Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the Singapore Institute of Technology’s (SIT) Graduation Ceremony

Published Date: 24 February 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Professor Tan Thiam Soon, President of Singapore Institute of Technology

Graduates, Parents

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Today is my first graduation ceremony for 2017. It is my pleasure to join you today at SIT’s Graduation Ceremony 2017. Today, we see SIT’s first batch of graduates from its own degree programmes. So you are a group of 82 very special people. Being the first is always very exciting.

2. What started off as a pilot project in the polytechnics, has now evolved into a full-fledged Autonomous University (AU), with its own graduates. As the fifth AU for Singaporeans, SIT and the applied degree pathway it pioneers is becoming a significant pillar of our higher education landscape.

Pioneering an Applied Degree Pathway

3. Today, let me recount SIT’s journey and how it came about. In 2005, MOE implemented the polytechnic-Foreign Specialised Institution or FSI initiative, where each polytechnic partnered selected foreign institutions to deliver undergraduate programmes in niche areas. This enabled polytechnic graduates to further their studies in specialised fields not available in the AUs then.

4. As enrolment gathered pace and the initiative became more established, the courses were consolidated under a single institution, instead of being under several polytechnics. Hence SIT was born, in 2009. In 2014, SIT became our fifth AU.

5. SIT is unique in Singapore’s higher education landscape. Its model of applied university education focuses on a teaching method that integrates work and study, as well as building deep links to industry. Today, professionals in areas like nursing, allied health, and early childhood education, do not have to go overseas in order to pursue their degree-level qualifications. SIT, and the applied degree pathway we have established, now offer those opportunities. This widening of opportunities enables us to raise the university cohort participation rate from 33% today to 40% by 2020.

6. When cohort participation rates were low, at 20 or 25 per cent decades ago- and courses were not so diverse, employers were quite prepared to hire most graduates even if there were some skills mismatches. They did so on the basis that this was a select group which made it to university under our stringent education system. But when cohort participation reaches 40% with much more diverse talents and skillsets, employers need to ensure a good match between talents and skills of the graduates they hire, and their own organisation needs. In a more competitive climate, they also want to be assured that their fresh hire is a young talent who can integrate well into their organisation, enjoys the nature of work, is passionate or deeply interested in the industry they are in, and enthusiastic and curious to learn more.

7. This is why internships, attachments, and industry projects become relevant during an undergraduate education. It is as much a good learning opportunity for students, as it is an avenue for employers to spot talent. Our undergraduates know that, and therefore actively seek internships during their semester breaks.

8. An applied degree pathway is therefore critical in helping to support a higher cohort participation rate, and SIT is a champion of that applied degree pathway.

Work and Learn

9. A distinctive feature of SIT’s applied pathway model is the work-learn initiative - the Integrated Work Study Programme or IWSP that Prof Tan has just spoken about. Students gain real work experience for eight to twelve months through the IWSP in the final year of their undergraduate programme. This provides a stronger integration between classroom learning and practical experience on-the-job.

10. As SIT’s first graduating class of Accountancy students, you are the pioneers of the IWSP and have already made a mark in the companies you were attached to. I understand that Amanda and Jingwen performed exceptionally well during your IWSP at EY Singapore, and were assigned tasks typically given to first-year auditors, not interns. They often had to work late, as most auditors do, and even on weekends to pull their weight in the teams – just like any full-time employee would. I hear that even their clients couldn’t tell that they were interns, which speaks to their ability and professionalism. And their hard work has paid off. After the IWSP, they were offered positions by EY above entry level, thus getting a headstart in their careers. So well done, Amanda and Jingwen.

11. It’s not just them who did well. After the attachment, 84% of you received job offers from the Accountancy firms you worked with before graduating – congratulations! For the other 16%, it takes a while for the right fit to come along, and sometimes as a first job, it might be useful to try maybe smaller companies, where you get to do a wide range of tasks, and take on responsibilities that might not be possible in large firms. Many smaller companies have big ambitions to expand overseas to tap on bigger markets. Choose who to work for not by the size of the organisation but by the size of their ambition. The learning will be immense.

SkillsFuture Work-Study Degree Programmes

12. Last June, I announced that SIT and UniSIM would be piloting ‘Co-operative’ Degree Programmes. ‘Co-operative’, because such programmes involve co-operation between the university and industry in their design, development, and delivery. Such programmes will take the work-learn concept a step further, and have been implemented in countries in Europe and also in Canada. In Singapore’s context, I call them SkillsFuture Work-Study Degree Programmes.

13. I am happy to announce that SIT and UniSIM will launch a range of these SkillsFuture Work-Study Degree Programmes, in selected growth areas from this year. SIT’s new programmes will be in information security, software engineering, hospitality business, electrical power engineering, and civil engineering, while UniSIM’s programmes will be in the areas of finance and business analytics.

14. There are 12 participating organisations comprising a mix of companies including an SME, MNCs, and also government agencies, such as, and these organisations are Singtel, the Ascott, Standard Chartered, Accenture, Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, Infocomms Media Development Authority, Samwoh Corporation Pte Ltd, Singapore Power, Inspire-Tech, SIM University, Gov Tech and Defence Science and Technology Agency.

15. These partner organisations will jointly assess the placement of potential candidates on these undergraduate programmes, by being part of the interview panel for admissions. Their assessment will not be based solely on academic grades. The matching of industry needs with personal aspirations is just as important, if not more important.

16. They will work with the universities to develop the programme curriculum in line with industry needs. For example, the Ascott will be developing a module for the Hospitality Business degree programme with SIT.

17. Employers will also mentor and guide student-trainees in the workplace through a structured on-the-job training curriculum, or OJT for short, to bring the classroom closer to the workplace. For example, students attached to Accenture will be part of project teams across a broad range of services and solutions. Mentors will guide students throughout the projects.

18. Employers will also play a crucial role in assessing the student-trainees during their OJT based on feedback from the mentors, with some of these OJT being credit-bearing portions of the undergraduate programme.

Conclusion – ‘What Good is a Degree?’

19. To conclude, I hope everyone would reflect on the question ‘What good is a degree?’ I ask this question because, as graduates with a professional degree, you might not think you need to ask it. You may think that your degree is valuable because it helps you to analyse the source and use of funds, to hold companies accountable to their financial statements, or to see through suspicious company transactions. Surely you know the answer to the question “what good is your degree?”

20. You might recall that, in the Bill setting up SIT in 2014, the key purpose of SIT was not to benefit companies by growing a workforce for them. It was not even about catering for our economy. The answer was given by then-Minister for Education Mr Heng Swee Keat during the debate in Parliament and he said our goal for SIT is to “enable more young Singaporeans to fulfil their goals and aspirations.”

21. Today, you leave with skills, knowledge, and a good idea of what the workplace demands. But remember, the point of SIT goes beyond all of that. It is about your goals and your aspirations. You can let your hopes and dreams run free, spread your youthful dynamism across an organisation, change lives even if it is one at a time, absorb the lessons and wisdoms that the world can offer.

22. I thank SIT for inviting me to share in the pride and joy of your first graduating class of Accountancy today. I wish you all a meaningful journey of learning and contribution ahead. Thank you.

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