Published on 22 Jan 2022

30 Years of Momentum: 30 Perspectives

Thirty individuals who have been a part of NTU’s 30-year journey share their perspectives.


"The NTU story is unique – the rapid rise of a young university in such a short time is unheard of. The world is so impressed with NTU. Singaporeans can sometimes be sceptical, but I hope they appreciate why."
Prof Bertil Andersson, third president of NTU
Prof Bertil Andersson
Prof Gene Block
“It will only get better over the next 10 years. I think the improvement in its academic distinction is assured, as there are rigorous processes in place for the recruitment and retention of excellent faculty.”
Prof Gene Block, former NTU Board of Trustees member and chancellor, University of California, Los Angeles
“NTU has made fantastic progress over its 30 years and that cannot be underestimated. It has broken through into the top echelons of universities worldwide, and is leading in so many areas. That it has been able to do this in so many disciplines and in such a short time is truly remarkable. Also, the University has always been open to international interactions and collaborations, making it easy for scientists and academics to engage with it.”
Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, NTU Board of Trustees Member and 345th Vice-Chancellor of University of Cambridge
Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
Prof Cham Tao Soon
"I had the privilege of creating a university from scratch in 1980 under the guidance of Dr Tony Tan, then the Minister for Education. To encourage me to take up the task, he told me ‘not many have the opportunity to start a university from scratch’.”
Prof Cham Tao Soon, founding NTU President
"I joined the Union as a freshman and decided to step up to be President in my third year. The role helped me to hone my leadership skills, think critically and manage people and time better. NTUSU has always been an important channel for the undergraduate community to voice their concerns. As a student leader, it gave me great satisfaction when I could help my peers and make positive changes in the student environment."
Cheah Guan Ying, Sociology undergraduate and 30th President of the NTU Students’ Union
Cheah Guan Ying
“In 2008, to celebrate 100 years of my grandfather’s birth, the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation that he had set up made a S$10 million gift to NTU. With dollar-for-dollar matching by the government, the S$20 million Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Fund was established. As my grandfather was a champion of education throughout his life, our family felt that the Fund was a good way to commemorate his birth.”
Chew Gek Khim, Deputy Chairman of the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation
Chew Gek Khim
"A strong culture undergirds a successful university. I hope that as NTU matures, it retains its pioneering spirit to solve problems for a better world. I also hope NTU is a place where multigenerational learning happens, and that its alumni will return throughout every phase of their lives to seek new knowledge."
Goh Swee Chen, Chair of the NTU Board of Trustees
Goh Swee Chen
"The faculty and students at NTU are in the right place at the right time with the right support to lead the changes that will transform the world in the next 30 years. I congratulate the University, its leadership, faculty and students on its 30th anniversary and hope that the next 30 years will be even more exciting and productive."
Kris Gopalakrishnan, Nanyang Professor of the Practice and Co-founder of Infosys
Kris Gopalakrishnan
Mariam Hamid
"Happy 30th Anniversary, NTU! This commemoration has me reflecting on the continuing campus-wide efforts to enhance wellbeing in NTU… I hope we continue to uphold this compelling spirit of care, and may it be enriched by our compassion and kindness to ourselves and others!"
Mariam Hamid, Head of the University Counselling Centre at NTU
"We were honoured to have the chance to work with this forward-thinking and ambitious academic institution to realise such an unusual project. To see its future secured in such a tangible way is the reward we always strive to achieve."
Thomas Heatherwick, founder of London-based Heatherwick studio and designer of The Hive at NTU, one of Singapore’s most photographed buildings
Thomas Heatherwick
Heng Swee Keat
"Today, I frequently visit NTU as Chairman of the National Research Foundation. I am impressed by NTU’s remarkable progress in research, innovation and enterprise… As NTU celebrates its 30th anniversary, I look forward to NTU pioneering new ways for its graduates and all of us, to learn and innovate, to treasure our roots and give back, so that the future can be brighter than the past!"
Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, and former Minister for Education
"NTU in particular provides a nurturing environment for young investigators, highlighted for example by the NTU Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Nanyang Assistant Professorship schemes. This nurturing environment, combined with its world-class research capabilities within the ambitious NTU landscape, is what places NTU on the international map of top universities and research institutions."
Dr Maya Jeitany, NTU Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow
Maya Jeitany
Koh Boon Hwee
"I would like NTU to be a premier university – and I do not mean elite university – known for its dynamic academic environment and social interactions on campus...I hope to see NTU as a university that strikes a balance between depth in disciplines and interdisciplinarity. A university where every faculty has a standing in the world. And that someone from NTU will win a Nobel Prize one day."
Mr Koh Boon Hwee, founding Chair of the NTU Board of Trustees who served for 28 years until he stepped down in March 2021
Von Lee
My time in NTU was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. I made many friends and participated in various campus activities... The civil engineering training i received at NTU has helped me in various ways throughout life. Apart from the subject matter knowledge, the course also nurtured an engineering mindset in me. This training kept me grounded when i went on to found Expand Construction, a building construction company."
Von Lee, NTU alumnus and founder and Executive Chairman of the Expand Group of Companies
Margaret Lien
"The Margaret Lien Centre for Professional Success was set up in 2013. I felt students would benefit from receiving guidance from industry leaders on how to conduct themselves in the workplace honourably, with integrity and fairness. These are important life skills... I am pleased that NTU has recently included the Centre’s modules, which are mandatory for all students, in the new Interdisciplinary Core Curriculum for all freshmen."
Mrs Margaret Lien, Governor Emeritus of Lien Foundation
Lien Siaou-Sze
"I studied in a relatively small Nantah campus. We’ve come a long way and today, there’s a new soul in the old body, as it should be... The challenge and the opportunity for us is to build a bridge across generations; to present and represent the university with authenticity and optimism, so that people feel they belong and can be part of something bigger than themselves."
Ms Lien Siaou-Sze, Vice President for University Advancement and former NTU Board of Trustees Member
"Our pioneers were guided by one larger purpose: providing educational opportunities to more people. Ordinary folk with limited economic means were eager donors to the cause. This should remain our leading light into the future."
Mr Lim Chow Kiat, NTU alumnus and Board of Trustees Member, and CEO of GIC
Lim Chow Kiat
Dipna Lim-Prasad
"The University's diverse offerings... provided me with plenty of novel experiences and opportunities to learn new things. It gave me a holistic education, of which the benefits are lifelong. More importantly, NTU has a wonderful support system that has helped student athletes like me excel both on and off the track. It is something which I am extremely grateful for."
Dipna Lim-Prasad, NTU alumna and Singapore’s first track representative in 36 years at the 2012 London Olympics
"I was a recipient of the Nanyang Assistant Professorship in 2012... The generous funding helped to kickstart my research programme at an unimaginable speed, allowing me to expand my research activities that would otherwise have been impossible. Most importantly, it allowed me to really focus on developing my research career and striving to be the best scientist in my research field."
Prof Ling Xing Yi, Professor of Chemistry and co-founder of NTU start-up Silver Factory Technology
Ling Xing Yi
Ng Eng Hen
"NTU has many centuries ahead for its future. Every generation that inherits NTU therefore is but a custodian for a brief interlude – its leaders, faculty and students building upon the achievements of the previous cohort, and with the virtuous cycle repeating itself for the next."
Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence and former Minister for Education

