The Changing Regulatory Field of Higher Education and the Transformation of Academic Work in Singapore
East Asia countries are late comers in the international education, league tables and “world class” university formation. This entry was marked by a fundamental restructuring of the university system, particularly among top national universities whose traditional task has been the training of the nation’s elite.
Singapore’s own experience at the restructuring process has been marked by distinctive features particular to the city state: (a) the Republic’s search for international talent both in terms of international students who become skilled labour to augment its small and aging workforce as well as researchers to drive basic and applied research; and (b) Singapore’s global city environment as well as its English system of education which are attractive to students and professors wishing a foothold in Asia but still able to operate in an international environment.
These features have shaped Singapore’s efforts at rebuilding its national universities. The most visible impact is the institutionalization of a performance-based system in place of the civil service model. The restructuring has created a system where research is valued above all other academic responsibilities. Results from a survey of academics from Singapore’s two national universities will be used to reflect the new orientation in academic work.
The re-balancing of the academic system will require an appraisal system that is attentive to the needs of society, research funding which stipulates action and policy research, and a fuller career track of academic work based on practice. Such an institutional logic is ironically at odds with the ambitions of a city-state and a global city. Without strong academic unions, the growing employment of PhDs in civil society organizations, and perhaps a movement of academics into government and opposition political parties maybe the only hope for progressive change.