Speech by President Tony Tan at the Appreciation Dinner for Mr Wong Ngit Liong, Former Chairman, NUS at University Town

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen and Professor Ivy Ng

Minister for Education (Higher Education And Skills) & Second Minister for Defence, Mr Ong Ye Kung

Mr Wong Ngit Liong and Mrs Wong Siew Hoon

NUS Pro-Chancellors

NUS Chairman

NUS Trustees

NUS President

Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni

Distinguished Guests, Friends

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening. I am pleased to join the NUS community this evening to pay tribute to Mr Wong Ngit Liong, who has helmed the National University of Singapore for 12 years, from 2004 to 2016.

Under his strong leadership and vision, NUS was transformed during that period from a respected local teaching institution dedicated to manpower development into a leading global university that is widely regarded as among the best in the world for scholarship and research. In many ways, Ngit Liong – or “NL” as he is fondly known – embodies the best qualities that we see in NUS today. A stellar student, NL was known to top his cohort in school in Malaysia. He graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Malaya, and went on to obtain a Master in Electronics Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in the US, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. NL also holds an MBA with distinction from McGill University under the Canadian Commonwealth Fellowship. He clearly saw the value of a global education.

NL began his career with Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company, where he held a series of management positions in the US. He returned from Silicon Valley in the late 1970s, and set up HP’s office in Singapore.His interactions at the top levels of business and government, both in the US and Asia, gave him deep insights into workings of governments and industry, and how he might best further these collaborations for the mutual benefit of industry and community. It is in this context that NL would come to the notice of Singapore leaders.

As the then Minister of Education, I appointed NL to be a member of a high-level committee to look into the establishment of the Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI) to address the shortage of engineers in Singapore. Together with the late Senior Minister of State, Dr Tay Eng Soon, and Professor Cham Tao Soon, who was then Dean of Engineering at NUS, NL spent much of his own time working with the committee to study technical training institutes overseas, distilling learning models and best practices that might work for Singapore. Through the dedicated efforts of Eng Soon, Tao Soon and NL, NTI was established by the Government in 1981.

NL continued to contribute his insights, expertise and time through the 2002 Economic Review Committee chaired by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as well as board memberships at the Economic Development Board, the Singapore Trade Development Board (the predecessor to IE Singapore), DBS Bank, and the Singapore Exchange.

In 2004, our university sector was undergoing a major restructuring.  As then Deputy Prime Minister overseeing higher education, I discussed with then Minister for Education, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and we approached NL to be Chairman of the NUS Council, to steer the country’s flagship university through the process of institutional autonomy.NL was understandably hesitant. While it was clear that he was passionate about education and about contributing to Singapore, he was not too familiar with NUS at that time.  He wanted some time to think about taking on the task of leading an institution so closely linked with the nation.

NUS is a university with a rich and distinguished heritage. Its alumni is in almost every sector of government and civil society, including Dr Benjamin Sheares, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Mr S R Nathan, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, and myself – along with many others in this room this evening. The University already had a strong reputation for excellent teaching and, as a statutory board under the Minister of Education, a focus on manpower development. But this would change as the Government was corporatising the universities to give them greater flexibility to distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive higher education landscape.

When NL took over as NUS Chairman in August 2004, he did so, in his own words, (and I quote) “with a mixture of honour and humility” (unquote). Together with the Council, and later the Board of Trustees, NL mapped out the long-term strategic directions for the University, and worked tirelessly with the university management (and I quote) “to establish NUS as a leading global university excelling in teaching, research and service to the nation and society” (unquote).

Today, more than 12 years after that lunch DPM Tharman and I had with NL, I am very pleased to see that NUS has transformed and thrived under NL’s leadership. From a strong teaching institution respected for training graduates for the Singapore economy, it is now one of the best research-intensive universities in the world, constantly innovating in its education, research and entrepreneurship, and equipping its graduates with knowledge, experiences and skills for a lifetime of careers. It is a remarkable achievement – perhaps all the more as NL continued to lead his company, Venture Corporation, into a global player in technology products and solutions.

In recognition of his service to Singapore, I presented NL with the Meritorious Service Medal at the National Day Awards in 2012. It was a well-deserved award.

As Chancellor of the National University of Singapore, I would also like to welcome the new NUS Chairman, Mr Hsieh Fu Hua. I have every confidence that Fu Hua will build on the strong foundation that NL and his team have laid, to strengthen NUS further as a university of excellence.

Ngit Liong, NUS would not have been the same without your guidance and wisdom. We thank you for your many contributions to NUS, and to Singapore. We wish you good health, and the very best in all your future endeavours.

Thank you.