02 September 2014

University of Manchester Alumni Association of Singapore 10th Anniversary Dinner – Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs

“Maintaining Rigour, Staying Relevant, Building Relationships”
Professor Keith Brown, Vice President of the University of Manchester
Fellow alumni of the University of Manchester
Ladies and gentlemen
Good evening
1.                    It is very nice to be among fellow University of Manchester alumni at tonight’s dinner. This brings back fond memories of my time at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology from 1973 to 1976.
2.                    When I finished school in 1972, approximately 4% of my cohort went to university. By 1985, twice that, or 8% of each cohort, went to university. By 1990, this was doubled again to 15%, and by 2010 it was over 25%, almost doubled again.1 So we have roughly doubled the university cohort participation every decade. By 2020, we will provide publicly-funded university spaces for 40 per cent of every cohort. We also expect about 10 per cent of the cohort to receive degree education through publicly-funded part-time places by 2020.
3.                    We are seeing this trend taking place around the world. For university education to retain its value, there is now greater responsibility on universities to maintain rigour and relevance in their programmes, and to build strong relationships with their alumni, so that a university education gives their graduates a solid foundation that they can use in life, and for life. In addition, the Internet has had a huge impact on higher education, which I will also touch in relation to these three Rs: maintaining rigour, staying relevant and building relationships.
4.                    First, rigour. In the past, a degree was considered a one-way ticket to success. However, with the massification of higher education, this is not quite the case today. Universities must provide their graduates with the necessary knowledge and the skills to prepare them for the job market. Otherwise, they may be graduates, but they may not be suited for the job market as they do not have the skills and knowledge that industry requires. We already see this phenomenon in several countries where graduates have more difficulties finding jobs than skilled non-graduates who possess skills that are in demand. In recent years, massive open online courses, which allow unlimited participation through open access via the Internet, have changed the concept and delivery of higher education quite dramatically. Instead of a structured degree programme, students may sign up for individual courses in bite-sized chunks, in specific areas of interest or need. Many universities are still working through how best to use the Internet to transmit knowledge to, and facilitate learning for, such a diverse group of students, and this will continue to evolve.
5.                    This brings me to my second point, relevance. In the past, a person would learn as much as he or she could while studying in university, before starting work. Many people stayed in one job or one industry all their lives, and retired after many decades of work. Technology and the Internet have dramatically transformed this journey of education and work. Given how rapidly the world is changing, it is not possible for a person to try to learn everything at one go, and then expect to use the same knowledge and skills for the rest of his life. Apart from specific job skills, universities will also have to equip their students with the skills to continually learn, and re-learn; and the character traits so that they are resilient to change, and nimble and adaptable enough to apply what they have learnt to changing circumstances. The good news though, is that the Internet helps to make information more readily available at the click of a mouse, or the use of appropriate search terms. So a person does not need to learn and retain all the content knowledge while he is in university, but can look up whatever information he wants, anytime, anywhere – as long as he has an Internet connection, and the fundamental language and numerical foundation that allows him to acquire that knowledge.
6.                    The third and last R that I will speak about today is relationships. Universities are increasingly seeking to build strong relationships with their alumni. Universities can now use the Internet and social media to more easily reach out to and keep in touch with their alumni, even if they may be thousands of miles away. For this effort to succeed, universities have to think about what value they offer to their alumni not just during their years at the university, but throughout their lives. This is especially important because education is no longer a one-off experience for students while they are at university, but a continual process of learning, throughout their lives. At the same time, universities can tap on their alumni network to support their work and extend their outreach. Alumni can also benefit from more social and professional opportunities through their links to the university, or with other alumni around the world. This is particularly useful in a world that is increasingly fuelled by networks. I am glad to see that the University of Manchester is engaging its alumni in Singapore through its Association here.
7.                    I have spoken briefly about three Rs facing universities today –rigour, relevance, and relationships. But these are also important to all of us, as we navigate the university of life. I hope we will all strive to hold ourselves up to high standards in whatever we do, and continually learn and grow, so that we stay employable and play a useful role in society. And most importantly, I encourage everyone to build strong, lasting relationships with family and friends, and to give back to society in whatever way we can.
8.                    I wish everyone an enjoyable evening.

1 This year, our six universities will provide up to 14,000 publicly-funded, full-time university places, for 30% of the cohort, one year ahead of schedule.