Monday, June 26, 2006

So long and thanks for all the fish*

Please go to

*If you must know, see this wiki.

Something's Afoot on Singapore Angle

If you are wondering why I've not been updating, that's because the blog is currently undergoing some important changes...
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Taking stock / The way forward

Had a long lunch with BL of Singapore Entrepreneurs and Heavenly Sword. The meeting (for both of them, our first meetings) was timely for me. Here I am, the madness of dissertation work behind me; but also looking forward to a full teaching schedule in just over a month. It is time to take stock, or as I said in the previous post, to think seriously about how I want the blog to continue, and what form it should take. Or whether it should continue at all. Several ideas were raised during lunch (thank you BL and HS) and I am giving very serious thought to them, enough to begin some negiotiations to see if some of these ideas have any future at all.

* * * * *

In the meantime, let me recall a conversation I once had with (serendipitously) BL a.k.a. Prodigal, HS and a few others on some related issues almost a year ago (an eternity in blogospheric time). I was lamenting on the fact that several unfinished projects were still collecting dust and said this:
A blog is, for the most part, occasional in nature. But the nature of some of my interests and the discussions generated often cry out for much more sustained reflection and exchange over a longer period of time...
Which was picked up by HS and others:

Heavenly Sword: I couldn't agree more....It actually takes time to write a proper article...and time is something that we're very short of right now...I think I may have to take a long break from blogging, due to the mega-project I have on hand...

Prodigal: Perhaps, it's better to lie low to write a good blog entry than to waste your time trying to churn out blogs without any quality control. Somehow, by looking through most blogs, it is reminiscent of the modern academia, where we are subjected to the "publish or perish" situation.

Hope that all are well.

Huichieh: "Publish or perish"? Note that the "or" is an inclusive "or"...

A lot really depends on what the blog entry is meant to do--even granting the ambition of a blog to be "serious". News links, for example, are really easy to do. Why bother? Well, sometimes, you are surfing and come across something interesting and would like to point your readers in that direction. The more extended commentary type entries are, of course, much more involved. But either way, it is not always easy to predict the subsequent discussion--which may open up new vistas previously not considered. Heavenly Sword will remember a long exchange we had over yoghurt. The original post was only a brief news link!

I think blogs need not be taken as "publications" in the full sense of the word--fully thought out pieces, edited, etc. They could. But I tend to see much of what I do more in the spirit of throwing out discussion possibilities, tentative arguments, an inviting to the reader to think about something in a certain way, you know, 抛砖引玉--all subject to revision, correction, even complete refutation. This applies especially to the longer argumentative entries here.

Anthony: The medium of blogging lends itself better to certain discussion methods than others. A publication where someone writes a full article, then someone writes a full article refuting that article etc works, just not as well as short snappy articles and plenty of comments.

In short, I'm with you insofar as the "throwing up of ideas in the spirit of discussion".

Prodigal: Well, I refer to an exclusive "or".

There are a few views that you can use a blog for:

(a)The blog as an idea tosser: You throw an idea and invite discussion from your peers. If the subject is thought provoking like whether we should allow cloning, then it will be great.

(b)The blog as a personal rant space: Yes, we see tonnes of that. My conjecture is that 80% of the blog is like that.

(c)The blog as an introduction to scholarly works: Something like what u did to the papers by Dominic Soon, Sze Meng and Lee Harris. It will fulfil both (a) and at the same time examine some of the issues in a piece of scholarly work. Well, a physicist Lubos Motl uses it to explain difficult theoretical physics in his blog. I actually like that kind of technicality.

(d)The blog as a bait: using to snare reporters and book publishers. It has happened for the Sarong Party Girl blog if I am not wrong.

I believe that there are many purposes for using a blog. It's a good and quick zeroth order way to throw ideas or thoughts into a place. However, like the early days of internet or in the forums, it's like the wild wild west. People can throw in any kind of comments they like without responsibility. It bewilders me that people are always complaining about freedom of speech, and I ask them, "Sure, that's one side of the equation. If u are given freedom of speech, what about the responsibility to that freedom of speech?"

Have a good day.

