Speeches/Interviews

May 08, 2018

Speech by Senior Minister of State for Education, Mr Chee Hong Tat, at the Institutional Session of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business & Accountancy Graduation Ceremony at Ngee Ann Convention Centre

Chairman of Ngee Ann Polytechnic Council, Mr Tang Kin Fei

Principal of Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Mr Clarence Ti

Parents and graduands

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Good morning.

1. It is my pleasure to join you on this happy occasion. Let me start by extending my heartiest congratulations to the 300 graduands from the School of Business and Accountancy, who will be receiving your diplomas this morning. You have worked hard to reach this milestone, and your family and friends must be very proud of what you have accomplished. While you celebrate this achievement, please remember to show your appreciation to the people who have journeyed with you and helped to make this day possible – your family, lecturers, mentors and friends as well as our industry and community partners.

2. Our education institutions have opened many doors to new learning opportunities for their students. This includes Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), where the Principal, staff and faculty have put in a lot of effort over the years to provide students with an education that goes beyond domain skills and knowledge.

3. One of the x-factors for NP is entrepreneurship, which will play an increasingly important role in our future economy. I am sure many of you have heard of Carousell, and may have bought and sold goods on its Customer-to-Customer platform. Two of the founders, Quek Siu Rui and Marcus Tan, had attended this same graduation ceremony in 2007 – when they graduated from NP’s School of Business and Accountancy. Another young entrepreneur is Jasper Yap, who was from the pioneer batch of NP’s Polytechnic Foundation Programme. Jasper graduated last year and is now the co-founder of Eezee.sg, a Business-to-Business procurement company with over 150 suppliers on its platform. His co-founders, Logan Tan and Terrence Goh are NP alumni too. I wish them well, and hope their business continues to grow in Singapore and the region.

4. NP has developed programmes to build attributes like resilience, innovativeness and self-motivation in its students. One example is the Global Entrepreneurial Internship Programme, which gives students opportunities to intern at start-ups in places like Silicon Valley, London, Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. I am sure the list will continue to grow. Since its inception in 2016, the programme has benefited more than 140 NP students.

Multiple pathways to further education and success

5. Another important quality is the passion for learning. Like many Asian societies, Singapore places a high value on education and our people have a strong desire to continue learning and upgrading ourselves. This is important in a fast-changing environment, where we need to focus on lifelong learning and equip Singaporean workers with new skills and knowledge to cope with technological changes and rising competition from other cities.

6. We have opened up multiple pathways for education and skills upgrading in Singapore, to cater to a wide range of interests and aptitudes, and to meet the needs of a diverse economy. There are many roads to a successful career, including new pathways which are not yet in existence but are discovered subsequently through innovation and entrepreneurship. I am happy to know that amongst our graduands today, we have students who have taken different pathways to reach this milestone in their education journey. Emmett Goh is one example. He excelled in his studies at NP after completing his course at ITE, and will be conferred the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal at this ceremony. Congratulations Emmett, please keep up the good work!

7. Some of our students may decide to join the workforce after graduation. The advantage is that you will have a head-start in earning a salary and gaining useful work experience. And you retain the option of pursuing further studies later via full-time or part-time courses. There is no need to rush into making a decision immediately after graduation. For our students who are joining the workforce, I hope you will continue to hone your skills beyond what you have learnt in your diploma course, through on-the-job training and training programmes subsidised by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). Choose the career you feel passionate about, and develop deep expertise and mastery in what you do. This is an effective way to translate knowledge into job performance, which will then have a positive impact on your pay and career progression in the future.

8. For our students who prefer a more structured arrangement, you can consider joining one of the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes (ELPs). This was what one of your seniors Low Zong Quan did. After finishing his diploma at NP, Zong Quan signed up for the ELP and completed his Advanced Diploma in Accounting earlier this year. As part of the program, he was given a competitive salary package by his employer Deloitte, a Big Four accounting firm, and also opportunities to deepen his professional skills through a structured combination of lessons and on-the-job training. With his Advanced Diploma in Accountancy, Zong Quan is now pursuing a Singapore Chartered Accountant Qualification.

9. For those who choose to further your studies, whether immediately upon graduation or after a few years of work, there are many opportunities for you to do so. Over the past few years, MOE has increased the number of university places, and established new universities and learning programmes. Our Autonomous Universities (AUs) have also broadened their admissions to take in more students based on talent and interest, and not just grades. The Discretionary Admissions Scheme gives our AUs the flexibility to consider applicants based on a wider range of qualities including academic achievements, demonstrated interest and aptitudes, and relevant work experience.

