Speeches/Interviews

November 13, 2018

Keynote Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Education at the Opening Plenary of the ASEAN Engineering Deans Summit at CAFEO 36, Resorts World Sentosa

Er Edwin Khew, Immediate Past President, the Institution of Engineers, Singapore

Prof Lock Kai Sang and Prof Pey Kin Leong, the Co-organising Chairman of the ASEAN Engineering Deans Summit

Presidents and Leaders of universities from Singapore and the region

Distinguished Guests

1. Thank you for inviting me to this event. I am delighted to join all of you this morning. First of all, let us all extend our congratulations to those who have been conferred as ASEAN engineers. We would like to recognise their achievements as recipients of the ASEAN Outstanding Engineering Achievement Awards.

2. Engineering has often played an important role in history, whether in the industrial revolution or the coming of the information and digital age. The study of engineering is valuable – your expertise in how things work; a mind for scientific inquiry and a systems way of thinking; the way you integrate multiple forms of knowledge with other disciplines, to help build a better life for individuals, nations, and transform the world around us. Indeed, this was also echoed by PM Lee many years ago where Singapore’s transformation into a modern state was largely due to our engineers – recycling of water to boost our water supply; land reclamation to increase our physical land size; just to name two accomplishments achieved by our engineers, which made a huge difference to our existence as a nation-state and our progress.

Changing World and Multi-Disciplinary Approach for Engineering Education

3. The world is changing at an ever accelerating rate. The talk of today is all about disruption, transformation, and change. There are new trends and challenges to be grappled with – the growing world population, and an ageing and urban one; climate change; new technologies; and the Internet of Things, just to name a few. All these affect the way we work, what we build, and how we interact with one another. It is exciting, but fast-paced and ever-changing. And the engineers are at the forefront of this. Because so much of the change is driven by technology and technological advancement, you are the vanguard of change.

Unprecedented Opportunities for Engineering

4. At this time, there are unprecedented opportunities for engineering and engineers. Asia is currently the main engine of the world economy, accounting for more than 60% of global growth. Asia’s population is expanding, its cities are growing and its needs are increasing. In the midst of all this, there is ASEAN. ASEAN has a rapidly growing middle-class and its urban population is expected to increase by another 90 million by 2030. All this translates into an urgent need for infrastructure development. Areas of need include power, transportation, water & sanitation, telecommunications, urban solutions, and social infrastructure e.g. schools, hospitals and community housing.

5. Infrastructure development is therefore a key national priority for Asian and ASEAN governments, at both federal and state/provincial levels. This is the time for engineers, because engineers are at the forefront of infrastructure. Recognising this, Singapore has recently launched Infrastructure Asia, a government agency, set up by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). It is a one stop platform to connect infrastructure demand and supply. We realised that there is so much going on, but people need to link up with one another, find opportunities, and make connections. That is the thinking behind Infrastructure Asia. It is intended to:

  • link up infrastructure stakeholders;
  • mprove project visibility;
  • facilitate infrastructure financing;
  • harness Singapore and international expertise to prepare, develop, and implement infrastructure projects;
  • exchange information and share best practices; and
  • build capability.

6. Working with our public and private sector partners, Infrastructure Asia aims to help regional stakeholders better address their unique project requirements in three ways:

  • Curate and connect Singapore-based companies with relevant expertise and solutions to meet a project’s needs. Infrastructure Asia is able to source for experts and solutions across the value chain i.e. developers, engineering, procurement and construction firms, professional services, financiers and technology providers;
  • Provide advice on project scoping and conceptual structuring to improve project bankability and chances of success; and
  • Bring in parties with the requisite expertise to help regional stakeholders bridge knowledge gaps and uplift capabilities in project development, financing, and implementation.

7. Infrastructure Asia is keen to work with both public and private parties to address Asia’s infrastructure needs and unlock the region’s infrastructure potential. There is opportunity out there, and there is a platform that can connect demand and supply. I hope that members of the audience here will take the opportunity to look up Infrastructure Asia to see how it can benefit you.

Singapore Infrastructure Dispute Protocol (SIDP)

8. The next thing I want to touch on is also something we have introduced recently – the Singapore Infrastructure Dispute Protocol (SIDP). What is the SIDP? Anybody who has ever been involved in an infrastructure or construction dispute will know that it takes a lot of time and money. There are a lot of headaches involved and it is usually technically complex. You may wish that there was something that will help manage and shortcut this process, so that if you really have to litigate or arbitrate, you can just concentrate on the actual issues and clear off all the extraneous things that do not have to be settled in court.

