20 Aug 2006
Singapore's man with a plan, compared with the one given to him by Today
The bio-mad man http://www.todayonline.com/articles/137300.asp
I myself prefer to call him "the crash programmes man", crash programmes because they are a few years late.
In the early 80s Singapore went into a crash programme on IT, with the new National Computer Board (now part of Infocomm Development Authority) spearheading a Civil Service Computerization Programme, and rapid expansion of the NUS Computer Science Department from less than 100 grduates in 1983 to 500 10 year later. Curiously, the University of Singapore never had a CS Department: a small one was set up in 1975 in Nanyang University through the initiative of some staff from Mathematics and Physics; it then become part of NUS when the two universities merged. At the time it only had 10 academics and had to scramble madly to cope with growth.
Whereas in the 70s people from Hong Kong and Taiwan were going to USA to study computer science in substantial numbers, and some from Malaysia too, virtually no Singaporeans were doing this. Why? the economic planners thought computers were for rocket science, nuclear research, etc, which Singapore was not interested in. It was nearly 1980 when message began to come through that computers are important for the industry, making it necessary to start a crash programme.
In the 80s molecular biology was making big progress, but in NUS the Biology Department was busy growing better varieties of orchids and fish, things seen to be relevant to Singapore's economy. When Life Sciences got started in a big way, it too was an "a few years late" kind of crash programme. Despite the best intentions, economic planners are some distance away from actual scientific developments, and ideas take time to filter up to them.
Crash programmes allow efforts and resources to be focused. However, there are certain things that are better done through organic growth, and such things are disturbed when competing crash programmes pumped full of money, often more than people know what to do with, are going full blown. It is not the way I myself would prefer to get things done.
To what extent do the problems in Neuroscience Institute and Johns Hopkins Institute relate to the speed at which things get implemented? About these I cannot say, but about IT, I can say that the crash programme was a successful one. In the level of penetration of technology in daily life and economic sphere, there is no doubt Singapore is ahead of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and comparable to the most advanced countries, though with little technology creation as compared to utilization.
Posted by yuen at 8/20/2006 08:19:00 am