Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

Explaining the Dearth of Singaporean Academics in our Universities

One oft-cited argument in defense of a high percentage of foreign faculty and students in Singapore universities is “global competitiveness,” which is, presumably, measured by the ranking of our local universities in the world.

Our top local university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), currently ranks 22nd in the 2013 World Reputation Rankings published by the Times Higher Education (THE).

Let’s look at how much the internationalization of NUS’s faculty and students contributes to its 22nd position.

THE ranking uses 13 indicators grouped under five categories. You can see from below that “International outlook” is worth only 7.5% out of the overall score of 100% (see methodology).

  • Teaching: the learning environment (worth 30 per cent of the overall ranking score)
  • Research: volume, income and reputation (worth 30 per cent)
  • Citations: research influence (worth 30 per cent)
  • Industry income: innovation (worth 2.5 per cent)
  • International outlook: staff, students and research (worth 7.5 per cent).

Out of the 7.5%, the ratio of international to domestic students is worth only 2.5%; same for the ratio of international to domestic staff. This means no matter how “internationalized” the university is in terms of its foreign faculty and student community, the university can only get a maximum score of 5 percentage points out of 100. Continue reading…

FTA Negotiations: A Black Box?

At the time of writing, Taiwan students have occupied their legislature for 14 days; on Sunday 30 March, hundreds of thousands flocked to the streets of Taipei in support of the Sunflower Movement led by students (see photos here). Citizens have also crowdfunded full-page advertisements (see image below) in the International New York Times.

1396043401_4AM Democracy artwork-final 530x337 due

Source: http://4am.tw/we-need-your-support/

What triggered the movement was the ruling party Kuomintang’s (KMT) attempt to unilaterally ratify a service trade agreement with mainland China, breaking its earlier promise to allow a parliamentary review of the agreement. Fearing that the trade pact would increase Taiwan’s economic dependence on China, whose ultimate aim is to “reunify” Taiwan as part of its territory, students have demanded that President Ma Ying-jeou retract the trade pact and introduce a mechanism to monitor the nation’s agreements with China. Continue reading…

Government Acknowledges Wealth Disparity in Singapore

Cherry-picking among the basket of 160 goods and services used in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) 2014 survey, finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam argues that the survey, which ranks Singapore as the world’s most expensive city, does not measure cost of living for an “ordinary local.”

Ahhh I see, Minister. Thank you for enlightening us “ordinary” Singaporeans, who not only have plebeian tastes and neither consume imported cheese, filet mignon nor don “Burberry-type raincoats,” but also lack the intelligence to understand that Singapore’s rocketing cost of living as measured by EIU does not affect us commoners.

The government spin reminds me of the infamous episode in which a Minister was questioned in parliament about the adequacy of social handouts and his idea of “subsistence living.” He snapped at his fellow PAP member of parliament: “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?” Continue reading…

Healthcare Funding in Budget 2014: Government Spending vs. Private Spending

In my earlier blogpost on healthcare funding, I highlighted that our government spending on healthcare is the lowest among the advanced economies in East Asia and Scandinavia, including Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The chart below shows that Singapore government spending on healthcare is only 36% of total healthcare spending. Take note that our Medisave monies spent on health are not counted as out-of-pocket spending.

chart1_new

(Data sources: WHO Data ObservatoryTaiwan & Hong Kong). Note that Medisave is not counted as out-of-pocket spending in the Singapore figure.

In the 2013 Budget Speech, the 2013 National Day Rally Speech and the 2014 Budget Speech, the government has repeatedly indicated that it will look into reducing individual out-of-pocket expenditure on health and increase state spending on health. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in last Friday’s Budget Speech that “Government healthcare spending for the population as a whole will grow, quite apart from the extra benefits we are providing the Pioneer Generation.”

However, the Budget Speech gives no indication on how much government healthcare spending may increase as a percentage of the total healthcare bill, vis-à-vis private health expenditure including individual out-of-pocket expenses, Medisave payment and insurance. Continue reading…

Dwindling Faith in Democracy?

A Hong Kong journalist was in Singapore recently to interview a Malaysian taking over as chief editor of Ming Pao, one of Hong Kong’s most influential Chinese language daily. The journalist, who managed to track down her interviewee at his Singapore residence, was told by her local contact that she might land herself in trouble for doing so (read report in Chinese).

How could this be? She asked, noting that in Hong Kong it is the norm for reporters to knock on the doors of interviewees to verify tip-offs. It is also inconceivable to her that fellow journalists in Singapore consider it their duty to promote government propaganda and give a wide berth to government scandals.

