Archive for July, 2006

S$1B in research funds for NUS/NTU

Well, at least the money is going to the local institutions…BUT – the allocation of funds is to be decided recommended by a panel of nine, most from outside of Singapore. Another case of foreign advice good, local bad?

This comes in the wake of the A*star – JHU break-up.

Questions:

1. Do these nine people have the technical expertise to really understand the promises of all the proposals submitted? $1B is no small change.

2. How is the panel selected? On the basis of …? Who are the members of the panel? Do they understand the ‘uniqueness’ of the Singapore system? Or will it lead to another clash of cultures in terms of producing results or KPIs?

3. From what little I know of America’s NSF grant proposal selection system, there are many groups of senior scientists deciding on whether grants are awarded. These vary from field to field and change on a frequent basis. So our panel of nine will be appointed for five years?

High-brow input on how to spend MOE’s $1b

Weekend • July 29, 2006

Derrick A Paulo
derrick@newstoday.com.sg

The advice of nine academics from around the world will help determine how the Ministry of Education (MOE) spends $1.05 billion.

The money is how much the MOE will have for five years, starting this year, to support academic research in Singapore universities — almost double the amount available in the previous five years.

But before the universities can get the funding, they must first go through nine people in China, Europe, Singapore and the United States.

They are the academics, scientists and research administrators appointed last month by the MOE as members of a new advisory group, the Academic Research Council.

The council’s overarching goal is to develop research excellence in the universities to help turn Singapore into a world-class centre for innovation and technology.

But while it may take 10 years before that descriptor can become reality, admitted council chairman and Boston University president Robert Brown, the council’s impact will be felt immediately.

The council, which held its inaugural meeting here this week, will advise the MOE on the allocation of research funding, and next month, it will be issuing its first call for proposals for research projects.

Professor Brown expects the universities to submit 40 to 50 proposals, but the council may not recommend them all to the MOE for approval.

One of the criteria is the research must have a “high impact” on the area of study internationally, Prof Brown told reporters on Friday. “Second, is that research impact of economic, strategic value to Singapore? Third is the ability of that investigator to deliver that research. Fourth, do we think the budget is reasonable for what they’re trying to do,” he added.

In their comments to the media, the universities do not seem fazed by the council’s gatekeeping role.

“NTU supports, welcomes and embraces competitive funding. In the past few years, NTU has been competitive with its peers in winning internationally reviewed calls for proposals from MOE and from A*Star,” said Nanyang Technological University vice-president of research Tony Woo.

The most important proposals the council will receive will be for new research centres of excellence.

These are like research institutes, and the council wants them to be the “best two or three in the world” in what they do, said Prof Brown, an honorary citizen of Singapore.

The council won’t specify the centres’ research fields, and will be careful about proceeding with proposals.

The universities, however, are bullish.

“We intend to respond in the areas that the Government has already identified as important, plus, generate novel ideas for world-class research centres that will break new ground,” said National University of Singapore deputy president of research and technology, Prof Barry Halliwell.

July 30, 2006 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

The cost of fitting in

Found from Kelvin:

“I got there [Holy Providence School in Cornwall Heights, right outside Philadelphia] and immediately found that I could read better than anyone else in the school. My father’s example and my mother’s training had made that come easy; I could pick up a book, read it aloud, pronounce the words with proper inflections and actually know what they meant. When the nuns found this out they paid me a lot of attention, once even asking me, a fourth grader, to read to the seventh grade. When the kids found this out, I became a target….

It was my first time away from home, my first experience in an all black situation, and I found myself being punished for everything I’d ever been taught was right. I got all A’s and was hated for it; I spoke correctly and was called a punk. I had to learn a new language simply to be able to deal with the threats. I had good manners and was a good little boy and paid for it with my hide.”

––Abdul-Jabbar, 1987

Sounds familiar? So it is not just a Singaporean thing.

I actually had a not so pleasant time in secondary school. On one hand, you have parents wanting you to put in your best; on the other, you have peers who are either ignorant or envious of your “achievements” and try means and ways to bring you down to their level.

I was ridiculed for my poor command of Chinese while the rest of the class had no problems with it (half my class even took Chinese Literature).

