Speech By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the Appreciation Dinner for Mr Wong Ngit Liong at University Town

Published Date: 25 January 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Your Excellency, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Mrs Mary Tan

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen and Prof Ivy Ng

Mr Wong Ngit Liong and Mrs Wong Siew Hoon

NUS Pro-Chancellor Mr Po’ad Mattar and Mrs Mattar

NUS Chairman Mr Hsieh Fu Hua

NUS Trustees

NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan and Dr Evelyn Lee

Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni

Distinguished Guests, Friends

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Thank you all for attending tonight’s dinner to express our deep appreciation to Mr Wong Ngit Liong, who stepped down as Chairman of NUS last year. After more than 12 years of leading NUS as its Chairman, 12 years, means from the year of the monkey all the way to the year of the goat, Ngit Liong has left the University in a stronger position than where it was in 2004. We are immensely grateful for the significant time and effort that he has invested in the University.

Contributions of Ngit Liong

2. Ngit Liong was appointed as the fourth Chairman of NUS in August 2004. He was a much sought-after Chairman, because what preceded him was his reputation for visionary leadership, international perspective, entrepreneurial zeal, and an ability to transform large organisations. I am grateful to President Tony Tan and DPM Tharman, who was then the Minister for Education, for being persuasive enough to secure Ngit Liong’s services to NUS.

3. Ngit Liong became Chairman of NUS at an exciting time for higher education – when our public universities began the transition from statutory board to autonomous universities. After steering NUS through that process successfully, he continued to lead NUS on an upward trajectory, working with, and hopefully not enduring through, four different Ministers for Education in the process!

4. Dr. Ng Eng Hen is here tonight to express his thanks and well-wishes to Ngit Liong in person. DPM Tharman and Minister Heng Swee Kiat who were unable to join us tonight, but they have asked me to convey their best wishes and thanks to Ngit Liong for his efforts at NUS.

Progress in Education and Teaching

5. In the 12 years that Ngit Liong was Chairman, NUS has been transformed in many ways.

6. The University pioneered milestones such as the development of University Town – home to Singapore’s first residential colleges. It established the Duke-NUS Medical School, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, and Yale-NUS College – the first liberal arts college in Singapore. It took on the national mandate to promote SkillsFuture through the School for Continuing and Lifelong Education. Each of these new institutions represented NUS’s commitment to developing multiple pathways to success, with opportunities for every student to pursue their passion in their chosen field.

7. These developments have brought about a quantum leap in education options and quality. In 2004, NUS had about 28,000 students and 3,000 faculty members and researchers. Today, there are already 35,000 students and 6,000 faculty members - drawn to NUS by the range of options and opportunities that are available to them now.

8. And it is not only a question of numbers, but of quality teaching and outcomes for students. NUS has launched many initiatives in recent years to improve its educational offerings. It was the first university in Singapore to introduce a grade-free first semester for freshmen, which has now been extended to a grade-free first year. This has been obviously very well received by students, who face less stress and have more opportunities to explore subjects beyond their major. The new general education curriculum also ensures that students are trained in critical thinking, “learn how to learn”, and develop an awareness of the Singapore context.

9. Under Ngit Liong’s watch, NUS has widened access to its residential programmes, which enrich the education experience for its students. NUS has also expanded opportunities for overseas internships and exchanges, which are going to be very important in preparing our students for the global economy.

10. Today, 9 out of 10 NUS students are employed within six months of their graduation, and command good and rising salaries. Generations of students have and will benefit from their NUS education, and this is perhaps the strongest legacy that Ngit Liong will leave behind.

Progress in Research and Reputation

11. In the field of research, NUS under Ngit Liong has won three separate bids to set up Research Centres of Excellence in areas of research vital to Singapore, and partnered corporate giants to establish three Corporate Labs to contribute towards industry competitiveness. Today, NUS scientists are amongst the most cited in the world.

12. All these achievements have collectively driven the growth of NUS’s international reputation. It is highly regarded and respected, and widely seen by the higher education and research communities as amongst the leading universities of the world. NUS flies the Singapore flag high in its networks and collaborations with top universities across the world.

13. While we all know that university rankings are not the be all and end all, it is nonetheless noteworthy that NUS today is the top university in Asia, and twelfth worldwide. This is a remarkable achievement by any standards.

The Spirit of NUS

14. But beyond physical developments and growth in size and scale, what is most impressive about NUS’s development are the intangibles, things we can’t see. And these are the work and activities happening in the laboratories and classrooms; the dynamism and vibrancy that is felt around the campus; the ideas, insights and inventions sparked off by the interactions between faculty members, researchers, students and alumni.

15. This is the spirit of innovation and the culture of entrepreneurship that Ngit Liong has brought to NUS. It drives researchers to go beyond publication, and invest in practical projects that can change lives. It motivates students to take a leap of faith to venture out of Singapore to work, or create enterprises and be their own bosses. As a savvy entrepreneur who built up his own business, these were Ngit Liong’s key priorities from the early days as Chairman of NUS.

16. Today, NUS researchers have invented a robotic walker and a robotic glove to help stroke patients; developed “print-a-pill” technology; and launched satellites into space. The first made-in-Singapore cancer drug, ETC-159, which is a collaboration between A*STAR and Duke-NUS, has entered clinical trials.

17. The culture of innovation at NUS has also inspired students to build a new race car every year, a personal flying machine that caught the attention of Britain’s Prince William, and the world’s lightest paraglider trike, which was featured in the National Geographic Channel’s series, Machine Impossible.

18. And we expect more of such stories, as many students attend the NUS Overseas Colleges every year. When the NOCs first started, there were just 19 start-ups under incubation. Today, there are over 250 - a growth of twelve times in twelve years!

19. The Straits Times has referred to NUS Overseas Colleges programme as the seed of the start-up community in Singapore. “Blk 71” – a start-up hub developed by NUS with the then Media Development Authority and Singtel Innov8 – has been called “the world’s most tightly-packed entrepreneurial ecosystem” by the Economist. This success led to the establishment of another “Blk 71” launchpad for Singapore start-ups – but in San Francisco.


20. NUS’s achievements over the past 12 years are the result of the hard work of the NUS team and all its partners. But it takes a good leader and Chairman to set the direction of the University, the tone of the organisation, such that every team member can give off their best, and make a difference in their own ways.

21. Much work remains to be done in the University sector. We need NUS to lead the way in imparting 21st century skills to our young, not just so that they can be employed, but to sharpen Singapore’s competitiveness and shape our future economy. We need NUS to be a champion of lifelong learning, to show that education does not end upon formal graduation. We need NUS to take a big leap in translating research into new knowledge, and fresh thinking that changes the way we do things and lead our lives. We also need to morph this research into enterprises, products, services and jobs that serve markets both within and beyond Singapore’s shores. I look forward to build upon NUS’s achievements today with the new Chairman of NUS, Mr Hsieh Fu Hua.

22. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the NUS Board of Trustees, past and present, as well as Professor Tan Chorh Chuan and his team, for their tremendous effort in making NUS what it is today.

23. Thank you, Mr Wong Ngit Liong, for your contributions to NUS, and to Singapore. I would like to place on record the Ministry of Education’s deep appreciation for giving us one dozen years of your life. In the spirit of the upcoming Chinese New Year, I wish you every success in your future endeavours and to everyone in the coming year.身体健康,万事如意!

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