Speech By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister (Higher Education And Skills), Ministry Of Education, At The Lasalle Convocation Ceremony

Published Date: 23 September 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Peter Seah, Chairman of LASALLE,

Professor Steve Dixon, President of LASALLE,


Ladies and gentlemen,

And the graduating class of 2016,



1 Earlier this year, I visited the campus of LASALLE, a historic arts institution. If I were to be asked what word associations came to mind when I stepped into the campus, I would say the following: vibrancy, joy, creativity, youth, and Brother Joseph McNally. I am happy to see that his contribution to the arts is now institutionalised in this college and celebrated with the many students that have gone through its doors.

2 32 years, what a journey – and you have been part of this journey. The exciting part for you is that your journey has just begun. Imagine where it could take you. To the Kallang Stadium like alumnus Sara Wee, whose band 53A, was selected to perform this year’s National Day theme song. Her music saw the return of the National Day Parade back to Kallang.

3 Or to the Cannes Film Festival like Boo Junfeng earlier this year. Another LASALLE alumnus, his second feature film Apprentice was screened to critical acclaim in the Un Certain Regard section. The Singapore Film Commission recently selected his film as Singapore’s entry to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film Category. We wish him all the best and hope that he will continue to do Singapore proud.

4 You can break new paths, write new songs, dream and do the impossible – you have an important role in enriching our national identity and soul, in creating our Singapore story, by telling it through the arts, at home and abroad, by telling it through your voice, through your talents.

Arts in National Life

5 As you contemplate your future, I am sure one question at the top of your minds is – “Can I make use of what I learnt in LASALLE to have a sustainable career?” The answer is – yes, for the following reasons.

6 First, as a nation and a society, our perception of the arts and the importance placed on its role has never been stronger in Singapore. Art is now a part of our national life. In terms of infrastructure, we now have the Esplanade, a revamped Victoria Concert Hall, and a uniquely-Singaporean National Gallery, and the Government continues to invest in the arts.

7 Second, there is greater interaction between arts and other disciplines. Someone who has made this work is Evan Lim, a Product Design diploma graduate from LASALLE. He combined his interest in medical anatomy with illustration, and pursued a career in medical research – he makes a visual reality of medical research and anatomical plans before they are executed by doctors, surgeons and researchers. His art makes reality come true even before science has done so. The magic of combining arts with another discipline was best encapsulated by Steve Jobs at the launch of the iPad 2 in 2011. He said: “Technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

8 The third reason, which follows from the second, is that an arts education equips you with the skills that can go beyond the arts. I have met many arts students in the course of my career, doing all kinds of jobs, in all kinds of industries, but with a creative twist. Recently, the Ministry of Education held its annual workplan seminar. Typically, it involves the Minister, me basically, making speeches, defining problem statements, and participants having breakout group discussions. Thankfully, there was a LASALLE graduate in the working committee, and she decided to come up with a seminar booklet, with cartoons, questions, and quotes creatively put together. A booklet like this conveys messages that I am unable to through a speech – no matter how interesting a speaker I can be.

9 Finally, let me show you the reality on the ground. MOE’s Graduate Employment Surveys found that most arts graduates are very employable. For LASALLE, about 7 out of 10 graduates were able to find employment, be it freelance, part-time, or full-time, within six months after graduation from last year. Some graduates may take longer, but most of them find work in the ensuing months.

10 We do have to tell you – that a large number of past graduates have portfolio or freelance careers that juggle multiple work assignments. Yours is not a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job. That is the nature of the industry you have chosen to be in. Similarly, there are more non-arts students becoming entrepreneurs or offering professional or expert services on a freelance basis. MOE intends to take the changing nature of work into account when measuring employment outcomes in future.

Pathways in Private Education Institutes

11 LASALLE is a private education institution (PEI). MOE funds selected courses in the college, to support the development of artistic talent and send the signal that such development serves our national interest, and that there is market demand for your talents. We are doing likewise for degree courses in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and SIM University – both are PEIs too. In addition, we support a range of skills development programmes through private training providers such as 3DSense, SHATEC, At-Sunrice, Singapore Institute of Security, to develop talent across many fields.

