19 Oct 2005

UK university drops Singapore plan on freedom fears

Wed Oct 19, 2005 11:43 AM BST


SINGAPORE (Reuters) - One of Britain's top 10 universities has scrapped plans to set up a campus in Singapore because of concerns about academic freedom, dealing a blow to the city-state's ambitions to attract more foreign students.

The University of Warwick's university council decided to abandon plans for a Singapore branch campus a week after its senate -- consisting of academic staff and a few students -- voted against the expansion plans.

"In the absence of a positive commitment from the academic community, (the council) resolves not to proceed with the plan for a second comprehensive campus of the University of Warwick in Singapore," the university said in a statement.

The city-state is already 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.

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.

"When other universities come to Singapore under the same terms, questions will have to be asked on whether they prize academic freedom and independence as highly as Warwick," said Garry Rodan, Director of the Asia Research Centre at Australia's Murdoch University.

Thio Li-ann, a Singapore law professor who drew up an advisory report for Warwick University, warned that "the government will intervene if academic reports cast a negative light on their policies".

The decision by Warwick, which was most recently ranked eighth among British universities in The Times Good University Guide, marks the first time that a foreign university has refused to meet government conditions.

Singapore 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.

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.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 147th out of 167 countries in its index of press freedom last year, behind Hong Kong, Thailand, and India, but ahead of Cuba and North Korea.


Related Links:
Warwick Lecturers Vote 'No'.

27 comments:

Beach-yi said...

I have forwarded the article to the student newspaper in UNSW and teh Chancellor as well as the Postgraduate board of the uni.

Wonder what is their rsponse.

soci said...

silence...

ted said...

probably.

clyde said...

Heh. I don't think UNSW is thinking of drawing political fire anytime soon after having set up here.

Anonymous said...

who cares anyway. I have never heard of that university.

Anonymous said...

Oh, get off your high horse.

Isn't the UK backing a war in Iraq which many countries oppose on moral grounds? To me that is a major traversity of human rights, and definitely more serious than imprisoning two clearly racist bloggers.

I think this issue says more about warwick than it does about singapore. If Singapore wants its citizens to be frogs in a well, then it wouldn't invite foreign professors and universities here.

I find that you are fond of paying attention to the letter and not the spirit of respect for human rights. Singapore didn't go about colonising half the world, the UK did. Under British rule, what human rights were there when people had to kowtow to the British? They didn't even bother to set up a proper school system for the locals here.

I can see why a traditional england university might see the need to turn its nose up at a successful ex-colony.

btw, I would be afraid of going to Britain because as a non-caucasian, I may be shot at while jogging towards the subway. Human rights indeed.

Anonymous said...

Check this out everyone!
http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articlehkcivilhumanrights.html

FYI: Warwick is top 5 uni after Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, UOL and thus is really really a very good school.

Also UK might have crimes and so on but please dun mix crimes with human rights issues. UK has a strong record of human rights activism and has no ISA, not just one union and no government-influenced press.

Mr Wang Says So said...

--- "who cares anyway. I have never heard of that university."

I think that the Economic Development Board of Singapore cares. If they couldn't be bothered, they would never have invited Warwick to come set up in Singapore anyway.

--- "Isn't the UK backing a war in Iraq which many countries oppose on moral grounds? To me that is a major traversity of human rights, and definitely more serious than imprisoning two clearly racist bloggers."

I agree with you. So would many Warwick students and staff, I suspect. And I bet they would have organised more than a few anti-war protests; given many anti-war speeches; published many anti-war articles etc.

That is the whole point. The freedom to express their views is very important to them. That is why they are wary of Singapore.

Mr Wang Says So said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
clyde said...

Anonymous (1:03pm) appears to be making the mistake of conflating two completely separate issues. Firstly, just because England has military presence in Iraq does not neccessarily reflect the opinion of an entire people. If you watched the news at all during the months leading up to the invasion, numerous people both Americans and British took protesting to the streets. The same can be said for academic institutions. It would not be fair to say all UK unis are pro-war. More often they choose to be a platform for political discussion and free speech instead via Newsletters and organised meetings etc. Opinionated tabloids often cast bad light on the war and many feel that Blair has led them into a war they didn't support from the start. Even members from his own Party protested the war and one notable Robin Cook even resigned over the war.

