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Where Are My Country(wo)men? The Lack of Singaporean Academics in Singapore’s Universities

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Carissa Kang and I offer our take on the lack of Singaporean faculty members in Singapore’s universities. We hope this small article will encourage further conversation and dialogue on this pertinent issue. We are grateful to Stephen Ceci, Chan YingKit, Ian Chong, Saroja Dorairajoo, Abdullah Hanisah, Lai Ah-Eng, Lim Wah Guan, Victor Seow, Lindsay Strogatz, Eugene Tan, and Nurfadzilah Yahaya for their helpful comments. Special thanks to Pavin Chachavalpongpun for the prompt review and publication of our paper. Usual disclaimers apply.

Where Are My Country(wo)men? The Lack of Singaporean Academics in Singapore’s Universities
Jack Chia and Carissa Kang
Cornell University

Abstract
The underrepresentation of Singaporean faculty members in Singaporean universities has been a topic of great interest since NMP Eugene Tan raised the issue in parliament a year ago. In an exploratory study conducted for a seminar class at Cornell University, 43 Singaporean PhD students studying overseas (84%) and in Singapore (16%) were contacted to complete a brief online survey. The purpose of this survey was to find out if the low proportion of Singaporean faculty in local universities could be due to Singaporean PhD graduates not applying for academic positions in Singapore. In the survey, some crucial questions included respondents’ career plans (including reasons for these plans), as well as their thoughts on the low ratio of Singaporean faculty in Singaporean universities. While some acknowledged that the recruitment of foreign talent in local universities was good for ‘injecting international perspectives’ and beneficial for research, several others had preconceived notions that the government had a ‘preference for hiring foreigners’, or that job prospects were simply better elsewhere in the world. However, the general consensus in this sample is that Singapore is not doing enough to cultivate and retain local talent, and that local universities could be playing a more proactive role in a) demystifying hiring policies, and b) creating initiatives to attract local talent back home.

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