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Opening Address By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister For Education (Higher Education And Skills) At The Lifelong Learning Festival 2016, 12 November 2016, Lifelong Learning Institute, 11.00 Am

Mr Tan Kay Yong

Chairman, Lifelong Learning Council

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

1             It is my pleasure to join you at the Lifelong Learning Festival 2016. The Lifelong Learning Festival has been around for many years. I remember when I was a much younger civil servant; the Lifelong Learning Festival was really a festival. We were teaching all kinds of leisure and recreational skills and then somebody said that the Lifelong Learning Festival should really be about vocational skills, skills that one can use to earn a living and so the concept changed.

2             Years later, I can see that the concept has changed again. Today because we have defined vocational skills a lot wider, not just the physical, technical skills but a whole host of social and soft skills. So we see the pendulum swinging as we redefine what skills upgrading means for all of us. The Festival this year has been extended from two days to a two-week-long festival. Activities will be held all over the island so that the message of lifelong learning and the need to constantly upgrade oneself will seep into the community.

3             An occasion like this is always a good opportunity to take stock of all the initiatives under SkillsFuture and introduce a few new initiatives. Before that let me talk about how ordinary Singaporeans perceive SkillsFuture. 

SkillsFuture Fellowship

4             SkillsFuture is sometimes seen like an iceberg, you see the tip but there’s a lot more underneath. Today, people only see the top of SkillsFuture which is the SkillsFuture Credit but the iceberg has a lot more underneath. The $500 SkillsFuture Credit is really like a voucher, it is what we call demand-side funding. The rest of the iceberg is funding and support on the supply-side and there is so much that we are doing on the supply-side. Our education system is all funded on the supply-side, funding goes into the schools, polytechnics, ITEs, universities, likewise under SSG, it goes into CET centres, it goes into specific courses that can lead you to a better job.

5             Having said that, there have been many people, writing in to me and other Members of Parliament  to request for more funding on the demand-side, in other words to get a bigger voucher so that they can attend more courses of their choosing. Hence, we introduced the SkillsFuture Study Awards.  In July, I gave out the first batch of SkillsFuture Study Awards to recipients who are committed to deepening their skills in their respective vocations. One of the recipients is Glory Janessa Puvaneswari Kumaran. She started out as a pre-school teacher at PAP Community Foundation in 2001 and is now a senior teacher overseeing the induction and mentoring programme in her school. Her ambition is to become a Centre Principal and she intends to use the Study Award to pursue an Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership.

6             But let us go one step further, to working people who are more senior, who have already developed deep expertise in their profession but wants to go further.  For example, someone who is already a Centre Principal or even a Cluster Lead, but learning to be even better, acquiring latest knowhow and techniques in teaching children.  These individuals can become mentors to others like Janessa. 

7             In the case of a chef, learning beyond culinary skills in the kitchen to designing menus.  An experienced HR professional learning business side of things, so he or she can truly be partner of the CEO in shaping the direction of the company.  An engineer learning to be a master trainer, so that knowledge and skills are better captured and transmitted throughout his organization.

8             To recognise Singaporeans with deep skills in their areas of work and who champion lifelong learning in their work communities as mentors and role models to others, we will be giving out the SkillsFuture Fellowship starting from next year. It is a cash award of $10,000 that they can use to continue their pursuit of skills mastery, in a course of their choosing. For a start, we will give out up to 30 SkillsFuture Fellowships in 2017, and will increase the number over time. At steady state, we expect to award up to 100 Fellowships per year.

Employer Awards

9             Apart from the community and lifelong learning champions, employers also play a key role in supporting a lifelong learning culture. A conducive learning environment at work is vital to employees keeping up with the skills needs of the industry.

10         For companies that are exemplary in their investments in their employees’ skills development, we want to recognise them with the SkillsFuture Employer Awards. In 2017, we plan to give out up to 10 awards, and up to 30 awards annually at steady state.

11         Applications for both the SkillsFuture Fellowships and Employer Awards will open in mid-December. These awards were jointly conceptualised by tripartite partners, who would also form a tripartite judging panel and drive the outreach of both awards. SSG will provide more details when ready.