Second, the reasons why the war is wrong has more to do with utter rubbish and lies from Bush and Blair than human rights. Don't forget Saddam is not exactly innocent himself of such crimes against humanity. Hence it's unfair and illogical to put judgment on Warwick based on a decision by Blair. The last time I checked, he was not working for Warwick.

Singapore also promotes the influx of foreign talent because of its ambitions to be a regional hub in academia. If they truly didn't want citizens to be "frogs in a well", then why impose restrictions on academic freedoms and civil liberties in the first place? Hmm..

Again, his references to the British colonisation of many countries is totally irrelevant. Unless you are still living in 1940, then feel free submit your complaint to the British Embassy.

Perhaps it is time for such 'right-winged' Singaporeans to get off their high horses. Notice the immediate response of such people is to immediately downplay the reputation of Warwick upon rejection. Obviously if they had done their homework like some others, they would find their arguements completely shredded.

xenoboysg said...

"Singapore didn't go about colonising half the world, the UK did. Under British rule, what human rights were there when people had to kowtow to the British? They didn't even bother to set up a proper school system for the locals here.

I can see why a traditional england university might see the need to turn its nose up at a successful ex-colony" --

dear anonymous, check out the term reverse essentialism than check back and we can discuss more.

mister k said...

Hi annonymous,

It is simply a business deal that did not work out.

If you are Singaporean, one wonders how you get through her streets full of multi-racial persons.

k.

Not Anonymous said...

--It is simply a business deal that did not work out. --

That is what the Straits Times would have us believe, with its passing reference to "the issue of academic freedom". A quick read through the online articles at Warwickboar, the student newspaper, should convince you otherwise.

--If you are Singaporean, one wonders how you get through her streets full of multi-racial persons.--

I am always puzzled when Singaporeans champion themselves as members of a unique multi-racial society. Have they never been to, or heard of, London, Paris, Kuala Lumpur etc?

parkaboy said...

Nice one xenoboysg. I believe the other term for it is self-Orientalisation.

Anonymous said...

I'm perfectly fine with living in a multi-racial society, thankyou very much,in fact to me it is a way of life, and the way ANY SOCIETY should function.

Perhaps you misunderstood my comment "btw, I would be afraid of going to Britain because as a non-caucasian, I may be shot at while jogging towards the subway. Human rights indeed."

http://www.turkishpress.com/news.asp?id=66347

It scares me to no end that just because of my skin color, I could be the target of a shoot to kill policy.

In a country whose university has rejected Singapore, no less.

I feel that this suppresses a person's freedom, does my view count if I'm Singaporean?

I don't think the mainstream media has tried to suppress the facts about Warwick's rejection, nor has it tried to dress it up as simply a "failed business transaction". It provided all the information you have provided in this blog.

Note that I am not the anonymous who is belittling Warwick's credentials, I'm sure it is a good uni to have been invited by the Sg authorities.

***

My point is, come on, just get off your high horse. Look at what's happening today. All the developed nations NOT rescuing thousands of lives in Pakistan now, but at the first opportunity, would set up blogs to condemn human rights violations of China, India and whathaveyou.

Is the world today too concerned with respecting human rights merely on paper, but not really interested in saving human lives when it actually can?

McDermott has dedicated a LOT of time to drug dealers on the death row. How about campaigning NATO to send an airlift to rescue thousands of starving injured people?

Or do you have a separate blog which actually demonstrates your concern about human LIFE?

If you think I'm confusing 2 totally separate issues then I think you don't know what human rights means.

Anonymous 1.03

Anonymous said...

Xenoboy, given the fact that my exams are coming, I do not have the time to research on "reverse essentialism". I did a brief yahoo search on it, and well, it turns up gender issues, which are irrelevant here.

http://sg.search.yahoo.com/search?p=%22reverse+essentialism%22&ei=UTF-8&fr=FP-tab-web-t&fl=0&x=wrt

If you're saying I'm anti-any race, or have some kind of reverse inferior complex, you'd be wrong, because I hate stereotyping of any sort, be it racial or based on nationality, just as I hate it when people accuse ALL Singaporeans of being sheep, when I have been abroad and seen clearly that in every society, in every strata, there are sheep and there are thinkers. That's just the way the world is, there are conformists, and there are non-conformists.

