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Speech By Mr Lawrence Wong At The SIM University Convocation 2011

Speech By Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister Of State For Ministry Of Education And Defence, At The SIM University Convocation 2011, 9.30am On 6 October 2011 At SIM University

 

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

 

  1. I am very happy to join you at this opening session of UniSIM's Convocation Ceremony 2011. There are more than 1,700 students graduating at this year's convocation – UniSIM’s largest cohort of graduands so far. I would like to congratulate all of you, especially the 523 graduands from Graduate Studies, and the School of Science and Technology who are here this morning. I also want to recognise all the people who have helped you to reach this milestone: your family - parents, siblings, spouses, and even your children; and also the lecturers and staff of UniSIM. This is truly a special day for all of you. Well done on your achievements!

UniSIM's Achievements


  1. Since its founding six years ago, UniSIM has distinguished itself with its flexible, practice-oriented and industry-relevant programmes, accessible to adult learners. You have achieved much over this short period of time. Today, UniSIM is the only privately-established university in Singapore that issues degrees in its own name, and which receives Government funding for the part-time undergraduate degree programmes it offers.

  1. Many of UniSIM's courses are developed in close collaboration with key industry players, government organisations and both local and foreign Institutes of Higher Learning.

  1. One example is the Bachelor of Science in Facilities and Events Management, designed in partnership with BCA Academy and Singapore Polytechnic's School of Architecture and the Built Environment. This unique programme offers adult learners an opportunity to gain expertise in two overlapping fields – Facilities Management and Events Management – hence expanding their career options.

  1. Another example is the Bachelor of Science in Aviation Business Administration, designed in partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and experienced practitioners from the aerospace industry. This programme offers students a solid foundation of industry expertise, while developing their business acumen.

  1. We have seen good results from collaborations like these. The university's latest graduate employment survey in January showed that a significant number of UniSIM’s graduates received a pay raise after graduation. Many moved to new jobs in new industries, and got a boost in their career development and mobility. All this shows that the pathway offered by UniSIM for working adults is indeed an attractive and viable alternative to going straight from school to university.

  1. UniSIM's graduates are an inspiration to all who seek to upgrade their skills and knowledge. Some of you may have heard of Mr Jeffrey Lim, a graduate of UniSIM's Masters in Technology Entrepreneurship Programme. The company he founded, BD Cranetech, ran into trouble, hit rock bottom and nearly collapsed in 2002. During this rough patch, Mr Lim invested time and effort into furthering his own education. At UniSIM, he was able to network and share best practices with other corporate executives, who were in the same programme as he was. He also developed a turnaround plan for his business. As a result, BD Cranetech raked in revenues of $26.8 million last year. This was an investment that Mr Lim put in which paid off tremendously for him.

  1. I am sure that there are many others like Mr Lim who have made the most of the opportunities at UniSIM and achieved success after their education. These are all shining examples of what UniSIM graduates can do and accomplish in life. I look forward to hearing more success stories from all of you as you graduate and embark on new areas or continue further in your existing field as you pursue your dreams in diverse areas.

More Degree Opportunities for Singaporeans


  1. Going forward, the demand for university education in Singapore will continue to rise. Our economy is growing in scale and sophistication, and will need more highly-skilled manpower. Our business and employment landscape is also changing, brought about by globalisation and technology. This is the way the world is going, and Singapore is carried along with it. IT is automating simple and routine jobs, including white-collar ones. At the same time, rapidly developing countries like China, India and others in ASEAN are sending hundreds of millions of young and willing workers into the global labour market, holding down wages at the lower end. Even at the tertiary levels, these countries will produce more graduates than there are Singaporeans. So the premium is on educating Singaporeans well, with skills, knowledge and the ability to learn, relearn and switch careers in tandem with changing economic and industry requirements.

  1. This is why the Government places such a high priority on education. We are increasing our investments in the polytechnics and new ITE Colleges. We are also expanding the university sector to increase and provide more university intakes to meet the aspirations of Singaporeans and the manpower needs of the economy.

  1. I am now chairing a Committee on University Education Pathways to study how we can help even more Singaporeans benefit from a university education. The Committee members and I are talking to many people and engaging a wide range of stakeholders – teachers, parents, students, employers. We are still at the early stages of consultation; we have just started but we can already see some consensus around several key principles to guide our way forward.

  1. First, we want a robust university sector with high standards. Over the years, our universities, whether NUS, NTU, SMU or UniSIM, have worked hard to establish themselves as academic institutions of excellence. Our universities today command strong public confidence in their ability to offer an education that is high-quality and industry-relevant. It is important that we maintain these high standards of education and admissions, even as we expand the university sector to cater to a wider spectrum of students with different abilities and talents.

