Speech by Minister for Education, Mr Chan Chun Sing, at the Closing Ceremony of the Singaporean Researchers Global Summit at the Nanyang Technological University

Published Date: 21 September 2021 05:30 PM

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Professor Ling San, NTU Deputy President and Provost,

Professor Lam Khin Yong, Senior Vice President (Research), NTU,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to all of you.

1. I am very happy to join you this afternoon and look forward to our dialogue later. The organisers tell me that there have been many thoughtful and passionate discussions over the last two days of the Singaporean Researchers Global Summit (SRGS).

2. To me, this demonstrates two things:

  1. First, the passion of our research eco-system to understand our unique challenges and to seek solutions in context for ourselves. Over the years, the government has continued to invest heavily in a portfolio of research programmes across the spectrum of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) disciplines. These investments have allowed us to build up a robust foundation to scale further ambitions in areas ranging from advanced materials to behavioural sciences.
  2. Second, pursuing research in Singapore is not an individual endeavour only. Instead, researchers here are part of a thriving community where fruitful collaborations take place regularly – amongst our research teams and with other international partners. Many have told me that the best and most ground-breaking ideas tend to emerge from collaborations between researchers from different backgrounds and different institutions.

3. While I am heartened to hear the good discussions going on for the past two days, I am also constantly looking at the challenges that we are going to face in the future. For Singapore, we never stop thinking about our challenges in the future and try to find solutions ahead of time. Today, I will share three of these challenges, and I hope they might ignite more in-depth research into them in the coming years:

  1. First, how do we allocate finite resources, and build consensus around the necessary trade-offs, as the diversity of our needs and aspirations of our population continue to grow?
  2. Second, how do we forge common ground and a coherent collective identity based on our diverse roots, in the face of ideological pulls and competing ideas from across the world – from the political polarisation happening in the West, to the ascendency of China, and the developments in the Islamic world?
  3. Third, how can we build a fair and caring society in a hyper-competitive and globalised world that can easily exacerbate inequities between groups of different social backgrounds and starting points in life?

4. I am looking forward to our research community for new insights, new ideas and new solutions to help us overcome these challenges. To that end, while I understand that the social science and humanities eco-system is still developing, I am encouraged by the inroads we have made so far through the work of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC):

  1. We launched the Social Science Research Thematic Grant (SSRTG) in 2016, and we have since supported 37 quality projects. A notable example would be NUS Professor Ivan Png's "Service Productivity and Innovation Research" (SPIRE) project. Through the use of econometric methods and a series of field experiments, the research team partnered both the public service agencies and private sector enterprises to develop cost-effective and scalable strategies to raise productivity levels across several service industries.
  2. We also inaugurated the Social Science and Humanities Research Fellowship in 2018 to develop promising Singaporean researchers with the potential to be the leaders in their fields, and have since given out seven awards. Amongst them, NTU Associate Professor Victoria Leong plans to construct a 'socially intelligent digital avatar', which will be able to recognise natural social cues, and interact effectively with children as a learning partner. This project has the potential to help us develop better digital tools for the education sector amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic.

5. I am therefore pleased to announce that MOE will set aside $457 million to support the development of social science and humanities research for the next five years from FY2021 to FY2025. This is an increase of 31%, or $107 million from the first tranche of funding, and it will build on the momentum generated over the last five years from FY2015 to FY2020. My hope is that this continued investment will go towards fulfilling the following objectives:

  1. Building an Inclusive and Excellent Social Science and Humanities Research Eco-System in Singapore - that we remain committed to fostering an open research culture that is conducive to a broad spectrum of curiosity-driven research and also use-inspired research. This new tranche of funding will therefore continue to support a range of projects across different SSH disciplines. But having said that, we are also equally committed to raising the quality of the research done, and our researchers will need to remain competitive in order to access more funding.
  2. Our second objective is that we want to strengthen our Singaporean Core of researchers. We will continue to invest in our Singaporean Core through the START awards, which I will be announcing next week, and the Social Science and Humanities Research Fellowship. Amongst other things, our aspiration is that these Fellows will elevate the international standing of local scholarship. For instance, NUS Assistant Professor Jack Chia, our 2020 Fellowship awardee, recently won the coveted European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) Humanities Book Prize 2021 for his book, "Monks in Motion, Buddhism and Modernity Across the South China Sea" – the first to explore the connected history of Buddhist communities in China and Southeast Asia. The book was commended for representing a new step in the study of religion in our region.
  3. And our third objective is to cultivate Interdisciplinary Research. We want to see more research that cuts across traditional STEM and SSH disciplinary boundaries. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of interdisciplinary research. While the biomedical scientists can sequence the virus and develop vaccines, we need the behavioural scientists to help us better understand the science behind the impact of COVID-19 on our well-being. Dr Anne Rifkin-Graboi from the National Institute of Education (NIE), NTU, a recipient of the SSRTG in 2020 is a good example. Using her training in behavioural neuroscience, she will draw on existing longitudinal data to examine the impact of COVID-19-related stress on early childhood development and family functioning.

6. To develop our Singaporean Core further, I will take this opportunity to announce a new SSRC Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF), targeted at outstanding Singaporeans pursuing their PhDs or postdoctoral stints overseas.

  1. This initiative offers a boost to those Singaporeans who have made the bold move to embark on a research career on their own, and are interested in to work with established researchers in Singapore. The SSRC GRF will provide a research grant, of up to $10,000 for doctoral students and $20,000 for postdoctoral fellows. More information will be available on the websites of the Autonomous Universities (AUs).
  2. Those who are based in Singapore need not feel left out. There is already a range of support available, such as the Early Career Award under the START scheme or the seed grants and mentorship support offered by the AUs. The intent of the SSRC GRF is primarily to address a gap that currently exists with our overseas Singaporeans and aims to build bridges with them.

7. So let me close now by recapping what I had said earlier. There is indeed a range of complex challenges confronting us today, and they will not go away anytime soon. As a small country whose most precious resource is our people, we need our research community to work together and come up with breakthroughs that will help us to overcome these challenges.

8. I am confident that we are on the right track and I look forward to interacting more with you during the dialogue and in the coming days. Thank you.

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