Science and tech strategy paying off, says minister

Mr Muzammil Arif Din Abdul Jabbar will study medicine at Cambridge University on a National Science Scholarship. The 18-year-old said he is delighted to have the opportunity to give back to society.
Mr Muzammil Arif Din Abdul Jabbar will study medicine at Cambridge University on a National Science Scholarship. The 18-year-old said he is delighted to have the opportunity to give back to society.ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

Ong Ye Kung notes new wave of results as start-ups grow and make their mark abroad

Singapore's economic strategy of boosting the science and technology sector and driving innovation is on the cusp of a new wave of results, with start-ups growing and making their mark overseas.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said this at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) scholarship awards ceremony yesterday.

"Some are doing very well. They are in a range of areas, such as consumer services, fintech and biomedical, and we're seeing them creating employment, raising funds, venturing overseas and setting up overseas operations," he told the 112 scholarship recipients.

He said the development was the outcome of decades of effort to drive progress in the field.

"We have been working on this for a long time, using science and tech to break new grounds, grow new industries, create new companies, disrupt ourselves, and really raise competitiveness and productivity in a significant way."

Mr Ong explained that the National Science and Technology Board was started in 1991 and changed its name to A*Star in 2002, before a change in strategy four years later led to the Science and Technology 2010 plan.

POINTING THE WAY

Rankings are not everything, but they are indicative of the kind of research effort that's been going into our universities, especially in the Stem area.

EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG, speaking at the A*Star scholarship awards ceremony yesterday.

 

The 2006 move coincided with local universities becoming autonomous, which allows them to retain their own research agenda and invest in their own research. This has seen them climbing global rankings in the past few years.

"Rankings are not everything, but they are indicative of the kind of research effort that's been going into our universities, especially in the Stem area," said Mr Ong. Stem refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

He said the results are showing, with Singapore able to attract big names, such as Rolls-Royce, Alibaba and Google, to set up corporate labs and innovation centres here, and using Singapore as a testbed for new technology.

However, he urged the recipients not to be focused just on the science and technology area.

"To do well and be creative and be innovative, Stem people need to know humanities, and humanities people must understand technology," he said. "It is at the intersections of disciplines that we have innovation and creativity."

Mr Ong also talked about how receiving a scholarship led him on a path to where he is today. He said that although he left for the private sector for a period, he returned to the public service as it was where he feels "most fulfilled doing what I feel makes a difference to Singapore".

He took a Public Service Commission scholarship to study econometrics and mathematical economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, completing his degree in 1991.

"I hope the scholarship will change your life, as it did for me. Do your best for Singapore, and Singapore too will support you to fulfil your aspirations," he said.

Professor Ng Huck Hui, executive director of the A*Star Graduate Academy, which promotes scholarships and helps develop individuals in the science and research field, said A*Star scholars are highly trained and sought after.

Among the award recipients yesterday was Mr Muzammil Arif Din Abdul Jabbar, 18, who will study medicine at Cambridge University on a National Science Scholarship.

Mr Arif said he is delighted to have the opportunity to give back to society. He will study six years for his degree, and another three for his PhD. He will then return to serve a six-year bond, preferably as an oncologist.

He said science and technology has a bigger role to play for Singapore. "From an economic perspective, Singapore can't increase its productivity through manpower, so we have to rely on advancements in technology."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline 'Science and tech strategy paying off, says minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe