Parliament No:13
Session No:1
Volume No:94
Sitting No:46
Sitting Date:08-05-2017
Section Name:Second Reading Bills
Title:Singapore University of Social Sciences Bill
MPs Speaking:The Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) (Mr Ong Ye Kung) Mr Ong Ye Kung The Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) (Mr Ong Ye Kung), Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio), Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member), Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng (Jalan Besar), Assoc Prof Randolph Tan, Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade), Asst Prof Mahdev Mohan (Nominated Member), Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh), Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines), Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon), Ms K Thanaletchimi (Nominated Member)

Singapore University of Social Sciences Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.36 pm

The Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) (Mr Ong Ye Kung): Mdm Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”

At the Committee of Supply debate earlier this year, I had spoken about the need to transform Singapore's higher education landscape. The change and expansion are driven by two key factors. First, as our economy grows in size and sophistication, we need more talent from wider fields of expertise.

Second, as our society progresses, aspirations rise. Every parent wants his child to do well and have meaningful careers. Every child has a dream. Many want to go to university but each dream is different. We must have a system that best fulfils that.

The two are interdependent and act in a certain cycle. As the economy deepened and expanded, it enabled more students to attain higher levels of education and secure good jobs. And a stronger pool of talent made us more competitive and fuelled further growth. Because of that, since year 2000, the university cohort participation rate has increased progressively, in tandem with our economic development. From 20% in 2000, to 25% by 2010, 30% by 2015. It stands at 35% this year, and will be further raised to 40% by 2020.

At the same time, the talent emerging from our universities becomes increasingly more diverse. Today, we have five autonomous universities (AUs) – NUS, NTU, SMU, SUTD and SIT. NUS and NTU are comprehensive universities. SMU and SUTD were set up in 2000 and 2011 respectively. SMU focused on business and related disciplines. SUTD’s emphasis is on technology and design. SIT was conferred AU status in 2014 to pioneer the applied pathway, for specialised fields in science and technology.

Throughout this development, the great majority – around 90% of graduates from AUs continue to find jobs within six months of their graduation. This is not the case in many countries where there is severe graduate unemployment because of an over-supply of graduates. We must guard against this.

With the passing of this Bill, we will set up a sixth AU, the Singapore University of Social Sciences, or SUSS. SUSS will be a unique AU, clearly differentiated from the existing AUs, adding further diversity and choice to our university landscape.

SUSS is built on the foundation of an earlier partnership between the Ministry of Education and SIM, the Singapore Institute of Management, a private society.

In 1992, MOE turned to SIM to help develop programmes that would offer its non-graduate teachers an opportunity to deepen their knowledge in their teaching subjects. The Open University Degree Programmes grew out of this MOE-SIM collaboration. SIM eventually established the SIM University in 2005 to deliver these part-time degree courses.

In 2012, the Government selected SIM University to develop full-time programmes under the applied pathway as well, in addition to its mainstay of part-time degree programmes. In 2013, it was selected to host the third law school in Singapore.

SIM University did very well. It offered full-time degree programmes in human resource management, social work and other areas, and were distinguished by its modular and flexible structure and novel opportunities for learning by doing. From an intake of 200 in 2014, the university now takes in about 580 students and its numbers are still growing.

The Government has decided to restructure SIM University into an AU, and renamed it SUSS. As an AU, SUSS will become a permanent fixture in our higher education landscape, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other five AUs.

Students will continue to enjoy substantial government subsidies for the cost of their education in SUSS. They will have access to government-supported financial assistance schemes for those who require more help with the cost of their studies.

The pathway that SUSS provides will be clearly differentiated from the other AUs. It is unique in three ways.

First, SUSS will be a champion of lifelong learning. Since its inception in 2005, the University has been providing quality learning opportunities to adult learners. To date, it has produced over 27,000 graduates, many of whom are working adults who had to juggle their studies with other work and family commitments.

For this reason, the University has continually sought to improve the structure and delivery of its programmes, including leveraging ICT, in order to better support working students. It will continue to refine its teaching model as learner, industry and societal needs evolve.

SUSS will also expand its programme offerings for adult learners. It will work with the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency (SSG) and sector agencies to develop industry-relevant courses and create new content that will support the upgrading of our industries.

Second, SUSS will deliver programmes that have a strong social focus. SUSS will champion disciplines that positively impact society and its development. Part of this is to build a strong niche in the social sciences, such as social work, early childhood education, and human resource management.

In addition, it will infuse the mission of social development into other disciplines. This is increasingly important, as we need to balance economic growth with social development; globalisation with a strong sense of community and nationhood. Hence, in SUSS’ full-time programmes, there is a compulsory service learning component which requires students to initiate, conceptualise, and execute a social project and champion a cause. This is also why as host of Singapore’s third law school, SUSS focuses on criminal and family lawyers.

Third, SUSS will continue to develop the applied degree pathway. In this regard, SUSS will complement SIT, each with its own domain focus. There will be strong inter-lacing of theoretical knowledge with real-life application, and the two universities will strengthen the nexus between institution and industry.

As SUSS prepares to take its next steps forward, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the SIM for its role in establishing and supporting the development of the University over the past 12 years.

In recognition of SIM’s contributions to the setting up and development of SUSS, an endowment fund will be set up in SUSS, named the SIM Endowment Fund. The Fund will be used to build SUSS’ capability, support the activities of the University, and ensure that individuals continue to have access to lifelong learning opportunities through scholarships, sponsorships, and study awards. It will be a fitting legacy to the good work of SIM.

SUSS, like our other AUs, will be governed by an Act of Parliament. This is to safeguard public interests and use of public funds.

The SUSS Bill thus aims to serve three key functions. First, it signals the Government’s support for SUSS, and assures the public of SUSS’ credibility and standing.

Second, it empowers the Government to better guide the strategic development of SUSS towards meeting national objectives in education, as well as economic and social development.

Third, it permits the Government to provide resources to SUSS, and monitor the performance and finances of the institution in order to ensure accountability for the use of public funds.

Let me now highlight the key clauses in this Bill. Clause 3 sets out the function of SUSS, which includes conferring and awarding degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Clauses 5, 6 and 8 allow the Government to guide the strategic development of SUSS and to appoint, remove and replace members of the SUSS Board of Trustees and ensure moneys provided by Parliament to SUSS may only be applied or expended by SUSS based on its public mission spelled out by the Act.

[Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lim Biow Chuan) in the Chair]

Clauses 4 and 9 allow the Government to monitor the performance and finances of SUSS through an accountability framework, including scrutiny of the accounts and financial statements of SUSS.

Clause 12 provides for consequential amendments, to the Private Education Act, Chapter 247A, to provide that the Act will not apply to SUSS. It also amends the Legal Profession Act and Singapore Academy of Law Act, to replace the words "SIM University" with the "Singapore University of Social Sciences", and lastly, the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency Act to include SUSS in the list of universities.

Sir, this Bill embodies the Government's vision for SUSS to play an important role in providing opportunities for all Singaporeans, to upgrade their skills and pursue lifelong learning.

In this regard, I would like to end my speech today with some comments on the meaning of a university education. The issue of university cohort participation rate has received some attention in the past few days, arising from a panel discussion I participated at the 47th St Gallen Symposium. I would like to make three points.

First, degrees, like most things in life, can become obsolete. We live in a world where information and knowledge can be googled and available online. Skills are what carry a premium now, and skills need to be honed throughout our lifetime. So, let us not be overly fixated with how many percentage of each young student cohort move on to attend universities, because all of us, 100%, need to keep learning and deepening our skills throughout our lives.

The second point I would like to make: degrees do not earn us a living, and do not make our dreams come true. We do. Our ability to keep pace with changing needs of the economy is what helps us earn our keep. It is the dedicated pursuit of a discipline that makes dreams comes true.

