Speech by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, at the Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore (JUGAS) 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner at the Grand Corpthorne Waterfront Hotel, on Saturday, 16 October 2010 at 7.30 pm

Your Excellency Ambassador Yoichi Suzuki,
Ambassador of Japan to Singapore and Mrs Suzuki,

Mr Richard Chua,
President of the Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to congratulate the Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore (JUGAS) on its 40th anniversary of establishment.

In its 40 years of history, JUGAS has promoted various projects and activities related to education and cultural exchanges, which served not only the alumni of Japanese university graduates here but also the general public. From scholarships and book prizes, to art exhibitions and speech contests, JUGAS’ efforts have helped to foster and enhance friendship and understanding between the people of the two nations. The network and connection of JUGAS members have also spread into the ASEAN countries with their alumni counter-parts in ASEAN forming the ASEAN Council of Japan Alumni (ASCOJA).

Singapore and Japan have long enjoyed a close relationship in multiple aspects, from political to social, economic, cultural, and education. Since the 1950s, many Singaporean students have chosen to study in Japan to learn from her long history of culture and advanced technologies. Over the years, these graduates returned home to Singapore, imbued with not only knowledge and expertise, but also a fresh perspective and unique understanding. This has added to the diversity of thought and ideas in our society, and helped fuel Singapore’s development.

This vibrant intellectual and cultural exchange continues on today.

As our world becomes more interconnected, we see how quickly cultures from different countries are shared across the globe. Japan may be a seven-hour flight away, but you will notice that Japanese cuisine, music and films are common here, and in fact, count many Singaporeans as their biggest fans. In our secondary schools, many students also take up the Japanese Language as their third language at the Ministry Of Education Language Centre. Every year, more than 1500 new secondary one students opt to study the language, and through the process, immerse themselves in the culture. Some of our students also participate actively in the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths Programme, commonly known as JENESYS. This programme has provided exchange opportunities to our students, who spend time in Japan learning its language and culture.

The exchange of ideas and culture also extends to the tertiary education sector. In recent years, our universities have embarked on collaborations with various Japanese Universities, such as the University of Tokyo, Keio University, Kyoto University, Meiji University and Waseda University. In 2009, our interactive digital media sector received a boost when the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Keio University jointly established the Keio-NUS Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments (CUTE) Centre. It was Keio University’s first full-scale international research centre located outside of Japan, and it has opened up exciting opportunities for both universities in interactive digital media research. Each year, our universities also send students to various universities in Japan for exchange programmes and host students from Japan.

These education exchanges not only benefit the students and the tertiary institutions, but are also testament to the warm educational ties that Singapore and Japan share. I am happy to learn that JUGAS has established an Education and Cultural Exchange Fund to promote student exchanges between Singapore and Japan, and that an MOU has been signed recently between JUGAS and Nagoya University to co-sponsor two students yearly to Nagoya University’s undergraduate programme. I hope the fund will bring about many fruitful exchange experiences for our students in the years to come.

Japan remains one of the top investors in Singapore and continues to lead the world in some of the latest technological innovations. Japan was Singapore’s sixth largest trading partner in 2009 with total trade amounting to S$44 billion, and is the third largest economy in the world after the US and China. Japan’s strong presence in the Asia Pacific Region will provide a geopolitical balance and stability to the region. It is vital that Singapore continues to engage with Japan through education and cultural exchanges amongst the two people. For the JUGAS members who have studied in Japan, you have experienced the warmth of Japanese hospitality, made many friends in Japan and gained invaluable insights into the workings of Japanese society. Your experience makes you an invaluable group of people who can contribute positively to promoting closer ties between Singapore and Japan.

On this auspicious occasion of its 40th Anniversary, I would like to wish JUGAS continued success in pursuing this mission.

Thank you.