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Stronger core of S’porean humanities researchers needed: Tharman

SINGAPORE — Singapore needs to build up its community of home-grown researchers and thought leaders in social science and the humanities, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Monday (Nov 7), when he announced a S$350-million funding by the Education Ministry (MOE) in those disciplines from now until 2020.

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam. TODAY file photo

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam. TODAY file photo

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — Singapore needs to build up its community of home-grown researchers and thought leaders in social science and the humanities, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Monday (Nov 7), when he announced a S$350-million funding by the Education Ministry (MOE) in those disciplines from now until 2020.

The amount is 45 per cent more than the ministry’s spending in the previous five years.

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC), led by former head of civil service Peter Ho, was set up in January to promote research and scholarship to meet some of Singapore’s key challenges. It is developing programmes to help nurture Singaporean talent, and engaging overseas organisations and thought leaders, such as the Social Science Research Council in New York, Mr Tharman said.

“We need to catch up when it comes to local talent development in the social sciences and humanities. We have to build a stronger core of local researchers and thought leaders in the social sciences and humanities,” he said at the launch of the Institute for Societal Leadership at the Singapore Management University.

Mr Tharman, who is Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, also hopes that more Singaporeans will see social-science research “as a viable career option in academia”.

Giving an update on a grant call by the council in May, Mr Tharman said that 70 proposals have been received from the six public universities, as well as the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, and the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies. The new Institute for Societal Leadership submitted one of SMU’s two proposals.

An expert panel will be shortlisting the proposals this week and the final selection will be done by the SSRC, with results to be announced early next year.

SSRC chairman Peter Ho said that the country now operates in a more complex and challenging environment that is no longer amenable to simple policy prescriptions. Be they challenges in urbanisation or demographics, “you need to take a far more subtle and inter-disciplinary approach”, he said. “You might have a technical solution to the problem. That technical solution needs to be complemented and supported by an insight into how society might respond.”

SSRC member Lily Kong, who is SMU provost, said that research could delve into why people are not going into fields of work where vacancies are available, for instance, and how they could be directed to develop skills in particular areas.

SMU’s new institute aims to advance societal leadership in South-east Asia and beyond, by helping leaders to “do good better”, its executive director Martin Tan said. Its initiatives include online-content platform Catalyst Asia — which tells stories of the impact of societal leaders and organisations in the region — and the Southeast Asian Global Undergraduate Leaders’ Programme, a seven-month programme to strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills of participants.

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