We must, however, recognise that because our dreams and aspirations are diverse, the needs of economy are diverse, the path for upgrading must also be diverse and multitudinous. They should include academic upgrades, yes, but also applied qualifications, apprenticeships, industry certifications, modular and frequent skills acquisitions, overseas exposures or simply gaining work experience and making for yourself a name in the industry or in your respective fields. It will truly be “unimaginative” to confine ourselves to university academic education as the only way to fulfil our full potential.

Last, degrees do not define us – individually, or as a society. I believe most of us agree that we do not want a society that defines success as simply having a degree. Our society needs to evolve, such that all occupations, crafts and trades, whether the skills are acquired through a degree education or not, are respected and recognised.

We have come so far in uniting all segments of the society for a common purpose. Let us all continue to do our part to underscore and spread the message of inclusiveness, unity, celebrating and embracing all manners of achievements and successes. Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.

Question proposed.

4.50 pm

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio): Deputy Speaker, with UniSIM set to become our newest and sixth Autonomous University, I think this is a great opportunity for us to chart a different learning experience for SUSS graduands.

As mentioned by Minister, there will be strong SkillsFuture focus and I suggest also that it means "the now" and "the later". It means that our graduates should meet the skill requirements of jobs that is now, but also be adaptable to learn how to meet changing workplace needs. The alignment to SkillsFuture, as mentioned by Minister earlier, is very closely to what we know about the brand that UniSIM currently carries.

It is traditionally known for its focus on continuing education and training for adult learners. Many of the students enrolled in its programmes, continuing their education in a degree on a part-time basis, are all working adults. And today, they have a good mix of young and old students who hail from diverse backgrounds, adding to a rich learning experience.

As a champion for lifelong leaning, I am glad the new AU will continue to retain its distinctive offering and stay relevant to working professionals as the University for lifelong learning.

Beyond that, I look forward to SUSS being closely aligned to our direction of providing Singaporeans with the opportunity to attain mastery of skills. Working adults – having already had a taste of working life ­– will now better understand the skills gaps and needs at the workplace, and they are eager to hone their skills and competencies. I am very confident that the new university will be able to bridge that gap.

I agree that we need to inculcate a culture of lifelong learning amongst our students and help our workers pick up industry-relevant skills and transferrable skills. For working people, I hope that they MOE will consider how, at the enrolment phase, to allow working people with workplace experience to be given special consideration when enrolling in a university place in SUSS.

Furthermore, for those of them who have participated in internship programmes, or those who have acquired experience in the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme, that these be considered additional admission points when they are applying for a place in the University. The reason for doing so is to continue what they have learnt at the workplace so that they can re-learn and un-learn and learn new skills at SUSS.

On the academic field, I hope there will be a good representation of lecturers or guest speakers who are experts in their respective industries or respective fields so that the students can learn from the best, not just from lecturers, but also from industry practitioners. The lecturers and speakers in the university should have the appropriate pedagogy on providing adult learners with authentic learner engagements and also ability to integrate work experiences into the tertiary curriculum.

On a related note, I would like to declare my interest as an Executive Secretary of the Education Services Union that as we transit the UniSIM into an AU, we also should prepare the non-academic staff in the University for this transition.

Their new work environment, student engagements, requirements from MOE – there may be new yardstick, new KPIs – I hope that the management will work closely with the union to ensure that the workers on the ground will be able to manage this transition without being impacted by the change.

On Minister's note about Applied Social Sciences, I would like to suggest that we could also ensure that beyond social work, early childhood and human resource, there could be other applied contents, such as counselling, coaching, organisation behaviour, clinical psychology, data analytics, consumer behaviour and even labour management relations to complement human resource content. These, I believe, are useful knowledge that graduands will find that the workplace strongly requires many of our students to possess.

Furthermore, I would also like to encourage the Ministry to consider working with SUSS to include corporate governance, cross cultural knowledge, business ethics and corporate sustainability as applicable knowledge that the workplace will require, and if these could be modules in the University, I believe it will be an advantage that SUSS will be able to possess.

The Minister earlier mentioned that they will be working with the lecturers, SkillsFuture and sectoral representatives to ensure that the content will be relevant to the workplace. I am very confident that with this approach, there will be a competency-based system ensuring that the graduands stay updated, having possess skills and knowledge that are required at the workplace.

Deputy Speaker, in conclusion, I am confident that the learning in the new University can have a strong weightage assigned to relevance to the market and content with a strong emphasis on applied learning.

Whilst our graduate employment rate remains healthy at 90% after six months of graduation, I hope that we do not see that as the only yardstick. I agree with what Minister mentioned earlier for us not to just look at cohort size going to the Universities, let us also not look at how many percent find jobs, but rather, whether will they be able to meet job requirements not of today's, but also for future needs.

Having a job today does not mean that you are ready with adaptable skills for the future. So, with the University's focus on lifelong learning, I am confident that SUSS will be able to enable our adult learners to find jobs for today as well as jobs for tomorrow. With that, I support the Bill.

4.56 pm

Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Deputy Speaker, Sir, as a social scientist by vocation, I was pleasantly surprised that the Government announced the renaming of SIM University as the Singapore University of Social Sciences. This is, of course, not a simple renaming, but a significant reorientation of Singapore's leading private university catering to adult education as it comes under public stewardship to become our sixth Autonomous University.

This reorientation will not just become a major milestone in our higher education field, but it will also have important consequences for Singapore society, as social science knowledge is brought to bear directly on the changing and increasingly complex social landscape. While I support the Bill, I would like to raise four issues regarding the development of applied social sciences in Singapore.

The first issue is the balancing of academic and applied social sciences. Academic social sciences tend to be highly specialised, with the individual disciplines developing their own lineage of knowledge traditions and research methodologies. Academic social sciences are also more concerned with producing new theoretical knowledge of cause-and-effect. Practical solutions and policy implications are secondary concerns. Applied social sciences invert the emphases of academic social sciences. Applied social sciences are multi-disciplinary in structure and inter-disciplinary in approach, with the focus on applying existing knowledge to understand specific social problems and develop practical solutions.

Academic and applied social sciences need each other to do their work. Applications of theoretical knowledge validate and vindicate the knowledge and will show up gaps that become the puzzles to push the research frontier. Academic social sciences not only provide the theoretical knowledge for applied social scientists to work with, but also the tools of critical analysis for the scientists to evaluate solutions and policies in objective light.

The risk involved in the setting up of a whole University dedicated to applied social sciences is that the University could become a mere research arm for the civil service. To be effective, applied social sciences must be relevant to both academic social scientists and policy makers. There is a need to balance academic and applied social sciences in the University, even if the University should focus on applied social sciences. As paradoxical as this may sound, I urge the Minister to safeguard the autonomy of the applied social scientists from policy makers, even as we seek greater relevance of social research to social policy, and ensure the balance of academic and applied social sciences in the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

The second issue is a related one. With this sixth Autonomous University, Singapore will have an enhanced and diverse higher education field. But a closer look at the diversity reveals yet another risk. The three older Universities, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University, are academic in orientation. There is also a division of labour between them. NUS has the full suite of academic disciplines and more, with cutting-edge residential and liberal arts colleges in University Town. NTU is focused on the technological sciences, while SMU specialises in management sciences. The three newer universities, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore Institute of Technology and now SUSS, offer applied learning. There is also a division of labour between them. SUTD focuses on application of design to technological innovation, SIT specialises in applied learning in the industries and SUSS zooms in on applied social sciences.

