Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the President's Science & Technology Awards 2019

psta 2019 speech

President Halimah Yacob,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.         Good evening. It is a pleasure for us to gather this evening to honour our best and brightest in the field of science & technology.

2.         Ever since our independence as a small country, we faced various challenges. How do we create sufficient land to house our population? How do we build buildings and structures that provide a good quality of life for our people? How do we defend ourselves, notwithstanding our finite manpower? How do we compete as an economy, notwithstanding our science education? How do we provide good quality of life for our people, from medical care to social services?

3.         We have overcome these challenges with our ability to harness science & technology, even as new challenges arise. Science & Technology (S&T) is existential to our survival and success as a country.

Science and Technology (S&T) is a key enabler for Singapore's competitiveness

4.         The global economic environment has become very challenging. The US-China trade dispute has evolved beyond tariffs to other areas, such as technology. We are seeing the confluence of structural shifts in the way the world economic system functions – where things are produced and moved to, and where the markets are. In the next 10 to 20 years, we will see significant shifts in the trade and economic relationships between countries, regions, and across the world. The question is, how can Singapore continue to survive and thrive in this challenging environment? How do we compete as a nation, and take care of our people regardless of their background?

5.         Innovation and intangible assets such as Intellectual Property (IP) will increasingly drive the next lap of global growth. As a small economy with finite resources, Singapore cannot compete globally on the basis of size or price. To stay ahead of the competition, we must create value from ideas, and compete on the basis of quality and innovation. This means not just continuing to invest in Science & Technology (S&T), but also, more importantly, to translate the S&T outcomes that we have into economic value. Many countries have done well in the science & technology field – that is necessary, but not sufficient. In order for us to do well, we must complete the science and economic cycle, from the creation of new knowledge to the utilisation of new knowledge. This means we must translate research into enterprise, and to have enterprise demand for new solutions, thus creating a positive innovation cycle. This is a challenge not only for Singapore, but for every country across the world. The country that is able to do this process better, will emerge stronger from the international competition.

6.         Having said that, Singapore enjoys global recognition as an internationally vibrant research and innovation hub today. Singapore was ranked the world's most competitive economy by the World Economic Forum recently. We have been ranked the most innovative country in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania for the past five years, consistently among the top 10 innovative nations internationally . But we should never rest on our laurels. This is a continuous marathon, and we will need everyone to come together in order to do well.

7.         All of this has come about from concerted investment by Government and enterprise in developing science, technology and innovation capabilities. It is also the consistent investment in the pipeline of our talent. S&T does not emerge fortuitously. It is a disciplined process of inquiry: to search, research, and produce outcomes. This cannot be done in an ad-hoc manner. Talent develops best with consistent and sustainable investment, and we have every reason to commit ourselves to this endeavour. Without the cutting edge of S&T outcomes, our country will not enjoy this quality of life, nor the security and continued competitiveness that we have today.

8.         S&T is not just critical to Singapore's success economically, but it also addresses many other challenges. The Government is working to integrate S&T more deeply into our economic plans, down to the sectoral level. Under each of the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), we are formulating plans to leverage S&T to tackle each industry's own unique challenges and capture its own unique opportunities. Currently, the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) strategy and the Future Economy Council (FEC) both follow a simple structure, but they are not necessarily the same. We will ensure that the two structures merge into one, as the outcomes of our S&T must fit into the respective economic development areas for greater synergy between research and enterprise.

9.         But that is not all. As the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, I am challenging each Ministry and the respective functional areas to similarly have an S&T plan. This is the reason why we established the Public Sector Science & Technology Policy and Plans Office (S&TPPO) under the Prime Minister's Office, to drive the use of scientific methods and outcomes in our governance processes. We have done this very well traditionally in the areas of defence and security. We should do this similarly in other areas, from transport to healthcare to building infrastructure and so forth. There is no sector that should be divorced from S&T, even in Government.

Singapore will continue to welcome global talent to work alongside Singaporeans and advance the frontiers of innovation together

10.       Next, let me talk about our talent development. We will make the commitment to consistently invest in the pipeline of talent for the future. Investments in talent will not pay dividends in the short term. Many of the scientists present today have committed their lives to this area of work, and your achievement is the result of consistent investment and collaboration. We will continue to do this – upstream, we will make sure that we continue to attract the best and brightest into the STEM areas; mid-stream, we will stretch the very best by providing opportunities to study and research, not just in Singapore but also beyond Singapore; downstream, we must continue to maintain the networks with other centres of innovations. Our strong local pipeline must be coupled with innovation alliances and networks across the world, which will allow us to collaboratively produce even better results.

PSTA Recipients

11.       Tonight, we recognise the STEM talent who have made exceptional contributions to our research landscape and made Singapore a better home for us to live, work, and play. The recipients of the President's Science and President's Technology Awards have gone beyond exemplary research, to translating their research into economic, health and social outcomes.

12.       Under the President's Science Award, the team led by Associate Professor Audrey Chia from the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI), which undertook research on myopia and has contributed to a decrease in the prevalence and severity of myopia in children, and Professor Toh Kim Chuan from NUS who undertook research in the field of computational optimisation, has attracted international collaborators and facilitated partnerships with the airline and logistics industries.

13.       Under the President's Technology Award, the A*STAR and HDB team led by Dr Poh Hee Joo from A*STAR, has developed an advanced environmental modelling tool, that can be used to plan for a more sustainable housing environment, and ensure greater liveability for Singaporeans. I am happy to note that the technology was adopted by the Housing & Development Board in its urban design plan for Tengah Town.

14.       Under the Young Scientist Award, Dr Charles Lim from NUS' Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is being recognised for his research in quantum cryptography, which has the potential to bring Singapore to the forefront of quantum cybersecurity, and Dr Huilin Shao from NUS' Department of Biomedical Engineering, for her research on developing diagnostic technologies to empower patient care.


15.       My congratulations to all the winners tonight. We are celebrating your individual achievements as one big scientific and technological community in Singapore. We hope that your work will continue to inspire generations of Singaporeans to come forward in the field of research, science and technology. Only so will we have the secret edge necessary to keep Singapore going, growing, and glowing.

16.       I thank you very much for all that you have done in your respective areas of work, and for inspiring Singapore in our onwards journey.