If an esteemed university can't even see that, and wants to judge us based on its own barometer of what it perceives to be justice, well then that's just too bad.


1.03

Anonymous said...

To to idiot anonymous who said this:

"Also UK might have crimes and so on but please dun mix crimes with human rights issues. UK has a strong record of human rights activism and has no ISA, not just one union and no government-influenced press."

That just means it respects the human rights of its own citizens, how about the rights of non-British??

Are you saying that it is possible for a country to commit crimes against humans, and yet not be said to be violating human rights?

The Idiocy of some...


1.03

xenoboysg said...

Dear 1.03,

Thanks. At least you bothered to check. And in your second reply, it is more calm and reasoned. Lets discuss.

When I mentioned "reverse essentialism" I meant simply the blind Othering process. Take a simple analogy : A black student refuses other people's interpretation of the history of African slavery because they are not black. An Indian nationalist refuses any interpretation of Indian colonial history other than one of outright exploitation.

In the way you crafted your first response, claiming legitimacy to articulate for Singaporeans by decrying any Caucasian perspective on the legacy of their historical responsibility of colonialism is an act of rhetorical violence; discursive wounding and silencing. How can anyone reply to that?

I surmise that the basis for your original virulent response is your belief that this blog, and its original author, Steven McDermott, looks down on Singaporeans or are trying to promote Western values smacks of some form of neo-imperialism.

In a subsequent response, you mentioned, lets get off the high horse. Yes, lets do it both ways. Whether it is saving starving children, fighting for death row issues, the common problem I can discern is that governments do not care.

If governments do not care, lets make them care not in an idealist naive way but in a way that binds them to political action. Your grouse with Warwick is that it assumes that all Singaporeans are sheep and cannot be bothered to come and enlighten savages. First : Its decision not to come to Sg was largely informed by a Singaporean law lecturer Thio Li Ann. Second : I believe its decision not to come was largely directed at the Sg government's precedent intolerant behavior to contrarian academic views with cases like Christopher Lingle and fairly recently, the two economists from NTU. Third : The strength of Warwick, nicknamed "Oxford of the North" is in its liberal arts faculties. If Warwick was a pre-eminent hard sciences university, it would probably set up a campus in Sg. How can a physicist cause problems for the Sg Govt? (sorry elia D hehe) Liberal Arts faculties deal with social issues, political issues, governance issues, philosophical issues. In sum, the production of knowledge of human behaviors. Warwick is good at that. It is this strength which troubles them vis a vis the Sg Government. Their credibility gets hurt if they bow to academic control or censorhip of the Sg govt.

If we can fault Warwick, we fault them on the fact that they did not dare come here, in spite of the controls, and subvert these controls. And this is to our loss as Singaporeans.

Good luck for your exams and take care.

clyde said...

"All the developed nations NOT rescuing thousands of lives in Pakistan now, but at the first opportunity, would set up blogs to condemn human rights violations of China, India and whathaveyou."

Again Anonymous 1.03 is confused as to the difference between human rights and charity, Government and People. First to settle the issue of human rights and your mention of aid to Pakistan, perhaps you would like to explain and cite (with valid reference please) where exactly in the Geneva Convention is it that describes all 'developed nations' are obliged to provide aid to countries suffering from famine, disaster or dictatorship. Looking at Pakistan specifically, the current crisis is obviously not of human rights. Your implication that developed nations are not helping is totally untrue. There may be issues with insufficient aid or supplies not reaching affected areas fast enough, but nonetheless effort IS being made. But that really is beside the point. Because your arguement implies that unless countries provide aide, they are in breach of human rights. The merit of a Government's moral ground based on aid out of charity cannot be conflated with their issues of human rights. Is a man who donates to the Red Cross necessarily a saint? Conversely is one who doesn't necessarily a sinner?

