Speech by Dr. Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Education, at The Singapore Institute of Technology’s (SIT) Graduation Ceremony

Published Date: 20 October 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. Congratulations to the class of 2017.

2. You have received some of the best training in the world, and you are extraordinarily well-equipped to take the next step out into the working world. We are all on a lifelong journey of self-discovery. The way that SIT has planned its curriculum, such as its interface with the working world, and the opportunity for its graduates to return, is testament to the idea of how lifelong self-discovery plays in the SIT DNA.

3. By focusing on skills, you have been prepared to navigate a number of options available after graduation. This is the first step. The world is big and increasingly complex. The idea that you will graduate and work in a single profession all your life has long passed. You can assume you are not done with your education. Even as you start on your journey towards work, you need to start thinking about how you might return to education. You have to keep learning.

4. This changes the way we make choices. Given the good job market here, the role Singapore plays in the world, and the opportunities you as students have, there will be plenty of opportunities. But the nature of those jobs will change. You need to think about how you do your job differently, or how you can do a different job. Your university education needs to prepare you to make one of those choices repeatedly over the course of your life.

5. The skills you need to thrive in the workplace have changed. Your internships and industry attachments would have demonstrated that to you in a very visible way and this will increasingly be an issue. How will you then pick up new skills along the way? What is it in your education that has prepared you to learn new skills, not just apply the skills that you have today well? We must think about the type of education we make available, the type of education to empower and prepare students and graduates for this type of world, where the choices they might have to make, we don’t know yet.

6. We have to make sure we blur the lines between education and industry, and bring in industry partners, like what SIT has done. That we push students early in their undergraduate career out into the industry either through applied learning programmes, industry attachments, internships, or work study programmes. This gives students information on what the job landscape and the skills training landscape is like today.

7. What can we do to prepare you for the coming years? You need to be able to manage uncertainty. You need to be comfortable with change. You need to look at this situation and not worry because everyone is facing this together. You need to look at this situation and accept that this is how life will be and it is going to be fun, challenging and interesting. You need to retain some flexibility to change your plans, your approach or the way you seize opportunities. Uncertainty and flexibility will have to be the core of a changing mindset, where you embrace the journey and not the destination. This is as applicable to education as it will be applicable to your work in future. The reality is that there is no right or wrong answer, and there is no ten-year series to guide you in making these choices. You will have to make these choices yourself. Your faculty will have to hope that they have prepared you as best as they can, and I am sure they have.

8. We need to think about how we can continue to do more as faculty and as an education system. As the first of your cohort, each year we will have to refresh and update ourselves. We need to ensure that in our post-secondary education, we imbue both the faculty and students with the idea, of flexibility in dealing with uncertainty. How can our skills be transferable in different domains and industries? We need to put at the heart of our post-secondary education core learning skills, such as learning to learn, information processing and decision making.

9. What does this mean practically for our current system? SIT is a great example of where some of the best practices are already happening. We need to think about the experience of education, the experiential component of applying the knowledge to work. We need to think about skills in a modular fashion. Faculty has to place great attention to modularising their courses and think about common skills that cut across a number of domains, industries and ideas. How can we leverage the university campus, undergraduate experience, and bring together people from different domains and different courses to learn those common skills?

10. For institutions, this will mean an increasing focus on being student-centric. SIT gets this right in so many ways. There are many best practices that we can share. For example, the holistic admissions approach. When students choose the area of study that is aligned with their interests and strengths, they tend to be more interested and committed in their chosen field. This is why SIT recognises the importance of choice at the point of entry, and of matching students’ aptitudes and passions to their area of study at the interview process. SIT looks out for areas beyond academic merit, to best match potential students based on their interests and strengths to find a space to flourish. As a result of these approaches, students at SIT are willing to work hard, committed to their chosen course of study, and are likely to do well.