More Options in Education

12         Lifelong learning is a continuum, from our education system to adult learning.  On the education front, we continue to expand the choices and offer more options for learners.

13         Earlier this week, NUS has announced that it will be introducing co-operative programmes, where students spend extended amount of time during third and fourth year working in companies and studying in campus.  NUS will start information security, business analytics, and data science. NUS and SIT will be the two universities offering co-operative programmes and I welcome the other universities to offer them too. Co-operative programs will give students a stronger grounding in real life work experience, and moving ahead, we will see more varied forms of course delivery in universities.

14         Last month, I announced MOE’s proposal to restructure UniSIM into our 6th Autonomous University (AU).  The next steps will include legal and legislative amendment to confer AU status to UniSIM, and to rebrand the University.

15         With this change, it will receive more support from MOE to run its courses.  We have two comprehensive universities – NUS and NTU.  The others occupy important niches, providing upgrading pathways for different sectors, trades and crafts.  SMU focuses on the business sector, SUTD blends technology with strong design thinking discipline, and SIT offers applied learning in technical fields. 

16         UniSIM too will have its special place.  It will courses in applied learning in the area of social sciences.  It will offer both full time degrees for young students, but more important, it will continue its current focus which is to offer part-time degrees to adult learners who chose to start their career first, and obtain their degrees later on in life.  This is a pathway that is quite under-developed today, and with UniSIM as an Autonomous University, the pathway will be given a much needed booster.      

LearnSG Seed Fund

17         Last year at the Festival, I announced the LearnSG Seed Fund to encourage Singaporeans, organisations and schools to drive learning projects and foster a spirit of learning within the community. Since its launch in January 2016, 64 projects have been supported under this fund.

18         One recipient of the Seed Fund is the One Maker Group which runs a 10-week Maker Apprentice Programme. The programme imparts skills in areas such as engineering, welding and woodwork as well as the use of tools like 3D-printers to create their own projects. Shaun Poon is a participant of this programme. He started prop-making as a hobby and after joining the Maker Apprentice Programme, he has incorporated electronics and fabrication skills he learnt into this work. I am glad to hear that what started out as a community-driven learning project has helped to deepen Shaun’s skills and perhaps eventually turn his hobby into an enterprise.

19         The LearnSG Seed Fund is currently open for applications and I hope more will step forward to apply. But a Seed Fund is really not enough.  We need to stronger push on the ground, to individuals and to businesses.

20         Hence, last month, I announced SkillsFuture Engage, an outreach effort supported by CDCs, NTUC e2i and other community groups to bring resources and advisory services to Singaporeans.  These intermediaries will engage and guide the public to navigate the training and education landscape.

a.    First, organizes ground initiatives, such as workshops, seminars to engage Singaporeans. 

b.    Second, conduct self-assessments to help Singaporeans find out which training and career choices best fit them.

c.     Third, provide advice on what training is suitable and how to use SkillsFuture Credit wisely to help bridge the skills gap.

21         We will pilot this with CDCs and hope to extend this effort throughout the island with the help of more union and community groups. The support available to Singaporeans extends beyond helping individuals make informed choices on training and job-matching.


22         It has taken many years to reach where we are. I hope that over time we will look at SkillsFuture as less of an iceberg but as a building, where we can see the whole structure, and I think this building is gradually taking shape. This building will have many pillars. An education system with more options, new pathways, different modalities of delivery; polytechnics, ITE and even Universities running adult learning centres. All these providing different choices for our young learners.

23         On the supply side, we have a lot of support starting with a broad base of subsidised courses for all Singaporeans. Last year, we introduced the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy, of which Singaporeans aged 40 and above can benefit from higher course fee subsidies.  We also provide support to CET centres to build up their capabilities to offer quality training. On the demand side, we have at a broad base again with the SkillsFuture Credit. Beyond that a more generous monetary award which we call the SkillsFuture Study Awards and above that, an even more generous award for the masters - the SkillsFuture Fellowships. Putting all this together, the SkillsFuture Engage, where we go out and engage companies and engage Singaporeans so that we all understand the system and can make use of that system.  

24         Let’s continue to work on this.  It will have a tremendous impact on Singapore, and the lives of Singaporeans.