There is a discomforting symmetry in this diversity. My worry is that our higher education field will evolve into six silo Universities, all functionally differentiated and not relating to each, each becoming a great echo chamber in itself, six blind men feeling the different parts to know the strange elephant. Already as such, in NUS, I am a lot more networked with international scholars than I am with my peers in the other five Universities.

In developed economies with advanced tertiary education sectors, there is a balance between competition and complementation among the universities. A highly differentiated university sector means that the universities will appear to complement each other at the highest level of planning for the education of our workforce and compete for the same pot of research funding. However, the departments and research centres in each university will have little incentive to interact and network with their counterparts in other universities. There will be little competition of ideas, which is what makes for a thriving university sector.

This problem of becoming a silo university will affect SUSS more because its subject focus is the social landscape in Singapore. This landscape is becoming increasingly complex. Let us take the institution of the family as an example. It is no longer tenable in sociology to speak of a single form of family, that is, the modern nuclear family underpinned by marriage and functionally set up for making and growing babies to become good citizens. Individual choices, new forms of partnership, new ways of childbearing and childrearing, dissolutions of marriages have led to a plurality of families and complex new social problems.

In such a complex social landscape, applied social sciences have to take the lead in research and knowledge production, and the nature of this leadership has to be different to that of academic social sciences. The theoretical knowledge offered by academic social sciences is no longer adequate in themselves, and its insularity from society means that academic social scientists are likely to be unaware of the emerging trends in the social landscape.

But for applied social scientists to take the lead, SUSS would need to be highly networked with communities in the social field, and the knowledge production must reside in the relationship between the university and the communities. In academic social sciences, the research problems and analyses take place in the university, and the social field matters only as the site where data is collected to be brought back into the university. Applied social sciences work with communities to define research problems and data, and analyses are often generated in collaboration with community partners. Results of the research are not just published as findings, but are applied as practical solutions to be continuously evaluated.

The risk, again, of setting up an entire university dedicated to applied social sciences is that the university will see itself and be seen by the Government and society as the centre of expert knowledge about social problems. Applied social sciences have had many decades of development in Anglo-American universities, and one of the problems that have been identified is precisely this problem of applied social sciences becoming too academic and losing its community grounding. One of the ways to mitigate this is for the university to work with community partners to set up community-based research centres.

This would necessitate at least two changes to the structure of research funding. First, fewer research grants would be attached to academic research teams based in the university but more grants would be given to community-based research centres. The administration of these grants would have to be more flexible and adapted to specific needs on the ground. Second, instead of solely using academic impact measurements to evaluate the performance of research, for example, publications in journals and citation indices, social impact measurements will have to be developed to take into account the relevance of applied social science research.

The fourth issue is less institutional and more about the quality of the social scientists who staff the teaching positions and drive the research work. I believe that we need to prioritise quality first and foremost over other considerations, including the question of nationality that has come up in this House before. What Singaporeans deserve are the best professors in the world to teach them to become the best social scientists they can be and to conduct the most cutting-edge research to help solve our social problems.

Decades of experience of applied social science research in Anglo-American universities show that immigrant and local-born professors perform equally well. Nationality matters insofar as there would be a natural commitment on the part of Singaporean professors to the country and society. One expects this commitment to be a long-term one grounded in family and community life here. Therefore, all else being equal in terms of quality or potential for quality, let us privilege Singaporeans. But quality should come first.

On the quality of our social scientists, especially with regard to growing a critical mass of excelling Singaporean social scientists, the Government can help by supporting the setting up of an Academy of Social Sciences and disciplinary associations. Presently, the eco-system connecting locally based social scientists is very weak. The dearth of associational life has driven many of us to join the national associations of other countries, for example, for me, the American Sociological Association. We also need an academy as our representative body to advance the governance and standards of research and teaching in the social sciences. The establishment of SUSS presents us with a good opportunity to grow the intellectual eco-system for social science.

Beyond these four issues, I have a more immediate practical matter to bring up. The question that some SIM University alumni have with the metamorphosis of their alma mater to SUSS is whether their certificates could be reprinted under the SUSS banner. Some have argued that this should not be, as education in SUSS would be of a higher quality than in SIM University, and thus it would be an unfair upgrade for the alumni. This is a view that seems to echo the popular stereotype and condescension of SIM University as inferior. It is precisely because of such popular myths that we should not unfairly stigmatise SIM University alumni. Already, the change to SUSS is being read as an upgrade from an inferior species to a superior creature.

Without the hungry caterpillar, there would not be a beautiful butterfly. We should not deny the contribution of SIM University alumni to the making of SUSS and deprive SUSS of that important history and a body of proud alumni. The one most important single line that connects SIM University and SUSS is the emphasis on lifelong learning. I would like to suggest that SUSS extends their excellent Alumni Continuing Education Plus Scheme allowing graduates to enjoy up to two free modular courses to all SIM University alumni. Upon completion of one module, alumni could then get a reprint of a consolidated degree certificate under the SUSS brand.

Deputy Speaker, Sir, this Bill marks a new chapter for our higher education sector and a new era for social scientists to contribute their knowledge making to the betterment of society. I have raised four issues with the unprecedented establishment of an entire university dedicated to applied social sciences. I sincerely hope that we will successfully navigate these issues and come out on the winning side, which would be a big win for Singapore society. I also hope that we would do the right thing for the SIM University alumni who have done their part in the making of SUSS. Deputy Speaker, I support the Bill.

5.07 pm

Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng (Jalan Besar): Deputy Speaker, Sir, the Government's decision to make UniSIM, now SUSS, Singapore’s sixth Autonomous University, is a good decision. It is a good decision on three counts.

One, there is no other University in Singapore that currently occupies and claims that unique domain space of the applied social sciences. As Singapore’s social demographics change and the needs and demands in society become graver and more challenging, the need for more in-depth analyses and application of social science studies becomes correspondingly very critical.

The second reason why SUSS is a good decision is this. UniSIM was a private school with a known brand and history of more than 20 years. The Government’s support of this private university will help fulfil its promise to create more University places in the public education space. This is a promise that was made when Minister Lawrence Wong was helming the tertiary education space in MOE then. SUSS will, indeed, help meet the brewing aspirations of many fresh undergraduates and working adults to get a first degree.

But the most important reason why this Bill reflects a good decision is this. UniSIM’s, and now SUSS', unique experience of primarily catering to busy working adults pursuing further studies falls squarely in place with Singapore’s SkillsFuture movement. Our SkillsFuture movement is an important shift which encourages lifelong learning and skills mastery, and it features a very important type of education for our future economy.

Perhaps less known to the public is the fact that SUSS, then UniSIM, is a forerunner in the provision of e-learning in the Singapore tertiary space. Even before other universities jumped on the bandwagon of digital education, before the term "online learning" became a mantra, the former UniSIM had been investing in and learning the business of e-learning and blending it with face-to-face class interactions. The purpose was to deliver programmes anytime, anywhere, on any PDA, via multi-media channels and blended learning, to meet the demanding schedules of its busy adult learners. At a time when most tertiary institutions are doing the catch-up on online and blended learning, SUSS is already way ahead in digital education and catering to an adult learner population in a fast-paced work setting.

Sir, the Bill appears to be uncomplicated – the formalisation, scoping and funding of the new AU − SUSS from its former private school status. Clause 3 sets out the function of the university company. The main object of SUSS will be to “provide lifelong learning programmes, with a disciplinary focus in the social sciences, for adults”. Clause 8 provides for Parliament to give funding and requires that the moneys given may only be applied for such objects. But the devil is in the details.

So, I would like to be assured by the Minister in three specific areas so that SUSS would not end up becoming just like another ordinary University, losing its edge and the opportunity to help put Singapore on the map of future learning.

