Singapore/Hopkins Divorce: What’s the Big Deal?

Game Over for Johns Hopkins University and Singapore partnership

This latest academic hoo-ha involving John Hopkins University and Singapore’s A*Star organization was given major coverage in the local press. For international scholars, reading this gives you an opportunity to see the kind of criticism I have with our government’s misplaced priorities on higher education in Singapore. I find that there tends to be too much emphasis on the few trendy or “brand name” academic programs, when we should really have a more diversified educational offering in Singapore. That is, we should put our eggs in more baskets.

Elia Diodati has been keeping a watchful eye on the Johns Hopkins University pullout from the Singapore-Hopkins program. He quotes an Inside Higher Ed article on the Johns Hopkins fallout, entitled A Divorce in Singapore. This was where I saw the behavioral pattern intrinsic to our government.

Here are the main points:
1. Singapore’s eight-year relationship with Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has gone sour.
2. Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) director, Dr Andre Wan, said that Singapore had invested $84 million in the eight years of program development.
3. A*Star said that the American institution did not deliver on promises (e.g. U.S. faculty).
4. A Hopkins spokesman said that the university was preparing a statement about the failed partnership, but it hadn’t released anything yet.
5. Less than diplomatic words were exchanged between both parties in the Asian press.

It’s common for people to make bad investments, so we shouldn’t cry over spilled milk.
But why is this such a big deal for the Singapore government?

From the Inside Higher Ed article, Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said he doesn’t know why the Singapore-Hopkins relationship soured, but thinks that other universities should pay attention. “Singapore clearly wanted both a brand name — brand names are very important in the Asian context — and it wanted the substance behind the name. If they don’t get both, there’s a problem,” Altbach said.

Brand name.
Argh, even though I’ve never met Mr. Altbach before, even he knows what Asian people like. Likewise, Singapore’s effort to become an international education hub has so far been downright superficial *shakes head*.

Dr DunnettAs Dr. Stephen C. Dunnett (Hey, I know him!) of UB’s Office of International Education (OIE) suggested, it would be wrong to read too much into the Hopkins situation. SUNY-Buffalo has been offering programs in Singapore for close to a decade, generally in business and education, starting with one program and growing gradually. He states that programs succeed and fail all the time in the United States, Singapore, or anywhere, said Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for international education at Buffalo. He predicted that the Hopkins experience would not alter the growth of American programs in Asia or elsewhere.

“There are going to be others that will take its place,” Dr. Dunnett said.

The University at Buffalo currently enrolls about 400 students in Singapore and expects that to increase. Dunnett believes that since the September 11th incident, more students from outside the United States want an American-style education but either can’t or won’t get to the United States.

Perhaps the Singapore government should try learning from other successful, yet lesser known ventures in the academic domain. By building relationships gradually with more American universities to offer a more diverse array of disciplines, goodwill will be forged for a better relationship in building more ambitious programs in future.

ASIDE: Being here, I counted around 25 Singaporeans currently studying in the University at Buffalo (SUNY), so it’s indeed fascinating that UB has 400 or so students in their Singapore program (taught in the Singapore Institute of Management of course). Our Office of International Education (OIE), which Dr. Dunnett governs, has always been doing a great job marketing programs in Singapore and in keeping their ties with Singaporean institutions. Finally, I must add that UB is really Singaporean-friendly… in general, I think they perceive us Singaporeans as professional and hardworking. Singaporeans rarely get turned down from their intended assistantship!

ASIDE 2: If you want to do graduate study in the U.S. but can’t find a scholarship, try some considering some of my alternatives to scholarships.

ASIDE 3:: First UB’s School of Informatics gets killed. Now this Hopkins in Singapore partnership. I should really start something like FuckedCompany.com where players came up with a dotcom deadpool. If I start one for schools, wouldn’t it be called FuckedSchools.com?

5 thoughts on “Singapore/Hopkins Divorce: What’s the Big Deal?

  1. i am barely keeping track on news back home nowadays, due to immense amount of news i have to read myself on this side of the world.

    however, based on whatever links you have posted here that i managed to read, i can only say this:

    Singapore itself is highly materialistic, most of us know this. People question where you study/studied to give a judgement of how “smart” you are, or how “rich” you are. When i went home on a holiday once, the driver immediately assumed that i failed my A’ Levels just because i study in Australia, and not locally.

    As far as i can see from both my boyfriend and friends in the States though, as well as here, it’s never really about “brand names” or how “senior” you are in the field. it’s about experience, contribution and presentation.

    i guess this is where culture clashes, because when you are not “reputable”, you aren’t the right “famous” person to be seen in that region (which is my main grudge against this whole “break up”).

    and while i can understand that Singapore is also hoping to fix this “brain drain” by “encouraging” scholars to stay on after they have received an education there, i think that’s a little too strict. Institutions should not really be shoving the permanent residency down a phd candidate’s throat. people should have the free choice to decide what they want to do.

    i think, having willing residents rather than unwilling brainiacs is better… and that’s considering all the angsty lecturers i had who are forced to lecture because they obtained a research grant from my old uni.

    sorry for my rambling! but i thought i should put my 2 cents through.

  2. In my opinion, SG side is too focus on instaneous (“Open instant noodle packaging, Add boiling water, wait for 3 minutes” pun intented :P) results. They believe paying that amount of moola and expect to get it back within x years. R&D should be nuture as a culture in the education scene and not as something that could be put on a production line. I applaud the school adminstrators of John Hopkins of giving the the younger/unknown scientists a chance to work in their labs as opposed to what SG wanted (well known scientists).

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