SPEECH BY DR TONY TAN KENG YAM, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE AND NUS CHANCELLOR, AT THE NUS DONOR APPRECIATION DINNER ON 13 JANUARY 2016

Mr Stephen Lee
NUS Pro-Chancellor

Mr Wong Ngit Liong
Chairman, NUS Board of Trustees

Professor Tan Chorh Chuan
President, NUS

Members of the NUS Board of Trustees

Generous Donors

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


Good evening.

My wife and I are very happy to host this dinner this evening to thank all of you, the benefactors of NUS for your generous contributions towards the University.

Singapore celebrated fifty years of independence last year. We paid tribute to our pioneer generation who laid the foundations for Singapore’s achievements. Many of our pioneer generation of leaders, both in the public or private sectors, were in fact NUS alumni. As Singapore’s oldest, largest and leading university, NUS has nurtured the generations who have brought Singapore to where we are today.

Fifty years is a milestone but Singapore is still a young nation. As we embark on a new developmental journey in the next fifty years, we can expect headwinds such as an ageing population, possibly a global economic slowdown, and security threats posed by ISIS. On the other hand, technological advances and innovation offer many opportunities that we can ride on. Our economy is evolving towards becoming more knowledge intensive and innovation based. By better harnessing knowledge and innovating, we can continue to remain relevant to the rest of the world, and realise productivity improvements. With good governance, prudent social and economic policies, and investments in education and research, Singapore is in a good position to continue to do well.

Our educational institutions have always played a critical role in Singapore’s strategy for growth and nation building. The university sector has evolved in tandem with the various stages of our growing economy. When Singapore was still a labour-intensive economy in the 1960s and 1970s, our universities produced graduates needed to support Singapore’s industrialisation programme. In the 1980s, our university sector enabled the economy to shift towards higher value-added industries to stay ahead of emerging markets with low cost structures. In the 1990s, the university landscape started to move towards fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in our people, and promoting innovation and knowledge creation to support the development of a knowledge-based economy where people and ideas were the key sources of Singapore’s competitive edge.

Today, more than ever, we need to develop out of the box innovative solutions to address challenges such as an ageing population, climate change and cyber security, which affect not only Singapore but many countries and cities around the world. Our universities are critical to ensuring that Singapore stays relevant in an increasingly connected and complex world, where technological advancements and Infocomm Technology are driving changes on a global scale at a faster pace than ever before. Our universities must support Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise strategies to keep our economy vibrant and robust, create good jobs and maintain a high quality of life for our people.

I am indeed pleased to note that NUS has risen to the challenge. From a medical school with only 23 students in 1905, NUS today has 16 Faculties and Schools, 38,000 students, and over 10,000 faculty staff. The university offers 2,000 modules each semester, with 7 in 10 NUS undergraduates going on study-abroad programmes with over 300 top universities across 50 countries. Aspiring entrepreneurs can take up internships in high-tech start-ups and classes at prestigious partner universities in some of the most enterprising hubs in the world. Through regional and international collaborations which NUS has forged with reputable overseas institutions, NUS continues to provide new pathways in education and research and be a critical link between Asia and the rest of the world.

As a world-class research-intensive university, NUS provides the environment for researchers to find solutions to tackle not only local but also global challenges. NUS also supports our national efforts to nurture home-grown research talent as well as attract top-notch overseas talent. Just to give one example, the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) located within the NUS University Town, brings together over 1,000 scientists from some of the world’s best research universities, to carry out leading edge research in close collaboration with Singapore’s own research community.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the achievements of NUS over the past 110 years were possible only with the support of both the public and private sectors. With the continued generous support of philanthropists, many of whom are present here this evening, NUS can continue to play a bigger role in grooming future global leaders, and pushing the boundaries of education and research to help Singapore rise to the many challenges which lie ahead of us. 

I look forward to your participation and support in writing the next chapter of the University’s history of success in education and research excellence.

Thank you very much and please enjoy your evening.