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Fostering diversity on campus

25 February 2013

Minister Heng (centre) and the students had a great exchange on various diversity topics

Students from various cultural and religious groups discussed about developing greater awareness and understanding of diversity at NUS during the inaugural Diversity Symposium on 23 February.

Likening the University to a microcosm of Singapore, NUS Vice Provost (Student Life) Professor Tan Tai Yong told the more than 100 students present to accept diversity as a strength and not take it for granted. Everyone should work consciously for an inclusive community, he stressed.

Singapore Minister for Education Mr Heng Swee Keat said during his keynote address: "Be ambassadors of diversity and ambassadors of goodwill." The call was particularly important amid the context of increasing interaction with emerging markets such as China and India, where many Singaporeans now work.

Being culturally open and mindful has proven helpful. As the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Mr Heng has been tasked to develop a free trade agreement in India. Thanks to Indian friends from Singapore and India, he is attuned to cultural sensitivities, a helpful attribute that has allowed for warmth and mutual understanding during negotiations.

In another instance, while he was the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Mr Heng forged deeper ties in the Middle East, particularly in the area of Islamic finance. Together with two Muslim officers in his team, he was able to communicate amicably and effectively with the overseas representatives to yield candid conversations.

Students had the chance to be up close and personal with Mr Heng during the Question and Answer segment. Topics raised included how to balance the Singapore core and immigrants, whether home is where the money is, and the government's push for Singaporeans to have more babies.

The day-long symposium was organised by the NUS Office of Student Affairs and student leaders from the Community Engagement Programme comprising undergraduates, graduates and student union members. Social diversity via immigration and religious diversity were also examined at the meeting.

Prof Tan hopes that the event will become an annual affair that see the participation of other institutions of higher learning.