Not surprising then – I hated my classmates, and despised them for mediocrity and sloppiness in their work. With the exception of one, I have no contacts with them anymore.

Life’s slightly better now, not least since I am in the “Champions league“. You only become better when you play with the best (from around the world).

*

If you stay within the group’s norms you are rewarded, if you stray you’re punished. The possibility to attaining something “better” involves risk. Simply put, for many people in this situation the expected return of deviating from the group’s norms is very low.mike

*

One thing I really hate about Singaporean style “modesty” and “humility” is how one always tries to downplay his/her achievements. If you are good, you are good. Don’t give me bullshit and try to be overly humble. You are making me feel sick by becoming too fake.

July 29, 2006 at 2:30 pm 3 comments

JHU – A*star break up (BT coverage)

The Business Times has two more letters published on this issue. Interesting parts in bold.

Business Times – 27 Jul 2006

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
JHU-A*Star break-up raises more questions

I REFER to media reports about Johns Hopkins University’s Singapore arm not meeting A*Star’s goals in their tie-up.

A*Star’s statement that Johns Hopkins University’s (JHU) agreement was terminated because it failed to meet eight out of 13 performance benchmarks may raise more questions. Its spokesman had, only days earlier, 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’ still being developed.

It is interesting to note that whilst five of the performance benchmarks (KPIs) relating to recruitment were not met, output in the five KPIs typically associated with academic research far exceeded their targets.

For example, in the first year, the result was zero for training programmes, graduate students and visiting faculty, and a shortfall of 78 and 62 per cent for full-time faculty, and research scientists respectively. Even by the second year, the result was still zero for graduate students, with a shortfall of 50 per cent for training programmes, 66.6 per cent for visiting faculty, 92 per cent for senior investigators with international reputation, and 69 per cent for research scientists.

In contrast, the KPIs for number of post-doctoral participating in research, joint projects with other research institutes in Singapore, papers published, papers presented at top conferences, and conferences organised; far exceeded their targets by 20, 300, 260, 300 and 100 per cent respectively.

If you are not able to recruit the numbers you target, but fewer people are able to produce much higher outputs, then what is the problem? Perhaps what is more important now is to try to understand why it is so difficult to get researchers willing to come to Singapore. We need to find out how to make our research environment more attractive.

It is perhaps instructive to note that all three KPIs relating to commercial end-results, failed to produce a single patent, new technologies or new products. In this context, maybe there is a need for us to re-examine our fundamental strategies and approach.

If JHU, which is arguably one of the best in the world in its field, is not able to meet A*Star’s standards, are the goals realistic and achievable within the time frame stipulated?

In the final analysis, KPIs and agreements aside, it is a ‘no win’ for A*Star, JHU and Singapore, as Singapore has clearly stumbled in its maiden major medical research effort.

We should focus on learning from the experience rather than concentrate on apportioning blame. Otherwise, we may just be reinforcing the scientific community’s perception that Singapore’s environment is not conducive to creativity.

I cannot help but feel that the root cause of the problem may be a clash of two cultures – Singapore’s technocratic efficiency versus the American ideals of freedom, liberalism, diversity and creativity.

For example, JHU prefers to recruit young researchers as they may have more passion and are hungrier for a research breakthrough, whereas A*Star wants researchers with international reputation.

Unlike other American universities and scholarships, JHU does not believe in bonds for its scholars, like A*Star which has a history of even taking bond-breakers to task.

As one researcher I spoke to said rather profoundly, you need to be happy to be creative, so Singapore’s happiness ranking at 131 out of 178 countries has to improve.

Leong Sze Hian
Singapore

—————————————————————-

Mailbag
Published July 28, 2006

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

DJHS did not deliver as promised

I REFER to the letter ‘JHU-A*Star break-up raises more questions’ from Leong Sze Hian (BT, July 27). The key question is whether the return on Singapore’s investment in DJHS has been satisfactory. The answer: Not satisfactory.

We reiterate that DJHS was established to achieve three goals:

• establish a centre of immunology, experimental therapeutics and cancer research with an international reputation;

• establish PhD training at DJHS in Singapore; and

• recruit senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and full-time residence in Singapore.

