NTU Convocation 2006

Published on : 24-Jul-2006


Mr Chancellor, President S R Nathan of the Republic of Singapore and Mrs Nathan

First Lady, Republic of Indonesia, Mdm HJ. Ani Bambang Yudhoyono

Minister for Education and Second Minister for Finance, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Minister for Defence, RADM Teo Chee Hean

Ministers of State for Education, Mr Gan Kim Yong and RADM Lui Tuck Yew


Chairman and Members, NTU Board of Trustees

Distinguished guests

Graduates and family members

Alumni and friends of the University

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning and welcome to the 2006 Convocation of the Nanyang Technological University!

On behalf of the entire university community, let me extend a very warm welcome to the First Lady of Indonesia, Mdm HJ. Ani Bambang Yudhoyono. I am sure she is as proud as we are of her son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, graduating with a Masters of Science in Strategic Studies this morning.

On the 1st of April, 2006, NTU became a corporate entity. The event passed largely unnoticed among the students, faculty and staff, a seamless transition that we had planned for. But the event is truly a milestone in the history of NTU.

Under the University Autonomy Governance Framework, NTU is setting out on the path to excellence of some of the best private universities in the United States, universities like Harvard and MIT, Stanford and Caltech.

Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong came to Yunnan Garden to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Nanyang Technological University. He traced our founding to Nanyang University, a private, Chinese language university built by entrepreneurs to educate the young people of South East Asia, and the Nanyang Technological Institute set up to train engineers for the Singapore economy. He recognized our achievements and issued a challenge for our future. He said, and I quote:

"NTU should carve its own niche and differentiate itself", "You must develop a distinctive and sustainable edge in your educational and research programmes. You must identify the core strengths that will give you this special edge, the strengths that will constitute your brand name. Will you model yourself on Harvard or MIT? You can aspire to be either like Harvard or MIT, but you cannot aspire to be both."

We in NTU have taken the Prime Minister's challenge to heart.

The Prime Minister recalled the Nantah spirit in his speech and we'd continue to develop that spirit in all that we do. The NTU spirit was there for all to see at the annual inter-varsity dragon boat race earlier this month, witnessed by none other than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long himself. Both our women's and men's teams won the Prime Minister's Challenge Trophies, cheered on by a boisterous crowd of supporters.

Our Nanyang Technopreneurship Centre, set up with the support of EDB, is another example of the Nantah spirit. More than half their graduates go on to start companies or work in start-ups. Others explore new business opportunities. Through our undergraduate minor program, we are spreading the Nantah spirit among all our students. Our programs are so successful even US universities are studying our model and pedagogy as they strive to be the engines of economic success of their own regions.

A strong spirit must be channeled with an appropriate focus.

The university has tapped the expertise of an External Review Panel for feedback in August and September, 2005.

The Council of NTU has been transformed into the Board of Trustees on 1st April 2006. Distinguished new members have been appointed including Ms Jennie Chua, Chairman, Raffles Holdings; Mr Kwek Leng Joo, Managing Director, City Developments; Mr Tan Lip Bu, Chairman, Walden International, Mr Bob Herbold, former COO, Microsoft Corporation; and Mrs Lee Suet Fern, Managing Partner, Stamford Law Corporation.

Professor Haresh Shah, Emeritus Professor of Stanford University has spent half his time with us as Senior Academic Advisor from January 2006 despite being located half the world away. He was also appointed a Member of the Board of Trustees, playing a major role in academic governance and positioning.

The Council and the Board of Trustees held meetings in January, April and July 2006 on the focus, strategy, mission, vision and future directions of the university. Many faculty members were involved in focus groups and planning sessions.

The examples of universities all around the world were examined.

It is time to answer Prime Minister Lee's call for NTU to differentiate and distinguish ourselves by outlining the collective vision of the Board and the members of the university community.

First of all, we want to distinguish ourselves and take our place among the great universities of the world. This includes all the examples cited by PM Lee: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Cambridge and Imperial College.

As a great university, we provide students with a broad-based education and equip them to lead. Our range of programmes and offerings now range from Confucius to Suntze, from Shakespeare to Einstein, from James Watt to Walt Disney. Residential education develops student leadership.

What should be our focus and identity as a great university?

Our heritage and core is in science and technology. Of all the first degree graduates at this year's Convocation, 72% are in science and technology. Our College of Engineering is 4th in the world in engineering publications, the only Singapore University in the top ten. We have the strongest science and technology capabilities in Singapore, perhaps even in the Asia Pacific.

On 1st January 2006, the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council and the National Research Foundation were set up in the Prime Minister's Office. At the recent meeting of the RIEC, decisions to invest $2.4B over the next five years was announced in biomedical sciences, environmental and water technologies, and interactive digital media, including a heavy dose of international partnerships.

NTU has strengths in all three areas. The onus is on us, the biggest provider of high level science and technology human resources in Singapore, to play our national role in this drive.

