PM pitches science, tech, engineering, maths to students (The Straits Times)


Skills will remain crucial to nation’s success in next 50 years, he says

SCIENCE, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) skills will remain crucial to Singapore’s success for the next 50 years, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as he made a pitch yesterday for students to apply their talents to these sectors after they graduate.

“In the next 50 years, we need strong Stem capabilities to be what we should be – a vibrant, exciting, advanced society,” said Mr Lee at the opening ceremony of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in Somapah Road, off Upper Changi Road.

Singapore’s fourth university was set up in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to focus on engineering, technology and design.

“There will be opportunities for Stem graduates to make (their) mark and shape how we live, work and play,” Mr Lee said.

These include, for instance, finding new ways to create space and working on complex projects such as the high-speed rail link between Singapore and Malaysia.

Mr Lee said the Singapore education system has always emphasised Stem subjects, which became the bedrock of the country’s success.

“In the early days of industrialisation, we emphasised Stem education to produce people with the hard skills to become engineers (and) technicians,” he said.

With such skills, the country became an expert in shipbuilding and electronics, creating good jobs in those areas. But Mr Lee acknowledged that it has become harder to attract students to take up Stem subjects or to work in those sectors upon leaving school.

Industry trends have sent people to fields such as real estate and finance. Generational changes have also played a part.

“Students who have grown up in a more developed economy take science and technology more for granted, and pursue interests in other areas,” Mr Lee said.

This is a trend even in his Cabinet. “Most of the older generation of ministers had engineering or science degrees, other than a few lawyers… But today, many of the young ministers studied economics and social sciences,” he said.

Singapore needs to find a balance, he added.

“We need more than engineers to be a rounded, complete society, but we must not neglect hard sciences in the pursuit of higher satisfaction in life,” said Mr Lee, as he called on SUTD to champion science and technology.

SUTD enrolled its first batch of students in 2012 at an interim campus in Dover Road and moved to its current location near Upper Changi Road earlier this year. Its pioneer class graduates in August.

The university offers four programmes – architecture and sustainable design, engineering product development, engineering systems and design, and information systems technology and design.

Yesterday, Mr Lee toured the campus,which was designed to do away with separate buildings for different disciplines so as to encourage collaborative learning.

Housed in the campus are four traditional Chinese timber structures – two antique houses, a pavilion and an opera stage – from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

They were donated by Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan, who was at yesterday’s ceremony.

First-year student of information systems technology and design, Ms Janice Ho, 21, said: “I like SUTD’s concept of integrating design and technology.”

Having yet to decide on a career, she added: “I want to keep my options open.”

leepearl@sph.com.sg