Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Education whether the Government plans to (i) look into the survey findings of the Academic Freedom Survey 2021 published by AcademiaSG, notably that faculty who say they work on “politically sensitive” topics are more likely to feel constrained in their ability to research or engage the public compared with those whose work are not “politically sensitive” and (ii) take steps to improve the state of academic freedom especially in respect of Singapore studies and women academics, whom the survey reports as being more likely to feel constrained.
The Second Minister for Education (Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman) (for the Minister for Education): Mr Speaker, our Autonomous Universities (AUs) are committed to safeguarding academic freedom for their faculty and students. Doing so has allowed them to attract top talent as well as to create new knowledge, innovate and contribute to Singapore’s development over the past decades. The quality of education and research done by the AUs is also well-regarded internationally.
With regard to the Academic Freedom Survey by AcademiaSG, the authors of the survey have noted that the response rate was only about 10%, that is, about 198 out of 2,061 contacted academics in the social sciences, humanities, business and law schools at NUS, NTU, SMU, SUTD and SUSS replied to the survey. Among the 10% who responded, only a minority reported significant concerns about academic freedom in Singapore. I would therefore advise some caution in generalising the findings from the survey as representative of how all academics in Singapore feel. Academics in the AUs have been able to teach, engage in discourse, research and publish on a wide range of topics, including domestic politics, race, religion and gender issues. It would be unfair to our academics to assume that they self-censor or feel inhibited.
The AUs’ work on Singapore studies is evidence that academics do not shy away from “politically sensitive” topics. The NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has a public listing of more than 8,000 Singapore-related publications, with more being added over time. This includes titles, such as “Is the People’s Action Party Here to Stay?” by Singh, 2019 and “Super-diversity and the Bio-politics of Migrant Worker Exclusion in Singapore” by Goh, 2019. Such work contributes to public discourse on governance and public policy and also informs the teaching curriculum.
MOE has also funded projects on topics that may be considered sensitive, under the competitive grants. Many researchers in the AUs also work with Government agencies to study complex issues. Examples include integration of bi-national families in Singapore, coping strategies among low-income households and the development of racial attitudes during early childhood. These projects, in turn, can be used or adapted as teaching materials for the students.
Many of these projects are led by female researchers. So, it would be unfair to our academics, including female academics, to assume that they self-censor or feel inhibited.
Ministry of Education
10 January 2022