Obviously, science and technology must play the central role in our focus and positioning, strategic plans and resource allocation.

But this does not mean we can afford to neglect other areas of strength. Even renowned institutions like MIT and Caltech do not neglect other areas such as economics and business. NTU has unique strengths in schools other than science and engineering.  We must continue to develop those strengths to benefit our science and engineering people, while at the same time tapping science and engineering to distinguish all our schools.

Take our Nanyang Business School which boasts the original accounting program in Singapore. Well established with an international reputation, the School has produced some of the best CFOs and accountants in the industry today. The business undergraduate program has been a popular option for undergraduates. The MBA program ranks in the top 100 MBA worldwide.

The Nanyang Business School has a crucial role to play in our development. As exemplified by the popular double degree program in business and computing, it adds tremendous value to our science and technology graduates as they compete in the 21st century, with China and India rapidly rising powers.

Similarly, science and technology can benefit our business school by ensuring that our business and accounting graduates are well versed with modern high technology. Quantitative methods and modeling can help the business school establish a unique identity and strength.

At our College of Engineering, the university is embarking on a bottom-up review of our engineering curriculum. What we are aiming to produce is no less than the ideal of the 21st century engineer.

China and India, between them, produce over a million engineers a year. With modern technology, it becomes feasible for these two giants to participate in the global market for engineers. Competing on the basic level becomes a losing game, with wages depressed due to the inexhaustible supply in these two countries.

Singapore engineers need that something extra if we are to compete in the league of the advanced countries.

We can tap the cultural strengths of Singapore at the interface between east and west. Such multi-cultural diversity persuaded LucasFilm to set up here. A broad education with strong multi-cultural roots becomes important for engineers. Our School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the School of Communication and Information and the School of Art, Design and Media will play important roles to ensure this.

We can also compete in advanced management. Singapore has had a strong multi-national corporation presence for decades. We absorb management practices of the United States, Japan, and a diverse range of European countries. The Business School can help our engineers fit well into multi-national corporations with a broad world view, a sound engineering base and good preparation for business. Such a competitive advantage will be long lived and sustainable.

Our comprehensive offerings in other schools allow us to transform our engineering curriculum to ensure our engineering graduates continue to have an edge. They also make us more diverse and vibrant.

Prime Minister Lee asked if we aspire to be Harvard or MIT.

You will not be surprised that the answer is MIT. Among the three public universities in Singapore, we are the only science and technology university approximating MIT, whose excellence we want to emulate.

But we will not slavishly follow any institution, because each great university is different. Our public university mission shall stay close to our hearts. We are responsible to the people of Singapore, and provide the mainstay of our high technology workforce of the 21st century.

We emphasize a broad based education and a multi-cultural character consonant with the cultural mosaic of Singapore and the rise of Asia.

At the post-graduate level, we shall play an integral part in the national research agenda. We shall undertake a major expansion of graduate education, drawing upon international partners like MIT, Stanford, and Caltech. We shall compete vigorously for research funding, emphasizing world class research and creative approaches to build up our strengths.

At the undergraduate level, we launched at the International Physics Olympiad two weeks ago our signature undergraduate programme, the CN Yang Scholars Program. Designed for exceptionally talented students with a deep passion for science and technology, the program is modeled on the core curriculum of Caltech and MIT. We are confident that our CN Yang Scholars will lead the way in research and new discoveries tapping the resources of the Institute of Advanced Studies, and its distinguished international advisors including 11 Nobel laureates.

All our schools and institutes have crucial roles in this vision, and all will be developed for international excellence.

This morning, we celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2006 comprising 4,200 Bachelor degree and 2,300 higher degree graduates. They have imbibed the spirit of giving back where they have benefited, or, in Chinese, 饮水思源.

Last year, the Class of 2005 collected a class gift for the university endowment. This year, the Class of 2006 has continued with this tradition. Among other things, this fund will go towards scholarships and financial aid for those who come after you so that they may, in turn, benefit from the unique NTU educational experience.

As we aspire to greatness like MIT, we need to develop our unique identity as NTU. Singapore has thrived and prospered because we are unafraid to blaze our own paths. The founding team led by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew did not flinch in the face of challenges. They took a path no one had taken and brought us forty years of prosperity.

Today, Singapore is moving forward under a new Prime Minister. The economy is moving towards advanced country status. NTU will similarly blaze its new path in consonance with the nation's progress. Science and Technology will be a key strength for us as we go forward.

One day, when science and technology is spoken in the world, our name will be up there as a great university, with the likes of MIT, Caltech and Imperial College.

We shall be educating well rounded graduates who will be leaders in their fields, be it engineering, science, business, politics, or economics.

They shall be possessed of a strong never-say-die spirit, creative and entrepreneurial, drawing upon the university's strengths as they develop their careers in the 21st century.

And their reach shall be worldwide, in every continent, every country, every region, and every city.

I look forward to working with the entire NTU community: alumni, students, faculty, administration, benefactors and supporters in this quest.

Thank you.

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