Launch of New Vision, Mission and Strategy - Speech by SUTD President Prof Chong Tow Chong

11 Mar 2024

Minister Chan Chun Sing,
Chairman Lee Tzu Yang,
Board of Trustees,
Industry Partners,
SUTD Alumni and Students,
Fellow Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good morning to you. Thank you all for taking time off your busy schedule to join us here today as we mark a significant milestone in the SUTD journey.
Some of you will know that I have been with SUTD since Day One. Back then, we were still squatting in the former ITE West College in Dover Drive, trying very hard to convince parents to send their kids to a makeshift campus. It was anything but easy.
We were not only a new university, but an unconventional one, something people weren’t used to. We broke away from the traditional mould, offering a radically different degree structure and curriculum that challenged conventional norms. Unlike traditional universities with rigid departmental divisions and standard engineering programmes, we prioritised a fusion of technology and design, embedding principles of design-thinking and interdisciplinary learning into every facet of the university, from our academic offerings to our physical spaces.

As a trailblazer, we set out to redefine the landscape of higher education, daring to integrate emerging technologies like artificial intelligence into our courses and degrees long before they became mainstream.
Fifteen years on, I am proud to say that we have come a long way. We led the way in terms of interdisciplinary training and introduced design, digital and tech throughout our entire curriculum – setting a precedent that others would later follow.
We have fostered a dynamic ecosystem that bridges academia and industry, embodied by initiatives like our integrated capstone programme, which incubates creativity and innovation in real-world contexts. Our latest endeavour, the Baby Shark Micro-Innovation Fund, exemplifies our commitment to nurturing innovation at every level. Just as Lego blocks allow for the creation, reconstruction, and enhancement of structures piece by piece, micro-innovations represent a similar iterative process for products and ideas. The Baby Shark Fund offers every SUTD student the opportunity to engage in frequent innovation, embracing failures as learning opportunities and instilling a lifelong ethos of innovation and leadership in the economy and society.
Certainly, our trailblazing spirit has only grown stronger with time. This is why we have decided to re-evaluate our Vision to better reflect our identity as a community. Our new Vision, "Trailblazing a Better World by Design", resonates deeply with every SUTDian aspirations. We will continue to redefine design, education and research, working closely with industry partners throughout the educational journey to nurture technically grounded leaders who embrace risks to continuously innovate for a better tomorrow.
With this new Vision and Mission, we have drawn up a comprehensive blueprint for the next phase of our growth. SUTD LEAP is a multi-pronged strategic plan which aims to cultivate an environment of Design x Tech Innovation. By fostering collaboration and co-creation with industry partners, we bring the real world onto campus and vice versa, facilitating a unique "cross-pollination" of academia and enterprise.
We firmly believe that blurring the lines between academia and enterprise will empower our students to grow and innovate in a connected environment – and get a true sense of real-world challenges and manifest the power and value of Design x Tech in tangible ways.
SUTD LEAP is an actionable strategy that anticipates and addresses the challenges of the next decade. Building upon the strong foundations we have laid, it envisions our evolution to equip our students with the skills needed to excel in an increasingly uncertain and rapidly evolving world. Being a small university has immense benefits. We leverage our agility to pivot swiftly and execute effectively in response to shifting circumstances, ensuring our continued relevance and success.
We often read about how there are 'too many graduates chasing too few jobs these days'. This is a global phenomenon made worse by the advent of AI. I posit that the issue lies not in an excess of graduates, but rather in a shortage of graduates who are technically grounded design x tech innovators and leaders, trained in critical skills which the world needs now, individuals who can initiate and drive innovation, ready to solve complex challenges of today and tomorrow. In other words, SUTD graduates!
As we embark on the next leg of our SUTD trailblazing journey, I feel the time is right for me to hand over the baton to the next generation of leaders with whom I have been working closely to develop the new strategy over the past years. I have no doubt they will be able to build upon the strong foundations that have been laid in the last decade and a half, and bring it to even greater heights.
I am happy to announce that in the second half of the year, I will step down and our current Provost, Prof Phoon Kok Kwang, will take over as President. He will be assisted by Prof Tai Lee Siang, who currently heads the Architecture and Sustainable Design (ASD), in a newly created role of Deputy President/Chief Innovation and Enterprise Officer (CIEO). An international search has also commenced for the role of Provost/Chief Academic and Innovation Officer (CAIO), a role which will also be redefined as part of SUTD LEAP.
The creation of a Deputy President/CIEO role, which mirrors the Provost/CAIO role is a very significant one as it reflects the importance of tightly integrating education, research and innovation with industry. Together, they will no doubt advance SUTD’s ambitions to becoming a world-leading design-led technology university.
On that note, can I invite Minister Chan, Chairman, KK and Lee Siang to please join me in launching our new Vision, Mission and Strategy.
Thank you.