Speeches/Interviews

May 08, 2017

Singapore University of Social Sciences Bill Second Reading Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills)

1. Madam Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”

Transforming the Higher Education Landscape

2. At the Committee of Supply Debate earlier this year, I had spoken about the need to transform Singapore’s higher education landscape.

3. The change and expansion are driven by two key factors. First, as our economy grows in size and sophistication, we need more talent from wider fields of expertise.

4. Second, as our society progresses, aspirations rise. Every parent wants his child to do well and have meaningful careers. Every child has a dream. Many want to go to university, but each dream is different. We must have a system that best fulfils that.

5. The two are interdependent and act in a certain cycle – as the economy deepened and expanded, it enabled more students to attain higher levels of education and secure good jobs. And a stronger pool of talent made us more competitive and fuelled further growth.

6. Because of that, since year 2000, the university cohort participation rate has increased progressively, in tandem with our economic development. From 20% in 2000, to 25% by 2010, to 30% by 2015. It stands at 35% this year, and will be further raised to 40% by 2020.

7. At the same time, the talent emerging from our universities becomes increasingly more diverse. Today, we have five autonomous universities or AUs – NUS, NTU, SMU, SUTD and SIT. NUS and NTU are comprehensive universities.

8. SMU and SUTD were set up in 2000 and 2011 respectively. SMU focused on business and related disciplines. SUTD’s emphasis is on technology and design. SIT was conferred AU status in 2014 to pioneer the applied pathway, for specialised fields in science and technology.

9. Throughout this development, the great majority - around 90% of graduates from AUs continue to find jobs within six months of their graduation.

10. This is not the case in many countries where there is severe graduate unemployment because of an over-supply of graduates. We must guard against this.

11. With the passing of this Bill, we will set up a sixth AU, the Singapore University of Social Sciences, or SUSS. SUSS will be a unique AU, clearly differentiated from the existing AUs, adding further diversity and choice to our university landscape.

SUSS – Cementing a New Pathway

12. SUSS is built on the foundation of an earlier partnership between the Ministry of Education and the SIM, the Singapore Institute of Management, a private society.

13. In 1992, MOE turned to SIM to help develop programmes that would offer its non-graduate teachers an opportunity to deepen their knowledge in their teaching subjects. The Open University Degree Programmes grew out of this MOE-SIM collaboration, and SIM eventually established the SIM University in 2005 to deliver these part-time degree courses.

14. In 2012, the Government selected SIM University to develop full-time programmes under the applied pathway as well, in addition to its mainstay of part-time degree programmes. In 2013, it was selected to host the third law school in Singapore.

15. SIM University did very well. It offered full-time degree programmes in human resource management, social work and other areas, that were distinguished by its modular and flexible structure and novel opportunities for learning by doing. From an intake of 200 in 2014, the university now takes in about 580 students and its numbers are still growing.

16. The Government has therefore decided to restructure SIM University into an AU, and renamed it SUSS. As an AU, SUSS will become a permanent fixture in our higher education landscape, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other five AUs.

17. Students will continue to enjoy substantial government subsidies for the cost of their education in SUSS. They will have access to government-supported financial assistance schemes for those who require more help with the cost of their studies.

18. The pathway that SUSS provides will be clearly differentiated from the other AUs. It is unique in three ways:

19. First, SUSS will be a champion of lifelong learning. Since its inception in 2005, the University has been providing quality learning opportunities to adult learners. To date, it has produced over 27,000 graduates, many of whom are working adults who had to juggle their studies with other work and family commitments.

20. For this reason, the University has continually sought to improve the structure and delivery of its programmes, including leveraging ICT, in order to better support working students. It will continue to refine its teaching model as learner, industry and societal needs evolve.

21. SUSS will also expand its programme offerings for adult learners. It will work with the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency (or SSG) and sector agencies to develop industry-relevant courses and create new content that will support the upgrading of our industries.

22. Second, SUSS will deliver programmes that have a strong social focus. SUSS will champion disciplines that positively impact society and its development. Part of this is to build a strong niche in the social sciences, such as social work, early childhood education, and human resource management.

23. In addition, it will infuse the mission of social development into other disciplines. This is increasingly important, as we need to balance economic growth with social development; globalisation with a strong sense of community and nationhood.