Your second flaw is the confusion (again) between Government and People. Unfortunately, even in such democratic countries like the US and UK, democracy is still an inperfect system. Actions of Governments do NOT always, if not often, reflect the views of their People; academic institutions, bloggers, journalists etc. However, they do embrace free speech and expression many more times than what Singapore does today. Yes every society does have their sheep. But the proportion of them in Singapore is just overwhelming. If you spent just a bit of time in the UK, as I mentioned before, you will find many with opposing views to the War and also some of Blair's domestic policies. Politicians often face hard criticism from newspapers, and citizens. Now perhaps you would like to compare that with Singapore. Tell me it is not hard to believe that no one protested when President Bush visited a while back. Tell me that the factors of intimidation or disturbing amount of complacency did not prevent an outcry of people denouncing the war. And with that, I ask you how much value do Singaporeans themselves place on human rights altogether? Xenoboy's mention of 'reverse essentialism' is new to me as well, but I'm sure we're all familiar with the sentiment. An overseas exposure means nothing unless you are willing to open your eyes.

"That just means it respects the human rights of its own citizens, how about the rights of non-British??

Are you saying that it is possible for a country to commit crimes against humans, and yet not be said to be violating human rights?"


I would not argue that many developed nations are free of human rights issues even within their borders. Racial discrimination and the death penalty are amongst some. But if the people in such countries did not care about the rights of others outside their borders, then why is there an organisation called Amnesty International? Why do they have people (British people) on the streets of England getting people to sign petitions for wrongly incarcerated people, political prisoners, mistreatment of prisoners etc? Anonymous 3.35 was discussing free expression and points out that people do actively fight for human rights in the UK.

Anonymous said...

xenoboy, the way I perceive it, is that here is a country, which a few decades ago, went around the world making people bow to them, and basically exploited whatever lands they went to. What ended this, unfortunately, was a war, and not the enlightenment of the British, nor the consideration of human rights for Britain's colonised.

A few decades later, a British uni is rejecting us because it feels it would compromise its principle of liberalism to acquiesce to whatever restrictions they predict our Government will put on them.

The war may be the decision of Governments, but these governments are put to power by the people. If protests by a majority of people have still resulted in a war, then perhaps you need to rethink whether protests are really effective.

As pointed out by anon3.35,
"Also UK might have crimes and so on but please dun mix crimes with human rights issues. UK has a strong record of human rights activism and has no ISA, not just one union and no government-influenced press."

Well, if in spite of having all these, the war in Iraq still happens, what does it show, Clyde? Perhaps people are so satisfied with being able to make noise, they don't realise it when the end result is still their Government doing something unethical overseas.

Xenoboy also said: "In the way you crafted your first response, claiming legitimacy to articulate for Singaporeans by decrying any Caucasian perspective on the legacy of their historical responsibility of colonialism is an act of rhetorical violence; discursive wounding and silencing. How can anyone reply to that?"

My views represent my own, and I'm not speaking for all of Singapore. I am well aware that most Singaporeans do not harp on colonialism, we've moved on and I'm proud of that. I don't really think colonialism can be justified, it's a nice way of euphimising "robbing and stealing". And I think that a blog which thinks hanging drug dealers is bad would take the stance that colonising is a violation of human rights. If you think my words are "rhetorically violent", how about the words "No dogs and Chinese allowed"?

Having said all this, I get what you mean about Warwick having its strength in liberal sciences, however I would be interested in seeing which Asian country it deems liberal enough to set up campus in.

If you think I am talking about appealing to saves thousands of lives from my perch atop a high horse, and that this is "idealistic" and "naive", then what do you make of a blog which keeps harping upon the fate of people on the death row?

I feel sorry for those on death sentences, but assuming one has limited resources, I'd rather try and influence governments to save earthquake victims. I also note how you choose to clinically define what humans can do for each other into "charity" and "human rights". If you need the Geneva convention to tell you that you are an ass for not saving LIVES, then you're not morally fit to talk about human rights. Are governments which sentence individuals to death for smuggling drugs violating human rights, and governments which do not provide aid to thousands of people respectful of human rights? What is the aim of talking about human rights? Isn't it for the sake of ensuring that the right thing is done when it comes to humans, and that the right to resources is not a privilege reserved for certain nations?

You can affect humans negatively through both action and inaction.

Your definitions are faulty, and you are paying attention to the letter and not the spirit of human rights.

Anon 1.03

soci said...

hey anonymous replying to xenoboy.

please as they say in soccer play the ball not the player.

parkaboy said...

