The cultivation of research labor in Pacific Asia with special reference to Singapore

27 April, 2020

On 25 April 2006, the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) was set up as part of the National Research Foundation (NRF), a department of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The SAB serves as a multi-disciplinary arm of the NRF, with expertise in broad areas of technology so as to better advise the PMO on areas of research to fund. The establishment of the SAB was a crucial milestone in the history of the NRF, indicating that Singapore does indeed value the advisory opinion of experts with regard to what types of research bring greater benefit to society.

However, not all fields of research are valued equally. Professor Yun Ge (School of Education, University of Saint Joseph, China) and Associate Professor Ho Kong Chong (NUS Department of Sociology) examine five countries in East and Southeast Asia, with a specific focus on Singapore, in ‘The Cultivation of Research Labour in Pacific Asia with Special Reference to Singapore’ (Asia Pacific Education Review, 2018). They argue that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) doctoral training programs are given greater support than non-STEM ones by virtue of their integration with related industries. STEM programs have stronger research networks, a greater variety of internship and placement opportunities, and are better financed.

Prof Ge and A/P Ho used data from a separate study to illustrate the implications of a deepening industry-university-government nexus in Singapore, the most salient of which is the lesser autonomy possessed by Singapore-based STEM doctoral students in developing their own research as compared to those from the humanities and social sciences (HSS), and the better financing of the former vis-à-vis the latter. As a result, while HSS students enjoy a more democratic atmosphere, they feel the need to balance their research interests with more marketable ones in order to attract financial investments from both the government and enterprises.

The embedding of STEM disciplines in Singapore’s industry also means that STEM doctoral students hold more diverse career plans since they are privileged in the three domains of industry, government, and academia. In contrast, HSS students are less optimistic about their job prospects and hold significant preferences in working in academia despite the drying up of such opportunities in countries such as China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.

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