SINGAPORE - Singapore will have a sixth autonomous university with its own distinctive focus, as Parliament gives the nod on Monday (May 8) to the new Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), previously called SIM University.
Its establishment will give greater diversity and choice to Singaporeans, as it champions lifelong learning and offers programmes with a strong social emphasis.
Also, it will work with the industry to reinforce the real-life application of what is imparted in classroom learning, said Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung when he set out the SUSS Bill for debate in Parliament.
The legislation will bring the private SIM University under the ambit of the Ministry of Education.
Mr Ong also said the Government will stick to its pledge to raise the university participation rate of each age group to 40 per cent by 2020.
This year, the rate will reach 35 per cent, a rise from 30 per cent two years ago.
But he urged Singaporeans not to be "overly fixated" on the target rates, referring to the robust online debate following his comments last Thursday (May 4) in Switzerland at the St Gallen Symposium.
He had said a country's education system needs to be aligned with the needs of the economy, and in Singapore, this would require capping the proportion of graduates.
Elaborating on it on Monday, he said all Singaporeans "need to keep learning and deepening their skills throughout their lives''.
In this age when information can be "Googled", "skills are what carry a premium, and skills need to be honed throughout our lifetime." Degrees can become obsolete, he said.
He also said the ability to keep pace with the economy's changing needs, not the degree, is what "helps a person to earn a living''.
"It would be truly 'unimaginative' to confine ourselves to university education as the only way to meet our full potential'', he said, urging people not to equate success with a university degree.
Mr Ong also reiterated the diverse needs of the economy and which the paths for upgrading must reflect.
These should not only include academic upgrades, but also applied qualifications, apprenticeships, industry certifications, modular and frequent skills acquisitions, oversea exposure, or simply gaining work experience and making a name in a chosen field.
"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 do our part to underscore and spread the message of inclusiveness, unity and celebrating and embracing all manner of achievements and successes,'' he added.
Earlier in his speech, Mr Ong highlighted the three distinctive features of SUSS.
In noting its focus on lifelong learning, he pointed that SIM's focus on adult learners goes back to its inception as a private university in 2005.
It equipped them for career advancement and transitions.
The university has also continually sought to improve the structure and delivery of its programmes, including leveraging on online learning technologies, he added.
It will continue to refine its teaching model, expand the programmes it offers and participate actively in SkillsFuture, the national movement to foster continuing education and skills development.
Second, its programmes will champion disciplines that have a positive impact on society and its development.
So, its courses on other areas such as business and engineering will be infused with the mission of social development, Mr Ong added.
Third, SUSS will continue to develop the applied degree pathway. This will complement the work of the Singapore Institute of Technology, which focuses on applied degrees in science and technology.
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, said Mr Ong.