DJHS failed to deliver on its commitments on all three goals.

With reference to key performance indicators (KPIs), they were what DJHS reported to A*Star. By its own rating, DJHS did not achieve eight of the 13 KPIs.

The five that DJHS said had been achieved do not outweigh the eight that were not met. Whether the five KPIs, including the number of papers published, have been met is yet to be determined by A*Star, in the light of the sparse presence of full-time senior investigators based in Singapore.

Mr Leong asked whether A*Star’s goals for DJHS were ‘realistic and achievable within the time frame stipulated’. We would clarify that the KPIs were not imposed on DJHS but were arrived at through negotiation and mutual agreement. With reference to the issue of recruiting senior scientists as opposed to junior scientists, A*Star is fully supportive of nurturing young research talent. Hence our extensive National Science Scholarship programme.

But the agreement with DJHS explicitly required the recruitment of senior investigators to lead the research programmes and to mentor students and young scientists. We need good ‘generals’ to lead our own young ‘lieutenants’. Mr Leong said: ‘What is more important now is to try to understand why it is so difficult to get researchers who are willing to come to Singapore.’

A*Star has had no difficulty in attracting some of the best scientific talents in the world to relocate to Singapore. These include world renowned leaders in their fields as well as bright young post-docs.

By happy coincidence, we are able to quote from the latest issue of Time magazine (July 23, 2006): ‘For a serial kidnapper, Philip Yeo looks harmless enough. But to hear some people tell it, he’s a dangerous man. Over the past six years, Yeo has been roaming the world, trailing talented scientists in Washington; San Diego; Palo Alto, California; Edinburgh and elsewhere, and spiriting them back to his home country of Singapore – What distinguishes Yeo from other kidnappers, of course, is that his targets go willingly. They happily relocate to Singapore’s new 2-million-sq-ft Biopolis research centre.’ (see: http://www.time.com magazine/printout/0,8816,1218061, 00.html)

With reference to the scholarship bonds, A*Star as a public entity that uses public funds, is obliged to the Singapore tax-payer to ensure that its scholars return and serve Singapore after completion of their studies. Johns Hopkins, as a privately funded university, may issue bond-free scholarships if it chooses to do so, but it should not expect A*Star to fund such scholarships on its behalf. A*Star is not aware of any other government entity that awards overseas study scholarships without requiring the recipients to return after completion of their studies.

Dr Andre Wan,
Director,
Biomedical Research Council
Agency for Science, Technology and Research

July 28, 2006 at 3:38 pm 2 comments

Sg Govt worry we will all leave

I suppose this is from the Straits Times:

July 26, 2006, 6.36 pm (Singapore time)
Govt warns of youth leaving S’pore: Lim

YOUTH, having been groomed by a first class educational system and equipped for the challenges of a competitive and global market would choose to leave Singapore for greener pastures.

This is a worry that Minister of Transport Raymond Lim voiced out to more than 400 junior college students on Wednesday.

He was speaking at the 16th Temasek Seminar, organised by the Ministry of Defence, to share with students Singapore’s need to eke out a relevant role within the international system.

He stressed the importance of youth, citing them as ‘stakeholders of a common destiny’.

Speaking to the audience, he said, ‘For me, nothing is more urgent now than a dialogue with the sons and daughters of our country, to understand and work with you to build a home that you would call their own.’

‘If you end up marrying them, that is alright but please settle down in Singapore to raise your children,’ he said jokingly of meeting people from other cultures.

Mr Lim’s worries are likely to be well-founded.

A recent survey by Singapore Press Holdings – based on a poll of 2,548 teenagers from India, China, Malaysia, Japan, and Singapore – found that 53 per cent of Singaporean teens would consider emigration.

This sentiment is much more prevalent among Singaporean teens, than with their counterparts in India (39 per cent) and Malaysia (28 per cent).

The survey also revealed the top reasons teens here gave for emigrating: stress and the perception of better job opportunities overseas.

Also present at the annual seminar was Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean who addressed the need for Singapore to remake itself ‘to possess the right qualities and attributes for the 21st century world city’.

