SUTD 10th Anniversary - Speech by Professor Chong Tow Chong, President of SUTD

10 Jul 2019

Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung
SUTD Chairman, Mr Lee Tzu Yang
Founding Chairman, Mr Philip Ng
President Emeritus, Professor Thomas Magnanti
Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff and Students
Friends of SUTD, Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good afternoon
A very warm welcome to SUTD’s 10th Anniversary Celebration.
We are very grateful that you are able to join us for this momentous occasion.
Firstly, I would like to show our deep appreciation to some pivotal people who were instrumental in the creation of SUTD.
Mr Philip Ng, SUTD’s Founding Chairman, is one such person.

Philip played a key role in establishing the key partnerships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Zhejiang University (ZJU). He also rallied captains of industry in Singapore to form the steering committee for the university, who later became the pioneer Board of Trustees. In fact, many of them are here with us today. Furthermore, Philip has been vital in establishing SUTD’s Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities and supported the inaugural set of scholarships. All these would not have been possible if not for Philip’s foresight and leadership as the founding Chairman of SUTD. He provided valuable guidance and advice as we innovated and pioneered in building the new university from scratch. 

I would also like to give special mention to our Founding President, Professor Thomas Magnanti.

SUTD started from ground zero. In Tom’s words, “there was no there, there” – no faculty, no students or staff, no facilities, no curriculum, no financial, human resource, or other systems. Tom inspired us to take on a road nobody has ever travelled – because the new university was to have no traditional departments or schools, with a totally new degree and curricular structure. It was to abandon large lectures and embrace cohort-based active learning communities; It was to foster multi-disciplinarity, from its approaches to education and research, right down to its facility design and space allocation. Very few can have the opportunity to create an institution, new from scratch, and to see the fruits borne out of a seemingly far-fetched vision. We thank Tom for the opportunity and for the journey.

The Board of Trustees were also significant in leading and guiding the formation of the new university, with their deep dedication and insights.

Over the years, we have been blessed with one of the most engaged Board I have ever experienced in my corporate life. The Trustees have committed tremendous amount of personal time, expertise, and unstinting support to the development and growth of SUTD. These range from chairing various subcommittees that dived deeply into SUTD’s operations, to opening up their personal networks to support us professionally and financially.

When SUTD first started
When I first joined SUTD as the founding Provost in 2010, our office was located on the 4th floor of the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language located at Ghim Moh Road.
We were truly a start-up university then.
The Deputy Secretary for Education at that time, was Mr Loh Ngai Seng.  He used to drop in, on our meetings, with “tau huey” from the nearby Ghim Moh market.
The office was small, everyone worked very closely with one another and the atmosphere was very close-knit and familial.
It was all hands onboard when we organised our very first Admissions briefing in March 2010, with barely 14 staff. Together with MIT professors like John Fernandez, and Dan Frey, coupled with the support from the Trustees, we pulled off an admissions briefing attended by over 400 potential students.
In fact, what was very memorable for me, was the personal delivery of offer letters, to the homes of our first few batches of students.
All the offer letters were divided among the staff, by proximity to their homes. Then, for many evenings after work and during the weekends, we visited the potential students’ homes, to deliver their offer letters personally, and also shared more about SUTD’s vision and mission with their parents. I still remember in one visit, I had to struggle with using Cantonese to explain SUTD to the parents. This went on for over six weeks during the admissions period. Although it was a tiring process, we believe it was worth all the effort to excite the families, many of whom had not heard of SUTD before.
Subsequently, we moved to our Dover campus and our first three batches of students began classes there.
Fast forward 10 years on, I am happy to present to you what you see of SUTD today.
From a new university with “no there, there”, we are now recognised, globally, as the thought-leader in Design Innovation.

Design is literally everywhere at SUTD.

We set up the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC) as the world’s premier hub for technologically intensive design of products, systems and services.

Students are not passive spectators in their own learning. Instead, they are engaged in a vibrant design and hands-on culture within and outside the classroom.

We led in the curation and design of last year’s Singapore Pavilion for the Venice Biennale.

I am happy to report that SUTD has achieved 2 President’s Design Awards to date, and 12 SUTD teams received the 2019 SG Good Design Mark.

This year, we have welcomed the 8th batch of undergraduate students with 40% girls. We have graduated four batches of students. They have secure jobs in over 78% of Singapore key industries. We instil confidence in our students, scoring above the sector average, particularly in three areas: creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, and multidisciplinary knowledge and skills.

