speech by professor tan chorh chuan, president, national university

Remarks by NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan
NUS’ 110th Anniversary Launch Ceremony, 1 February 2015, 9.00am
Taman Jurong Community Club
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnan
Mayor, Central Singapore District, Ms Denise Phua
NUS Pro-Chancellor Mr Po’ad Mattar; NUS Chairman and Trustees
Grassroots Leaders, Residents and Friends of Taman Jurong
Students, Alumni, Staff and Colleagues of NUS, Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning and a very warm welcome! Thank you very much for taking time on
your Sunday morning to join us for this event. I particularly want to thank all our
guests from Taman Jurong, who make time to join us.
As you’ve heard, this year is doubly special for NUS because it marks Singapore’s
50th birthday and NUS’ 110th Anniversary. Several of our guests asked me why we
do not hold this event in the NUS campus but rather here in this very lovely space.
So I want to explain that the launch of our 110th anniversary celebrations here in
Taman Jurong is symbolic for at least two reasons.
The first is what I‘ll term historical symmetry. Let me explain.
As you all know, NUS traces its roots to a modest medical school founded in 1905
through the strong support of the community. Since then, that medical school has
grown to become among the best in Asia and the world, yet the Yong Loo Lin School
of Medicine has remained true to its roots.
Through the NUS Medical Society, our students have been working with the Taman
Jurong Citizen’s Consultative Committee since 2008 to provide regular free health
screening to residents in rental flats and following up with those with chronic
diseases. This initiative has since grown to become the largest, student-run
community service programme in the School, involving some 300 medical students
as well as nursing and social work students. Last year, they screened close to 800
residents and by following up with those with chronic diseases, they have helped to
significantly increase the proportion with good blood pressure control, by double the
amount, from 42% to nearly 80%.
So, members of the community came together in 1905 to found the medical school
and it’s wonderful to recall that 110 years later, medical students from that school
have now come together to set up the largest community service programme in this
constituency and others.
The second reason is that NUS itself has changed dramatically to become the
leading global university it is known for today. Along with this transformation, our
university’s tradition of serving and contributing to our country and society has
continued to grow strongly. Beyond the pursuit of excellence and academic
achievement, giving back to the community has remained an integral part of our
education philosophy.
So, NUS110 is a very timely opportunity for us to reflect, share and celebrate service
to the community and we felt it would be most meaningful for us to do this in the
community, rather than on the NUS campus.
Over the years, NUS students and faculty have initiated and sustained a very large
number of varied community programmes and activities. We have chosen some of
these community initiatives to showcase here today at the NUS110 “Because We
Care” exhibition, and we hope you will be able to view some of them later this
So let me just briefly and very quickly highlight 2 examples.
Students in the NUS Community Service Club have been conducting weekly visits to
the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled. They initiate and run activities with
the residents that encourage them to develop the skills and independence which
would allow them to be more self-reliant in handling everyday tasks.
In terms of fund-raising for charities, the annual Rag and Flag which is solely
organised by the NUS Students’ Union has raised over $6 million since Year 2000 for
beneficiaries under the Community Chest.
So we look back with some pride on what’s been achieved so far. But as part of our
NUS110 celebrations, we also wish to reaffirm our strong and continued commitment
to service to the community and society. So this morning, I am pleased to announce
the launch of a new programme - NUS CARES.
NUS CARES stands for NUS Community Advancement with Research and
Education Synergies. It’s quite a mouthful but forgive us, we are academics after all.
The goal, I think, is a very worthy one because our aim is to evolve NUS CARES as
a distinctive approach that we feel will strongly complement existing and new
community service initiatives in NUS, Singapore and beyond.
As the name suggests, the intent is for NUS CARES to become a solutioning
platform. A solutioning platform. We will work with partners to identify persistent
and important problems that they face in their community engagement programmes.
We will then tap on NUS’ vast pool of student talent and academic expertise to study
the selected problems, devise and pilot practical solutions, and where successful,
disseminate the key learning points that would allow scaling up of effective practices.
Corporations can also participate in giving back to the community by leveraging on
this platform through sponsorships; and in terms of experiential learning, NUS
CARES will enable NUS students to be exposed to real-life issues affecting different
segments of our community, study them in depth, and develop and implement
possible solutions.
I am pleased that NUS CARES is off to a good start with our first three partners,
namely Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC), National
University Health System (NUHS) and the NUS Medical Society (MedSoc). It is my
pleasure to thank them for their partnership and for helping us to launch this
Three initial projects, each with one partner, have been identified.
The first is, NUS CARES is partnering Central Singapore CDC to address the
problems faced by their elderly and needy residents who need to use wheelchairs.
We are very grateful to Mayor Denise Phua for her strong support and many ideas.
For example, many of the elderly in her district do not have the strength and stamina
to navigate their manual wheelchairs without the aid of a helper. On the other hand,
motorised wheelchairs are costly and spare parts for their repair are lacking. So
students from different engineering disciplines in NUS’ Design-Centric Programme
(DCP) will study these problems and formulate solutions which may include
designing a wheelchair that is more affordable, robust and easy to use and maintain.
They will then test-bed their solutions in Kampong Glam and successful ones will
then be extended to the rest of the Central Singapore district.
The second project we are collaborating with involves the National University Health
System and I am very grateful to the Chief Executive, John Wong, for his strong
support. The focus will be on patients who are admitted to National University
Hospital (NUH) three or more times within a year. These “frequent admitters” make
up about 8% of the total number of patients, yet these 8% of patients account for
about 25% of all inpatient admissions and take up nearly 100,000 bed-days every
year. Nearly half of these admissions were for three days or less. What NUS CARES
will do is to provide the additional expertise that will help NUHS to identify the
behavioural, social and environmental factors that contribute to this high readmission rate. Based on these findings, NUS CARES colleagues will work with
NUHS to devise strategies to provide assistance and support to these patients at
home so that they would not require such frequent admissions to hospital.
The third project is in partnership with the NUS Medical Society. With their
Neighbourhood Health Service (NHS) programme now in its eighth year, MedSoc
students are very keen to assess the social impact that they’ve created and how they
may further improve the effectiveness of their programme. Through NUS CARES,
students who had been trained in social impact measurement in the Chua Thian Poh
Community Leadership Programme will work with the medical students to conduct a
social return on investment (SROI) analysis of the Neighbourhood Health Service
programme. These findings will provide the Medical Society with ground-level
feedback on the impact and effectiveness of their programme and identify areas for
further improvement.
I think we are off to a very exciting start and moving ahead, I believe that NUS
CARES will add a new and different dimension for NUS to work with partners to
make meaningful contributions to our community. We are very grateful for your
strong support this morning and we invite you to extend your support further to our
dedicated students and staff in their many efforts on the ground to be of service to
those in need.
Before I end, I would like to extend my special thanks to Lam Soon Pte Ltd for
contributing household provisions for 500 low income families under the
Neighbourhood Health Service programme in Taman Jurong. I know the students
from the NUS Community Service Club and staff from the Office of Corporate
Relations have been very busy packing all these provisions, which include items
contributed by NUS. The students and staff will be delivering these provisions doorto-door later on.
In closing, I would like to thank our Guest-of-Honour, Deputy Prime Minister
Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as Mayor Denise Phua, for gracing this opening
event with your presence. My appreciation also to DPM and to Taman Jurong
grassroots leaders for kindly allowing us the use of this very nice facility.
Thank you once again and I hope you have a very pleasant time in this event and
also a very pleasant rest of your Sunday!
Thank you very much.