‘While many of the challenges facing us, such as our country’s small size, have not changed, the world around us has,’ he said, pointing out that Singapore has already begun to adapt.

Us? Stakeholders? Bullshit.

July 26, 2006 at 1:07 pm 4 comments

About doing Science in Singapore

Anonymous asked: as a grad student, are you able to comment more on the situation? for example, how easy is it to get that many investigators to move to singapore?

i’m guessing that there are very few PIs/full profs who would relocate without very large financial incentives.

10:04 AM, July 25, 2006

Short answer? It is not easy and yes, very few PIs/established professors would relocate without (to put it bluntly) lots of money. Even so, this does not guarantee they would not quit and move back home later.

The Singapore bureaucracy tends to think they can simply throw money and get the returns it wants. Might be true if you are talking about easily quantifiable *stuffs* like factories, or shipyards, or number of (doctors/lawyers/life scientists/engineers). But scientific talent? More than that.

With regards to scientific research, Singapore has several drawbacks.

1. Weather. Eg.: In the area of Organic Chemistry (synthesis), the hot and humid conditions (even inside the lab) pose challenges if you are working with water-sensitive materials as is the case with most reactions. Relevance to Singapore? How about pharmaceutical research?

2. Distance from the main centers of scientific research, namely the US and Europe. This isn’t just the travelling time researchers in Singapore need to take to get to conferences to present their findings. Many advanced equipments that the local A*star institutes and universities use are manufactured in the West. If there are serious breakdowns, parts and technicians have to be flown in to repair them. This naturally jacks up (financial) costs; and in the fast paced world of research publications, where many investigators have to ‘publish or perish’ the loss in time is something they cannot ignore. One of the (local) institutes once had to wait 3 whole months to get their mass spectrometer fixed. You can imagine how many research groups were affected.

On the other hand, if you are to check out the manufacturing sites for these scientific equipment, they tend to be located in places near some US research university. (CA and MA have many.) One of the equipments my lab uses was manufactured in a factory an hour’s drive away from campus. My boss said that their customer service is good. “Very fast in their response time.”

The distance is also an issue with the family members (spouse/kids) of the researchers. Who likes to uproot themselves from a familiar environment to go to somewhere far and foreign? I know a few cases of professors turning down offers from NUS because of familial objections.

3. Support network. Scientists do not (like to) work alone, and they are drawn to places where there are already many established universities/national labs. Think Research Triangle in North Carolina, or the CA schools (Berkeley and Stanford are only about 1 – 1.5 hours drive apart), or Boston with its numerous colleges and universities. Or how the presence of Los Alamos National Laboratory attracts researchers to New Mexico, a state which is not known for scientific research. Can NUS/NTU, and by association the research institutes generate the critical mass?

4. Libraries. Might not be very obvious, but many faculty members like to read. And Singapore’s culture is one that does not encourage reading. How many of you had been teased when young if you told your friends that you want to go to the library to read? Nerd!

——————————————————————-

So, what does a real US-based prof think about the Singapore tertiary education and research scene?

The emails below are part of an exchange I had with my SRP mentor a long time ago while still serving in the SAF. He was then returning to the US and is now at a highly regarded university in New England. Do bear in mind I was only 19 at that time, so please excuse my youthful naivety. 😛 For obvious reasons the identifiable parts have been changed/edited to maintain my anonymity. This took place sometime in the late 90s. The situation might have changed since then, but I doubt it.

From : x@nus.edu.sg>
Sent : June 17, 199X 2:52 AM
To : takchek
Subject : RE: Some Queries about US education system

Hi takchek!

You may be a product of the Singaporean system, but that doesn’t make you rigid. Actually, the fact you are exploring the possibilities of study abroad already sets you apart from your classmates! Most of the students I encounter are quite satisfied with what they have been given and seldom question anything. When they consider study abroad, if they do, they are always concerned about the possibility of losing something here. I don’t find Singaporeans to be big risk takers, in the way Taiwanese and Hong Kong people are.

I may sound down on Singapore and its people, but please don’t misunderstand. I actually like it here, and most of all, I like the Singaporean people. I just want them to have more opportunities to develop themselves to their fullest potential. I guess that is what every teacher would like for his students.

