SINGAPORE -Applications for defence scholarships hit an all-time high of about 1,700 this year and a record 90 were awarded because of the calibre of the people who applied, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Friday (July 19).
More than half who were successful will pursue courses in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And for the first time, some are studying Information Systems Technology and Design , which is timely given the rise in cyber threats, Dr Ng added.
Speaking at the award ceremony at the Istana, he said the scholarship's format has evolved to reflect how solutions to security threats require multiple domains of expertise and cross-domain synergies.
"Our new SAF platforms embody this shared responsibility and co-ownership of solutions. Even at inception, SAF officers, defence scientists and engineers meet to design new platforms that take into account operational needs and resource constraints.
"That is why we can operate today's SAF platforms with far smaller crew and with increased potency," he added, referring to the Singapore Armed Forces.
Dr Ng presented the 90 awards for seven scholarships, including the SAF Scholarship, the SAF Engineering and Medicine scholarships, and the Defence Science and Technology Agency Scholarship.
The scholarships aim to recruit top students from each cohort of school-leavers to join the defence sector.
The previous high was last year when 84 scholarships were given, out of about 1,300 applications.
Dr Ng, addressing senior defence officials, Public Service Commission members and family members of the award recipients, said different security challenges will confront Singapore, which has been radically transformed since 1965.
"Simply put, there is much more to protect," he said, noting that Singapore has the highest per capita gross domestic product in Asia, and is "an oasis of racial and religious harmony" that other countries seek to emulate.
The minister pointed out that the next generation will face unique security threats for which there will be no model or easy answers.
He said SAF's deployments in the past decade proved this point, citing the multinational reconstruction efforts in Iraq, counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in 2014.
"If Mindef (Defence Ministry) and the SAF had been stuck in our thinking, confined within the self-imposed bounds of traditional defence threats... we would have proven to be ineffective and irrelevant to today's security challenges and not punch above our weight in international standing," he added.
For the new generation, cyber, data, space and autonomous systems will be rapidly growing frontiers that require bright minds and visionary leaders to navigate, he said.
The criteria to select scholars has widened to take into account the need for expanded skill sets beyond narrow academic confines, with recipients coming from 20 educational institutions, including polytechnics, Dr Ng said.
"The selection panels did not only look for good academic grades but for those with a heart for service, an ethos of excellence and team work, and a strong sense of duty, honour and country," he added.