Why be a journalist then? She questioned her local media friends, who responded that it is hard to survive in Singapore if one goes against the government. On her return journey, she asked the Singapore cabbie if he reads the local dailies. Yes, he said, but he reads them with a pinch of salt, mainly to find out how far news reports have departed from reality.

Disturbed by the cabbie’s revelation, the Hong Kong journalist mused: Is today’s Singapore tomorrow’s Hong Kong? Continue reading…

Contesting in an Uneven Playing Field

Seventeen improvement projects will be underway in Workers’ Party (WP) wards soon, announced the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs), one of 1,800 grassroots organizations (GROs) under the People’s Association (PA).

Such “generosity” may come as a surprise to those of us who are accustomed to the petty moves of the PA over the years.

Still fresh in our memory, for instance, was how the self-proclaimed “non-partisan” PA swiftly took control of 26 sites previously managed by the PAP-led Aljunied Town Council following WP’s 2011 electoral victory in Aljunied GRC.

The site grab was accompanied by a statement declaring unabashedly that “The PA and its GROs are non-partisan and do not allow any political party or MP to hold activities on PA premises or other facilities managed by the PA … This applies to all political parties and MPs, including the PAP.” Continue reading…

2014 New Year’s Resolutions: My Wishlist for PAP

Two Harvard professors are teaching an online course “Unlocking the immunity to change” that supposedly helps us stick to our new year’s resolutions. According to the professors, we often fail to keep to our resolutions because we have sought to change our behavior while failing to address a conflicting mindset problem. They cite an illuminating example:

Somebody wants to be more collaborative. They recognize they are not really listening to people, they cut people off, they insert their own ideas, and so on. So they try to be better listeners, but they can’t. Why? What’s happening is they need to be in control. They need to be the person who is kind of the big cheese. They need to be the person who is getting the credit. They really do have the goal to be collaborative, but at the very same time they have this goal which is to be the person who is getting all of the credit and having it go their way.

Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Continue reading…

Singapore: Looking back on 2013 (I)

The year started with much excitement as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a by-election in Punggol East for the seat vacated by PAP Member of Parliament Michael Palmer in December 2012. Set on 26 January, the Punggol East by-election was the second by-election to take place in eight months, after the May 2012 Hougang by-election in which Workers’ Party (WP) Png Eng Huat defeated PAP’s Desmond Choo to retain the WP stronghold.

Unlike the outcome of the Hougang by-election, Lee Li Lian’s win in Punggol East took many by surprise, not so much because the WP candidate emerged victor in a multi-cornered race contested by three other political parties, but because her vote share was a good 10.5% higher than that of PAP candidate Koh Poh Koon.

Any delusion PAP might have about the 2011 General Election outcome as a “freak election result” was shattered by its shocking defeat in Punggol East. It seemed apparent that the need for the party to change and to relook its policies was finally drummed into PAP leadership after that by-election. Continue reading…

Whose History? Whose Truth?

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

Many of us would be familiar with this poem in various versions attributed to Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent Protestant pastor who openly spoke out against Hitler. The poem criticizes those who remained silent and therefore, were complicit in the Nazi atrocities, but it also speaks of the usual tactics of a repressive regime, which ruthlessly purges its “enemies” and critics one by one. The end result is a regime that reigns supreme over a docile and fearful population cowed into silence. Continue reading…

From Harrying Long-Haired Men to Embracing Casinos

In 1984, Japanese musician Kitaro canceled his two sold-out shows in Singapore one day before the scheduled date. Defying Singapore immigration’s order to chop off his tresses as a condition for entering the country, Kitaro coolly hopped on the next flight back to Narita with his entourage of band and crew in tow.

Recalled the New Age musician,

…when I went through immigration, they were like, Kitaro, please come over here, you have a problem. You cannot enter with long hair. They said, “If you would like to enter Singapore, you will have to cut your hair.” I said, “I don’t want to cut my hair, so I would like to cancel the concert.”

Kitaro was not the only casualty of our government’s revulsion at long-haired males. Back in the 1970s, Cliff Richard, Robert Plant and others also suffered the indignity of being turned away at the Singapore immigration. Some complied to get in.

Ludicrous as it may sound, this insane policy was enforced from the 1970s because our holier-than-thou government had equated long-haired males with gangsters and morally depraved persons who had succumbed to the undesirable influence of the western hippie culture. Continue reading…

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