Introduction

I am very happy to be here this evening to celebrate the success and achievements of Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) alumni, who have come back in this Homecoming to their alma mater to interact with one another and to build their bond with the university. First, my heartiest congratulations to all our award winners. I am very happy to see how over the years NTU has nurtured many students who have gone on to make important contributions in their respective fields. This is something that NTU should be very proud of.

Tonight is the third time I am attending this event. I was here in 2012. NTU has made significant strides over the last few years in building on its foundations in its earlier years to establish itself as a world-class outstanding university. This is something which I’m sure alumni here are very proud of.

Just like Singapore, NTU would not have been able to achieve this if not for the hard work, commitment and the support of many people, including the students and alumni. Tonight, let me share some thoughts on how NTU can continue to engage and develop our students and alumni. I would like to touch on two points.

One is how NTU can continue to engage students to combine both head and heart, and, secondly, how the university should encourage and support students’ learning, even after they graduate.

Combining Head and Heart

NTU has made significant strides in research excellence, as well as in teaching. By different measures of research excellence and academic rankings, NTU has moved up very rapidly globally. This is very commendable, and I want to congratulate Professor Bertil Andersson and the faculty for this important achievement. Certainly, you have made an important academic impact, and are also beginning to make an impact in the economy, in the way that research in the university is being applied in the broader economy, and in order to create a better life for all Singaporeans.

Even more important than academic impact and impact in specific fields, it is the impact that students and alumni make in the world and in our Singapore society that will distinguish NTU in the long run. This impact comes from NTU’s ability to inspire students to hone their talents, skills and expertise in order to accomplish something important and major, and in the service of others – i.e. students who can combine both head and heart. Every year, thousands of students pass through the portals of NTU. If each and every one of our students can go on to make an impact in the world, in ways big or small, the collective impact from this university will be very significant. Many of NTU’s alumni are great role models in this, and we can learn a lot from the award winners this evening. Let me pick out two of the award winners to illustrate my point.

The first is Madam Zuraidah Abdullah, recipient of the Nanyang Distinguished Award. Currently the Deputy Chief Executive (Admin) of the Home Team Academy, Zuraidah has been serving in the police force for over twenty five years. In 2013, Zuraidah was appointed Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, the first female officer to achieve this. She is now our most senior female Police Officer. Zuraidah graduated from NTU with a degree in civil engineering. This was put to good use through the setting up of cameras along the Pan Island Expressway, to help us keep our roads safer and to save lives. This unwavering commitment to Singapore’s safety and security is inspiring, and something that all of us can be proud of and learn from.

How can NTU nurture more students like Zuraidah? The demands placed on our universities may change with time, but the duty of the university to nurture responsible citizens remains constant. The life of a university student cannot revolve around the lab or library or the lecture hall. The university must create opportunities for students to apply their knowledge for the benefit of society.

I am glad that NTU recognises this. At the NTU Fest I attended in August, I learnt much about NTU’s students’ community service projects. There were many projects that were showcased and I thoroughly enjoyed what the students told me. One of these projects was an expedition to build infrastructure and bring drinking water to a village in Laos. There, the villagers depended on ground water and a nearby mountain stream for their household needs and to grow crops. It is a very arduous task to get water. During the dry season, water would be in short supply and had to be fetched from a river in another village. 137 NTU students, including those from the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences participated in this project – the largest student effort under NTU’s Overseas Exposure Programme.

This project was great! Students used their skills and knowledge from the classroom to build the pipes, direct the water and distribute it to different parts of the village. Speaking to the students, you can feel their passion, and how they think that it is a meaningful way for them to spend their time and to make use of what they have learnt in NTU. This is what education is really about – giving people the skills, knowledge, and most importantly, the heart, to want to make a difference to the people and communities around them.

The NTU Fest is just one example of how our university students are seeking to make a difference. I hope our universities will continue to nurture responsible students and inspire them to apply what they learn to make a positive impact in our society and in the world.

Supporting Lifelong Learning

Let me move on to my second point – that learning does not end the minute you graduate. In fact, it only marks the beginning. Technology will continue to drive change, and some of this change will be disruptive. The nature of jobs will continue to evolve, so our mindsets will have to change as well. The old paradigm where one gets all our learning in the first 20 and 21 years of our lives is outdated. More and more, we need to learn, unlearn, and relearn continuously throughout one’s lifetime. I hope that NTU can continue to provide support for students to continue learning even after they graduate.

Mr Ho Ho Ying, also a recipient of the Nanyang Distinguished Award, epitomises this spirit of lifelong learning. Taking pride in the quality of his work, Mr Ho works relentlessly at his craft. For his dedication, hard work and his commitment to excellence, he has been conferred countless honours, including the Cultural Medallion Award for Visual Arts in 2012, the Outstanding People of the 20th Century Award for Achievement by International Biographical Centre (IBC) England, and 500 Leaders of Influential Achievement Award (20th Century Artist and Writer), given by the American Biography Institute. A self-taught artist for the most part, Mr Ho went back to school to take up a postgraduate course in art history at the age of 61! Now, even in his 70s, Mr Ho continues to stay engaged in the art scene. Just in March this year, he held a solo exhibition at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, presenting his works spanning from the 1950s to the early 2000s.

The younger generation of students and alumni can learn from Mr Ho’s insatiable curiosity and determination for excellence. I am sure many of them already have. Our students in schools today are no longer satisfied with what their teachers tell them. Indeed, they will ask “why?”, “why not?”, “how?” and “how can we do better?”. These are questions which teachers may not necessarily know the answer to. Today’s student can go on to the Internet or on to YouTube, and many aspects of knowledge are freely available. Our universities need to keep up with the demand of this new generation of learners. Our universities need to think about how best to use technology to keep in touch with learners of all ages. Our universities should support and build upon our students’ drive to learn, throughout their time in school, and even after they graduate.

In this aspect, I’m glad that the NTU Centre for Continuing Education has an extensive range of programmes for alumni and the public to encourage them to advance their knowledge and learn new skills. These programmes range from Engineering to Accountancy courses, and are taught by NTU’s own professors.

I look forward to NTU’s expansion of the list of modular online courses offered by the Centre and challenge NTU to take this a step further. Online learning platforms open up a world of possibilities, both for the current cohort of students as well as for alumni. It is a great way to keep ourselves intellectually engaged. While social events require a physical space, online engagement means universities can connect with their students anytime, anywhere, and allows them to learn at any pace. This is not only convenient for the university, it can create a vibrant learning culture within NTU and in our wider Singapore society. This is very much in line with what we eventually hope to create – in Singapore, a nation of lifelong learners, that keeps learning and enjoys the intellectual challenge of learning.

Next year, Singapore is celebrating SG50, our fiftieth anniversary of independence. This is a major event, and I hope that NTU alumni will play a major role in this celebration. In the past fifty years, our universities have played a key role in developing outstanding citizens such as yourselves. As we move towards our next fifty years as a nation, let us set new goals and face new challenges with confidence. Let us continue to nurture students who not only have a good head on their shoulders, but also the good heart to serve the community. Let us encourage the spirit of lifelong learning beyond the confines of the university. I am confident that with strong support from its students and alumni, NTU is ready to take flight and to continue to achieve even more. On that note, once again, my heartiest congratulations to all our award winners and to all our alumni, for this achievement that NTU has made over the years.

Thank you