The first is to do with positioning. SUSS’ positioning, both in terms of what it offers and who the target learners are. Whilst Social Science is an appealing focus, a search online would reveal that branches of Social Science can cover a full spectrum from anthropology, education, social work, business studies, economics, political science, psychology to sustainability studies. But at the same time, to add to the complication, there are also talks amongst many education experts that there is a need, like what Assoc Prof. Daniel Goh said, to ensure that subjects are not taught in silo. There is a real need to blend some of the subjects, and that is what many educators are talking about. I, therefore, would like to seek the Minister’s views on the long-term positioning of a University such as SUSS.

In addition, if SUSS is to provide lifelong learning programmes for adults, I seek the Minister’s clarification on what “adult learners” actually are. I mean, who are they really? The current age of SUSS’ undergrads today is 29 years old, I was told. Although this is older than the 19-year-olds who normally enter the other Universities, how would SUSS cater to working adults who are much older and, especially, those who decide to take up new skills or a new second or third career? In a world where old jobs disappear and future jobs requiring new skills emerge, is there an intent for MOE to give these older learners more than one bite of the cherry in their pursuit of tertiary studies? Can they pursue several tertiary level courses throughout their lifetime? Is there a space for that?

My second query is in the area of resourcing and funding. SUSS will need to be sufficiently resourced to allow it to acquire the faculty to deepen the disciplinary focus of Social Sciences and to conduct applied research in the Social Sciences.

In addition, there is a great opportunity to further propel the SUSS’ traditional strength in online and blended learning. SUSS can become a regional or global lead in not just a provider of digital education for adult learners but also a provider of expert services, consultancy in education technology and design.

The current UniSIM financial model that was inherited appears to be an entrepreneurial model using primarily part-time faculty members to support a large proportion of part-time adult learner undergrads. Whilst the entrepreneurial and nimble spirit of SUSS should never be lost, the new AU must receive a funding support that allows it to delve deeper into its social science domain and also not to lose its traditional strength.

My third concern is on how a University like SUSS would be evaluated by the Ministry, the Government, by its learners and also the public. The commonly held success criteria by which Universities are gauged include the popular ranking systems − research robustness, publications in journals and the like. SUSS will need to establish a set of KPIs and criteria that reflect its desired positioning in the overall tertiary education landscape.

I, therefore, seek clarification from the Minister on his views on how is he going to evaluate a university like SUSS; and, for that matter, how he intends to measure the success and significance of all his tertiary institutions in the future learning landscape. After all, what gets measured gets done.

In conclusion, Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am in full support of the Bill. SUSS presents an exciting opportunity to paint and deliver the vision of what future learning for Singapore’s working adults and Singapore's lifelong learning adults can be. I strongly urge MOE to seize this opportunity to strengthen the new SUSS, fully invest in it, so that it will take off and it will soar as the very unique provider for a very unique group of learners in a very unique education age.

5.14 pm

Assoc Prof Randolph Tan (Nominated Member): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I declare my interest as a faculty member and an employee of SUSS. I would like to express my strong support for the Bill.

Tertiary education enrolment in Singapore has been expanding continuously over the last few decades. This expansion has been driven by the rising educational aspirations of Singaporeans and made possible by increasing Government expenditures on education. Between 1990 and 2000, total Government expenditure on education nearly tripled. From 2000 to 2015, total expenditure slowed as development expenditure on education plateaued. Despite that, total expenditure still grew by 110% in those years, driven by recurrent expenditures.

University-level education has consistently taken up the bulk of this in aggregate terms. Sir, however, in terms of recurrent expenditure per student, that at the University-level actually grew slowest, at 2.4% per year between 2000 and 2015, compared with the 8.1% per year for Primary-level for instance.

In international terms, even though Singapore does not spend the most, it compares favourably with other economies. In terms of Government expenditure per tertiary student as a percentage of GDP per capita, Singapore’s 27.4% in 2010 was above Australia’s, the US’ and Hong Kong’s. However, we should also note that it was below Brazil’s, New Zealand’s, Malaysia’s as well as those of most of the Nordic states.

In 2000, 33,298 resident students were attending University. By 2015, the number stood at 90,900. This manifold increase in University enrolment numbers emphatically underlines the growing desire for degree qualifications.

To accommodate such strong growth in enrolment, the Government has promoted measures aimed at strengthening governance while encouraging innovation.

On 21 November 2005, Parliament passed the Corporatisation Bills for NUS and NTU, which transformed them into autonomous universities. The SMU Corporatisation Bill was also passed at the same sitting. In 2011, Parliament passed the SUTD Bill. In 2012, the Prime Minister announced that the number of universities in Singapore would be increased to six, with the addition of SIT and UniSIM.

These are all part of the Government’s fulfilment of its commitment to achieve targeted increases in the proportion of each cohort which would earn tertiary educational qualifications. With the renaming of UniSIM as SUSS, and its inclusion among the AUs overseen by MOE, Singaporeans have an even greater range of options to choose from when deciding on further education.

Sir, beyond the increases in the number of autonomous universities and the cohort participation rates, in the last 12 years, the university education landscape in Singapore has undergone significant changes in other ways.

More tertiary students are taking up internships and overseas exchanges than ever before, reflecting the growing industry focus and international outlook of our Institutions of Higher Learning (IHLs). At the same time, technology is changing the landscape of education altogether. Learning is less tied to physical location than ever before. Virtual learning models such as massive open online courses and flipped classrooms are rendering previously recognised boundaries of instructor-student interaction obsolete.

For SUSS, which has carved a place out as the only private university in Singapore’s higher education landscape, this Bill represents a very significant milestone. The change enacted by this Bill, is coming under greater MOE oversight. In contrast, when NUS and NTU made the change to AUs from being statutory boards, they were moving to less Government scrutiny.

Yet, even as a private university, SUSS has been enjoying strong support from the Government since its inception. One important form of support is the fee subsidy, which now stands at 55% for part-time undergraduate programmes at SUSS and the other AUs.

There is no doubt in my mind that greater support from the Government will enable SUSS to do even more for its students. In particular, I would like to emphasise the importance of catering to the needs of working adults who wish to take up degree studies without leaving the workforce.

I would just like to ask for some clarifications about the direction of funding and support for working adults going forward.

Sir, there is often a comparison between the subsidies provided by the Government for part-time and full-time undergraduate programmes. This point has been brought up before. For instance, during the debate on the President’s Address in 2011, Mr Ang Wei Neng asked about the difference between the subsidy rates for part-time and full-time degree programmes. If one looks at the fees payable for any particular programme, say accountancy, in any of the AUs, the total fees for part-time programmes could be lower than those for their full-time counterparts in many cases. Could the Minister clarify the bases upon which these rates should be interpreted?

Another question I have related to this is about working adults wanting to enrol in university courses and their eligibility then for financial assistance. There are several schemes currently available. Despite this, publicly-funded tertiary education in Singapore still represents a significant cost to low-income families. In its commitment to ensure that all deserving students are given a chance to achieve tertiary education, the Government as well as other organisations offer a range of schemes. These include bursaries, loans, and scholarships, and are meant “to cover not only the remaining tuition fees payable but also to help students defray their costs of living”. But I would like to ask the Minister how, if such students are working, whether their personal incomes are taken into account in assessing their eligibility for loans, bursaries or other schemes which could help to reduce the financial burden of tuition fees.

If the student were the main breadwinner of a family, say, was considering pursuing a degree, would his or her application for financial assistance be assessed similarly to those who are still mainly dependent on their parents for financial support?

Sir, the needs of working adults are different and it is important to understand these needs in order for effectively help them sustain their efforts in academic work. In closing, please let me talk about this, based on my personal observations. From personal experience, I have found that all working adults take their academic studies very seriously even under the pressure of job deadlines. At the same time, unlike most full-time students who are not yet working, working adults have to bear the strain of competing priorities from their jobs as well as their family commitments. And the Minister kindly alluded to this in his earlier remarks.