10. Debbie Ng graduated from NP in 2014 with a Diploma in Mass Communication. She was unsuccessful in her first application to Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Debbie took a year off to work in the design industry, where she developed her skills in web graphics design and social media content creation. With her job experience and design portfolio, she was successful when she applied to NTU in the following year. She is now a third-year undergraduate at NTU, doing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication.

11. Besides the AUs, some of our students will further their studies at Private Education Institutions (PEIs). A significant proportion of PEI students are working adults holding executive and managerial positions. They have worked hard and progressed up the career ladder, and I applaud their desire to upgrade their skills and further their studies. The PEIs are important stakeholders in our higher education landscape, providing additional options for students, including working adults, to upgrade themselves through full-time and part-time courses. PEIs can also play a useful role in partnering the industry to provide continual education and training under the SkillsFuture initiative.

12. If you intend to pursue a degree course through a PEI, you should pay careful attention to the quality of the institution and the relevance of the course to employers, as these will have an impact on your employment outcome. Taking up further studies is a big decision which requires a large commitment of your time and money, so it is important to study the available information before you decide.

13. This is why we have extended the Graduate Employment Survey (GES) to PEIs and published the results. We want the GES information to be available to students and parents, to help you in your decision-making when you are choosing which pathway to take. It is also why we have put in place education and career guidance (ECG) in all our polytechnics to help you understand your interests and strengths, and what are the different options available after you complete your polytechnic education.

All Stakeholders have a role to play

14. Ladies and gentlemen, the efforts to expand progression pathways in Singapore and emphasise lifelong learning and skills upgrading can only be effective if they are supported by all stakeholders, including our employers, training providers, students and parents.

15. Employers play a crucial part as they make the decisions on who to hire, who to promote and what skills they require in their sectors. We need our employers to be strong supporters of SkillsFuture and lifelong learning, to look beyond academic qualifications and place emphasis on skills and job performance. Not just because it is the right thing to do for their workers, but also because it makes good commercial sense for them to do so. Within the Government, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Trade & Industry will continue to work together and coordinate our policies to align the incentives and interests of our employers with what the Government and Labour Movement want to achieve. This will allow us to work closely together, through our tripartite partnership, to move in the same direction and towards the same set of goals.

16. Next, education institutions and training providers have a responsibility to ensure that their programmes are able to meet industry needs. Otherwise, they are doing a disservice to their students and to society. Education institutions and training providers must have a good understanding of what skills employers are looking for. They should also ensure the quality and relevance of their courses. These will be reflected in the employment outcomes of their graduates. Starting from last year, GES results are considered in assessing PEIs for the EduTrust certification, which is a requirement if they want to offer degree programmes in Singapore. We hope this will spur all PEIs to focus on the employment outcomes of their graduates.

17. Last but not least, all of us as students and parents, need to embrace lifelong learning. Graduation is not the end of our learning, but a milestone in our education journey. There are many opportunities available under initiatives such as SkillsFuture, the National Reading Movement and the Silver Academy for Singaporeans of all ages to learn new skills and upgrade our knowledge. I remember Mr Lee Kuan Yew was an active lifelong learner – he believed in the importance of “活到老,学到老”. You live till you are old, and you learn till you are old. You never stop learning. He learnt how to use the computer and email in his 70s. When I was working for Mr Lee as his Principal Private Secretary, he was in his mid-80s. And he was keen to try different technologies and apps on the iPad to help him learn Chinese and practise his Mandarin.

Friendships and Bonds for Life

18. Dear students, as you graduate today and reflect back on your time in NP, I am sure it will bring back many fond memories and also some challenges which you had to go through and overcome. It is through these ups and downs that strong bonds are forged, with friends who are there to celebrate your successes, and to support you through difficult times and help pull you back up when you are down. Even as you go your separate ways and pursue different education and career pathways, do treasure these relationships. Many of the friends you have found here will be your friends for life.

19. Cherish your links with your alma mater too. In Chinese, we refer to our school as our mother (母校), which shows the special relationship between an education institution and its students; and also the special bonds between alumni from the same school, like members of the same family. Do come back often to visit your teachers and lecturers. And I am sure some of you would return to NP as adult learners taking SkillsFuture courses, or as collaborating industry partners, as employers offering internships and job opportunities to your juniors, and perhaps as a future Minister for Education. I wish all our graduands good health, happiness and success in your future endeavours.

20. Thank you.