Thank you for your kind wishes, I am returning home with mixed feelings, I must confess. I have enjoyed my sabbatical here, free from the stress and pressures of our system and of my job at (US university), and of course, I am changed in some way. I have enjoyed all of my experiences here, good ones and bad ones. I have also learned a lot and made some wonderful new friends whom I shall always treasure. I have met and tutored many interesting young Singaporeans such as yourself and look forward to watching them develop in the years ahead.

I hope you will stay in contact. I will return here in the fall and look
forward to seeing you again.

With best wishes and warmest regards,
X

From: takchek
Sent: June 16, 199X 5:04 PM
To: x@nus.edu.sg
Subject: RE: Some Queries about US education system

Dear Dr X,

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you that the education system here is too rigid, but unfortunately I am a product of this system. Rote learning drills knowledge in but leaves one inadequate at the teriary level, where one will be working/studying at the frontiers of his/her discipline.

Bon voyage (Happy Independence Day on Jul 4!) and I will let you know when Mr Y (Ed: another prof he recommended I contact) replies. I am sure he will bring in a fresh
perspective and correct some of my misconceptions.

Till then, best regards.
takchek

From: x@nus.edu.sg
To: takchek
Subject: RE: Some Queries about US education system
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 199X 13:48:34 +0800

Hi takchek!

Thanks for your reply. I won’t mind your writing to me in the future if you wish to discuss your academic plans. By the way, I will return to the USA on July 4. My e-mail address in (the US) is: x@ivy.edu

I agree that you need to have an overseas education in order to have a good future in the 21st century. From my experiences in Singapore, I can say that the system here isn’t yet world class. Yes, they have nice facilities, but the libraries don’t measure up to even those of average universities in the USA. But what is really lacking is the quality of the faculty, they aren’t doing world class research in most areas and while they are good, the best have left the country to work in the US, the UK or Australia.

There is also a rigidity about education here, too much emphasis upon grades, memorization and little concern for creativity or critical thinking. The classroom here is boring as far as I am concerned. Well, I don’t want to seem unkind by criticizing my colleagues but I have enjoyed this experience and learned a lot. What I will take back with me is fond memories of the kindness and warmth of the Singaporeans!

But for an undergraduate education you can certainly receive a decent one here and then consider transferring to an overseas university for graduate training.

I think your idea of having a study abroad experience is an excellent one, but I don’t recommend summer programs, you should consider a full semester program. For example (US university) and NUS have an exchange program and we receive undergraduates from Singapore for a full semester.

It’s a more meaningful experience and the students return very happy from that experience.

I don’t think you are ready to decide such matters as what to do after you graduate right now. Let’s just concentrate on getting an undergraduate degree first!(-:

Take care and let me know if you need more help.

Warmest regards,
X

From: takchek
Sent: June 14, 199X 8:32 PM
To: x@nus.edu.sg
Subject: RE: Some Queries about US education system

Dear Dr X,

Thank you (Ed: for offering to help me answer questions about US universities). I do not have any more questions at the moment, but there will definitely be more coming in the months ahead (I hope you won’t mind)as I consider my tertiary education path. I firmly believe that I need to have an overseas education to get the experience, which I think will be invaluable in the 21st century. Unfortunately, I have to consider the costs, so I may want instead to go for the summer programme and/or a semester as an exchange student for my undergraduate education. I have not really decided yet. As for my Masters, I hope I can get the grades needed to go to one of America’s top research universities. Maybe a PhD after that? Or straight to industry and followed by a MBA a few years later? I don’t know.

Best Regards
takchek

—————————————————————-

More about the A*star and JHU break up:

e pur si muove (I), (II), (IV); Joseph.

July 25, 2006 at 4:23 pm 2 comments

More on the JHU-A*star breakup

The original ST report here. Today has a follow-up, and I reproduce it below:

The experiment that failed

A*Star points to problems with Johns Hopkins’ PhD programme, senior leadership

Tuesday • July 25, 2006

Tan Hui Leng
huileng@newstoday.com.sg

SINGAPORE’S eight-year relationship with Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has gone sour and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has said the reason was simple: The American medical institution did not deliver what it promised.

