08 October 2014
Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean at the UniSIM Convocation Speech (First Session) 2014, on 8 October 2014
Mr Gerard Ee
Chancellor and Chairman, SIM University
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat
President, SIM University
Ladies and gentlemen
1. I am very happy to join all of you this morning, as you mark your graduation after all your hard work over the past few years. Let me first congratulate all of you for completing your studies at SIM University. It is also a good time to recognise and thank those who have supported you in your journey – your family, your friends, your employers, your fellow students, and your lecturers. Well done!
University Landscape in Singapore
2. You graduate into a world that is changing rapidly. Technological advancesand globalisation are driving fundamental, long-term shifts in the global economy and the future of jobs. Take China as an example. At a recent seminar of senior business and government officials that I participated in, I was told that China is already the largest buyer of industrial robots1, as it faces rising wage costs and growing competition from emerging economies.
3. Singaporeans too have to prepare for the future, to acquire new competencies that will help us remain competitive and to continue to have rewarding and satisfying jobs. The developments in our education system will help us to prepare ourselves better.
4. Our secondary school system now provides more diverse pathways to provide the basic foundation for our students according to their aptitudes and abilities. Our post-secondary sector has also undergone significant developments providing high quality education at ITE, Polytechnic and University level. The ASPIRE Committee has outlined the multiple pathways which we will strengthen for all Singaporeans, regardless of their tertiary qualifications, to improve their skills and professionalism so that they will have good jobs throughout their working lives.
5. Today, I will focus on one part of our education system, the university sector. The university sector in Singapore has evolved from two publicly funded institutions in the 1980s – NUS as a comprehensive university with a broad range of courses, and NTU focusing on professional courses in engineering and business. We now also have niche institutions such as Yale-NUS (for liberal arts) and SUTD (for engineering), as well as the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and UniSIM, which adopt a more applied approach in their degree courses. SIT focuses on disciplines in science and technology, while UniSIM’s focus is in continuing education and service-related areas.
6. Today, this more diverse range of institutions offers university places for 30% of each primary one cohort, up from 5% in 1980. They also offer a wider range of programmes which cater to the expanded needs of our society and economy. The new university landscape also allows Singaporeans to upgrade their knowledge and skills throughout their working lives.
7. But even as we create more open pathways for more Singaporeans to continually learn and upgrade ourselves, some fundamentals remain unchanged. Our universities must continue to produce graduates who are industry relevant with the right skills and knowledge required by industry, and maintain good standards. Let me talk about each of these in turn.
Creating more open pathways
8. First, creating more open pathways. A more open model for university education is important, as it provides opportunities for continual learning and upgrading rather than the current model which is predominantly graduation before work. A more open model supports a study while working approach, with courses in work-relevant bite sizes that may better meet the needs and professional aspirations of some Singaporeans.
9. UniSIM has developed strong capabilities in adult learning and part-time study, and adopted an open admissions approach for its part-time programmes. This is reflected in its student profile, and also in this graduating class. Students have a wider age range, and have enrolled in their programmes based not just on their prior academic qualifications, but also their work experience and skills. More experienced students can share their rich experiences and industry perspectives, to enrich the learning in the classroom, which also benefits the less experienced students. As UniSIM starts to offer full-time degree programmes, it will extend these opportunities further by introducing more courses, and taking in more students after assessing them for admissions holistically.
10. To encourage lifelong learning, universities also need to be more flexible. Offering modular courses will allow students to come in at different entry points, and pick up appropriate qualifications as they progress in their careers. For example, UniSIM’s Continual Education and Training (CET) programme offers courses that earn academic credit, which are recognised if the student subsequently enrols in a UniSIM degree programme. One example is UniSIM’s ongoing collaboration with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to offer a one-year customised intensive programme in Aerospace Systems. Graduates from the programme, comprising RSAF personnel, are awarded credits leading to the UniSIM degree programme in Aerospace Systems.
11. Another example is in the logistics sector. UniSIM offers modules focusing on Supply Chain Management for the logistics industry. These credit-bearing courses can be taken on their own, to equip participants immediately with the key concepts and techniques to help their organisations increase efficiency, reduce cost, and improve service. These modules, when successfully completed, can also count towards the Bachelor of Science in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, which UniSIM developed in collaboration with the Singapore Logistics Association2.
12. Universities must also innovate to make use of new technologies that can deliver content differently and more effectively. Already, some overseas online providers are offering MOOCs, or massive open online courses, which allow unlimited participation through open access via the Internet. I am happy to see that all UniSIM’s courses are supplemented with e-content such as recorded lectures, virtual classrooms, online quizzes and assignments. Already, some 30% of these courses, with more to follow, now come with rich e-content using eTextbooks and interactive study guides. This has enabled UniSIM students to adopt flexible and independent learning modes, attributes and skills which are useful at the workplace as well.
13. Offering blended delivery and modular courses will make UniSIM’s programmes more accessible and convenient for those who are studying while working. Learners can also immediately apply what they learn in their work. An open and flexible system provides attractive alternatives for acquiring a degree while working and keeps opportunities open for Singaporeans throughout their working lives. This helps our students acquire skills which are relevant to the work and industry that they are interested in, rather than rushing to complete their degrees before starting work, and perhaps subsequently finding that their interest and strengths lie elsewhere.