24. Hence, in SUSS’ full-time programmes, there is a compulsory service learning component which requires students to initiate, conceptualise, and execute a social project and champion a cause.

25. This is also why as host of Singapore’s third law school, SUSS focuses on criminal and family law.

26. Third, SUSS will continue to develop the applied degree pathway. In this regard, SUSS will complement SIT, each with its own domain focus.

27. There will be strong inter-lacing of theoretical knowledge with real-life application, and the two universities will strengthen the nexus between institution and industry.

Acknowledging SIM’s Contributions

28. As SUSS prepares to take its next steps forward, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge SIM for its role in establishing and supporting the development of the University over the past 12 years.

29. In recognition of SIM’s contributions to the setting up and development of SUSS, an endowment fund will be set up in SUSS, named the SIM Endowment Fund. The Fund will be used to build SUSS’ capability, support the activities of the university, and ensure that individuals continue to have access to lifelong learning opportunities through scholarships, sponsorships, and study awards. It will be a fitting legacy to the good work of SIM.

Purpose of the SUSS Bill

30. SUSS, like our other AUs, will be governed by an Act of Parliament. This is to safeguard public interests, and the use of public funds.

31. The SUSS Bill thus aims to serve three key functions. First, it signals the Government’s support for SUSS, and assures the public of SUSS’ credibility and standing.

32. Second, it empowers the Government to better guide the strategic development of SUSS towards meeting national objectives in education, as well as economic and social development.

33. Third, it permits the Government to provide resources to SUSS, and monitor the performance and finances of the institution in order to ensure accountability for the use of public funds.

34. Let me now highlight the key clauses in this Bill:

  1. Clause 3 sets out the function of SUSS, which includes conferring and awarding degrees, diplomas, and certificates;

  2. Clauses 5, 6 and 8 allow the Government to guide the strategic development of SUSS and to appoint, remove and replace members of the SUSS Board of Trustees; and ensure moneys provided by Parliament to SUSS may only be applied or expended by SUSS based on its public mission spelled out by the Act;

  3. Clauses 4 and 9 allow the Government to monitor the performance and finances of SUSS through an accountability framework, including scrutiny of the accounts and financial statements of SUSS; and

  4. Clause 12 provides for consequential amendments, to the Private Education Act, Chapter 247A, to provide that the Act will not apply to SUSS. It also amends the Legal Profession Act and Singapore Academy of Law Act, to replace the words “SIM University” with the “Singapore University of Social Sciences”, and lastly, the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency Act to include SUSS in the list of universities.

Conclusion

35. Sir, this Bill embodies the Government’s vision for SUSS to play an important role in providing opportunities for all Singaporeans, to upgrade their skills and pursue lifelong learning.

36. In this regard, I would like to end my speech today with some comments on the meaning of a university education. The issue of university cohort participation rate has received some attention in the past few days arising from a panel discussion I participated in at the 47th St. Gallen Symposium. I would like to make three points:

37. First, degrees, like most things in life, can become obsolete. We live in a world where information and knowledge can be googled and available online. Skills are what carry a premium now, and skills need to be honed throughout our lifetimes.

38. So let’s not be overly fixated with how many percentage of each young student cohort move on to attend universities, because all of us - 100% - need to keep learning and deepening our skills throughout our lives.

39. Second, degrees don’t earn us a living, and don’t make our dreams come true. We do – our ability to keep pace with changing needs of the economy is what helps us earn our keep. It is the dedicated pursuit of a discipline that makes dreams come true.

40. We must however recognise that because our dreams and aspirations are diverse, the needs of economy are diverse, the paths for upgrading must also be diverse and multitudinous. They should include academic upgrades, yes, but also applied qualifications, apprenticeships, industry certifications, modular and frequent skills acquisitions, overseas exposures, or simply gaining work experience and making for yourself a name in the industry or in your respective fields.

41. It would truly be “unimaginative” to confine ourselves to university academic education as the only way to develop to our full potential.

42. Last, degrees don’t define us – individually, or as a society. I believe most of us agree that we do not want a society that defines success as simply having a degree. Our society needs to evolve, such that all occupations, crafts and trades – whether the skills are acquired through a degree education or not – are respected and recognised.

43. We have come so far in uniting all segments of the society for a common purpose. Let us all continue to do our part to underscore and spread the message of inclusiveness, unity and celebrating and embracing all manners of achievements and successes.

44. Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.