Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the Launch of the SUTD Academy at the Singapore University of Technology and Design

Published Date: 10 January 2018 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Lee Tzu Yang Chairman, SUTD

Professor Chong Tow Chong Acting President and Provost, SUTD

Professor Sanjay Sarma Vice President for Open Learning, MIT

Ladies and Gentlemen


1.I am happy to join all of you today to mark yet another milestone in SUTD’s journey – the official launch of the SUTD Academy.

2. Last September, I spoke to SUTD’s third cohort of graduands at their graduation ceremony. Since being established as Singapore’s fourth autonomous university (AU), in collaboration with MIT and Zhejiang University, SUTD has seen three cohorts of graduates. Many stepped into the workforce and embarked on the next phase of their lives, well-prepared, full of hope and aspiration and brimming with confidence. And indeed their employment outcomes have been impressive – in fact, the best amongst all AUs.

3. As an institution, SUTD has matured in its research output, and grown steadily in its international reputation. In our diverse higher education landscape, SUTD occupies a special and unique place – small and beautiful, with a niche focus on technology and design, that differentiates you from the other AUs. Today, I am also happy to see the university now actively contributing to SkillsFuture and lifelong learning. There are three major areas where SUTD is developing and raising the bar for itself and the rest of the higher education landscape.


4. First is in teaching. SUTD recently announced plans to develop deeper expertise in several of Singapore’s key growth sectors – healthcare, aviation, artificial intelligence (AI), and urban cities. This will provide all students – whether undergraduates, post-graduates, or adult learners returning for further up-skilling – with expanded opportunities to succeed in these sectors.

5. Indeed, SUTD students can look forward to an education that will better prepare them as technically-grounded leaders and innovators to seize opportunities of the future. During their studies, they will enjoy ample opportunities for interaction with the industry and industry leaders – guest lecturers and adjunct faculty sharing their knowledge on pioneering developments in industry, capstone projects, overseas attachments and internships with key players in the sector, and much more. It is a very rich and diverse experience studying in SUTD. And I hope you continue to outdo yourself, and maintain your leading position as the University with the most employable graduates.


6. The second area of development is research. Education and research are two sides of the same coin. Universities conduct research to discover new knowledge, which is then disseminated to students through teaching. Teaching in turn sharpens and clarifies the minds of researchers.

7. The most enlightened universities in the world will engage its undergraduates in research. Not just the PHD and post-graduate students, but undergraduates as well. They may not be the most learned or academic, but they compensate that with curiosity, enthusiasm and enterprise. If the research is not so basic, but somewhat translational, they are most likely to run with it and create a start-up, maybe even a unicorn. And this shows their dare to take their work in different directions. Research programmes in the four growth sectors I mentioned will be open to all SUTD students, to build domain-specific expertise on top of their engineering and design curriculum.

8. In aviation, for example, SUTD and CAAS has a growing collaboration on policy research and education in aviation and air traffic management. SUTD also aims to establish an Aviation Systems Centre that will nurture students in practice-driven aviation systems design and innovation. Singapore’s airspace is one of the busiest in the world, and is really a very good place now to do aviation research.

9. In the area of Cities, SUTD is collaborating with globally-renowned business school IMD to develop a global Smart Cities Index. SUTD will also broaden its Future of Cities research to explore the Future of Asian Cities. I also strongly encourage our universities to collaborate and come up with a new ranking for universities – one that reflects our national objectives more clearly and holistically. Regional exchanges and internships will be expanded, and students will have opportunities to design innovative and inclusive solutions for the region.

10. AI is a major disruptive force for digital transformation. NVIDIA will be setting up an AI Lab in SUTD to nurture talent in this field in Singapore. Students will be equipped with skills to translate AI into practical applications and contribute to our Smart Nation initiative.

11. In support of SUTD’s various efforts, MOE will be setting aside up to $75 million to bolster the University’s growth plans in education and research, on top of its current funding. Together with SUTD and its partners’ investments, I am confident we can look forward to seeing substantial impact and progress in these areas in time to come.

Lifelong Learning

12. The third area of development is lifelong learning, which is why we are here today. I am especially encouraged that through the SUTD Academy, more Singaporeans can benefit from SUTD – be it individuals looking to upgrade themselves, or corporations seeking to upskill or reskill their workers. SUTD will work closely with its industry partners to develop its Continuing Education and Training (CET) programmes. This is in line with MOE’s overall plan to expand CET offerings at the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), which include the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics and AUs.

13. It is with this in mind that we launched the SkillsFuture Series in October last year, where the IHLs rolled out more industry-relevant, modular courses to equip working adults with the skills required across different priority and emerging areas. As of end-November 2017, the IHLs have rolled out about 450 modular courses, delivering more than 25,000 training hours to develop the local workforce. I am sure training delivery will go up quite exponentially in the years to come.

14. SUTD played a key role in this ramp-up, offering courses as part of the SkillsFuture Series in areas such as Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. Being a relatively young university, SUTD is in a good position to pioneer a completely new way of delivering CET. For instance, SUTD partnered Deloitte Singapore to co-develop a series of courses in data analytics. These SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) approved courses are open to the public, and are jointly delivered by SUTD’s Engineering Systems and Design (ESD) and Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD) pillars. As with many of SUTD’s innovative programmes, these data analytics courses are multidisciplinary in nature, and are intended to promote design thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit amongst its participants.

15. But while we encourage innovations in the way we teach adult learners, these would all be for naught if they do not add value to those attending these programmes. Hence, there must be a paradigm shift in the way we approach CET compared to the way we teach students. I have distilled this shift into four key operating principles that if applied, should result in successful CET programmes:

  1. Industry Relevance. CET courses must first and foremost be demand-driven, and meet industry needs. They should be developed in close consultation and delivered in partnership with industry, so that they address the current and future skills needs of our economy.
  2. Course Design. Courses should be modular and bite-sized in nature, so that they are accessible, and working adults do not find training too time-consuming and onerous. These modular courses do not always need to stack up to a full qualification, but can be offered independently of undergraduate or postgraduate certifications. Many adults do learn just so they become better, not necessarily to get another Masters of degree.
  3. Admission. Admission to CET programmes must be kept open and accessible, not just based on academic grades. This ensures that individuals who need to upskill and reskill, will have the opportunity to do so, regardless of his or her academic history.
  4. Outcome-focused. The mark of a good CET course is determined by the participants’ ability after the training to secure employment, move to a bigger or different job, achieve career progression, or transit smoothly into another industry. Or simply be more competent at what you are doing.

16. I am also heartened to learn that the new SUTD Academy will be extending special privileges to SUTD alumni to support their professional and personal growth. Every SUTD graduate will be given a $500 LIFE coupon for them to attend CET courses at the Academy, and given a free two-year SUTD Academy membership that allow them to enjoy further discounts for CET courses at the Academy. This is a step in the right direction for our AUs to transform themselves into champions of lifelong learning.


17. As we transform our higher education landscape to meet the needs of our Future Economy, we need to move beyond the tried and tested approach, and venture into unchartered waters. I encourage SUTD, as well as the other IHLs, to do as you teach students, take risks and explore new ways to deliver and implement both Pre-Employment Training (PET) and CET programmes.

18. I would like to congratulate SUTD on the launch of the SUTD Academy and look forward to hearing about SUTD’s contributions to Singapore and our higher education and lifelong learning landscape.

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