SINGAPORE - For their work in government, politics and advocacy, Mrs Josephine Teo, Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Denise Phua are among five recipients who have been recognised by their alma mater, the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).

They received on Friday evening (April 29) the FASS Distinguished Arts and Social Sciences Alumni Award 2021.

Typically held annually, last year's ceremony was postponed to this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The recipients are Mrs Teo, Minister for Communications and Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs; Singapore's Ambassador to Japan Peter Tan; Mr Haresh Sharma, resident playwright of The Necessary Stage; Ms Phua, Jalan Besar GRC MP and mayor of Central Singapore District; and Mr Low, former secretary-general of the Workers' Party.

In a statement on Friday, NUS said: "These outstanding recipients have also achieved excellence in various fields locally and internationally, which has contributed to the betterment and promotion of the arts and social sciences."

Mrs Teo, an MP since 2006, graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) in economics in 1991, winning several honours, including the Rachel Meyer Book Prize for being the best woman student.

She was appointed Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cyber security in May 2021.

She is also a member of the National Jobs Council and the Future Economy Council, and has been the Second Minister for Home Affairs since May 2018.

Formerly the minister for manpower, she also previously served in several ministries, such as finance, transport and foreign affairs, as well as in the Prime Minister's Office.

Mr Low, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Chinese studies in 1981, was secretary-general of the Workers' Party between 2001 and 2018.

First elected as the MP for Hougang SMC during the 1991 General Election, he served as one of two opposition MPs between 2001 and 2011, and he was the de facto opposition leader between 2006 and 2018.

He became an MP for Aljunied GRC in 2011, but stepped down before the 2020 General Election, making him Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP with 29 years in service.

Ms Phua is best known for her advocacy for those who are disabled or low-income.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English language and political science in 1983.

She is president of the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and chairman of the Autism Association Singapore, and is also involved in special education schools as vice-chairman of the Eden School board and co-founder of Pathlight School.

Mr Tan, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Japanese studies in 1992, was appointed Singapore's Ambassador to Japan in September 2019.

Before this, he served as deputy secretary for South-east Asia and Asean in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) from January 2015 to September 2019.

Since joining MFA in 1992, he has served in various capacities on issues related to South-east Asia, North-east Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, the United Nations, and technical cooperation, which provides technical assistance and know-how to other countries.

He was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2008.

Mr Sharma graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English language and English literature in 1990.

He has written more than 120 plays, which have been staged in over 20 cities, and was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2015.

His play, Off Centre, was the first Singapore play selected by the Ministry of Education as a literature text for students taking the N and O levels.

Mr Sharma is the first non-American to be awarded the prestigious Goldberg Master Playwright by New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 2011.

In 2014, he was conferred the South-east Asian Writers Award (Singapore), which recognises and honours literary excellence in the Asean region.

NUS president Tan Eng Chye said: "These five individuals have contributed to Singapore in distinctive ways, and their passion, perseverance and pursuit of excellence serve as an inspiration to current and future generations of FASS students.

"NUS is proud to have them as our alumni, and I hope they will continue to maintain close ties with their alma mater and with FASS. There is much we can do together, to nurture and inspire the next generation of Singaporeans to realise their potential."

FASS dean Lionel Wee said the recipients have all played "pivotal roles" in Singapore and internationally.

"Be it through the arts, shaping of policies, diplomatic relations or community engagement, our alumni award recipients epitomise the FASS quality of being of service to the wider community. We are extremely proud of their achievements."

In a written reply to The Straits Times, Ms Phua said: "Education is a life transformer and I'm thankful to be blessed with a great accessible education from pre-school to tertiary level in a country such as Singapore."

Mrs Teo said: “I have countless fond memories of NUS, including the long commute to its sprawling campus and the comforting food in the canteens.” 

Her time at FASS was one of the most enriching periods of her life, she added.

“Other than my major in economics and minor in political science, the opportunities to take cross-disciplinary electives, such as in art and architecture, also expanded my horizon greatly.

“The hours spent in the campus libraries, robust discussions with coursemates and involvement in extra-curricular activities also honed my life skills - like communications and critical thinking skills.” 

She added: “Thank you once again to my parents, professors, coursemates - including my husband - many of whom I call my friends for life.”