SUTD 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner - Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat

23 Oct 2019

Mr Goh Chok Tong
Emeritus Senior Minister, 

Mr Lee Tzu Yang
Chairman, SUTD Board of Trustees,

Professor Chong Tow Chong
President of SUTD,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to join you this evening to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

This is a significant milestone for a young university, and this milestone is especially meaningful to me. I was the Guest-of-Honour at your inaugural convocation ceremony in 2015 when I was the Minister for Education. I had the joy of congratulating your first batch of Graduates. And four years on, I am especially heartened to see the significant strides made by SUTD and your students; And to see so many partners and friends coming together to celebrate your achievements on this joyful occasion.

True to its name, when we set up SUTD, it was by design, a careful and deliberate endeavour. We started a fourth autonomous university, as our economy grew and society progressed. There was greater demand for university graduates in the workplace, as our economy advanced and our industries moved up the value chain. Our young people also had greater aspirations to attain a degree and build better careers.

Education has been a major social leveller for our people. A report – released by the Ministry of Finance yesterday – showed that each generation of Singaporeans is more educated, earns more, and is better off than the generation before them.

Take for example those born in the 1940s – they would form part of our Pioneer Generation. Only 22 percent had post-secondary qualification. This increased to 32 percent for those born in the 1950s – our Merdeka Generation. This has continued to rise significantly over the years. Today, more than 95 percent of each cohort progress to post-secondary education, and by 2020, 40 percent will go on to our autonomous universities – including at SUTD.

We have made rapid progress in education over a short span of a few decades. In fact, Singapore is ranked first in the World Bank Human Capital Index. And we achieved this not by spending the most money on education and healthcare, but by maximising the value of our expenditure, making every dollar spent count. Of course, parents and teachers also do their best to support our students.

As we invested more in education and expanded the university sector, we added diversity to our offerings – to provide more pathways for our students, to better cater to their strengths and passions. 

When we designed SUTD, we strived for it to provide a unique offering which is steeped in systems thinking and problem solving; which focuses on integrating the sciences and the humanities; which enables its graduates to develop architectural, systems and engineering innovations of tomorrow; and to have an open and international outlook.

With this approach, you can realise the potential of your students, and inspire them to improve the lives of people around them. When I spoke at SUTD’s convocation ceremony in 2015, I shared three “big D”s with the graduating class: to Dream big dreams, to Dare to take risks and work hard, and to Define yourselves and your society. 

SUTD itself was a big Dream. Today, it is a Dream come true because of Daring and determined educators and students, who worked hard to Define a new pathway of success for themselves and successive cohorts. Through your partnerships with Zhejiang University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SUTD has been at the node of the flow of ideas and talents from East and West.

In less than a decade, SUTD topped the global list of emerging engineering schools in 2018, and has become a leading university built for a 21st century economy and society. Your faculty members have made a name for themselves, such as Professor Tony Quek, who has been named in the annual Highly Cited Researchers List by Clarivate Analytics for the third time.

You have built up a number of established research Centres, including the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, and you continually update your curriculum to stay ahead of the times. I am glad that from next year, SUTD will be offering a degree in design and artificial intelligence, the first by a Singapore university.

Your success in blending technological advancement with the elegance of design is the reason why SUTD graduates are highly sought after by employers today. 

SUTD’s students have stepped forward to use their skills and make a difference.

Among them is Ms Olivia Seow, the valedictorian of the pioneer batch of SUTD graduates in 2015. She spoke passionately at the convocation ceremony that I attended. In her second year exchange at MIT, Olivia co-created a prototype called the “Sesame Ring” – a ring that can be used like an EZ-Link card. Her start-up, Ring Theory, produces 3D wearables with embedded applications. Today, these products are used by banks and public transport authorities in different parts of the world.

