Address at the National University of Singapore
Singapore, Republic of Singapore, Monday, November 21, 2011
It is a pleasure for me to be here for this, my first visit to Singapore and my first State Visit as Governor General.
Thank you for warmly welcoming me to this wonderful institution of higher learning. I have been very much looking forward to this visit, and to learning more about your vision for Singapore and the world.
Allow me to begin with a few words on diplomacy. The people of Canada and of Singapore enjoy positive relations in many spheres, and I am pleased to note the growing ties between our dynamic, multicultural societies.
One of our important areas of co-operation is in the realm of higher education, and this is where I would like to focus today. The National University of Singapore is among three major Singaporean institutions to have exchange programs with Canadian universities and colleges; in total, more than 25 Canadian schools are involved. Thousands of Singaporean students have chosen to study in Canada, and many Canadians in Singapore have enjoyed wonderful learning experiences in this country.
Today, we have a wonderful opportunity—an obligation, in fact—to strengthen and deepen these ties. And not just with each other, but throughout the world.
I like to call this the diplomacy of knowledge, because I believe universities, colleges and research institutes can lead the way towards greater co-operation and dialogue between nations.
One great example of our collaboration is the Memorandum of Understanding between this institution’s Centre for Quantum Technologies and the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing. This agreement, between the top two such institutes in the world, allows for the shared use of resources and increased co-operation and exchange between students, postdocs and faculty.
“So what?” you may ask. Allow me to further expand on this exciting research. Over the past four decades, humankind has multiplied by a millionfold the information that can be stored on a semiconductor chip, but, as predicted by Moore’s Law, we now need a new platform to continue that remarkable progress. Quantum computing—the next, great frontier in information processing—has the potential to do exactly that. To get there, we must work together.
After all, we arrived at this point through collaboration and hard work in our own communities. In fact, prior to becoming governor general, I served as president of the University of Waterloo for many years, and I was privileged to see up close the environment of close collaboration in that city. Waterloo is home to the largest faculty of mathematics and computer science in the world, with over 6,000 students involved in co-operative education and industry partnerships. Waterloo also hosts the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and, as you know, the Institute for Quantum Computing, Innovation in this dynamic cluster is propelled by the continual exchange of ideas, research, needs and information among all parties.
That Singapore and Canada are now doing this on an international level is very exciting indeed.
Another recent example that I would like to mention is the new ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership Program being jointly managed by the Nanyang Technological University and the University of British Columbia, with IDRC funds, which will help us to strengthen collaboration and to better understand the impacts of regional integration.
One of the most exciting aspects of this new partnership is the maturity it reflects in our relationship. We are moving beyond traditional aid projects to focus on strategic issues such as regional inequality, changing demographics and environmental and energy concerns. I look forward to the results of this initiative.
The diplomacy of knowledge works on many levels—local, regional, national and international—and when we achieve the right mixture of expertise, creativity, collaboration and communication, remarkable things can happen.
I have always had a deep love of learning, and I believe in the universal power of education to change lives for the better. Few people today would disagree that a highly educated nation is a civic and prosperous one, and in the interconnected world of the 21st century, where our social, economic and environmental ties are so important, there can be no true education in isolation.
Globalization, and the communications revolution brought about by the rise of the Internet, provides us with an opportunity to realize the promise of learning on a global scale.
Of course, each of us lives in an immediate community that sustains us and makes us unique. Singaporeans are acutely aware of the importance of understanding our local needs, goals and abilities—and of the great significance of cities in our rapidly changing world.
Cities are the hubs of knowledge and the drivers of creativity, and in this era of globalization, hundreds of millions of people are on the move from rural to urban areas. As Canadian journalist Doug Saunders has written, “The last time humans made such a dramatic migration, in Europe and the New World between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the direct effect was a complete reinvention of human thought, governance, technology and welfare.”
And so, we must pay close attention to our cities—cities such as Singapore—and to the critical role the university—this university—can play in building a smarter, more caring world.