11. Within the course of study, we need a mind-set shift from learning for doing, to learning by doing. SIT students have the opportunity to go through the Integrated Work Study Programme. This approach is fundamental in giving them an idea of how to work using their skills and knowledge, and not to wait until they have graduated. This approach allows them to start thinking about work before they enter work. This is a fundamental shift in how to deliver post-secondary education, and more institutions need to think about how we can do this better and more of. To be immersed in the world of work, and to understand how business structures work in the real world is key to how students can flourish.

12. This approach is also applicable to faculty, specifically how an institution recruits and rewards faculty, and how it addresses professional development for faculty. The blurring of industry and education is just as important in faculty, because the faculty will carry through the culture, ethos and lessons learnt for the next class. So it is not enough to have the idea in the system, it has to be reflected in the faculty as well.

13. To develop this process, we need excellent industry partnerships. We need a commitment from those outside of academia who understand the importance of changing what we do in education so that further opportunities are created, for their employees and their businesses. And SIT has worked hard on these partnerships.

14. As students, you play an important role in developing these partnerships. Because you interface with employers, you demonstrate the best of your university. You encourage employers to think they have made the right choice in partnering the university, and that this is a good thing for Singapore and Singaporeans. The ambassadorship that you bring is a vital part of blurring the lines of education and industry and developing the partnerships between university and community.

15. What SIT has put in place for you after you graduate is also important. You do not just receive a piece of paper after this ceremony. There will be plenty of opportunities to think about education across your lifetime. The university has a responsibility to the students long after they graduate. This is another shift in how we think about our post-secondary education. Examples like the Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP), which trains and equips students to turn their innovations to marketable products. This exposes students to learning opportunities that helps a student think about developing a business, growing a start-up idea, and on scaling up business plans. The life of the student does not finish on the day of graduation. It has just started.

16. As I congratulate SIT on all the good work done, I have some suggestions for how it can build on its strengths. The work-learn programmes have great potential. We can think about how we can scale this up in a sustainable manner to ensure that such opportunities become available to more students. How can more students have more time in a curated work attachment programme? I understand that SIT and The Ascott will be co-developing a module for the Hospitality Business degree programme. They will look at operational practices and case studies. We need to do more of this to enhance the nexus between theory and on-the-job experiences.

17. The next point that I would like to suggest is overseas immersion programmes. Students who spend time outside our borders benefit when they look at how work and business is done outside of Singapore. These students bring back ideas and friendships and connections that they can leverage across their working life. This is not easy to curate or provide. How can we think about having more of our post-secondary students enjoy an overseas experience as part of their education process, and to see it not just as a ‘nice to have’, but as essential to the kind of skills that we want the next generation of Singaporean citizens to have?

18. Lastly, when we talk about the extent of disruption and the need for both student and university to be flexible, one core structure that will provide the faculty institutional resilience is about how we can have more cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary modules. Modules that are not tied to one specific course, discipline or industry are far more likely to be resilient over time and remain as core modules for all students, regardless of disruptions. This will provide our system with a greater degree of flexibility and resilience to the future changes that we are likely to experience. I would like to encourage you to think about how more of such modules can be made available to our students.

19. Finally, here are some words of encouragement to all graduates. You are graduating at a time of great opportunity. Every discipline and every industry is crying out for manpower. There will be opportunities. Singapore is positioned in a virtual crossroads – we are exposed to the marketplace of ideas, data flows, intellectual property, even as uncertainty exists in the business world. You have benefitted from an education system that has turned out excellent, talented young people who have established a name and a branding. A graduate from a Singapore institution means something special. You already know this because doors have been opened for you, opportunities have been placed in front of you. Now it is your chance to fulfil that role and carry that name - of your family, of yourself, of this institution, and of your country. The world is there for you to seize the opportunities and to create those pathways. The success you have will be on your own terms, because you choose your path. You have been launched on to that path of success by many people, most of whom are represented in the room here today. Do them proud, do us all proud.

20. Congratulations and well wishes again to SIT graduates.

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