Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at NTU Alumni Night 2016

Published Date: 15 October 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Professor Bertil Andersson, NTU President,

NTU alumni, faculty, staff and students,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

1. University life, for most of us, happened at an age of ideals and curiosity. This was when things happening in the external environment started to take on new and deeper meanings to us, and when events started to change our lives. These may include finding our life’s work, our passion, making that one friend or few friends, who would give the shirts off their backs for us, and if we were really lucky, meeting that special someone. As Bertil said, this is a very romantic place. As we all move on in life, we will from time to time look back at those formative years, to wonder at our luck, reminisce care-free days, or laugh at our foolish mistakes – or maybe I am just speaking for myself.

2. I am sure that for many of you, coming back to NTU has a special feeling – because all of us are social and tribal creatures. In the modern world, our tribes are defined by allegiance to our countries, our communities, and commitment to causes such climate change and anti-poverty, or even more prosaic matters like gastronomy or sports.

3. Our alma mater also gives us a tribe to belong to. This affiliation starts from application for admission, because it is through the process that we get to know what our university stands for, what makes it unique, and whether we would fit in. Then comes orientation – this is where we make friends, get to know seniors, learn the unwritten norms and traditions on campus, and are introduced to the short cuts of university life, and learn about its curriculum and demands. I am sure many of you will recall the rituals that take place on campus and in the Halls of NTU.

4. Post-graduation, the universities have alumni offices that keep in touch with us, sometimes asking for donations, but most of the time involving us in alumni activities to hold the whole alumni community together.

5. As you entered this campus tonight and when you saw the familiar buildings and the trees, you might have paused as memories returned to you. At the same time, you probably could not help but get the sense that the young students on campus are searching for the paths that you and other alumni have walked. In the same way as tribes function, the people who go first have a duty for those who come after them.

Duality of NTU

6. I believe this is why NTU has always placed great emphasis on its alumni. It has organised the NTU Alumni Night every year since 2005 to recognise high-achieving alumni. Amongst previous Nanyang Alumni Award winners are luminaries such as one of Singapore’s most popular singers, Ms Stefanie Sun, and the first woman in the region to be Senior Vice-President of Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific & Japan, Ms Lien Siaou-Sze.

7. I think part of the reason why NTU has such a strong sense of history is how it began. It was a University created by immigrants, literally through a Gotong Royong approach, with a sense of what it means to make history and be part of something larger than itself.

8. This gives NTU an interesting duality in its identity. It is a young university, as mentioned by Professor Bertil Andersson, officially founded in 1991 and has been consistently ranked the world’s best young university. On the other hand, it has a longer history from the 1950s and an indelible story intertwined with Singapore’s own journey of nationhood. These helped to nurture a strong sense of togetherness amongst its alumni. In a way, NTU has managed to harness the best of both worlds – in the same way that it now has the Hive and the Nantah Gate symbolising the institution.

9. So today, amongst the award winners, we have Mr Wu Hsioh Kwang who graduated in 1974, and Mdm Tham Yew Chin who graduated in 1972, both from Nantah. We also have Dr Liang Wern Fook who graduated with a PhD from NIE in 1999, and Mr Mohammad Nazir bin Amir who graduated in 2014 from NTU.

10. NTU’s duality is also in its mission. On one hand, it has done well in world university rankings, coming amongst the top 50 based on the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) University Rankings. NTU has a well-deserved place at the table of global higher education and research leaders.

11. On the other hand, it is also one of Singapore’s national universities. Whatever it does, be it in teaching, research or industry collaboration, its mission is to advance the interest of Singapore, its economy and society. Indeed it has. For decades, it brought Singaporeans from all walks of life into a single campus, and equipped them with life-changing skills and knowledge. Today, its research activities promise to raise productivity, sharpen our competitiveness, and enhance our understanding of the world we live in. NTU must continue to put this public mission at the heart of its work.

NTU Achievement Awards

12. The achievements of its graduates are the best testimony to the success of a University. This evening, NTU will be giving out awards to 36 outstanding alumni to recognise that they have excelled in many fields, and contributed significantly to their fields of expertise.

13. The extent of their contributions is epitomised by the three recipients of this year’s Nanyang Distinguished Alumni Award. They are Mr Wu Hsioh Kwang, Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong, and Dr Liang Wern Fook. Let me say a little bit about each of these award winners.

14. First, on Mr Wu Hsioh Kwang who graduated from Nantah in 1974 with a Bachelor in Commerce degree; he is the founder of Straco Corporation Limited, a homegrown developer, operator and investor of attractions and tourism-related projects. Its local flagship project is the Singapore Flyer, which Straco acquired in 2014, when the Flyer at that time was plagued with poor visitorship and a series of breakdowns. Only one year after its acquisition, the operations have improved greatly and are running very well. Mr Wu and his company are responsible for an important part of the Singapore skyline. Straco also has a very strong presence in China’s tourism industry, which can be attributed to Mr Wu’s farsightedness and business acumen, and he entered China when its open-door policy was still in its infancy.

15. Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong is currently Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in Malaysia. He graduated from NTU with a Master’s in Traffic Engineering in 1996, when his political career was only just beginning. Since then, he had gone on to assume various positions in the Malaysian Chinese Association, before becoming Malaysia’s Deputy Education Minister from 2008 to 2013. In 2014, Dr Wee was involved in the launch of the NTU Alumni Association (Malaysia), which will reach out to close to 3,000 NTU alumni in Malaysia. Thank you for flying NTU’s flag in Malaysia.

16. Dr Liang Wern Fook completed his PhD at NIE in 1999. He is a writer, musician, and researcher in Chinese literature and pedagogy in Singapore, and notably, a pioneer of Xinyao – a genre of songs that uniquely belong to Singapore. I attended a Xinyao composition and singing competition organised by Lianhe Zaobao recently, and I had to perform one of his famous songs – 细水长流。Very unfortunately, my terrible rendition has been uploaded on YouTube and for that, I seek his forgiveness.

Conclusion

17. The footprints of alumni sink more deeply than we think. In a fast-pace, fast-changing world, young people are on a search for identity and anchors, as well as practical wisdom on what they need to do to prepare for the world out there. In short, they seek guidance and mentorship.

18. At the same time, young people know things. They have a special skill and positive energy that enable a keen understanding of new technologies and social trends. They can offer incredible insights into world politics and world affairs sometimes in only 140 characters. We may have ambitions to mentor them, but we can also learn from the young.

19. I hope NTU will keep its self-help and Gotong Royong spirit burning bright. Those of us who have graduated from university cannot go back, but we can help a younger generation move forward. The alumni and students can continue to learn from one another, just as the history and modernity of NTU inform its evolving identity.

20. I hope all the recent graduates and alumni of NTU can draw inspiration from tonight’s award recipients. Come forward, let us together, set course to new forms and systems of things. Have a very good evening, thank you.

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