Anon 1.03,

I think just about everyone involved in this discussion agrees that colonialism, the neglect of natural disaster victims, unnecessary warfare, governments lying to their people and unwarranted state brutality are bad things. Why does it matter where they are from, or what their skin colour is, if the substance of their comments in valid?

Can you not understand that many of the people who are commenting on the abuses that the Singapore government perpetrates are Singaporean? Why do you regard this criticism as somehow necessarily foreign? Just because it so happens that some foreigners - whose predecessors also committed wrongs, and whose leaders now also commit wrongs - if it so happens that these foreigners agree with these criticisms, why should not they express this agreement? Just as you might express agreement with a Briton who criticised Tony Blair? How are the two instances different?

There are two ways we can conduct discussions about human rights in Singapore. We can talk about the particular actions or inactions of our government and whether they are meritorious or not. We can consider the substance of the criticism that others make, when they suggest that the actions or inactions of our government are unmeritorious, and agree or disagree with them based on the grounds for their complaint. Or we can point at them and go, "Eeee, British. Yuck, white" and end the discussion. I don't think it's too hard to decide which is a better approach.

Every government commits wrongs. We profit most from considering how each instance of government action or inaction stands or falls by comparison to the idea of a good society. Not by asking "Who's making this point?" and writing the criticism off because of other things the critic's predecessors or leaders did - and which they might well just as vigorously oppose.

xenoboysg said...

Dear 1.03,

There you go again. I will agree with you and concede your points.

Your arguments as summarised :

1) A blog run by a citizen from any of the former colonial powers has no legitimacy to articulate human rights to an ex-colony.

2) A blog run by a citizen from any of the powers involved in the war on Iraq similarly gives up this legitimacy.

3) The spirit of human rights is a zero-sum equation. Given limited resources, people who care about human rights should focus on earthquake victims or other more "achievable" goals.

Now go back to my reply to you. I did not mention anything on human rights. When you levelled the claim that I am paying attention only to the letter of human rights and not its spirit, you have just told me that you deny my right to talk because I am a hypocrite.

If you feel that I have mis-read your reply in the three points, do amend it.

And I will leave it as that. You win. Thank you.

pleinelune said...

Interesting debate.

For one, "anonymous", please do get off your "poor us" mentality, it is rather tiring. I come from a country who suffered much atrocities during colonisation by the British, much much worse than Singapore, and I don't see why I have to connect the events of yesteryear to today's Britons. That'll be like saying the Germans of today are all anti-semitic.

Mr McDermott has chosen to run a blog on human rights in Singapore, and that is his prerogative. That's what he cares about. If you are truly concerned about the people dying in Africa, why don't you run a blog for them, and not preach to us? In fact, Singaporeans should be ashamed that it takes a Briton to start a blog like this FOR THE SAKE of Singapore, to enlighten Singaporeans on what is really happpening. What has happened to your national spirit?

soci said...

For a discussion that started because Warwick felt it could not meet the pre-conditions set up by the Sg government when starting a campus in Singapore. It has evolved into a discussion of colonialism, and who has the higher moral ground or not.

Can I for one just clarify one thing here, with constant references to the 'Briton' me. Yes I am white, yes I have had a British education. And like most people here I am also a keenly aware of my own nationality and it isn't British. I am Irish.

Some of you may or may not know but Ireland is considered the first and last British colony. Be assured however that I have not taken offence.

The wonderful Monty Python team have covered the 'What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us' scene from a Life of Brian. But as the movie is banned in Singapore, you probably have never seen it.

There is also an idea here by the anonymous amongst us that I should be blogging about everything I feel that is not quite right in the world. Pakistan, earthquakes, NATO, nuclear proliferation, the war in Iraq etc etc...

As I was once informed by a former boss on one of those silly management speak weekends, I can only expand my circle of influence.

Parkaboy said...

Steven

I suspected you were Irish - in fact I was going to bring up a point about the Scots, Irish, and Welsh having a far more frequently and strongly expressed grudge against English colonial rule than Singaporeans, who apparently see fit to elevate the British trader who 'founded' the nation to hero status and name institution upon institution after him - but I wasn't quite sure.

But then I figured since Warwick is a British university, all the Briton references are really quite central to his/her gripe anyway.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1.03

I agree with you.
People today are simply busy to claim they respect human right, not really doing anything. US, UK are two perfect examples.