I am excited when I hear from the industry partners about our graduates, that they are different and do not just dive straight into solving problems, but question assumptions before designing solutions.
We are steadily growing our graduate students pool with 10 graduate programmes.
We have also established an SUTD Academy to support lifelong learning. We will invest in developing a digital platform that allows for flexible and modular learning between university and the working world. This is especially significant because university’s graduates today will need to learn new things multiple time in their working careers.
As a research-intensive university, SUTD has established 13 research centres. Our research centres investigate digital manufacturing, advanced robotics and AI systems, cybersecurity, innovative cities and gaming. I am happy to note that the research centres set up in the past few years were done in collaboration with industry, such as the ST Engineering-SUTD Corp-lab for cyber security.
Today, SUTD is ranked the fifth-most influential scientific research institution, in telecommunications, by Clarivate Analytics.
However, research is not just confined to the faculty, researchers and PhD students. In SUTD, every undergraduate student is given the opportunity to do research. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) helps students to work on cutting-edge research as a junior colleague in a faculty member’s research team. I am happy to report that more than 55% of our undergraduates participate in UROP. This networked research ecosystem has enabled our faculty to excel in world-class research and continue to gain accolades, recognition and strong support from funding agencies.

In our effort of translating research output, SUTD has already filed over 200 technology disclosures and 150 patent applications, and produced more than 40 start-up companies.

A significant number of our graduates have set up successful start-ups, such as Ring Theory, Codomo, Ugly Foods, etc. One from our pioneer batch, Ken Chua, was listed in Forbes’ List 30 Under 30 – Asia – Social Entrepreneurs.

To commemorate these achievements and the hard work that our faculty, staff and students have put in, we decided to custom-design and build a time-capsule. It will store and exhibit our outstanding achievements for future generations of SUTD to learn more about. We plan to only open it up 20 years from now – in 2039.

This time-capsule was really a ‘Mission Impossible’. Although the design concept was finalised in April this year, our faculty had to develop advanced manufacturing methods to produce the various parts of the capsule and we were left with one month to complete its construction.

The design for the time-capsule was conceived by our very own Architecture and Sustainable Design pillar faculty, Carlos and Felix. I would like to thank them for their hard work, as well as everyone else who has chipped in late nights and weekends to make this ‘Mission Impossible’ a possibility.
Going Forward
In Chinese, there is a saying “十年树木,百年树人”, which translates to: ‘It takes 10 years to nurture a tree, but a hundred years to nurture a man.’ or in our context, ‘A good education programme takes a long time to develop’. Hence, I believe that these past 10 years is just the beginning for us.

Going forward, we aim to strengthen our bench strength to align with SUTD’s growth areas, artificial intelligence, design, healthcare, aviation and cities. This will give us deeper capabilities and enable us to be forerunners in these areas.

Furthermore, we will need to deepen our existing differentiating factors, such as our Mission (which is to nurture technically grounded leaders and innovators to serve societal needs) and unique multi-disciplinary education and research.

Finally, we will focus on developing new differentiation areas. These efforts are meant to create a vibrant Changi innovation ecosystem.

We aim to be an engine of growth that builds lasting capabilities to help transform Singapore.
Closing Remarks
In closing, I would like to once again thank all of you for being present to witness and celebrate this significant milestone with us. All of you have contributed in both big and small ways to the foundation and progress of SUTD, which has grown from a sprout to what we are today.
In particular, I would like to especially thank SUTD Chancellor, Dr Tony Tan, for having the foresight in establishing SUTD as the 4th public university.

I would also like to thank our strategic partner universities, namely MIT, Zhejiang University and the Singapore Management University.

Many thanks to the Ministry of Education for their unwavering support all these years, with special appreciation to Minister Ong Ye Kung, who constantly encouraged us to innovate; and former Ministers for Education, Dr Ng Eng Hen and Mr Heng Swee Keat, for their continued support even up till now.

My appreciation also goes to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, for his support as our first Patron for Advancement.  

Special thanks to our industry partners who collaborated closely with us on research, and provided our students with internships, mentorships and employment.

​My heartfelt gratitude also to our donors who have strongly supported us, making a difference in the lives of our students and community. Your generosity to SUTD is particularly significant as more than two-thirds of our student population comes from humble family backgrounds. In fact, from academic year 2019, SUTD has enhanced our bursary and scholarship offerings to help more students with financial need. All qualified needy students with per capita incomes of less than $690 will have their full tuition fees covered, throughout their entire undergraduate education at SUTD.

Last but not least, I would like to thank our faculty, staff and students, the SUTD Family, for without whom, there would be no SUTD.

I sincerely hope that all of you will continue to grant us your strong support as we continue moving forward into the future, to build a better world by design.
Thank you.