In a media report over the weekend, the university had appeared to blame its Singapore partner for not meeting its “financial and educational obligations”.

This is not true, said A*Star yesterday, while acknowledging that it had decided to terminate its arrangement with the Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore (DJHS).

“We are dismayed at the implication that A*Star is somehow to blame for the current predicament of the DJHS junior faculty and students,” said A*Star’s director of the Biomedical Research Council, Dr Andre Wan, in a press statement.

Singapore had invested $54 million under Phase 1 of the collaboration from 1998 to 2004 and another $28 million from then to now. Despite this, the university had “significant problems” in the progress of its research and education programmes, A*Star said.

“Findings revealed that DHJS was still lacking in senior scientific leadership and had failed to achieve several key performance indicators,” said A*Star.

The review was carried out by two committees late last year and early this year.

In the agreement, DJHS was tasked to enrol at least eight PhD students by February this year. As the review date approached, however, the division still had no students.

“Given the pace of development, A*Star assessed that DJHS was unlikely to meet the target of 40 PhD students enrolled by Feb 2009,” the agency said.

The agreement also required DJHS to recruit 12 senior investigators with international reputation, who would live in Singapore by February this year.

However, just one out of 13 fulfilled these requirements, said A*Star.

Five others were full professors but one resigned from the university. Two were based in Baltimore, one spent 80 per cent of his time at the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and one was a visiting scientist. Of the remaining seven faculty members, six were assistant professors.

“Academics generally would not consider someone at the level of an assistant professor to be a senior investigator,” said A*Star.

The agency raised its concerns but the university responded that it prefers “to hire capable and ambitious junior scientists rather than bring in ‘big names'”.

However, A*Star “feels strongly that neither the letter nor the spirit of the agreement, in particular the requirement to recruit senior investigators, was being followed”. Just this month, the agency learnt that DJHS had granted four PhD students five-year scholarships with no obligations to return to Singapore after the completion of their studies. However, such scholarships do not qualify for A*Star funding support under the agreement.

A*Star said it has been actively helping the facility with the relocation of its faculty members back to Baltimore and placements for those who wish to stay. It is also trying to assist the PhD students with their studies.

“As a government agency, A*Star has a responsibility to review the progress and performance of projects such as DJHS that are supported with public funds,” said A*Star.

“Where necessary, we will act decisively to ensure that these projects continue to create value for and contribute positively to Singapore’s biomedical sciences initiative.”

———————————————————————-

On the same day under the Voices section, Dr Andre Wan gives the Agency’s take on the issue. Pretty much the same as was written above, with the addition of several minor details.

We have kept our end of the deal: A*Star

Agency says decision to terminate agreement with Johns Hopkins taken after three years of monitoring and scrutiny

Tuesday • July 25, 2006

Letter from dr andre wan
Director
Biomedical Research Council
Agency for Science, Technology and Research

Let us start by stating the mission of the Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore (DJHS). It was set up to achieve three goals.

First, to establish a centre of immunology, experimental therapeutics and cancer research with an international reputation. Second, to establish PhD training at DJHS in Singapore. Third, to recruit senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and full-time residence in Singapore.

We refer to Mr Leong Sze Hian’s letter in your newspaper yesterday urging A*Star to “tell us more”. We also refer to the Straits Times’ article of July 22, 2006 headlined “Johns Hopkins, A*Star ‘headed for break-up'”. It was alleged in the report that A*Star “has not kept up its end of the deal in meeting its ‘financial and educational obligations'” and that this is a “reputational issue for Singapore and A*Star”.

It was also alleged that Johns Hopkins University (JHU) “had done its part to recruit faculty and graduate students as stipulated in its Agreement with A*Star”.

These statements attributed to the JHU spokesman are both untrue and inappropriate.

The truth of the matter is that A*Star has fully complied with its obligations under the Agreement and continues to do so during the contractual 12-month wind-down period.

Indeed Singapore invested a total of S$54 million under phase 1 of the collaboration (1998-2004) and a further S$28 million under phase 2 to date.

