25 Jul 2006

Johns Hopkins begins severing ties with A*STAR

Johns Hopkins was one of the first research tie-ups between a prominent international institution and the Singapore research scene as negotiated through the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. Back when the academic division of Johns Hopkins Singapore was established in late 2003, A*STAR chairman Philip Yeo said: "This academic division will be invaluable in training our pool of local talents. Through this collaboration, we are strengthening our scientific links with one of the best universities in the world"."

Fast forward to today, and now it is the first tie-up to decide that it's being screwed over and is getting out of the deal.

Straits Times July 22, 2006
Johns Hopkins, A*Star 'headed for break-up'
Facility in Biopolis will close in a year, say staff of research and education tie-up
By Liaw Wy-Cin and Teh Joo Lin

AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD marriage between a top American medical institution, Johns Hopkins University, and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) looks to be heading for a break-up, and a messy one at that.

Staff of the research and education tie-up - Division of Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins in Singapore - told The Straits Times that they had been informed early last month that the facility in Biopolis in North Buona Vista would close in a year.

Another indication of problems came from four local students who were awarded doctorate scholarships to study at the university in Baltimore.

They too were told last month that the research division would no longer be funding their studies.

When contacted, an A*Star spokesman described the problems as a period of 'transition' - a decision taken by the leadership of the American university and the agency to replace the current 'operating model of collaboration' with a 'new model of partnership' that is still being developed.

But while the issues are worked out over the next 12 months, staff and faculty here will be given help to either relocate to Baltimore or find new employment in Singapore, said A*Star.

As of March, there were a total of 60 staff, 13 of them faculty members.

As for the four local students who were to pursue their graduate training in Baltimore, A*Star said:

'Although A*Star is not obliged to do so, we have offered assistance to all four students to facilitate their entry to a PhD programme at a local university and where possible, we have offered them the opportunity to apply for an appropriate A*Star scholarship.'

Taking a different view of the situation was the spokesman for Johns Hopkins University, who said the university had done its part to recruit faculty and graduate students, as stipulated in its agreement with A*Star.

The university maintains that its Singapore partner has not kept up its end of the deal in meeting its 'financial and educational obligations'.

'Although Johns Hopkins University has attempted to be as collegial as is possible during this very difficult phase, the displacement of outstanding junior faculty recruited from throughout the world, and the intense disruption of graduate student education, cannot be underestimated or dismissed.'

The spokesman added that this is a 'reputational issue for Singapore and A*Star' and that the university will continue to work to resolve faculty and student issues during this transition.

The recent developments came as a surprise to staff, some of whom had only recently relocated to Singapore.

As late as March this year, an editorial in Johns Hopkins Singapore's newsletter said the division 'continues its recruitment efforts'.

It also said it had 'embarked on its education programme with a bang', before going on to mention the four Singapore students who would receive the postgraduate scholarships.

Johns Hopkins came to Singapore in 1998 to carry out research, education and patient care activities. p> It also set up a medical centre here, designated as Johns Hopkins Singapore's clinical arm for patient care and clinical research.

And while the research division has hit a rocky patch, the medical centre is expanding.

The Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre last year moved from its original premises at the National University Hospital into a space at Tan Tock Seng Hospital that allowed it to see up to 750 new private patients each year.

More details here and here.

Johns Hopkins isn't quitting Singapore entirely; its medical division (treating patients at Tan Tock Seng hospital) will remain. But clearly the tie-up with the academic division (Johns Hopkins Medicine) was highly prized, at least back in 2003.

The big question on everyone's mind, clearly, is what this means for the other research collaborations. If one of the premier institutions in the biomedical sciences (one of A*STAR's primary research areas) has a falling out, will this set a precedent and trigger an exodus of institutions wanting out of their relationships with Singapore?

Both sides are keeping mum about the details. At this time of writing, Johns Hopkins had but a terse statement in their most recent quarterly newsletter. No information could be found on A*STAR's website.

It is interesting to compare this latest news from the speech given at the founding of the Johns Hopkins academic division back in October 2003:

Johns Hopkins was one of our earliest international academic partners in Biomedical Sciences [...] It has forged strong linkages with local institutions and has contributed to the development of the Biomedical capabilities in Singapore. We value this partnership with Johns Hopkins.

The signing ceremony today marks the beginning of a new phase of this partnership. Like a maturing courtship, the partnership between Johns Hopkins Medicine and A*STAR has grown from the tentative engagements of the early years to deep mutual commitments today. In the new phase of the partnership, we will build upon the early efforts of Johns Hopkins in Singapore.

I am pleased to note that the presence of Johns Hopkins in Singapore will take on a new look - Hopkins in Singapore will assume the status of an academic division of Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is the first time that Johns Hopkins Medicine has set up an academic division outside its Baltimore campus. This attests to the strength of the relationship between Singapore and Johns Hopkins Medicine in our common pursuit towards excellence in Biomedical R&D.


As you can see, the research areas in the Division are exciting, impactful and state-of-the-art. Scientists in the Division will bring additional chapter to Singapore's growing Biomedical R&D capabilities.


The most important mission of Hopkins in Singapore is the training of local PhD talents to meet the increasing demand for skilled Biomedical workforce. As an academic division, 12 Johns Hopkins faculty staff will be based in Singapore to conduct Biomedical research and training. They will be led by a full-time Director. Their mission is to transplant the reputed Johns Hopkins academic culture from Baltimore to Singapore. Johns Hopkins has a long tradition of producing world-class PhD graduates. I am fully confident that our local students doing their PhD studies at the Division will benefit from this Johns Hopkins magic formula!

Students pursuing their PhD studies at the Hopkins in Singapore will enjoy supervision by world-class scientists in world-class facilities at our new Biopolis. Some of the students will have opportunities to spend time in world-renowned laboratories in the Baltimore campus. PhD training is a critical function of the Division - I am confident that it will be a shining example of excellence in graduate education.

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Anonymous said...

the displacement of outstanding junior faculty recruited from throughout the world, and the intense disruption of graduate student education, cannot be underestimated or dismissed.

A*Star, like the government, has an innate desire to monopolize talent (the graduate students), even though the scholarships are jointly awarded by John Hopkins. On their summer breaks, students who probably could have remained in the US to do research and attend seminars have to come back home and...well..wash test tubes.. Got to give them a sense of home you know, that's what LYY said, otherwise they'd just get Green Cards and forget their roots.

Anonymous said...

Where's Failip Yoyo, now that his much ballyhooed "achievement" has literally went tdown the test tubes.

Anonymous said...

*Spelling error:
"Johns Hopkins isn't quitting Singapore entirely; its medical division (treating patients at Tan Tock Send* hospital) will remain."

Anonymous said...

yep, they continue to make money here while we threw $50m down the test tubes ...LOL

Anonymous said...

A short wet dream costing $50m.

Anonymous said...

only 50M; we got the 500M MIT centre coming soon

Elia Diodati said...

Fixed the spelling error, thanks.

Anonymous #1: It's not that easy to get a green card, even if you do get a PhD. The application process takes something like 5-10 years.

Anonymous said...

Actually that is incorrect. I had applied for and got my greencard in 7 months. US has revised and streamlined the process quite a bit. Of course that is if you are a SG passport holder. If you have a Chinese or Indian passport, the wait will be longer... Now do we know why other nationals are using Singapore as a "hopping board"???

Anonymous said...

This doesn't sounds convincing "the displacement of outstanding junior faculty recruited from throughout the world, and the intense disruption of graduate student education, cannot be underestimated or dismissed."

how does this, will blew up the so-call "strong linkages" where the above really sounds trivial? Furthermore to woo JH is apparently calling the shot!