Speech by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, at the Award Ceremony of the Singapore Teaching and Academic Research Talent Scheme (START)

Published Date: 28 August 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

University Presidents, Provosts, Principals

Colleagues, Parents, and Award Recipients

Ladies and Gentlemen


1. It gives me great pleasure to be here today at the START Award Ceremony and I thank the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) for hosting this year’s event.

Our Universities as National Universities

2. As Singapore progresses, we – like many other countries –face the challenge of navigating an increasingly complex environment where there are rapid political, social, economic and technological changes. Now more than ever, our universities play an important role in supporting our nation, not just in training our future generations with the skills needed to face these realities, but also as knowledge centres that can be tapped on to help explore, map and understand the new social and scientific frontiers with which we are faced.

3. To build a more dynamic environment for the exchange of ideas and knowledge between our universities and the industries as well as the government, our universities have set up many corporate laboratories with major global and local industry players. Through these collaborations, the practical expertise of the industries and research powers of academia will bring competitive breakthroughs and innovation. Many academics also work with government agencies to lend their knowledge and expertise to solve real-world problems and inform policy design. Some examples of how our universities are doing this in our communities and industries include the following:

  • National University of Singapore’s (NUS) partnership with SG Innovate to promote quantum technology in Singapore

  • Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) partnership with the National Environment Agency on a new Waste-to-Energy Research Facility

  • Singapore Management University’s (SMU) partnership with the Alzheimer’s Disease Association on how we can better treat patients with the disease, and

  • SUTD’s collaboration with M1 on the development of 5G technologies for advanced robotics systems

4. What is also vital in the universities’ national mission, and their education and research agenda in particular, is the presence of a strong Singaporean core of academics who understand the local context and challenges.

Importance of Nurturing the Next Generation of Academics

5. Thus, it is important that our universities continue to invest in the mentorship and career development of Singaporean academics. START was launched five years ago with the goal of encouraging our universities to continue this investment. Through START, we are strengthening the pool of Singaporean academic talent at our universities in both research and teaching, through a suite of scholarships and support options for undergraduates and postgraduates interested in academia. We also hope that as we strengthen this talent pool, we would be able to maintain and cultivate a strong pipeline of Singaporean leaders to lead our universities.

6. We have recently enhanced START with the Inauguration Grant which Minister Ong Ye Kung announced this month. The Inauguration Grant aims to attract Singaporean academics to join our Autonomous Universities (AUs) as pre-tenure Assistant Professors, and support the development of research leadership in these universities. It is offered by the four AUs participating in the START scheme – NUS, NTU, SMU and SUTD.

7. We will continue to invest in our Singaporean academics, and we look forward to our universities’ continued partnership with the Ministry of Education as we work together on strengthening the Singaporean core and to keep the Singaporean research eco-system vibrant and strong.

8. It gives me great pleasure to congratulate our 29 START Award Recipients this year, including 14 new Inauguration Grant recipients. I am happy to see many of the awardees pursuing research that are relevant to the Singapore and local context.

9. For instance, Ms Rachel Tan Yi, an awardee of the Singapore Management University Overseas PhD Scholarship is currently interested in doing research in human capital development which could help inform us on how we could enhance skills development processes to improve employability. Dr Andrew Yee, a SUTD Early Career Awardee is currently developing a framework for understanding the media’s and parents’ influence on children’s food preferences in Singapore. He hopes that the results from his research can help inform the measures we can take to change lifestyle habits that could be precursors to obesity-related diseases.

10. Inauguration Grant awardee, Dr Koh Ming Joo, from the Department of Chemistry at NUS is another example. His research focuses on developing more environmentally sustainable and economical catalyst systems for the preparation of important compounds used in the chemical, pharmaceutical and polymer industries – not only in Singapore but globally. Dr Wong Liang Jie, is another Inauguration Grant awardee, who will be joining NTU this year. As part of his research on light-matter interactions, he has already helped to discover a way to efficiently convert electrical energy into light energy which, with further development, could help our computers process data up to a million times faster.

11. I look forward to hearing more about their new research discoveries in the future and the many students they will be inspiring through their teaching.

12. I am also delighted to welcome back our six START Alumni this year who have begun their careers at their awarding universities. One example is Assistant Professor Eliza Fong, a 2017 Early Career Awardee, who has joined the Department of Biomedical Engineering at NUS. She currently leads a research team in the Translational Tumour Engineering Laboratory, which focuses on engineering conditions to grow copies of tumours outside the patient for personalised drug testing. Dr Fong and her team envision that their efforts in developing such technologies may, in the near future, translate into highly useful tools that assist physicians in screening anti-cancer drugs and identify the best possible treatment for each individual patient.

13. As we see more young and talented academics enter the field through START, I also hope that we can continue to see impactful research projects and developments in the STEM and Social Science and Humanities fields. I believe that the developments we are seeing now are just a fraction of the beneficial and inspirational change our academics can make to Singapore.

14. Together, we can continue to excite and inspire meaningful research that has a strong linkage to industries and society at large, as well as support our academics to achieve greater heights of thought leadership in their fields of specialisation.


15. To the awardees here today, as many of your senior academics who are among you can attest to, you have a long journey of exploration and discovery ahead of you.

16. I wish you all the best, as you embark on this meaningful and rewarding journey, and look forward to your contributions to Singapore as START scholarship recipients in the coming years.

17. Thank you.

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