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Speech by Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing at the MOU Signing Between SUTD and James Dyson Foundation

Published Date: 11 May 2022 03:00 PM

News Speeches

Lydia Beaton, Global Head of the James Dyson Foundation;

John Churchill, Chief Technology Officer, Dyson;

Professor Chong Tow Chong, President of Singapore University of Technology and Design;

Ladies and gentlemen;

Good afternoon.

1. Today, we witness the MOU signing between SUTD and the James Dyson Foundation. The partnership between SUTD and JDF is but one of the examples of the collaborations between our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and our industry partners. Or as I like to call it, a partnership between frontier industries and our Institutes of Continuous Learning. This collaboration will see the launch of an engineering innovation studio at SUTD at the end of this year.

2. JDF has been a strong partner of MOE, working closely with us to strengthen the STEM education in our schools. Earlier this year, JDF announced an investment of S$3m to support STEM education in Singapore over the next five years. This is expected to benefit over 100,000 students aged 6 to 25 – from primary to tertiary levels, and aims to nurture interest in science and engineering, and bolster our national efforts in STEM education in Singapore.

3. JDF's long-term investment in our students and in Singapore signals their confidence in our education system and our young talents. The trust in our system and our local talents are built over generations of hard work. We will continue to strengthen this trust that the world has in Singapore by continuing to nurture our young talents.

4. SUTD also plays a key role in ensuring the pipeline of STEM talents for Singapore. They offer a unique curriculum that integrates design thinking within practical projects. Their graduates are highly sought after by employers because of their rich skills in interdisciplinary applications. Based on the recent Graduate Employment Survey results, over 91% of SUTD fresh graduates secured full-time permanent employment, and this is a 10% increase compared to last year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

5. Today, we celebrate the partnership between SUTD and JDF, and we encourage more meaningful collaborations between MOE, IHLs and the industry. These efforts are crucial in nurturing future engineering and tech talents to take Singapore forward through our STEM education. This collaboration between industry and academia, especially between frontier industries and academia, is especially crucial for Singapore to maintain our competitive edge. I have always said that countries that can close the cycle between frontier industry knowledge and academia, and produce the next generation of students and engineers at the speed necessary for the market, will be the victors in this global contest for talent and for new ideas, products and services.

6. Last November, I spoke about the three "Big Hairy Audacious Goals", or "BHAGs" for the next lap of Singapore's development: land scarcity, energy sustainability, and Singapore's place in the global value chain. This is where the partnership with JDF is so critical. For us to transcend geography and to defy the course of history, engineering and science will be fundamental to how Singapore continues to be integrated with the world. It has never been easy for small city states without conventional hinterland to defy the course of history to survive and prosper for very long. Singapore has one of the best opportunities in history to do this because we have the ability to transcend our geography by connecting with the rest of the world, and having the world as both our markets and our hinterlands, not just for products and services, but also for talent.

7. To tackle these existential challenges, our young Singaporeans must continue to have a strong sense of mission and a stake in our nation's future. Through engineering and technology, they can be vested members of our Singaporean core to provide new and transformative solutions not just for ourselves, but for the rest of the world.

8. For example, in land-scarce Singapore, we have developed deep-engineering expertise in tunnels, caverns and infrastructural development in order for us to scale up the opportunities that we have in Singapore despite our limited land area. This requires specialised domain knowledge, and such domain knowledge will continue to be in demand. Students who can appreciate the power of engineering and revolutionary solutions will not only create more physical spaces in Singapore for our industries and our livelihoods, but also our recreation. More importantly, such engineering solutions will also allow Singapore to better connect with the rest of the world to transcend the limits of geography. And we can connect with the world not just in the physical dimensions, but also in the non-physical dimensions of data, finance, rules, and regulations, in order for Singapore to overcome the physical constraints of our geography.