"With digitalisation at the forefront of all future developments, NISTH can play an important role in identifying new opportunities that might be overlooked by companies and explore how citizens can be better involved in articulating their needs. Digitalisation pushes humanity on a co-evolutionary path with the machines they create, and we better make sure that human needs will be at the core of these developments."
Prof Helga Nowotny, former President of the European Research Council and International Advisory Board Member of NTU’s Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NISTH)
Helga Nowotny
"In 2015, one of my first official events as Minister for Education was to officially open The Hive. I was not slated to make a speech, but decided to say a few words off the cuff. I took note that many universities did not even have an iconic building, but NTU has two – The Hive that represents the exciting future, and the Chinese Heritage Centre (and I should have added the Yunnan Garden) that embodies its past and guiding values."
Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Health and former Minister for Education
Ong Ye Kung
"NTU became an Autonomous University midway through its history. We made this important move in 2006, when I was Education Minister, to corporatise and give our publicly funded universities the space and latitude to differentiate themselves from each other as well as in the global higher education landscape, and to respond more nimbly to the opportunities and challenges of the future. This autonomy has borne fruit for NTU, which has gone on to develop several academic and research peaks of excellence."
Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, and former Minister for Education
Tharman Shanmugaratnam
"The university scene in the 1990s was vibrant. R&D quickly became the central theme at NTU, and that was when much of the world-leading ideas and work were seeded and started. At the same time, the University began to push for the commercialisation of its R&D. My research project was among the first batch spun off from NTU.
Prof Shi Xu, Nanyang Professor of the Practice, Chairman of the Board of NTUitive and founder of Nanofilm Technologies International
Shi Xu
Su Guaning
" The University community was amazingly aligned once it became clear that the reforms, painful as they may be, carried immeasurable upsides for everybody. We can be proud of what all of us at NTU have collectively achieved."
Prof Su Guaning, NTU’s second President
"This is what great universities like NTU are about. It is less about the publications, citations and rankings, and more about how they gather the talent pool, academic expertise and the determination to serve society, by advancing the boundaries of human intellect and by tackling the world’s most pressing and challenging problems through education, discoveries, research and policy. It is also about how they shape the minds of young people and turn brilliant students into impactful citizens and leaders."
Prof Subra Suresh, President of NTU since January 2018 and inaugural Distinguished University Professor at NTU
Subra Suresh
Stefanie Sun
"I am proud to say, thank you NTU, for my academic training. My business studies degree may never overshadow my love for music, but it has taught me to appreciate the beauty of change, and the knowledge to embrace it."
Stefanie Sun, NTU alumna and singer-songwriter
"With its deep repository of knowledge and research, NTU is well positioned to produce and nurture future-ready leaders with character, competence and cognitive agility to address grand challenges faced by humanity."
Dr Tony Tan, former President of Singapore and former Minister for Education
Tony Tan
Iuna Tsyrulneva
There is growing potential in the area of inclusive science, and in the emerging role of citizens and the community in decision-making in various areas of life, mediated by scientists. Inclusive and collaborative discussions of ideas are key to socially responsible innovation, and to creating resilient living and working environments. With NTU being at the frontier of this movement, i am excited to be a part of change."
Dr Iuna Tsyrulneva, Postdoctoral Fellow at NISTH
"In the light of NTU’s phenomenal success, I believe the founding fathers and the early contributors to Nantah can now take pride that their sacrifices for the cause of education have not been in vain... I offer my heartiest congratulations with the fervent hope that the University will keep the Nantah spirit alive."
Dr Wee Cho Yaw, NTU Pro-Chancellor, Chairman Emeritus of United Overseas Bank and former Chairman of the Nanyang University Council
Wee Cho Yaw


This article first appeared in the first issue of U, the NTU alumni magazine.