SUSS offers opportunities which meet the aspirations of working adults in a way unique among IHLs in Singapore. For each student who works and studies at the same time, there is an individual story of perseverance and dedication. In each and every case, the journey they embark upon is a joint endeavour made through the combined support of their employers, their loved ones and their fellow students.

Unlike students in full-time programmes who can easily participate in extra-curricular activities during breaks from school work, working adults have to juggle multiple roles that leave them little time to pursue similar interests. It is not uncommon to see students rushing in to classes at night after having come straight from their workplaces without having taken dinner yet, and then hurrying back home to attend to their family commitments once classes end.

In SUSS, working adults and fresh "A" level and Polytechnic graduates now have a chance to study side-by-side, depending on the classes they take. The diversity of experiences will stand both groups in good stead and deepen their insight into the resilience of our students and workers and bind them in a shared learning journey.

Sir, this is a deeply poignant moment for everyone in SUSS, as well as for those which have been closely connected to UniSIM and its growth. I would just like to recall three comments in conclusion that relate to this change which have left a deep impression on me personally, and which I feel best give voice to my feelings.

First, I had the opportunity to get the thoughts of Prof Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SUSS. I would just like to paraphrase what he told me as follows: “with what we have done (as UniSIM) and in what SUSS will do in the future through its various pathways and educational modalities, lifelong learning is promoted and opportunities expanded for various groups of people. But as we expand these opportunities, more learners with a wide spread of abilities will take courses. We want to help them learn effectively, and find joy and satisfaction in learning. That means more support for learners will be needed." I strongly empathise with his concerns about the need to focus on the diverse needs of different groups of learners.

Second, while thinking about the weight of the responsibility that SUSS carries, I cannot help but be struck by one particular remark that Prof Aline Wong, Chancellor of SUSS, made at our recent 12th Anniversary Celebration Lunch last month. She reminded us that the mantle of being the Singapore University of Social Sciences has a special significance at this point of our nation's development, as we witness around us a burgeoning interest in social science phenomena both global and local, ranging from the popular to the esoteric. Her point, I believe, is that as a University, we must continue to strive uncompromisingly for academic excellence in advancing the social sciences as a rigorous discipline.

All of the AUs have a unique role in supporting Singapore’s future economy. With its focus on social sciences from an applied perspective, SUSS will play a particularly challenging role.

In an age of rapid technological disruption, the social sciences have an added relevance as they explore the impact of change on society as well as the possible solutions to its problems – new and old. This includes methods for coping with the impact, from the point of view of not just economic outcomes such as employment, but also psychological outcomes such as individual and familial well-being, and sociological outcomes such as those arising out of the spread of social media influence.

In closing, I would like to recall Minister Ong Ye Kung's speech at SUSS' Convocation Ceremony in October last year. Mr Ong again also referred to the same thing earlier in his opening when he recounted UniSIM’s history and the role played by the Singapore Institute of Management in its development. His words remind me of the tremendous support SUSS has received to reach this stage. His words spoke to my own experience too, for as someone who worked alongside and personally benefited from the support, advice and friendship of colleagues from the various departments of the SIM Group, I fondly recall their kindness and collegiality. Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support the Bill.

5.25 pm

Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade): Mr Deputy Speaker, the heights to which SUSS can attain is really limited by the body of governance, by the educators, the students and the people running it. Social science is a very broad spectrum term and really, as some of them say, even medicine is a social science on a grand scale. Change is a constant in our lives and restructuring is also part and parcel of this.

I have a few clarifications pertaining to this Bill

Firstly, UniSIM was a private entity before and now comes under the jurisdiction of MOE as an autonomous public institution. In this context, can the Minister update us on the migration process as well as the support rendered in this direction. Will there be any major changes or revamp that we will see, especially pertaining to the governance structure, the educators and also, I assume, a proportion of them will be retained and also developed?

Secondly, from the students’ perspective, will there be any differences in the entry requirements and eligibility criteria for existing courses and also faculties as well as the new courses that we are going to see? What kind of numbers and increments are we projecting in terms of student intake in the next, perhaps, two to five years?

Thirdly, also being a public University, we now know that the students there will be subjected to receiving tertiary support from all the various sources that are available to students from other Universities as well. I have a concern pertaining to the adult learners who are enrolled at this University because they may not be applicable to receive some of the funding support that may be applicable to the full-time students. Therefore, perhaps, it will be good at this point in time and also at this juncture of development of Singapore to see how we can help support adult learning so that they can continue lifelong learning and also to learn, unlearn and relearn, which is, really, an important mantra in the world of today's business.

Fourthly, UniSIM has had a strong culture and outlook in service learning and exposures for students including both local as well as overseas experiential learning and project work. I hope that this will be retained and perhaps even developed and enhanced even further with collaboration and partnership with the other Autonomous Universities in Singapore and overseas as well.

UniSIM has its appeal to the adult learners as we have heard over and over again today. And also there is currently a “pay as you study scheme” which is available for adult learners. This according to many has injected some level of flexibility into the curriculum and also the payment structure. It is relevant and quite a proportion of the students who are adult learners are actually tapping on the scheme. This is slightly different form other Universities where payment and fees is done by the number of years or semesters a student is in the school, for example. Thus, for the SUSS now, which model is going to be utilised and better still if we can have hybrid model so that there is more flexibility for our adult learners.

Mr Deputy Speaker, a degree is really a degree. But it is really what the holder of the degree can do, will do or is willing to do. If he can learn, unlearn and relearn and make himself relevant to industry, to the practice of his industry and business, then that is what we really want. I support the Bill.

5.29 pm

Asst Prof Mahdev Mohan (Nominated Member): Mr Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to learn that the Ministry is welcoming the sixth Autonomous University in the institution formerly known as SIM University. I have a few questions though.

If I may ask the Minister, in conjunction with SkillsFuture as well as the need to develop a dual education track, will the new SUSS consider a professional development academy? This would be in addition to the Academy of Social Sciences that my Parliamentary colleague referred to earlier. This would be focused on the professional skills. This is something that is similarly done currently, in conferring both certificates and Masters qualifications at NUS, NTU and SMU. Perhaps, SUSS could also consider doing so as well.

My second question would be, within social sciences, what is the niche that SUSS wishes to occupy, keeping a firm eye on the job market. When we actually producing students within SUSS, what are the disciplines that they would be occupying and working in? When we say applied social sciences, what are the jobs that we are thinking of?

Put differently, what is the specific strategic development model and external collaborations that the Ministry has in mind for SUSS? If we were to think of NUS as either a Yale or Harvard, SUTD and SIT as MIT of Singapore, SMU as Wharton or University of London, what would be SUSS' comparator? What would be the model that we would use?

And how much cross-AU collaborations would we find? I would add my voice to what was raised earlier by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh when he said that there is not that much cross-AU collaborations or even intra-university collaborations but there is a lot of inter-university collaborations between Singapore Universities and international universities. So, is this going to be growing? Is SUSS going to be perhaps a dynamo of inter-university collaborations within Singapore using professional development and continuing lifelong learning as the basis to do so?

My third question would be, looking at clause 5, how much involvement would the Ministry have in the research agenda of SUSS? When we think about social development, that is the core focus of SUSS. Would the projects that are being proposed by the academics within the University be in collaboration with the Government agencies or would we be able to see projects that are also being proposed in collaboration with businesses as well, in terms of social development?

Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must say that I think the University has already at this stage pulled off a coup in hiring Prof Leslie Chew, a well-known Senior Counsel in Singapore, a commercial litigator, as its first inaugural Dean of that University. If that is anything to go by for the third law school at SUSS, I think we are going to be in for a treat. Mr Deputy Speaker, I support this Bill.