The JHU presence in Singapore began in 1998 with the goals of providing clinical service, education and research. But in 1999, Johns Hopkins Singapore (JHS) was found to have significant problems in the progress of its research and education programs and a restructuring of the collaboration was then effected.

However, problems persisted. A*Star had to negotiate a significant restructuring of JHS in 2003 which led to the establishment of the DJHS, an academic department reporting to the Dean of Medicine at JHU.

A*Star put in place, with the agreement of JHU, stringent oversight criteria and the requirement for a mid-cycle review. The Agreement specified clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that would provide mutually agreed metrics for success.

The mid-cycle review was carried out by two committees in late 2005 and in early 2006. Separate reports were submitted by the independent Scientific Advisory Committee appointed by DJHS itself, and by the A*Star Grant Review Committee. The findings revealed that DJHS was still lacking in senior scientific leadership and had failed to achieve several KPIs.

For example, the Agreement required DJHS to enrol at least eight PhD students by February 2006. However, as the review date approached, DJHS still had no students. In October 2005, DJHS was urged by its Scientific Advisory Committee to take steps to address this issue. Given the pace of development, A*Star had assessed that DJHS was unlikely to meet the target of 40 PhD students enrolled by February 2009.

The Agreement also required DJHS to recruit 12 senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and with full-time residence in Singapore by February 2006.

In truth, only one out of the 13 recruited by DJHS fulfilled these requirements. While there were five others who held the title of full Professor, one had already tendered his resignation from JHU, two were based in Baltimore and did not reside in Singapore, one was based at the JHS International Medical Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and spent only 20 per cent of his time at DJHS, and one was a visiting scientist on a 12-month contract.

Of the remaining seven faculty, six were given appointments as Assistant Professors by JHU. For five of the six, this was their first appointment as an Assistant Professor. Academics generally would not consider someone at the level of an Assistant Professor to be a senior investigator.

When A*Star raised its concerns, JHU responded that at Hopkins they prefer to hire capable and ambitious junior scientists rather than bring in “big names”. A*Star feels strongly that neither the letter nor the spirit of the Agreement, in particular the requirement to recruit senior investigators, was being followed.

All in all, DJHS failed to meet eight out of 13 KPIs for scientific capability development specified in the Agreement. For seven of these KPIs, DJHS was unable to even meet the first year targets by the end of the second year.

The Agreement allows A*Star to discontinue funding DJHS if it decides after formal review and with due process, that DJHS is not likely to succeed in achieving its KPIs.

The decision to terminate the arrangement with DJHS was not taken hastily and was based on nearly three years of monitoring and scrutiny. Moreover, discussions between senior management at JHU and A*Star about the potential closure continued for over three months (mid-February to end May 2006) before the decision was finally made.

A joint A*Star-DJHS circular was then sent on June 20, 2006 to all DJHS staff and students to inform them of the decision. The wind-down process then commenced in accordance with the terms of the Agreement.

It was only in July 2006 that A*Star learnt, for the first time, that DJHS had granted its four PhD students five-year scholarships with no obligation to return to Singapore after completing their studies. Such scholarships do not qualify for funding support under the Agreement.

Instead the Agreement requires DJHS to either fund or seek external funding (ie not from A*Star) to support any student to be trained in Baltimore.

We are deeply dismayed at the implication that A*Star is somehow to blame for the current predicament of the DJHS junior faculty and students.

Under the Agreement, should the DJHS program falter, JHU alone is responsible for the redeployment of its faculty. A*Star’s obligation is limited to the provision of a 12-month wind-down budget. Notwithstanding this, A*Star has been actively helping DJHS and JHU with the re-location of faculty to Baltimore and placement of those who wish to remain in Singapore.

As for the four PhD students, though their scholarships do not qualify for A*Star funding under the Agreement, A*Star has gone out of its way to offer them assistance. We have renewed offers of A*Star local scholarships to two of them, and we are still attempting to assist the other two. We have yet to hear of any offer of assistance from JHU.

As a government agency, A*Star has a responsibility to review the progress and performance of projects like DJHS that are supported with public funds. Where necessary, we will act decisively to ensure that these projects continue to create value for and contribute positively to Singapore’s biomedical sciences initiative.

