an education that they will be proud of. At this point, let me thank the many industry partners who are supporting these programmes, and helping us make possible the applied degree pathway.

  1. As a start, each institution will offer up to 200 places in 2014. SIT will launch programmes in engineering, information communications technology and accountancy. UniSIM will offer programmes in accountancy, finance and marketing. They will add to this starting slate of programmes in the coming years. UniSIM and SIT will release further details on their new programmes in the coming week.

UniSIM to Host the Third Law School

  1. I would also like to share another exciting piece of news with you. Earlier in May this year, Government accepted the recommendations of the Fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers to establish a new law school with a focus on training prospective lawyers keen to practise criminal law and matrimonial law, to fulfil the needs in our society. It is envisaged that this third law school will have a strong applied curriculum. Whilst it will provide a general law degree, there will be a strong focus on the specialist practice areas of criminal and matrimonial law.

  1. I am pleased to announce that UniSIM has been chosen to host the third law school.

  1. In selecting UniSIM, we considered its strong track record in the provision of degree programmes for mature individuals, and its complementary offerings in the social sciences and humanities. The Ministry of Law is working with UniSIM to develop the third law school’s programmes in consultation with the legal industry, and will share further details when ready.

  1. Let me sound the reminder that a university education is not just about getting a degree. And indeed, many share my view; it is what I have heard repeatedly from students and graduates from UniSIM itself. Each one I have met has told me that the value of your time here has been in building deeper skills in the areas you choose to pursue, and in learning the new skills and knowledge that allow you to adapt and change.

Exciting Times Ahead for UniSIM

  1. The new law school and the new applied degree pathway will add to the richness of our education landscape so that our students can keep up lifelong learning, to learn without end and without boundary. And once they benefit from the more diverse education landscape, I hope the beneficiaries of these new programmes will go on to inject their bright ideas and good work into whichever field they choose to make their own. In so doing, our students will keep our economy vibrant and our society resilient, so that we can continue to create a variety of opportunities for Singaporeans.

  1. The road ahead for UniSIM will be an exciting and challenging one. I encourage the leadership, faculty and student body of UniSIM, as well as UniSIM’s alumni, to keep exploring new possibilities. You have done very good work in encouraging and enabling lifelong learning - I look forward to the further great work that UniSIM will do for its future classes.

  1. To the class of 2013, as you return to your careers, or move on to new ones, I hope that you will continue your pursuit of learning for life, and inspire in others this same love for learning.

  1. Congratulations once again.
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