5.33 pm

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh): Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise in support of the Bill and I am particularly happy of UniSIM’s restructuring to become the sixth Autonomous University offering studies in social sciences.

The restructured University is a step forward. It is good that we give focus on producing graduates in social work and early childhood education, which are areas where there is a need to shore up our pool of trained manpower in this area. I am also pleased that the University will also be running courses to produce graduates in human resource management.

Social science, as we know, and most of the speakers have mentioned, is known as a very broad subject on the scientific study of human society and social relationships.

Sometimes, the word "social science" conjures an image of people working in a social work or teaching environment only. However, the roles available within this discipline is, in fact, very wide as well as focusing on a wide range of issues. All said, the social services sector is expecting some 3,000 job openings over the next two years. Hopefully, with the training of more social scientists, we can overcome societal issues in Singapore and build stronger ties.

I would like to ask the Minister if the University will accept those who possess Diploma in Social Sciences to go for an upgrade in a degree. This would be particularly helpful if such programmes can be run on a part-time basis, as I believe many of them would be working adults.

Speaking of relationships, it is equally important that we also produce graduates who are specialised in the area of human resource. With so much being said about quality of life, finding a balance between productivity and rewards, and in times when the various sectors are facing headwinds resulting in staff downsizing, good and competent HR practitioners are important to handle such issues sensitively and advise management on how to bridge gaps between employers and the unions.

Can I ask if the SUSS or the new university will seek to collaborate with the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute so that the students can get a better grasp of studies in Singapore’s trade unionism, for example? The Institute has a treasure trove of information and historical archives that would do well to help students in understanding the tripartite relations in Singapore’s society.

Another important programme that SUSS may or will offer are courses in law which focus on family and criminal law. Perhaps, the Minister can share if there are plans for the University to expand more courses relating to criminology and forensic psychology studies so that our law enforcement officers can better equip themselves for the challenges ahead. We can strive to be the regional centre for such studies on terrorism and related subjects and complement the courses run by the Rajaratnam School of International Studies. I think one area of focus which I hope the curriculum would look into is how to get families to break the silence. Often, the victims suffer in silence for many years before they open up. So, there must be some training in counselling to get the victims to open up.

Next is childhood education. We have been expanding fast in setting up childcare centres throughout the island. While the physical infrastructure is important, so too is the quality of the people who run these centres. These childhood educators are very important for they are planting and caring for the seeds that will eventually germinate to become the youths and the adults in our society. We must not look at childhood educators as the kindergarten teachers in the old days, in the 1950s and 1960s.

Will the University or SUSS put emphasis on research in the local context? There should be more research done on childhood education so that we can have a good repository of knowledge. Understanding the mindset of the child, understanding how their young minds receive and process information, and what are best ways to help them absorb information are areas where we should look into. This should not be constrained just to childhood education, in my view, in SUSS, but also other social science subject in SUSS, including frontier studies or research on domestic, economic issues and policy implications and possible partnerships with the economic agencies in Singapore.

Next, I hope some consideration can also be given for matured students, that is, those who have been teaching in childcare centres but may not have the requisite educational qualifications to meet the entry requirements.

I hope as we strive for a high standard in our Universities, we will not impose too high criteria for entry to the various programmes. Yes, we want quality students but we should balance this with aptitude. It is a waste of public funds if the people who graduate do not make use of their qualifications to practise but instead take jobs unrelated to their training.

Lastly, I believe in time, SUSS would be working on exchange programmes with other universities abroad so that students can also benefit from cross-fertilisation of ideas with their counterparts from other cultures. Also, it should look into getting learning attachments abroad to give students better exposure. What is happening right now is they often turn to their parents for help to get good attachments with companies abroad. The success rate, I believe, is only a small percentage.

Sir, I believe the coming on-stream of SUSS would give parents more choices to prepare their children's future and equip them to climb the ladders of opportunity.

5.38 pm

Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I rise in support of this Bill. The new Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS)'s focus on adult learners is important and timely. Workers will have more opportunities to broaden or deepen their knowledge. I support SUSS’ move to integrate applied learning into its curriculum. This improves industry relevance. It also improves speed to market for our graduates. This is a step in the right direction. In fact, this could contribute towards the continuous need to close skills gap of our workers, an issue which was highlighted by our Manpower Minister recently.

While I welcome the move to strengthen the social sciences and to prepare students for socially-related careers, I note that four out of eight fields in SUSS’ full-time programmes are business-related. These include Accountancy, Finance and Marketing. How does this fit in with the focus on Social Sciences and how will its graduates differentiate themselves from those who take similar programmes in other universities?

As SUSS is the only one of the six Universities with a stronger focus on adult learners, how would the University work with the industry to improve the employability of students? How will SUSS work with the industry, Labour Movement or WSG to ensure that students who wish to switch careers or advance their careers are given proper support, and network with employers in their field of study? Would they also similarly have structured access to internships and attachments in the industry?

Press reports show overwhelming response for SUSS’ courses as the number of applications received for some courses far exceed the number of places available. A report by The Straits Times also mentioned that about 62% of applicants to SUSS are Polytechnic students. I would like to know if some of the programmes will be reserved for workers, compared to fresh graduates from Polytechnics or Junior Colleges (JCs). How will the balancing be done?

Finally, how can we ensure that this strong social focus does not prevent us from being nimble when industry requirements change? Right now, there is a need for more family/criminal lawyers, early childhood practitioners and specialists. But what if industry and social demands change in the future? For example, with the lower birth rates, the need for early childhood specialists may not be as high as it is now. How will SUSS ensure that its programmes are sustainable in the long term? In addition, I believe that for continued relevance and productivity, the strong social focus of the programmes must be infused by the best that digital and technological developments can offer.

The investment in disciplines with a strong social focus is important as it underpins a Singapore that is transforming its economy and societal fabric. The focus on adult and lifelong learning can accelerate developing new ways of keeping our workforce nimble and relevant. I support the Bill.

5.41 pm

Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon): Sir, I am fully supportive of this Bill to provide recognition to UniSIM as Singapore’s sixth Autonomous University, granting it the same status as the existing five.

Last year, Singapore’s third law school was set up at UniSIM. It has also been increasing the number of course offerings, both for undergraduates and lifelong learners. These are encouraging signs that since UniSIM’s humble beginnings as a small private university, it has only been growing from strength to strength. This new Bill will give it a further boost – and the new SUSS will definitely benefit from additional funding from MOE.

Sir, I received feedback on Facebook about the name change for the University. Mr Toh said and I quote, “I am fine with its new name in English. As for its Chinese name, please use '新 加 坡 社 会 科 学 大 学 ', or '新 社 科 大 ' in short. '新 跃 社 会 科 学 大学 ' sounds odd although I think their intention is to keep the word '新 跃.'".

I believe that while a name could seem like a trivial matter, it ultimately carries the identity of the school, especially as it aspires towards global ambitions. Thus, it is something we should give careful consideration to and I hope that the Minister this name change.

Next, UniSIM currently offers a long list of degrees outside of the social sciences, including business, science and technology, as the Member has previously said. There are some feedback about the new English name of the University as well. Can the Minister clarify why it will be called the University of Social Sciences which seems to ignore the fact that it offers courses outside of social sciences?

There is also some confusion on the ground. And can the Minister clarify if SUSS will continue to offer the same range of programmes UNISIM had offered?

In the MOE press release, it did state and I quote, that “The University will continue to offer the range of programmes that UniSIM had offered previously, targeted at both fresh school leavers and adult learners.” However, in the same press release, it also stated that, and I quote, “At the same time, the University will continue to retain a limited offering in other areas such as business and engineering, especially for adult learners.”