12 Notwithstanding these options, many adult learners enrol for degree programmes in PEIs. Many already have jobs, and feel that obtaining a degree through part-time study is an important part of career and personal growth. This is a motivation to be admired.

13 At the same time, there are those who are fresh out of school and hope that a degree from a PEI will help them find better jobs. This group will need information to make good choices. Earlier this year, the Council for Private Education conducted a graduate employment survey for the nine largest PEIs. Six months after graduation, the employment rate for fresh graduates with no prior working experience, in full-time jobs, is 58%. This is much lower than the outcome for Autonomous Universities. Median salary for PEI graduates is about 15% lower than those of Autonomous Universities.

14 Students intending to enrol into degree programmes at PEIs need to know these pragmatic but important facts. The Council for Private Education will formally release the results of the survey shortly. As a whole, we want to see the quality of education and employment outcomes of this sector improve. MOE and the Council for Private Education are studying further measures that may need to be introduced for this purpose.

15 At the same time, the Government post-secondary education institutions are offering more varied pathways, through SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes (ELPs), so that fresh polytechnic and ITE graduates can continue to sharpen their skills through work and study, and attain higher, industry-recognised qualifications at the Advance Certificate, Diploma, Advance, and Specialist Diploma levels. Today, we have launched 39 SkillsFuture ELPs. The universities too, are developing pathways for adult learning. They will be setting up dedicated centres for lifelong learning that will offer a range of modular courses for adults to upgrade and keep abreast of industry developments. Under the SkillsFuture movement, we will continue to see a further expansion of varied pathways in the coming years.

16 Whether you are an adult learner, or a young student, we want to make sure you are equipped with the necessary information to make informed choices. When you make a decision to pursue a degree, it should be after a thorough exploration of the choices and pathways available – not because a degree programme is the default pathway. A degree is but one path. Hopefully, with greater access to information, students and their families can make the best choices for themselves.

Develop Skills, Stay Committed, Collaborate

17It is customary to offer some advice to graduands at convocations. Actually, it is less a reflection of what you want to hear than what I wish I had known on my graduation day. So here it is – three pieces of advice for you.

18 First, don’t stop practising – or making music, or writing, or painting or composing. To master something is a lifetime endeavour. In the creative arts, more than ever, you need to keep doing what you are called to do – because the work in your portfolio is more important than the grades in school. As an artist, actor, designer, or musician, your portfolio is your identity, your voice, your persona.

19 Second, stay committed. It is not easy to devote a lifetime or even several years of our lives to master a skill. If your art takes you to new territories and you break new ground, you take the additional risk of committing yourself to a destination without a compass. There will be times when boredom, tediousness, and disappointment set in. It happens to everyone who is dedicated to their field of expertise. Just ask any accomplished sportsman, chef, social worker, accountant, doctor or lawyer. Keep at it.

20 My third piece of advice is to look out for opportunities to work with others. Creative partnerships, especially amongst good friends, drive innovation and create bright sparks. Two of today’s graduands, Cheryl Teo, a textile designer, and Agnes Citto, a creative pattern cutter, came together to create the label Aryl Citto for their final-year project. Their debut collection Tik Anyar uses traditional batik and sarongs with a modern twist. Tik Anyar was featured in the LASALLE pop-up store at TANGS and became one of the most sought after ready-to-wear collections.

21 Cheryl and Agnes represented LASALLE and Singapore at the London Graduate Fashion Week 2016. Their collection was showcased alongside the very best from the world’s leading fashion schools. Graduating today, these young designers already have pre-orders piling up for new pieces. And their work probably would not be registered in the GES results. I took a look at their clothes – about $400 for a long dress – not cheap, but I think it is good value for money. Too bad they don’t design for men. To give you an idea, ministers always wear batik. We get them from Malaysia or Indonesia but we should really wear more Singaporean brands. So think about that as a business idea.


22 On that note, I hope all of you will in time make a mark on the world stage, from this small island. A great Singaporean song is waiting to be written and sung, the Singaporean dress is waiting to fly off the runways. You have your own talents, but as graduates from LASALLE, you have a DNA that requires you to take these talents and make them serve a higher purpose – to make your communities better, stronger, to add richness and soul to our little island. All of us have a responsibility to keep it burning bright. Congratulations to the graduands of 2016! Thank you.

Share this article: