Speeches

Opening Remarks by Mr S Iswaran, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Education, at the Public Lecture by Mr Kapil Sibal, Minister for Human Resource Development, Republic of India on “Higher Education in India” on Thursday, 15 April 2010 at 11.30 am at Orchard Hotel

Mr Kapil Sibal,
Minister for Human Resource Development, Republic of India,

HE Dr T C A Raghavan,
High Commissioner of India in Singapore,

Ambassador Gopinath Pillai,
Chairman, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore,

Mr Vijay Iyengar,
Chairman, Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry,

Professor Tan Eng Chye,
Provost, National University of Singapore,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

I am delighted to join you today at this public lecture by Minister Kapil Sibal on “Higher Education in India: Opportunities and Prospects”. Like all of you, I am looking forward to hearing Minister Sibal’s informed and erudite perspective on this important topic. Allow me to set the backdrop for Minister Sibal’s lecture with some remarks about higher education in India and Singapore.

Higher Education in India

India is embarking on a new trajectory of high growth. Before the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the Indian economy was achieving an average growth rate of 8.7 per cent over a period of five years. With the economy showing clear signs of recovery, it is natural, if not inevitable, that India will continue on its path of growth as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

India’s higher education landscape will continue to play an important role in ensuring that India sustains this growth well into the future. Economic growth is increasingly driven by skill-based productivity. Singapore acknowledges this too, which is why we recently set up a high-level National Productivity and Continuing Education Council chaired by our Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Teo Chee Hean. India has developed a national higher education system that offers multiple choices and pathways to acquire a variety of skills. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other distinguished specialised institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Science (IISc) and the Indian Statistical Institutes (ISIs) have done well in producing many outstanding scholars and technocrats. However, given India’s large population and its rapidly increasing manpower demands, India needs to increase its higher education capacity, both in such institutes of excellence, as well as in technical and vocational education.

To meet this capacity gap, the Government of India and Minister Sibal, in particular, have recognised India’s need to engage foreign education service providers, as part of the total solution. Their ongoing efforts have led to the introduction of the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill 2010, approved by the Indian Cabinet last month. It seeks to allow foreign education service providers to set up campuses in India and to regulate their operations. This Bill will help benefit India’s higher education infrastructure, and with appropriate provisions, foreign education service providers will be attracted by India’s vast market for education.

Higher Education in Singapore

As a small country, Singapore depends on continually investing in our people to drive our growth and development. As such, our higher education system is currently undergoing yet another phase of expansion and innovation to meet our economy’s growing needs for more and higher-skilled manpower.

Singapore recently established two new publicly-funded tertiary institutions in collaborative partnerships with foreign universities, namely the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). SUTD, established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from the US, and Zhejiang University (ZJU) from China, aims to train graduates who are technically-grounded leaders who can address the challenges and issues of tomorrow. SIT will offer degree programmes conducted in collaboration with reputable overseas universities to provide a strong upgrading pathway for our polytechnic graduates.

Our existing universities are also actively involved in reinventing and strengthening their curriculum to produce well-rounded and top quality students to better meet the needs of the knowledge economy. One way in which they have done so is to embark on tie-ups with reputable overseas universities, including many in India, to provide global exposure to their students. This is a collaboration we encourage.

NUS is a prime example. It has a wide variety of University and School-level Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the IITs, IIMs and other Indian Universities. These initiatives include student exchange programmes, enabling NUS’s Business students to go to IIM Calcutta and Engineering students go to IIT Mumbai for a semester. NUS also has several joint doctorate-level programmes in Science, Computing and Engineering with IIT Madras, as well as joint research projects with the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute. Our universities recognise the importance of India as a strategic partner in higher education — in particular, the high quality of education and research that the Indian universities undertake — and will continue to actively engage Indian universities in education, enterprise and research.

Conclusion

Given our two countries’ similar emphases on developing skilled manpower, Singapore will be watching, and learning from, the evolution of higher education landscape in India with considerable interest. The introduction of the Foreign Educational Institution Bill sets the stage for many more meaningful educational collaborations between our two countries.

We are indeed fortunate to have Minister Sibal here with us today. I have had the pleasure of being acquainted with Minister Sibal for several years. We would all know him as the urbane, eloquent and erudite lawyer and politician. What might perhaps be less well-known is Minister Sibal’s literary achievements. The book “I Witness” is an anthology of Minister Sibal’s poetry and writing on a wide range of subjects ranging from T-Cells and Twenty20 cricket, to the Politician’s Eightfold Path and Nirvana. He is clearly a man of many diverse talents and I, like all of you, look forward to an interesting and thought-provoking lecture on the topic of Higher Education in India.

Thank you.