"When a University Chairman steps down, he leaves behind a legacy," said NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan — a remark that was met with resounding agreement from the 260 guests at the appreciation dinner for former NUS Chairman Mr Wong Ngit Liong. After 12 years at the helm of NUS, he certainly did leave behind an enduring legacy.
Graced by President of Singapore and NUS Chancellor Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung and Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, and attended by NUS Pro-Chancellor Mr Po'ad Mattar, Chairman Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, senior management, trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, the dinner on 25 January paid tribute to Mr Wong's contributions and his dedicated service to the University.
Mr Wong’s appointment as NUS Chairman came at a crucial point in the University’s history when it was corporatised and became an autonomous institution. From the beginning of his tenure, one of Mr Wong's aims was to raise NUS’ reputation and performance in education, research and enterprise, and he believes that the meritorious services by various people have led to the success of that goal. At the dinner, he took time to thank many of these people. “Everyone can contribute to the advancement of NUS, no matter how small you may think your contribution is,” he emphasised.
"Looking back, the last 12 to 13 years of my life at NUS have been uniquely precious, richly blessed, and wonderfully memorable," Mr Wong shared. “It is truly an honour and privilege to serve NUS and Singapore.”
Recalling Mr Wong as being ""understandably hesitant"" when first approached to take on the role, and how he accepted with both humility and honour, Dr Tan expressed his delight at how NUS has transformed and thrived under Mr Wong's adept leadership. ""From a strong teaching institution respected for training graduates for the Singapore economy, it is now one of the best research-intensive universities in the world, constantly innovating in its education, research and entrepreneurship, and equipping its graduates with knowledge, experiences and skills for a lifetime of careers,” he said.
Affirming that Mr Wong has left NUS in a stronger position than where it was in 2004, Mr Ong detailed the University's many advancements with Mr Wong's leadership. Most impressive, in Mr Ong's opinion, are the intangibles — the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that were key priorities of Mr Wong’s Chairmanship. ""It drives researchers to go beyond publication, and invest in practical projects that can change lives. It motivates students to take a leap of faith to venture out of Singapore to work, or create enterprises and be their own bosses,” he said.
When Prof Tan first met Mr Wong in 2004, he found him to be modest, quiet, patient and kind in a way that belied his reputation as a world-class, global business leader. He credits Mr Wong's forward-looking and conscientious oversight as vital for the successful corporatisation. Also greatly valued was Mr Wong's belief in the need to create greater value and impact for society, build a spirit of service and community, as well as foster bonds between the members of the NUS community.
Prof Tan believes that to navigate the uncertain future, there is much to learn from Mr Wong — his example of “steadfast leadership, far-sightedness, and spirit of public service in overcoming challenges, setting bold directions, and achieving impact that benefits the community and future generations"".
On behalf of the NUS community, Prof Tan extended a warm welcome to Mr Hsieh, expressing his strong belief that Mr Hsieh will “no doubt build on Mr Wong’s legacy, and guide NUS to new peaks of excellence, achievement, impact and contribution”.
A tribute video showcasing the appreciation and well-wishes from various Singapore leaders as well as members of the NUS community was screened during the dinner. Mementoes from both Mr Hsieh and Prof Tan were also presented to Mr Wong.