9. Another very important part for the next step of Singapore's future will be our ability to transcend our energy challenges. I always said that in the past 50 years, our main challenge was water and our ability to provide sufficient water for industry and for our people. The next level of our challenge in the next 50 years will be our ability to transcend our challenges in the energy sphere to turn our constraints into opportunities. 50 years ago, Singapore was faced with the problem of lack of water supply for our industries and our people. Over the years, we have developed technologies to diversify our water sources. For the next 50 years, our challenge is to produce enough sustainable energy, in order to continue to diversify our water sources and address our food challenges, and open up many more opportunities in our industries, while reducing our carbon footprint. And so in the next 50 years, we will need many more new, innovative engineering solutions to transcend our energy challenges. This will open up many more opportunities for fellow Singaporeans in industries, in work and play, and also transform the way we live.

10. I mentioned that the third big challenge for Singapore in the next 50 years is entrenching ourselves in the global value chain. We cannot just be producing more of what we have done before. Instead, we need products and services that are unique in our own ways to meet the new challenges of the world. We must entrench ourselves in the global supply chain in a way that our niche condition cannot be easily bypassed. In order for us to do that, science, engineering and technology will be fundamental. And that is why the partnership between JDF and SUTD is so important. It is a microcosm of what we want to achieve for the broader Singapore, in order for us to defy the forces of history, connect with the world and have a global hinterland.

11. STEM education will continue to play a critical role in our schools' curriculum, not only to develop the STEM workforce needed for the economy, but also for our science-savvy citizens who can apply their understanding into real-life decision making. In our schools, students can discover and develop their strengths and interests in STEM through STEM Applied Learning Programmes and various co-curriculum activities. Our Secondary schools offer niche programmes in collaboration with partners such as the Science Centre and IMDA to bring STEM applications like robotics and vertical farming into the classroom. We want to strengthen our pipeline for STEM talent further upstream, particularly in engineering.

12. Therefore, I am pleased to announce today that MOE will introduce the Engineering and Tech Programme Scholarship (ETPS) from 2023.

13. The ETPS is targeted at pre-university students who have strong foundations in mathematics and science, with an inclination towards applied, interdisciplinary and hands-on learning. It is a talent programme that aims to encourage these students to pursue undergraduate studies and careers in engineering, and to imbue in them a sense of mission to lead and contribute to Singapore by harnessing the potential of engineering solutions, and if possible, to make an impact on the three "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" that I have mentioned.

14. The scholarship will include signature programmes that allow students to engage in real-life solutioning through engineering and tech, featuring a signature full hands-on STEM workshop conducted by our IHLs, as well as internship opportunities with engineering and technology companies.

15. In January this year, JDF and SUTD jointly piloted a 5-day STEM workshop. The workshop integrated coding, data analysis and prototyping using 3D printing to design a drone that can be used in the delivery of vaccines to remote areas. The workshop was well-received, and students said that it gave them valuable insights into the thinking process of an engineer in solving real-life challenges.

16. Through working with the Economic Development Board (EDB), MOE is curating engineering and tech internship opportunities at companies such as Abbott Laboratories, ST Engineering and GlaxoSmithKline. I look forward to having more such companies come on board, both local and MNCs, to support this effort to enrich our students' learning experiences and to inspire them to take on engineering and tech as a career, and to answer to the BHAG challenges for Singapore's next bound of growth.

17. And I look forward to the ETPS playing an important role in nurturing the world-class engineers of tomorrow.

18. In closing, I would like to thank JDF and SUTD for spearheading this effort. This effort is but a microcosm of what we want to achieve for the broader society in Singapore for the next lap. So we will not stop here, we will continue looking for new opportunities to partner not only JDF, but also other like-minded companies at the frontier of technological change, so that we can shorten the transfer and exchange of knowledge between the frontier companies and our academia, to produce a fresh generation of graduates at speed, that is able to meet the market demands. And more importantly, we will continue to help our adult working population refresh their knowledge and skills at speed as well. Because the way for us to meet the demand for engineering talent will not just be through how well we produce 30,000 to 40,000 graduates per year in Singapore, but how well we are able to upskill half a million Singaporeans every year to keep pace with the demand of the market. Once again, thank you to SUTD and JDF for partnering us in this.