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Speech By Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Manpower, At SUTD Ground-Breaking Ceremony

14 Nov 2011

Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education

Mr Philip Ng, Chairman of SUTD

Professor Susan Hockfield, President of MIT

Professor Yang Wei, President of Zhejiang University

Professor Tom Magnanti, President of SUTD

Ladies and Gentlemen

1.      I am delighted to be here at the ground-breaking for this permanent campus of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). It is an important milestone for Singapore’s university sector, as SUTD is itself breaking new ground in university education.

2.      SUTD aspires to be a world leader in technology-intensive design education. The boldness of its mission, and the unique and innovative approach to learning that it will take, also reflect an important policy objective in Singapore. When we decided to expand opportunities for young Singaporeans to pursue a university education and set a target of raising the cohort participation rate in universities to 30% by 2015, we had in mind not only increasing the number of publicly-funded places for students to get a university education. We also wanted diversity. We wanted to create new and different pathways, so that taken together with our established institutions, we have a landscape of options for young Singaporeans with diverse interests and abilities to prepare themselves for the opportunities and responsibilities of the 21st century. SUTD demonstrates the innovation in university education that we wanted.

3.      SUTD is an innovation in a number of major ways. First, it will be a uniquely global model, through a Singapore partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Zhejiang University (ZJU), two world-class universities - one in the West and one in the East.

4.      Second, SUTD's curriculum is technologically-grounded, but multidisciplinary from its most basic conception. From their freshman year to the capstone project that students will do in their final year, they will draw on knowledge and expertise across disciplines. Credit must go to the efforts of MIT's leadership and faculty in conceiving and designing the curriculum and pedagogy. I understand this draws on major elements of MIT's own teaching approaches and culture, but takes full advantage of the fact that we are starting from a clean slate in SUTD, free of all legacies.

5.      A third advance is in the unique model of student collaboration that SUTD will take. Students will learn and share university life together in cohorts of 50. They will manage their own classrooms, which also allows for the classrooms to be utilised around the clock for group discussions, design projects, self-study and so on.

6.      The design of the permanent SUTD campus therefore reflects the spirit of interdisciplinary endeavour, and collaborative learning. Its teaching and research facilities are not only state-of-the-art, but have a strong emphasis on collaborative spaces, that will allow for interaction and exchange of ideas between students and amongst faculty themselves.

7.      This site was also carefully chosen for its proximity to Changi Business Park, which houses the operations of some of SUTD’s leading industry partners such as IBM, Huawei, Barclays Capital and DBS. It will provide valuable exposure to students, and encourage sharing of knowledge and networks.

8.      When ready, this campus will also offer students residential living spaces. I understand that it would be mandatory for all first-year students to stay in residence, and the residential experience is part-and-parcel of the delivery of its unique curriculum and pedagogy. It will also offer an opportunity for students to build a sense of identity and community, which is essential for any university and more so for a new institution.

9.      We have taken four years to get here, from the time PM Lee proposed in his 2007 National Day Rally speech that we establish a fourth university with its own character and unique strengths, different from our established universities. Next April, SUTD will take in its first batch of students.

10.      Four years is a short time - to marry institutions, public and private, from different countries; to develop a new university curriculum in concept and details; and to do all the ground-work needed to ensure that we get a first-rate institution. Many have made this possible: the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector (CEUS) led by then Senior Minister of State Lui Tuck Yew, which developed the policy options in 2008; then Minister for Education Dr Ng Eng Hen and then Chairman of the National Research Foundation Dr Tony Tan, who worked to put together this unique partnership of institutions for SUTD; the leadership and faculty of MIT and ZJU who have invested the project with great energy and ideas; the Board of SUTD led by Mr Philip Ng which have put much thought and effort into all aspects including the development of this campus; Prof Tom Magnanti who as the first President gives us the confidence that SUTD will make its mark in practice as a reputable model for a 21st Century University. Many others have contributed too, including the officials from MOE and other public agencies, and the students and industry participants who provided valuable feedback on what they wanted to see in SUTD.

11.      I wish SUTD and its strategic partners every success as this young and driven institution strives to make its contribution to Singapore, and to the world.