Speech by SUTD's Chancellor & President of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam

07 May 2012

Mr Philip Ng
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Singapore University of Technology and Design

Professor Tom Magnanti
Singapore University of Technology and Design

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be present today to officiate the matriculation of the first cohort of undergraduates in the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). 

In my former capacity as Chairman of MOE’s International Academic Advisory Panel, I recall that SUTD began as merely an idea for expanding places in our university sector and subsequently evolved into the current concept of an innovative pathway providing more first-class educational choices for our top talents in science and engineering. It therefore gives me great pleasure to be present at today’s inauguration ceremony. This event marks an important milestone for the university and for Singapore’s higher education landscape.

A high quality education has always been the cornerstone of Singapore’s strategy for growth and nation building. Our university sector has evolved and adapted to the needs of our growing economy. During the 1960s and 70s when Singapore was still a labour-intensive economy, University of Singapore and Nanyang University prepared our young for careers in industry, commerce and other professions. 

As our economy shifted towards capital driven and higher value-added industries in the 1980s, the two universities were merged to form the National University of Singapore (NUS). The Nanyang Technological Institute was established in 1981 with three Engineering schools and later became the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). NUS and NTU equipped our people with the skills to move up the value chain and enabled Singapore to remain competitive despite the challenge from low-wage countries. 

In the 1990s, Singapore had to compete in a knowledge-based economy where people and ideas were the key sources of our competitive edge. Our third publicly-funded university, the Singapore Management University (SMU), was formed in 2000 to pioneer a broad-based American-style of education to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in our people and add diversity to our university sector. 

Unique Value Proposition of SUTD

The global environment has become increasingly connected and complex. Changes take place on a global scale, faster than ever before, driven by technological advancements and Infocomm Technology. 

SUTD is another strategic innovation in our higher education landscape to equip young Singaporeans to thrive and find success by taking advantage of the new opportunities offered by globalisation. By focusing on technology-intensive, innovative design education and research, STUD embraces technology and innovation, which are the twin engines of globalisation, and embodies the opportunities available in an increasingly inter-connected world. Collaborating with two top universities in the world - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhejiang University – SUTD acts as the strategic node and enabler that combines the best of the East and West. 

SUTD provides a curriculum and pedagogy that is both multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary, to develop its students with both the breadth and depth of knowledge to handle cross-cutting issues in this globalised environment. The SUTD curriculum is infused with elements and opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, such as cutting-edge research opportunities through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) and internship opportunities at companies in Singapore, Zhejiang and the world.

SUTD also encourages its students to be adventurous, undertake initiatives in their own learning and further develop their passion for technology and design. Through the hands-on and community learning pedagogy, students are encouraged to freely exchange ideas and appreciate the richness of different cultures and work across boundaries. 

Many of you present today have already demonstrated these attributes by actively participating in various programmes by the university before school has even started. For example, as part of the Campus Builders Programme, students participated in research projects, designed the fittings of the hostel, provided inputs for the permanent campus, set up the library and designed its extension. I am also impressed by the six-member, all-female SUTD team of students who designed the concept for this year’s Chinese New Year Chinatown light-up. 

The SUTD education aims to not just equip students with theoretical knowledge but also the entrepreneurial and softer skills to bring innovative ideas to the market. It will also extend its transcontinental reach by equipping students with the skills to contribute to and improve society. 

SUTD partnership with MINDEF

In this regard, I am glad to announce today a strategic, research and development partnership between SUTD and the Ministry of Defence through the establishment of a defence research laboratory, Temasek Laboratories; and a centre on cyber-security research, iTRUST, at SUTD.

Both Temasek Laboratories and iTRUST will undertake cutting-edge research and development while building up both technical and human talent capabilities in vital fields. Temasek Laboratories will focus on areas of defence system design and development, such as Unmanned Systems, Information Systems, Soldier Systems and Engineering Systems; while iTRUST will focus on a broad range of cyber-security areas including interdependency modeling and analysis, software and firmware characterisation and security of critical info-communications infrastructure.

Temasek Laboratories will be operational in May 2012 and iTRUST by the end of 2012. The research at Temasek Laboratories and iTRUST will harness the potential of science and technology for Singapore’s defence, and complement the work that is currently undertaken at the DSO National Laboratories, NUS, NTU and other research establishments.

With the collaboration, MINDEF will leverage on SUTD’s strength in technology, resource in research talent and network. For students, there will be opportunities for undergraduates to undertake leading edge research under the mentorship of SUTD faculty, while working on real-world problems, related to the defence and security of our nation.


Singapore has to continue tapping on its strengths in human capital and be the source of fresh and innovative ideas to remain a significant player on the world stage. I am confident that SUTD will contribute to Singapore’s new engine of knowledge creation. Its unique pedagogy and educational experience will equip our young Singaporeans with the vital skills to seize opportunities and drive the future Singapore economy. In this dynamic global environment, Singapore has to move along a new development trajectory. To our students embarking on a new educational journey at SUTD, I hope you will take the opportunity to shape what is to come in the future. For both you and the country, this is an exciting time, and I wish you all the best in this next phase of our country’s development.

Finally, I would also like to wish the SUTD faculty and staff every success in your mission to advance knowledge and nurture technically grounded leaders and innovators to serve societal needs and improve the world. Thank you.