Opening Remarks by
Professor Bertil Andersson
President, Nanyang Technological University
NTU MAJULAH LECTURE 2017
Wednesday, 20 September 2017, 6:00pm
Distinguished Inaugural Speaker of the Majulah Lecture,
Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies,
Members of the NTU Board of Trustees
Excellencies and distinguished guests,
Colleagues, alumni, students and friends of the University,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening and a warm welcome to the inaugural Nanyang Technological University Majulah Lecture 2017. This is a historic day and it is wonderful to see so many of you here tonight at NTU. I guess I know I should say out loud – Majulah Singapore!
Let me begin with a small anecdote. A couple of years back at a university dinner with the then-Minister of Education, Heng Swee Keat, I said to him, “Minister, I have now been in Singapore for over 8 years; a long time. Maybe I should start to learn some Mandarin.” I thought the Minister would appreciate this shy Swedish guy’s ambition – but he looked at me and answered me quite bluntly, “Bertil, try Malay instead. It’s easier.” So being the obedient guy I am, I started – and now to my point what was the first word I learnt?
Yes, correct! It was “Majulah”. So when I now say “Majulah, Singapore – Majulah NTU”, I have some knowledge basis for my statements.
“Majulah”, as many of you already know, is the Malay word for “onward”, and it holds a special meaning for Singaporeans. I’ve learnt during the years here that Majulah Singapura has over the years, steeled Singaporeans’ resolve to build a successful nation. Prosperous economically, socially cohesive and with an admired educational and academic system.
We cannot overstate the significance of “Majulah” to Singapore. Even US President Barack Obama referenced it when he celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the US at a state dinner for PM Lee Hsien Loong at the White House last year.
The NTU Majulah Lectures will start a much-honoured tradition in NTU. The Majulah Lectures represent NTU’s aspiration to contribute to Singapore’s development by inviting public speakers of the highest calibre from the worlds of government, business or civil society, including academia, to our campus to share their thoughts and ideas. This is particularly important as the university matures and enters a new phase of development, by generating wider impact and intellectual thought leadership in the community and beyond.
The NTU Majulah Lectures will eventually become a truly university-wide event that represents not only NTU as an institution, but also who we are as a community. This year, for example, a group of student leaders have organised a series of four student-led forums on wide-ranging topics such as the effects of social media on Singaporean cultures and identities, integrating special needs students in mainstream schools, Singapore’s response to emerging economies, as well as issues concerning young people’s identity in a complex world. We want everyone in NTU to have a chance to participate in these dialogues, and know that each person can make a difference to this discourse.
Today’s remarkable turnout, which includes NTU students, professors, staff and many alumni and members of the public, bears testimony to the evolution of what defines the NTU community – today’s NTU community. The university’s Jurong West campus has certainly grown beyond its traditional boundaries to encompass a much wider affiliation intellectually, professionally or even geographically.
Whether you are an NTU student, staff, alumnus, or even a resident of Jurong West or Choa Chu Kang, NTU hopes to make a difference in your learning journey, and life in general. For the residents in the South West District, for example, NTU will be rolling out a series of community-based activities, education-related programmes and social initiatives, in collaboration with community partners, to help improve their lives in a meaningful way, but also to connect society with NTU and vice-versa. As I’ve said before, NTU should be proud of Jurong, and Jurong should be proud of NTU.
The future holds many exciting possibilities and also unknown challenges for us, perhaps more so at this juncture than any point in more recent history, given the uncertain trajectory of globalisation and rapid pace of technological change. This also has implications for universities and research.
Professor Helga Nowotny, former President of the European Research Council, and one of NTU’s honorary doctorate recipients this year, reminded us in her recent book “The Cunning of Uncertainty” that “even the most sophisticated algorithms … cannot guard against surprises… To be of wider usefulness to society, numbers and probabilities have to be accompanied by words.”
In Professor Nowotny’s experience, scientists work in a culture that embraces uncertainty, but what is less certain is what politicians, governed by deliverables and values, do with this uncertainty.
Another Visiting Professor at NTU, the former BBC top journalist, Nik Gowing gave us a lecture about “Thinking the Unthinkable”.
The Majulah Lectures and the theme of this year’s lecture are set in this context. NTU’s Majulah Lectures seek to address such uncertainties, emergent shifts and challenges that Singapore and other countries face in a globalised arena marked by growing interdependence and a constant flow of people, information, knowledge, technologies, products, capital, and even alternative facts.
How will we develop the educational agenda in this new context and what societal research questions need to be addressed beyond the major efforts in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas? Are universities the solution or are they a part of the problem?
The Inaugural Distinguished Speaker
We are very honoured that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is here with us today to deliver the inaugural NTU Majulah Lecture on “How Education Shifts Will Make Our Future”.
Before he begins his Lecture, let me say a few words about DPM Tharman. Let me start on a personal note, since DPM Tharman was my first Minister of Education when I came to Singapore 11 years ago to take on the role of Provost of NTU. He called me up to his office already the first month of my job and he clearly indicated to me he had high expectations on NTU’s future development, and that I should get on with the job the sooner the better. To be honest, he also had some very good and useful advice. So, today when people ask how NTU could have developed so fast – I just say, “Very simple, we just followed Minister Tharman’s advice back in 2007.”
Today, Mr Tharman is Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies. He is also Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore’s central bank and financial regulator.
DPM Tharman has spent much of his career in public service, particularly in roles related to economic policy and education. There is no room here tonight to mention them all.
DPM Tharman holds economics degrees from the London School of Economics and Cambridge University. He also has a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University, where he was honoured as a Lucius N Littauer Fellow, which is the programme’s top award for outstanding performance. May I now invite DPM Tharman to the stage to deliver NTU’s first Majulah Lecture, please.