Universities have always been a force for globalization, and as students, educators and leaders, we can play an important role in creating the world that is taking shape. We are at a significant moment in human history—a new paradigm, it has been called. And, as in any time of change and uncertainty, we are faced with new risks and new opportunities. Our success depends upon our ability to think and lead creatively. We must be strategic and we must work collaboratively in planning for the mid- and long-term future.
In Canada, a number of universities, businesses and communities have achieved remarkable success in this manner, simultaneously drawing from their roots and adopting a global outlook.
I have already spoken about the University of Waterloo, so let me talk briefly about another outstanding example of international collaboration that I have seen up close during the past year: Newfoundland and Labrador’s College of the North Atlantic and its partnership with the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar. The College, which is now Qatar’s leading comprehensive technical school, employs more than 600 Canadians on its campus in Doha and is home to 7,000 students from around the world. The College secured its place in Qatar’s remarkable “Education City” by making a strategic commitment to continuous innovation in research and education, and to exceptional collaboration with the State of Qatar and with local employers. Decision makers in Qatar were also impressed with the College’s flexibility, practical skills and willingness to collaborate, and with its ties to local communities.
I recount these stories not to focus unduly on achievements in Canada but rather to share with you some recent experiences at the intersection of globalization and education. What these examples demonstrate is that, in today’s world, leading educational institutions are at the forefront of several key frontiers:
As I said earlier, universities must build ties between local businesses, community groups and learning institutions. In short, they must practise the diplomacy of knowledge at the local and regional levels to identify and broadly share specific needs and goals.
To do this effectively, universities must understand the dynamics of the 21st-century knowledge economy, where education, research and innovation are more valued and intersect more closely than ever. The best way to enhance knowledge is to share it widely, which is why the development of creative clusters is so important. I often like to illustrate this by pointing to the crest of the coat of arms I was granted upon becoming governor general, which features the image of a burning candle. In Thomas Jefferson’s wonderful phrasing, the flame symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of knowledge from one person to another. By learning and by sharing what we know, we collectively strengthen and enlighten our communities and our country.
Finally, universities must rededicate themselves to their role in transmitting the civilization of the past to that of the future, in order to ensure that the traditions and cultures that constitute our unique contribution to the world are understood and respected. And within the university itself, we must never lose sight of our commitment to democracy, academic freedom and learning for its own sake.
This morning, I attended an Anglican Church service with one of our accompanying delegates, Paul Davidson, President of the Association of Colleges and Universities. We were struck by the beauty of St. Andrews Cathedral, which offers 14 different services in 5 languages with total attendance in the range of 5 000 to 6 000 practitioners.
At this point we may ask ourselves: what is the common thread that unites these various learning frontiers into a single horizon? The answer, I believe, is communication.
Communications have long been shaping our world. Singapore’s position on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula is a great example, being located on a geographic line of communication that has historically been—and still is—vital to your country and to that of the entire region. Today, the meaning of communications has expanded to include our ability to connect across vast distances, and the revolution brought about by the rise of the Internet introduces new possibilities for discovery. Paired with the rise of the knowledge economy, our ability to communicate now means we can in some ways transcend our geography, and that we need not be in the physical, financial or population centres to succeed.
This new paradigm does, however, make it imperative for us to redouble our efforts to reach out and work together, both with our neighbours and partners at home, and internationally. As we have seen, good things will follow.
In light of this new reality, it is both interesting and encouraging to note the nature of our trading relationship. While Canada is recognized internationally as a country with a wealth of natural resources, much of our trade and collaboration is today centred in knowledge-intensive industries, including education.
To many, Canada and Singapore may at first glance appear as a study in contrasts, sharing only our Commonwealth traditions and our global status as stable, dynamic societies. But we also share a number of core beliefs. One is in the fundamental importance of education, which has done so much to improve our well-being and elevate our collective achievements. And the other major similarity is our shared commitment to multiculturalism, which enriches our lives and gives us such a tremendous global advantage.
Much of our success as nations can be attributed to this dedication to education and to multiculturalism. This is reason for celebration, and I believe that by continuing to work together to build common cause, we will be well-poised to meet the challenges ahead.