As we looked at the issue of infrastructure dispute, we felt that there was a need to have a mechanism or process that is complementary to litigation and arbitration which tries to manage the dispute upfront, to either hit off the dispute before it gets full-blown, or help the parties narrow down and crystallise the issues if it does get full-blown. In essence, the SIDP is a comprehensive dispute management mechanism to help parties proactively manage differences upfront in order to:

  • prevent them from escalating into full-blown disputes; and
  • where disputes have already arisen, to minimise time and cost overruns.

9. Under the SIDP, parties will at the outset (before any dispute arises) appoint a Dispute Board comprising up to three neutral professionals. That, in my view, should include an engineer, as many of the disputes are technical in nature. The Dispute Board will follow the project from start to finish and proactively help to manage issues as they arise, through a range of customised dispute avoidance and resolution processes. This could take the form of advisory opinions, or meeting the parties to mediate between them. Basically, it is to help uncover the obstacle to the project moving forward. The Protocol can be accessed at the Singapore Ministry of Law website.

10. The essential idea is that parties in infrastructure disputes would benefit from having neutral third parties to advise on the conflict, identify issues, and suggest practical solutions even before the matter gets into court or arbitration. That way, it may possible to avoid litigation or arbitration altogether or if unavoidable, at least issues would be properly crystallized, relevant bases covered, and the project can keep moving and not be stalled, pending final adjudication.

11. The SIDP Disputes Boards are established under an institutional framework. Parties can access full professional and administrative support (including meeting, escrow and other administrative services) through either (a) the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) for international disputes or (b) the Singapore Mediation Centre for local disputes (SMC).

12. Given the complexity of infrastructure projects, Dispute Board members must necessarily be professionals with relevant expertise, whom the parties can repose a high degree of trust and confidence in, both in terms of domain knowledge as well as impartiality and objectivity.

Board members include not only legal experts, but also experts in engineering, architecture, and quantity surveying. This too presents an opportunity for engineers. We would like to encourage engineers to get in touch with the Ministry of Law if you think that you might like to be a member of the dispute board. As and when disputes arise, if they need Dispute Board members, it would be very helpful to have engineers from ASEAN - people whom we know and can call upon, who have different areas of expertise.

13. The SIDP is intended for use in projects of S$500 million and above, in order for the appointment of the Dispute Board to be cost-effective. The whole idea is to enable parties to have access to the kind of expertise that will unblock the dispute quickly and would be particularly useful for mega infrastructure projects.

ASEAN Collaboration

14. Let me now turn to another topic, which is that of collaboration, in particular, ASEAN collaboration. This is the age of ASEAN. We see economic activity shifting gears – ASEAN is the place with the fastest growing middle class and opportunities for growth. The question is how the professionals in ASEAN can come together to collaborate, because there is much to be learnt and shared in many different areas.

  • First, innovation. Engineering has always been powered by new and different things. Engineering is the space where innovation is to take place. But innovation also needs to be shared. Innovation is something you learn from one another. As engineers drive and power innovation in ASEAN, that is a good thing.
  • Use of technology – as I was walking through the exhibition earlier, we saw quite a bit on predictive technology for maintenance. You can see how the whole world is being transformed by technology. That is another area for collaboration for ASEAN engineers.
  • Sharing of best practices – wisdom and knowledge does not only reside in only one place or one group. The more we get together, the more we are able to learn from one another. Different countries have different geographies, different profiles, different needs, which others do not have. Sharing helps us to be better informed, to learn, and to grow.
  • Capability building, which is something of great interest to Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), as they are the first vanguard of capability-building.

15. Let me share a little on Singapore’s approach towards Engineering Education in response to the evolving landscape.

16. Our IHLs have been partnering businesses and organisations in delivering engineering education – the idea is that engineering should not be taught in abstract or purely in theory but should be very much tied closely with industry. Singapore Polytechnic has tied up with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) to equip workers with skills to operate smart technologies and help companies move towards Industry 4.0, where integrated computing, networking and physical processes are revolutionising manufacturing. An estimated 1,000 workers in the Electronics and Precision and Machinery Engineering sector would benefit from this collaboration. A team of Engineering students from Nanyang Polytechnic has also developed a Kawada robot to take customers’ food orders. This was highlighted at the recent Food Services Transformation Conference.