Can the Minister confirm whether there will changes in the programmes offered and if so what are the changes?

If there are indeed changes, could I ask what are the factors in deciding to drop these programmes and whether they will be sufficient places at other Universities for students intending to pursue them?

Will there also be any staff members affected by the change. For example, are there plans to retain or transfer the staff members for degree programmes that are dropped, to other Universities? Can the Minister clarify if there will be affected staff members and whether they have been offered assistance.

Sir, I am excited about the new SUSS which will continue the current trajectory focusing on applied learning for adult learners interested in social work. I strongly support this move, as Singapore’s needs in the social sector continue to increase.

However, as much as the new SUSS can differentiate itself through its niche course offerings and flexible course arrangements, universities are ultimately pitted side by side through global rankings – and this is how they "compete" for the best applicants.

We know that UniSIM is not yet on par with NUS, NTU and SMU. Just looking at one well-recognised ranking, for example, QS World University Rankings, UniSIM does not feature on their list.

I suspect that a top "A" level student passionate about family law may still choose to study at the more prestigious law school at NUS. Of course, this will take some time, but as the new SUSS receives additional support from MOE, what are its plans to boost its reputation and quality of education? For example, will it be reaching out to well-respected academics to join as faculty members?

Sir, I am proud to see that Singapore’s education industry continues to thrive. The addition of a new Autonomous University will better serve our younger population, adult learners and help Singapore to strengthen its position as an educational hub. As such, I stand in support of this Bill.


Ms K Thanaletchimi (Nominated Member): Deputy Speaker, Sir, the restructuring and rebranding of UniSIM to SUSS to reflect its focus on social sciences are a highly commendable move. It demonstrates the increasing relevance and importance of the study of social sciences and the format of education. In a recent media interview, the hon Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Mr Ong Ye Kung, very eloquently put it, “The name was chosen to reflect the University’s mission of driving lifelong learning anchored in disciplines with a strong social focus.” I very much support this Bill which provides huge opportunities for adult learners to pursue an applied education in the social sciences.

It also speaks of the importance of analytical and critical thinking skills and would provide a more holistic view in policy planning and research.

UniSIM has been the go-to institution for adult learners who prefer the flexibility of acquiring a part-time degree while working full-time. However, with the shift of focus onto programmes which prepare for careers in the social sector, there will be a reduced focus and offerings in areas such as business accountancy and engineering for the adult learners. Will this reduction then be balanced or compensated by the other Universities or institutions to ensure continued opportunities for adult learners, especially when greater importance is being placed for STEM programmes which are relevant for the current and future-ready jobs?

I shall now touch on the name change. As mentioned by Mr Louis Ng, many Singaporeans do welcome this change. However, the name accorded has received a mixed reaction amongst many, including the past and present SIM/UniSIM students. Those who graduated or are currently pursuing STEM, Finance or Accountancy courses/degree programmes fear that there will not be much prestige and recognition accorded for these programmes. Perhaps, the University could have been given a more neutral name and yet clearly represent the essence, substance and flavour of Social Sciences.

From the employment perspective, as the sixth Autonomous University which comes directly under the purview of the Ministry of Education, will there be changes to the remuneration and benefit packages of the employees, including training and upgrading, and will it be favourable?

Sir, notwithstanding these, the change is, indeed, a step in the right direction as it clearly reflects and demonstrates the commitment of the Government to lifelong learning and, with this, I fully support the Bill.


Mr Ong Ye Kung: Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank all the Members who have spoken in support of the Bill.

There are many suggestions for SUSS –more professional development programmes, forming an academy, inter-university collaborations, collaborations with industries, research direction. All these paint a very exciting picture and future for the SUSS team. I think it will be an exciting and busy time for them ahead. All these we will take in while we plan out what they will do for the future. The whole intention is to raise SUSS to a much more prestigious level and bring social sciences, and social development courses to a much higher level in Singapore.

In this whole process, SUSS, I think, will get busier, it will expand, it will not contract. Courses will not be closed down. Let me assure the House that the livelihoods of staff members, none of them will be affected.

Let me first address the issue of positioning of the University, which was raised by Mr Desmond Choo, Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef, Ms Denise Phua and Asst Prof Mahdev Mohan. And this actually is the most important aspect of this exercise. I mentioned earlier that SUSS is a unique AU in three ways. First, it has a strong social focus; second, applied learning; third, lifelong learning.

On the focus on social sciences, Mr Desmond Choo asked if the discipline is sustainable in the long run. I think this is not something we need to worry about. So long as the Singapore economy remains diverse and vibrant, it will need talents of all kinds. As an illustration, today, successful tech companies do not just hire coders and engineers. They are hiring anthropologists, psychologists and other social scientists as well.

Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Louis Ng and Ms Thanaletchimi also asked if business and engineering programmes at SUSS would be disadvantaged because of its new name. Let me assure the Members they will not be. The naming and the actual courses in a university is never neat. That is the reality, here as well as all over the world. If we look across the university landscape, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) also offers arts and social science disciplines; London School of Economics also offers law, international relations and accountancy; Singapore Management University (SMU) offers IT courses.

It is, hence, common for universities to offer quality programmes beyond what their names imply. The term "Social Sciences" in the name of SUSS thus reflects more than just social science disciplines that the University will build, but also its approach to incorporate a social focus in all its other disciplines.

In response to Mr Louis Ng, there will, therefore, be no change to the range of programmes offered by the University just because of the name change. I hope that by restructuring SUSS into an AU, we can raise the prestige of all graduates, past and present, across all disciplines.

SUSS will broaden its range of offerings, as suggested by Mr Ang Hin Kee and also Mr Saktiandi, and we can grow the prestige of the discipline, as suggested by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh.

And since we are on the topic of its name, let me address Ms Thanaletchimi's question about whether we can have a generic name rather than "SUSS" referring to Social Sciences. I went online and checked out the definition of SUSS − "suss" as a verb, means to realise or grasp; as a noun, it refers to knowledge and awareness of a specified kind; and, as an adjective, it means shrewd and wary. So, I think the Board of Trustees of SUSS had all these generic qualities in mind when they decided on the name, and it applies to all disciplines.

Mr Louis Ng also raised a question about SUSS’ name in Chinese. The issue of name is one of the hardest things to settle. The full Chinese name, as he pointed out, is “新跃社科大学”. The name is actually already registered. So, it is not so easy to change. The University went through much deliberation and decided on this name rather than "新加坡社科大学", which is a direct translation of SUSS.

Why “新跃”, the first two words, is really because “新跃” was in SIM University’s Chinese name for many years. I think as we restructure it, it would be good to recognise the legacy of SIM University and retain the words “新跃”. I know that a name is always subjective. Not everybody will be happy with it. But I think, for this purpose of remembering the contribution of SIM University, I seek everyone's understanding and support that we would like to keep “新跃” in the Chinese name of SUSS.

Despite the change in name, degree certificates issued in UniSIM's name in the past and SUSS's name now and in the future will be considered of equal standing. So, in response to Assoc Prof Daniel Goh, SUSS has made arrangements for degree certifications to be re-issued for alumni. The degree certifications can be re-issued in SUSS's name. The University will release further details later. There is no condition that you must take an extra module.

The other uniqueness of SUSS is that it will focus on applied learning. As pointed out by Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef and Mr Saktiandi Supaat, SUSS will retain and develop its existing strong culture in service learning, including local and overseas experiential learning, as well as project work. These are very important aspects of applied learning.

