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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at SIM University's 10th Anniversary Celebration

10 Apr 2015

Mr Gerard Ee, Chairman of UniSIM Board of Trustees,

Prof Cheong Hee Kiat, President UniSIM,

Fraternity and friends from UniSIM,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. Thank you for inviting me. It is a real pleasure to be here. It is a significant event, as Professor Cheong and the video have set out earlier on. It’s been a remarkable 10 years. In 10 years, you have, starting from scratch, arrived at a position where you are already a leader in the field of lifelong learning.

2. The whole field of lifelong learning is opening up. It is a whole new vista for Singapore and all around the world. A whole new vista of learning is opening up – the field of learning through life and throughout life.

3. You are a leader of this field, and what you intend to do in the years to come will, I think, help us pioneer new methods to enable effective learning as adults; young adults and all the way through life. So, UniSIM will play an important role in our education landscape as well as our society in opening up this vista, developing it, learning as we go along, learning about what works and what doesn’t work so well, but making sure that we provide the best opportunities for every Singaporean to maximise their potential throughout life.

4. I’ll keep my speech short, but I want to highlight three areas in which you are positioning yourself well to achieve these fronts. Three distinctive features about UniSIM that are important.

5. First is the fact that you have an open admissions policy and a modularised curriculum. The combination of an open admissions policy and a modularised curriculum makes it easy for working adults to be able to learn on their own time, at their own pace, and at the right time of their lives. That is important. It provides the flexibility needed for working adults.

6. I’m glad that you just announced that you will launch 186 skills-based modular courses, which will provide upgrading opportunities, especially for the many PMEs who may not have the time just yet to take a full-time course. They may eventually add up their modular options and build on it to get a full qualification, but basically these are modular options that people can take one at a time. This first batch of 186 modular courses is, I think, a significant addition. And I should note here that the SkillsFuture Credits that we announced in this year’s Budget, and which we will implement from next year, can be used for these courses. So that’s the first feature: the open admissions policy and the modularised structure.

7. The second feature is very important; it’s the link between learning and the real world. You are pioneering, together with SIT, a whole new applied pathway, which features a very strong emphasis on integrating theory with real-world knowledge and experience. And by integration I do not mean just applying theory to the real world, but a two-way flow. A two-way flow as we learn from experience and learn from real world. The fact that the very significant part of your faculty has a long track record in industry is important. The fact that your students themselves are more mature than in a normal university and some bring experience from the real world into the university is important.

8. So that is the second very important feature: that you’re building bridges, together with SIT, between learning and the real world. This is a whole new rich field of learning for Singapore as we go along. And in this regard, I’m glad that you are also embarking now on collaborating with the polytechnics, so that this industry collaboration begins before students actually enter UniSIM.

9. We recently launched the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme, which enables fresh polytechnic graduates to start working but to learn while they are working. It’s a structured programme to enable them to earn a salary as they work, but also to learn and to obtain qualification at the end of this programme. And what UniSIM is doing is to work with the polytechnics so that there is an articulation pathway. The individuals who embark on the Earn and Learn programme will be able to go on, use the knowledge they acquire during the Earn and Learn programme, and take that into UniSIM to obtain a degree qualification. So it combines on-the-job learning with institutional learning, and leads up to a UniSIM qualification. More details on this will be announced before long. So that is the second very important feature: that you are pioneering the integration of learning with the real world.

10. The third feature has to do with methods. In particular, there is tremendous potential in online learning as well as in the mix of online and on-campus learning. Various hybrids are possible, but this is a very exciting field. Here too, you are a pioneer. I don’t want to get into the details, but you are following closely what is happening internationally, both amongst the major MOOCs[1] and other online providers, as well as in established universities. Leading universities are now embarking on online learning both for their full-time undergraduate courses as well as an attempt to expand their roles in society into the field of lifelong learning. It is a very exciting field and it will itself be a learning process about what works and what doesn’t work so well. I’m glad that UniSIM is a leader in this field.

11. These are real strengths: your open admissions policy and modularised structure; your focus on integrating learning with the real world; and thirdly, your experimentation and pioneering efforts in methods of learning, especially in the use of online techniques and its integration with on-campus learning.

12. Build on your strengths and play the major role that you can play in Singapore, not just in our education system, but in developing our society and our people. You have a promise and I am confident you will achieve that goal for us.

13. Thank you very much.



[1] Massive Open Online Course