Speech by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, at the Australian Alumni Singapore 55th Anniversary Gala Dinner on Saturday, 6 November 2010, 8.30pm at Sheraton Towers Singapore

Dr Tony Tan
Chairman, Singapore Press Holdings & Patron of Australian Alumni Singapore

Your Excellency, Mr Doug Chester
Australian High Commissioner to Singapore & Patron of Australian Alumni Singapore

Mr Loh Hoon Sun
President, Australian Alumni Singapore

Distinguished guests

Alumni members

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting my wife and me to the Australian Alumni Singapore’s (AAS) 55th anniversary celebrations.

Educational Ties between Australia and Singapore

Tonight, AAS members rekindle friendships with each other even as they refresh memories of their time spent studying in Australia. As the Minister of Education, I have been invited to various alumni celebrations where I have seen these same touching scenes played out periodically. Just a month ago, I was invited to join with Singaporeans who had studied in Japan in celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore (JUGAS). It was a smaller group but affection flowed as people reminisced about their time spent together in Japan. Beyond these personal experiences for young Singaporeans, especially in their formative years as students abroad, our national psyche too has been shaped collectively. It was in our founding DNA to keep ourselves open to the world around us. Our geography dictated this, where even as a sleepy and idyllic kampong village centuries ago, its people could never be sure what would arrive on their shores. Later as a trading sea-port, Singapore had to keep itself open to capital, to ideas and to people.

This circulation of disparate and even foreign groups across nations for various motivations—to seek better fortunes, for study, for marriage, to avoid calamities—is, as some would argue, necessary to rejuvenate the global ecosystem of people. Such stories abound—for instance, in Europe, countries like the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany today have 10 to 14 per cent of their population comprising international migrants. While a large number of these migrants are from within the European Union, there are also many who arrive from the shores of other continents. In Asia, besides Singapore, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has one of the largest proportions of international migrants—39 per cent. Many of their migrants come from within the region and several from beyond, for various reasons.

The same too has occurred in Singapore’s history. We are the progeny of a migrant stock that moved from other countries and settled on the shores of Singapore, and for many, this could be a fairly recent experience. I know many here would have parents and grandparents who were not born in Singapore. When Singapore gained independence and became more affluent, many ventured overseas for studies or business. Correspondingly, Singapore received many visitors from abroad for the same reasons.

We have been made stronger and better from such experiences and circulation of people with different culture and perspectives. But even as we keep our windows open to enjoy the winds of circulation, we are not a revolving door. We must always have a strong core rooted here and committed to Singapore that charts and protects our destiny, preserves our defence and security, independent judiciary, form of governance, values and education system.

Alumni associations like the AAS strengthen our core here. Singaporeans who have received their education in Australia bonded with each other and became life-long friends. They returned after attaining qualifications of expertise to develop their careers, and rich cultural exchanges with their Australian hosts. The AAS has helped to keep its members stay connected and maintain their strong bonds with each other and with their Australian counterparts. Today, many members are even providing sponsorships and scholarships for other Singaporeans to benefit from the education they received, thereby perpetuating the uplifting effects.

Forming Effective and Strategic New Alliances

The AAS has revised your Constitution to provide for greater continuity and self-renewal of your management. You are also now accepting Institution members, thus providing more opportunities for your members to network with both the Australian and Singapore business and professional communities. We earlier also witnessed the signing of the Collaborative Agreement between the AAS and the Singapore Manufacturers’ Federation (SMa). Later this evening, you will also be unveiling your new social media website, which has been built to reach out to your members, particularly the younger ones. These are necessary steps taken by the AAS Management Committee to engender effective and strategic new alliances that will help the AAS remain relevant and rejuvenated.

Beyond the AAS: Contributions to the Community

I am heartened to note that you are giving of your time and resources not only to your Alumni, but also beyond to the community. In conjunction with your 55th anniversary, Mr Simon Ho, the Immediate Past President of the AAS, is holding his first photographic art exhibition, and pieces from his collection will be sold to raise funds for the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund.

You will also be honouring an outstanding alumnus this evening with the Distinguished Australian Alumnus Award. The achievements of the recipient of this award are too numerous to cite and would require another speech. If I confine myself to just an educational perspective, he was schooled and graduated in the Singapore education system, after which he obtained his Masters degree in the United States and then his PhD in Australia. His own exposure to different systems from around the world must have helped lay the foundations for a distinguished career in both the public and private sectors. In fact he has been instrumental in putting in place many of the sound educational policies we have in our schools today. I will leave His Excellency, Mr Doug Chester, to provide a more detailed citation for this Distinguished Alumnus in a short while.


The outward-looking posture of AAS’ members—beyond self to the community, beyond ideas and opportunities in Singapore to overseas—is commendable. In Dr Goh Keng Swee’s words, may we regard the present condition not as a pinnacle of achievement but as a base from which to scale new heights. I wish the AAS continued success in staying relevant and in strengthening the partnership between Australia and Singapore, as well as among your fellow members. Congratulations once again on your 55th anniversary.

Thank you.