Ensuring industry relevance
14. Second, ensuring industry relevance. Our graduates want a degree that is relevant to the needs of industry. This ensures that the time, effort and expense that our graduates put in to get a degree are worthwhile. We must avoid the situation we already see in several countries, where some graduates have skills that are not well matched with industry needs, and have more difficulties finding jobs than skilled non-graduates who possess skills that are in demand. A qualification needs to be valued by prospective employees as being able to enhance one’s ability to make a bigger contribution in work. This will help ensure that the qualification is of value to both the person who has worked hard for the qualification, as well as his employer.
15. Hence, the structure and content of the programme are important. One of UniSIM’s strengths is that its curriculum is developed with and for the industry, and taught by faculty with relevant work experience who are practitioners in their field.
16. For example, UniSIM collaborated with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy and the Construction Industry Joint Committee3 to develop the Bachelor of Building and Project Management (BBPM) programme. Industry representatives from the Joint Committee are appointed as course designers, developers, instructors and assessors to ensure that graduates from the programme have skills that are relevant to the industry. Through this collaboration, students in the programme can learn, assimilate, and implement industry best practices even before they graduate. UniSIM has many similar partnerships with private and public entities – including Pico Art, Sift Analytics, the Singapore Police Force, SPRING Singapore, and ST Aerospace.
17. UniSIM’s School of Business also collaborates with organisations such as Far East Organisation, the Institute of Mental Health, and The Soup Spoon Pte Ltd to develop case studies. These are used in class to further strengthen industry relevance, and help students to apply what they have learnt in the workplace.
18. Through strong collaboration with industry, UniSIM has also put in place compulsory work attachments for its full-time programmes, to help its students deepen relevant workplace skills that employers value. This “applied learning” approach will help UniSIM to produce graduates with highly relevant skills that are sought after by employers.
Maintaining good standards
19. Third, maintaining good standards. As we open more pathways and opportunities, our universities must maintain good standards. And our students will want good standards too. This is what an educational institution and its graduates should value and guard most carefully, as that ultimately is the benchmark by which the institution and its graduates are judged.
20. This is especially important for UniSIM which opens more pathways and exercises more flexibility at admission. This provides opportunities for more students to enrol and take university courses at university level. With such a structure, maintaining standards for progression and graduation is necessary, so that the qualifications with which UniSIM’s students graduate will have the assurance of good quality.
21. Ultimately, the best proof of the quality of education is how you as graduates perform in your jobs. The aim of getting a degree is to develop professionals and experts in every field who can perform well in rewarding and satisfying jobs, and contribute to society and the economy. All this will help us move towards a society that recognises good credentials – that emphasises the mastery of skills and the opportunities that such mastery opens for the individual. Seen in this light, getting a degree is not the end of the journey; it is a milestone, albeit a significant and important one, in a continual journey of learning and upgrading.
The UniSIM journey
22. UniSIM is also on a journey. Since its establishment in 2005, UniSIM has strived to expand its programmes, and steadily improve its standards and quality. Today, UniSIM continues to build on its legacy, not just as a university for adult and continuing education, but as an institution with a social mission. UniSIM is developing graduates who can apply their skills in the real world meaningfully, including from its new full-time applied degree programmes, and the third law school, with a focus on developing practitioners in criminal and family law. I look forward to the further contributions of UniSIM’s graduates.
23. We all wish UniSIM well as it continues to build on its strengths – to meet the needs of adult learners, facilitate lifelong education, strengthen the nexus between work and study, and develop niche areas such as human resource management, human development and social services. This will ensure that UniSIM continues to play an important role in the higher education landscape, by providing more opportunities for Singaporeans to grow and develop through lifelong learning.
24. As you graduate from UniSIM, you too are a part of the UniSIM story. All of you are now ambassadors of this university. The hallmark of a university education is the whole person that it has produced, and what you do with the education you have received. I trust that in your time with UniSIM, you have not just made the grades, but also made new friends; that you have learnt more than just your field of study, but also learnt more about yourself; that you are not just ready for work, but also to give back to society in meaningful ways.
25. Once again, congratulations to all of you, and I wish you all the very best! Thank you very much.
1 Financial Times, “China becomes largest buyer of industrial robots”, 1 June 2014. China, once the manual labour “workshop of the world”, has become the largest buyer of industrial robots, as rising wage costs and growing competition from emerging economies have forced manufacturers to turn to technology. The country bought one in five robots sold globally in 2013, overtaking tech-savvy Japan for the first time, in its attempt to drive productivity gains.
2 Under this partnership, the Singapore Logistics Association provides assistance in course development and instruction to ensure that the programme is relevant to industry needs, as well as provide scholarships and career placements.
3 The eight member organisations of the Construction Industry Joint Committee are the Society of Project Managers, Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers, Singapore Contractors Association, Singapore Institute of Building, Singapore Institute of Architects, Institute of Engineers Singapore, Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore and Real Estate Developer’s Association of Singapore.