In this respect, we have been even-handed and fair in our other interactions with JHU as a whole.

For instance, A*Star and Singapore have a productive relationship with the JHS International Medical Centre based at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Much of the clinical research conducted there is funded by the Singapore Cancer Syndicate, which is an arm of A*Star.

A*Star also sends its National Science Scholars to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees at JHU in Baltimore, after which they are obliged to return to serve Singapore.

A*Star and Singapore have, over the past eight years, given JHU every possible chance to succeed. But for DJHS, JHU was unable to fulfill its obligations under the Agreement. We cannot justify the continuation of public funding for a collaboration that has failed to yield results for Singapore.

However, we continue to act in good faith to ease any disruption by the provision of a generous 12-month wind-down period and as much support as possible within the terms of the Agreement.

It is therefore most surprising that JHU should choose to lecture A*Star and the people of Singapore about our reputation when it is JHU which has not delivered on its commitments under the Agreement.

Letter from Dr Andre Wan

Director, Biomedical Research Council

Agency for Science, Technology and Research

My take? A divorce is always messy, especially when you have two big egos clashing.

July 24, 2006 at 6:41 pm 2 comments

The 2006 PSC scholars

Taken from Sammyboyforums. Interesting bits in bold.

July 23, 2006
PSC casts wider net to attract more talent
Mid-term scholarships for those already in university, local medical scholarships, plus internship scheme for a taste of life in civil service

By Jeremy Au Yong

THE Public Service Commission (PSC) has expanded its scholarship programme to enable the civil service to cast a wider net when recruiting talent.

Undergraduates can now apply for scholarships midway through their studies and local scholarship recipients can take up medicine, a choice previously available only to President’s Scholars.

Is it more like: you fail the first time round in the interviews (after your As/poly), now you get a second chance to become a bonded servant of the system.

The changes were announced yesterday by Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, the minister-in-charge of the civil service, at the annual PSC scholarship ceremony.

In his address to scholarship recipients at the Istana, Mr Teo explained the rationale behind each development.

The mid-term scholarships, he said, have been introduced to provide an avenue for students who ‘for some reason or other’ did not want to apply for a PSC scholarship.

The scholarships for local medical students was created to ‘recognise outstanding students whose hearts are set on becoming doctors’.

I don’t really see how Med School fits with the Civil Service. I thought Med students in NUS are already bonded to MOH. They should also mention that nobody signed up to be LSA(Med) scholars this year under SAF.

He also said the civil service will start an internship programme to give outstanding undergraduates a taste of life in the civil service. A total of 29 undergraduates from 15 top universities are currently going through the programme.

He hopes the experience will get them to consider signing up after graduation.

I really think these folks should work overseas first before thinking about signing on with the Civil Service. At the very least, think of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars your folks had shelled out. With the pay scale in the Sg Civil Service, you probably won’t be able to earn these back within a reasonable time frame.

He said: ‘The civil service values its talent, regardless of whether he or she joins us as a scholar after A levels or mid-way through university, or as fresh or mid-career graduate.’

Mr Teo also encouraged overseas students to go beyond their social circle of Singaporeans and suggested that those in local universities should sign up for overseas exchange programmes. He stressed that good grades were not everything.

I guess he has heard of the Singaporean ghetto-towns?

‘While achieving good academic results is important, you should strive to make your educational experience as meaningful and enriching as possible.’

Later, he handed out scholarships to 39 students.

Of the cohort, 19 will be heading for Britain, 14 to the United States and one – 19-year-old Png Zhiheng – to France. Five will study locally.

Among the scholarship recipients yesterday was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s son, Mr Li Hongyi, 19, who will be reading economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. PM Lee also attended the ceremony.

The third generation emerges…

The batch also included Mr Loh Wei-Liang, 19, one of the first three students to receive a Local Merit Scholarship to study medicine.

He said: ‘I have been set on becoming a doctor since secondary school. With or without the scholarship I would’ve taken up medicine, so I feel really lucky to have got it.’

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

I beg to differ. More bonded years? 🙂

July 24, 2006 at 12:35 pm 1 comment

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