Another example is Mr Ashwin Venkatram. As a student, Ashwin embodied the “maker culture” at SUTD, designing award-winning autonomous aerial vehicles. Ashwin is now a hardware developer at electronics company Rohde & Schwarz. I am confident that the university will have many more stories of success. SUTD’s open approach of building partnerships with various stakeholders has created opportunities for its students. Despite your small size, you have more than 800 industry partnerships – more than twice the number of students in your pioneer batch! With these partnerships, your students get to work on real-life problems and make “A Better World by Design”.

Donors are key partners to SUTD. Coinciding with tonight’s celebrations, I am glad to hear from Professor Chong that several donors, with a passion for education, have come forward to support new scholarships and bursaries. I thank the donors for your commitment. The Government will do our part. Besides substantial grant funding to SUTD, we also provide a matching grant of 1.5 dollars for every dollar raised. 

I am grateful that SUTD benefited from the strong leadership and guidance of ESM Goh Chok Tong, who was the former Patron for Advancement. Thank you ESM! Let me also congratulate the former Chairman of the Board of Trustees Mr Philip Ng, and the Patron for Advancement Mr Sam Goi. Both Philip and Sam have contributed significantly to the birth and growth of SUTD. For their outstanding contributions, they will be receiving the Benefactors Fellows Award tonight. Thank you Philip and Sam!

I would also like to acknowledge the late architect Dr Albert Hong. He provided valuable guidance for the design of SUTD’s curriculum, as well as donated generously in support of lifelong learning and students from lower-income families. His legacy lives on in SUTD.

SUTD’s impressive achievements are testament to the ambition and dedication of staff and students, as well as the steadfast support of your partners and donors. Your students are willing to try new pathways; a good proportion have started their own businesses and social enterprises. 

Take for example Mr Ken Chua, also from your pioneer batch of graduates. He was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia Social Entrepreneurs 2019. Ken set up a social enterprise called “(these) abilities”. He works closely with persons with disabilities, to design and build assistive technology products that are cheaper and more functional than what is currently in the market. He has worked with Grab to simplify the ride-hailing process for deaf and visually impaired users. Ken is now helping Japan’s Nippon Closures, a manufacturer of bottle caps, to explore inclusive bottle packaging designs for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. 

Another notable example is UglyFood – a start-up by Ms Yeo Pei Shan. The company turns blemished but edible fruits and vegetables into attractive food products such as fruit juices; this minimises food wastage.

I congratulate SUTD for imparting your students the right ethos of design thinking. They have put people at the heart of their solutions and inventions, and made a difference to their lives and the environment.

Looking back, SUTD has achieved much in a short span of ten years. Looking forward, what more can SUTD achieve ten years from now? 

Your motto is to make “A Better World by Design”. I would like to challenge you to make Singapore “A Better Nation by Design”.

Many significant changes are coming our way. How do we turn these changes into opportunities? For example, how can we mitigate and adapt to climate change and innovate with new technologies and designs. How can we continue to have a vibrant economy and share the benefits of economic growth? How would we reimagine and rebuild Singapore so that it is both an exceptional nation of opportunities and an endearing home for all? And how do we harness diversity and build a more inclusive society, where each of us can Dream, Dare, and Define ourselves? 

With SUTD’s unique offering of inter-disciplinary studies and integrating systems and design thinking – I hope you will continue to produce graduates who will continue to Dream, Dare and Define. Just like Olivia, Ashwin, Ken and Pei Shan.

There will be many more partnership opportunities under the Singapore Together movement for us to work together on issues our people care about, such as improving environmental sustainability, enabling Singaporeans to seize the opportunities that technology can bring, and fostering a caring and inclusive society. I met several of your students earlier, and I told them that I would be issuing them a challenge. They are first-year and third-year students, so they have plenty of time to work on this. I hope all SUTD students will take up this challenge to Dream, Dare and Define – together, we can make Singapore an even more successful nation, building on what our Pioneer and Merdeka Generations have done. I am confident that SUTD will make the best use of the resources from both the Government and donors to develop your students fully.

I look forward to SUTD making a greater mark on Singapore and on the global stage. I wish you success and to many more great years ahead.

Thank you.

Source: Prime Minister's Office (PMO)