17. Similarly, ST Engineering has collaborated with our IHLs to train its engineers. This includes a technical course in robotics and digitalisation at SP, and a customised data analytics programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Our IHLs are partnering with the industry and providing opportunities for our students to learn from cross-disciplinary areas. This is critical as they will eventually move on to tackle real-world problems and create innovative new solutions.

Efforts by our Institutes of Higher Learning

18. In Singapore, our IHLs are also paving the way and transforming their approach towards engineering education. The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) ventured out of the ‘traditional engineering moulds’ to build curricula that combines cross-disciplinary learning, cross-border learning experiences and human-centred engineering. What does all this mean? An undergraduate can now look forward to being trained based on the four key pillars of the society which SUTD has identified – products, processes, systems, and services. Students can also study Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, which will give them a different perspective. They can integrate their learnings to help develop solutions that are able to address challenges around them. A testament to SUTD’s efforts is that they were identified as the top ‘emerging leader’ in engineering education in a recent MIT report.

19. Real world opportunities are also important when it comes to education, and our students want that. Muhammad Sharil Reiza Ismail was a graduate from the pioneer cohort of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and studied Land Infrastructure Engineering. He shared that the key factor which attracted him to study at SIT was the Integrated Work-Study Programme. This is a programme that we have introduced to allow them to work and study at the same time. The Programme allowed him to gain work experience with the Land Transport Authority for a year, and glean insights into the sector. Internships are critical for our students to understand and appreciate the complexities in our work environment. As a result of this compulsory work-study programme, four in five SIT students were offered a job before graduation. Internships give employers the chance to know students, and the students can assess the employer. If the fit is right, it makes it much easier to employ them.

20. The Engineering curriculum in our IHLs continually change to ensure that the graduates remain relevant, innovative, and become leaders in their profession. NUS, which was identified as one of MTI’s top 10 in producing engineering education leaders, has devised the Global Engineering Programme. Students are developed through an accelerated pathway and exposed to a strong global learning component. They are eventually nurtured to become engineer-leaders in their own areas. The Nanyang Technology University (NTU)’s Renaissance Engineering Programme is also another example which has bridged engineering, business, and the liberal arts in their curriculum to produce cross-disciplinary teachings.

21. The Institution of Engineers, Singapore Academy (IES) has also launched the Young Engineers Leadership (YEL) Programme and the Advanced Engineers Leadership (AEL) Programme to equip young and senior engineers with technology management and leadership skills. Engineers are taught skills to address emerging challenges and disruptions, and embrace innovations. Thus far, there are more than 530 YEL graduates and 50 AEL graduates.

22. We also recognise that once engineers go into the workplace, learning has to continue. We have a movement called SkillsFuture, which is really about lifelong learning. Coupled with SkillsFuture, we have what we call Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). A while ago, we had a committee chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat that looked at how we can prepare as a nation going forward. One of the recommendations was that industry by industry, sector by sector, we need to transform. And the thinking behind this is that it is not one-size-fits-all. Different industries and sectors have different needs, and they have to map out their own transformation. We have been working closely with IES on the ITMs for engineers, so that it gives a ladder of progress, where you may start at a certain level, but can always continue to progress through continuous learning, and eventually reach the level of a consultant engineer or someone in an advisory capacity. There are many different pathways.

23. If you look at what we are doing in the education space for engineering, it is firstly embracing technology and innovation; at the same time, infusing real-life work experience at an early stage, connecting students with employers, and once they get into the working world, to continue these pathways of learning and allow them to progress. This has been our journey, it is not completed yet and we are in the midst of working it through. But we would like to collaborate with ASEAN, for people-to-people connections, between professionals, engineers who are already in the working world, as well as students. These linkages make a difference. As ASEAN grows and projects come up and become increasingly cross-border, the linkages – knowing who to call and who to collaborate with – are all going to make a difference. If we do that well and if we do that together, ASEAN will truly be the place of the future, powered by engineers, who are the vanguard of change. With that, let me wish you a very fruitful conference. I am sure that there is much to be shared, exchanged and gained. I wish you a very good conference ahead.

24. Thank you.