Foreign talent doing research in Singapore

On the face of it, it seems that not enough Singaporeans have the skill sets and experience to pursue research and development projects in Singapore. Perhaps this is because Singaporeans in general do not have a culture, which promotes the pursuit of research- Singaporeans have a pragmatic approach to life and to work. In the local universities, for example, students are encouraged to pursue internships and practical applications for the workplace, as opposed to learning for learning’s sake. By contrast, the foreigners, although they lack the local knowledge, do have the skill sets and experience to undertake research and development projects here in Singapore.

It also seems to be the case that foreign universities and foreign researchers have particular know-how that we Singaporeans would like to copy. However, the fact that we copy this know-how and best practices is once more a reinforcement of Western scientific and technological superiority. An example of copying know-how, would be the modification of technology for heating systems in temperate climates into energy efficient cooling systems for the tropics. Because the West has superior and advanced technologies, Asian countries such as Singapore would rather import the knowledge than to reinvent the wheel. So, it is not that these foreigners are doing what we cannot do, but that we might as well copy, since some of the work has already been done.

The result of this influx of foreign universities and foreign researchers is the sentiment that there are too many foreigners in the country and that jobs for Singaporeans are being taken away from us. A controversial statistic reported by Bloomberg was that, of the 122,600 jobs created in Singapore last year, 70% went to foreigners. Yet it seems true that this cannot be helped, for as long as the job goes to the best and most suited person for it, we must be prepared for a good number of foreigners in a meritocratic and globalised society. Further, it has often been reiterated that in order to remain competitive, we need foreign universities and their accompanying foreign researchers. In the future, this might not be the case as more Singaporeans will become highly-skilled and poised for research and development, when the values of society become less focused on the acquisition of material goods, and more room is given for work with less tangible outcomes.

One thing seems clear- given the current influx of foreign researchers, action must be taken to integrate these foreigners into Singaporean society. Research groups must include more Singaporeans to better facilitate the transfer of knowledge from the foreign talents to the Singaporeans. Groups that have a good mix of the foreign and local talents will also serve to encourage the development of ‘glocal’ knowledge- knowledge that is globalised but that is appropriated in a local context. 

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