Sat Oct 22, 2005 6:54 AM BST
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's education minister has defended the country's university system but conceded academic freedom needed to evolve after a British university scrapped plans to set up a campus in the conservative city-state.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam told the pro-government Straits Times on Saturday that Singapore recognises academic freedom as critical for any world-class university and that it places no restrictions on what scholars can study here.
Earlier this week the University of Warwick, which was most recently ranked eighth among British universities in The Times Good University Guide, abandoned plans to set up a campus in the state, citing concerns over academic freedom.
Run by the People's Action Party for 40 years, Singapore often gets top marks for its sound economic policies but lags other Asian countries when it comes to freedom of expression.
In an interview with the Straits Times, Shanmugaratnam said: "Are we at an optimal point now? I doubt it. We must evolve. The intellectual climate is not cast in stone.
"It is quite different now from where it was 10 years ago, let alone 20. I have no doubt it will be different 10, 20 years from now."
Warwick and Australia's University of New South Wales were the only two foreign universities selected by Singapore's Economic Development Board to set up a full-scale campus which can award undergraduate degrees.
Singapore is also home to overseas campuses for French graduate business school INSEAD, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It aims to double the number of international students to 150,000 by 2015 as part of a strategy to reduce its reliance on manufacturing.
The state requires foreign educational institutions to abstain from interfering in its domestic affairs.
Local universities are also under scrutiny. In 2003, two economists from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore publicly apologised after the government rebutted their research, which showed that the majority of new jobs created in Singapore went to foreigners.
Last week, outgoing U.S. envoy Franklin L. Lavin slammed the city-state's curbs on freedom of speech.