Another important aspect is collaboration with industries and employers. SUSS already partners the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute to deliver various programmes. I am glad Mr Saktiandi raised this. Today, they co-deliver a Diploma in Employment Relations. And I think there is a good opportunity there for SUSS to strengthen that collaboration with OTCI, as well as NTUC, and become an AU that contributes strongly to Singapore’s unique institution of tripartism.

As suggested by Asst Prof Mahdev Mohan, it will certainly also expand its offering of professional development programmes, which are not necessarily at the degree level. SUSS has already introduced around 200 of such modular courses. These programmes are created often in collaboration with industries and other organisations, or targeted at professional development in specific fields. And, in time to come, if they grow it enough, perhaps, they can consider forming a professional academy.

Moving forward, SUSS will continue to work closely with the relevant Government bodies and industry to develop degree programmes and modular courses that have strong industry relevance, as suggested by Mr Desmond Choo, too.

For applied learning to be effective, SUSS' faculty must have good representation of experts in their respective industries. This is a point raised by Mr Ang Hin Kee.

SUSS’ faculty today consists of a large number of associates drawn from industry, many of whom are practitioners and experts in their own fields. SUSS will continue to build upon its teaching staff’s capabilities to ensure that its course content is industry-relevant.

Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked several questions relating to research – that applied and academic research should co-exist and complement each other, that research should be measured by impact rather than just publications, ensure that we can attract world-class talent for research. I agree with all his viewpoints. However, starting off as an applied University, SUSS, just like SIT, will not be a research intensive university, unlike NTU or NUS. So, in answer to Ms Denise Phua, it cannot compete in global university rankings, which are driven very much by research. Which is why the research today at applied Universities, such as SIT and SUSS, are largely done in collaboration with, or even commissioned by, companies or Government agencies. Perhaps, this is why it raised the concern and perception that we need to safeguard the autonomy of research from policymakers, a point raised by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh.

I am sure Assoc Prof Daniel Goh will also appreciate that this is not the case in research intensive universities like NUS. For these Universities, as he pointed out, the challenge sometimes is the opposite − to ensure that research is grounded and relevant to and can positively impact our communities, society and economy as well. That should also include empirical social science research relevant to Singapore. MOE will work with the AUs to take steps to encourage this.

SUSS, however, can tap on the Social Science Research Council funding for their applied research. It has recently awarded about $21 million in grants, and the second grant call has recently been issued. As some members may know, under the SSRC, we take a bottom-up approach. So, SUSS, as well as other Universities, are free to propose quality projects with good impact. I hope that SUSS will submit good proposals pertinent to our society, innovative, even unprecedented, and can potentially be impactful.

As Assoc Prof Daniel Goh mentioned, we will urge Universities to submit inter-disciplinary, or even inter-university research proposals. We must recognise that innovation and deep insights often occur in the intersections of disciplines.

Big Universities − NUS, NTU – may have less motivation and incentive to have inter-University collaboration. But, actually, small universities have a strong motivation to do so. So, today, between SMU and SUTD, there has been a lot of collaboration, and, certainly, MOE will encourage more of this.

The third unique proposition of SUSS is that it will retain its focus on lifelong learning and support the education and upgrading of adult learners. And adult learners must mean people older than 29 years old, and all ages, in fact.

SUSS currently takes in about 4,000 students into its full-time and part-time programmes.

The majority of SUSS’ intake – more than three quarters – are adult learners admitted into part-time programmes. They are all working and juggling studying and working. It is important to keep this aspect of SUSS, because catering to the learning needs of adults is an entire discipline in itself and we want SUSS to be an authority in this field.

Take the admissions requirement for example. I think Mr Ang Hin Kee raised this. To cater to the adults, SUSS has taken a holistic approach to evaluating applications, taking into account not just previous academic grades, but also career accomplishments and experience. It adopts a unique "funnel approach", for example, allowing adult learners who may not fully meet the academic requirements, to take three or four modules first, with admission to the rest of the undergraduate programme to be decided based on the performance in this first three or four modules. So, to Mr Desmond Choo's question, there is always a place for workers and mid-career entrants at SUSS.

Also, in response to Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Saktiandi Supaat, entry requirements as practised today will not change.

Let me now touch on the issue of fees.

Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef asked if students at SUSS will have access to the same scholarships, bursaries, and study awards as the other AUs. Mr Louis Ng asked whether there will be a reduction in programme fees since MOE is now providing funding.

MOE has been providing subsidies for students pursuing part-time undergraduate degree programmes at UniSIM or SIM University since 2008, and full-time undergraduate degree programmes since 2014. Students on these subsidised programmes have the same access to government-supported financial assistance schemes, such as bursaries, and tuition fee and study loans, as their peers in similar programmes at the AUs.

Hence, we do not expect a significant change in the level of the current subsidised fees. And in response to Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef, SUSS will also continue to charge fees based on the number of credits a student wishes to take in a semester.

But we intend to improve the resourcing of the University to further strengthen its capabilities in delivering quality education and training to adult learners and fresh school leavers, so that SUSS, as Ms Denise Phua said, can become best in its field, especially with regard to lifelong learning.

Assoc Prof Randolph Tan and Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef asked about financial assistance for working adults, and sought clarification on the level of subsidy for part-time versus full-time programmes.

Today, the main criteria for financial assistance is gross per capita monthly income of the household – which actually is a neutral measure whether the student is a young full-timer, or a working adult.

In addition to government-supported schemes, many of the Universities have their own schemes to support their students. We understand that SUSS also has existing schemes, and MOE will be happy to work with the University to explore ways to further support working adults.

The cost structure for part-time programmes is different from that of full-time programmes, which makes it quite difficult to compare the two. But both courses under an AU are significantly subsidised, and the fees that a student pays for a part-time course is often less than that that of a similar full-time course after subsidies.

Ms Denise Phua asked whether adult learners who wish to pursue full-time studies to re-tool for the future, can be funded for more than one qualification. Because budget is always limited, we need to ensure it can benefit as many Singaporeans as possible. Hence, students are currently only eligible for tuition grant for one qualification at the undergraduate level.

But having said that, adult learners can consider a range of other subsidised training options under SkillsFuture. These training options can lead to statements of attainment, certificates, diplomas, graduate diplomas or specialist diplomas.

Under SkillsFuture, there is no limit to attending such programmes where the fees are subsidised. If the training is packaged under a Professional Conversion Programme, the subsidy will be even higher.

Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef asked about the process by which UniSIM moved from being a private entity to being under MOE’s jurisdiction and an AU.

This is the process. After a period of discussion with MOE, the formal proposal to restructure UniSIM into an Autonomous University was raised with the SIM Governing Council and UniSIM’s Board of Trustees in 2016. All parties then agreed that the restructuring would be a positive and logical next step in the development of UniSIM.

The process for restructuring was then kick-started following an Extraordinary General Meeting on 10 November 2016, where SIM members voted in support of the proposal. The legal changes needed to effect this was then completed earlier this year, and this Bill represents the last step in the transformation of the University into an AU.

As MOE has been providing subsidies for students pursuing their undergraduate programmes in UniSIM since 2008, the University is already subject to similar checks and balances as the other AUs, such as the Quality Assurance Framework for Universities.

But with its transformation into an AU, SUSS will also be working with MOE on new policy and performance agreements that outline a mutually agreed vision and direction for the University and corresponding KPI and success indicators. These will focus on areas such as student engagement, quality of teaching, quality of student experience, employment outcomes, their know-how in lifelong learning, know-how in applied learning, the relevance and standing of social sciences as a discipline, the impact and relevance of research.

Once again, I thank members for their support of the Bill, and look forward to your continued support for SkillsFuture and lifelong learning. Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

The House immediately resolved itself into a Committee on the Bill. - [Mr Ong Ye Kung].

Bill considered in Committee; reported without amendment; read a Third time and passed.