  1. Second, we must ensure that all university students continue to get good jobs after they graduate. The distribution of skill-sets among these graduates should therefore be closely matched to the demands of our economy. At the same time, given the rapid pace of change and uncertainty, universities cannot confine themselves to teaching within strict disciplinary boundaries. They will need to take a more integrated approach to knowledge learning and problem-solving. They must also expose their students to real-world industry experiences, and help develop a broader range of skills like teamwork and people skills.

  1. Third, we will keep university education affordable to Singaporeans. The Government is committed towards subsidising the major proportion of the cost of education in our publicly-funded universities. No deserving students who are admitted to our universities will be denied a place due to financial difficulties.

  1. The expansion of the university sector will entail an increase in Government funding. We have to ensure that any increase in Government funding for the university sector is sustainable and represents good value for taxpayers' money. In many other countries where there are constraints in government budgets, universities are increasingly diversifying their funding sources to fulfil their missions. Likewise in Singapore, as we grow our university sector, we have to look at the mix between public and private funding of the universities, and work out an optimal balance.

  1. Fourth, we should encourage diversity and healthy competition in the expanded university sector. It is not realistic to expect all our universities to excel in teaching every discipline, or to be equally adept at research. Diversity will allow each university to develop niches of excellence based on its individual strengths and traditions. This will also meet the wider spectrum of educational needs and abilities of our larger student intake, and help every individual actualize his full potential.

  1. With a more diverse university sector, we can also look forward to more healthy competition. We would like to see our universities spurring each other on towards new heights in teaching, carving out individual niches of excellence, and developing their own brand and value proposition to attract students. All this will contribute to a university sector in Singapore that is innovative, vibrant, and responsive to the needs of both the students and the economy.

  1. Finally, we ought to see universities as part of a larger network of education institutions to equip Singaporeans for work and life. Not all good students will benefit from or want an academically-intensive learning environment. Some prefer more practice-based and hands-on training in our polytechnics. After the diploma, they can still consider the university option, or they can work first, and then get their degrees later, like what many of you have done. There are advantages to this. After working for some time, you gain a better sense of where your talents and passion really lie, and so you can pursue your degrees in fields that you have a real interest in and study with confidence and excel at what you do.

  1. We must therefore develop a range of institutions with different areas of focus and programme offerings, in order to cater to these diverse education pathways. It will not be wise to have an education system that focuses only on the university track. Some countries have taken this approach by converting their polytechnics into universities. Where they do this, it is very easy to get a degree – in some countries, as high as 70% to 80% of the cohort are university graduates. But after graduation, they find that it is not so easy to find a job. As a result, youth (graduate) unemployment is a big problem. Several of these countries are now trying to rebuild their vocational training institutes to equip their young people with relevant skills. This is an important lesson for us – as we expand the university sector, we must understand that it is not just about university education but having a good range of educational institutions. We must continue to invest and maintain high standards in our polytechnics and ITE.

  1. I have highlighted some broad principles which will help guide us in our work. Based on these principles, we will then consider in greater detail the different options for expanding the university sector. Should we set up a new university? Should we expand existing publicly-funded institutions? Should we leverage more on private institutions to increase university places for JC and polytechnic students? Should we focus more on adult learners and in-employment training, so that those who choose to work first can still access high-quality degrees later?

  1. These are various options that we have to take into consideration and study what is the best approach to take. Whatever the direction we take, I think UniSIM will continue to play an important role in our university landscape going forward. I hope all of you will participate actively in our consultation – you can email, go to the MOE website and Facebook page, and give us your feedback and suggestions. Play an active part in shaping our university landscape, as graduates and as people who have participated in university education. It will help sharpen our thinking and allow us to consider a wide range of perspectives, before finalising our recommendations.

Conclusion


  1. For the graduation class of 2011, all of you took a big step some years ago to embark on this journey of learning. You had to make personal sacrifices, to juggle your work and family commitments while pursuing your degree. It has not been an easy journey. All of you have shown grit and determination to learn and upgrade yourselves.

  1. I hope that you keep alive this spirit of lifelong learning and wanting to do better after you step out of this hall. Remember that learning does not come to a standstill with the degree that you have earned today. Continue to believe in yourselves, to acquire new insights and knowledge, and to chase your dreams. If you work hard and build on what you have already accomplished here, I am confident that you will be able to make your mark, and reap the rewards.

  1. Congratulations once again on your graduation. I am hopeful and excited about what all you of can achieve in the years ahead, and wish you every success in your future endeavours.

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