Huichieh: Quick one: the reason why I said "inclusive" is because I know of people who published (lots) but still perished... I think the better formulation is: "don't publish, then perish" (but even if you do, you may still perish), which does work out in propositional logic to be "publish inclusive-or perish". More later...

Ok, I'm not interested in (b) and (d), and I try my best to do (a) and (c). The heartening thing is that, in my own experience here, the discussions have generally been very civil and very substantial. Some of the comments are veritable posts of their own!

In any case, I'm not too concerned about the variety of stuff out there--people should be perfectly free to blog or rant whatever they want. After all, if I'm not interested, I don't read their stuff. And if they find my stuff boring, they don't have to read. Won't be tested in exams lah!

Freedom of speech and responsibility? In one sense, they already come together. In being free to think and speak as I please--with the understanding that everyone else has that same freedom--I must expect that other people might get offended by what I say, and they would be perfectly free to blast me (in speech) for it. That's their perogative. But to see this is already to see that I--and no one else--am responsible for what I say.

The other sense of "responsiblity" does not follow, however. That is, if everyone is free to think and say as they please--consistent with everyone else having the same freedom, it doesn't follow that everyone would be "responsible speakers"--in the sense that they speak civilly, decently, logically, in good taste, etc. It would be nice if everyone were responsible speakers--but that's actually not something that we can guarantee without compromising their freedom to speak whatever they want: we may have to compel them to say only the good and true things, thus curtailing their freedom of speech.

Prodigal: Hui Chieh,

Here's my question to you: Suppose an individual say something that incite people to vandalize others property, in your opinion, what are the rest of the people doing about it?

I agree with your definition that everyone is free to think and speak as they please. However, once you start bringing the rest of the world into the picture, the individual's views will interact with the rest of the world. I suppose that there is no objective criterion to decide what is a "responsible speaker". I will prefer to believe that is conditioned by the view of what society views as responsible.

Huichieh: Probably he should be charged--if causality can be proven anyway. My point was only that freedom of speech--qua freedom--does not contain within itself a criterion of "responsible speaking". But rights can be trumped by other rights, and particular rights may have to be abridged so as to secure other rights.

That is to say: we can't expect (as a matter of fact) that just because a bunch of people are committed to and engages in free speech, that they will all be responsible. Obviously, it would be a good thing that they are, that they are individually restrained by, e.g., a desire not to harm, etc. So if freedom of speech is such a paramount commitment, then we had better be ready for a lot of nonsense. But obviously, it can't be--we have other commitments as well...

* * * * *

Personally, I believe that the best things on this blog, the thing I enjoined most, are the exchanges in the comments, which are often of uncommon quality and civility. If I should continue blogging, it will certainly be for the prospect and hope of such leisurely and reasoned exchanges more than anything else--and a modest contribution to the spirit and practice of civil discussions between citizens--more than anything else. Whether or not I get my wish, is something else.
Saturday, June 10, 2006

Returning to life in Singapore; identity and literary merit

Image002Returning to life in Singapore is a more drawn-out affair than originally anticipated. And even now, more than two weeks after touching down at Changi, there remains a considerable list of things to be done, mostly to do with setting up the apartment (it's a HDB 4A, nothing fancy, if you must know). All this is quite apart from the anticipation of another twenty (15x12x10") boxes, mostly books, still on a ship crossing the Pacific Ocean. But with the study in some semblance of order (photo to the left) and the internet connection up and running, it seems time to post a new entry.

Actually, it seems time for me to think seriously about how I want the blog to continue, and what form it should take. Once the semester starts, I can expect to be busy. Probably not as so thoroughly buried as I was over the last four months, but if past experience is any indication, it will be a full schedule.

In the meantime, a big "thank you" to all the well wishers (and in answer to this recent query: if I have my way, I will be studying for the rest of my life).

Image013add: Penny is doing well. In fact, not only does she not seem to mind the heat or the humidity, she hardly missed a beat. The attention of four excited grandparents (and a host of uncles and aunties) goes a long way. There's also something to be said for not having to pad up just to go to the mall. (Photo: Penny's first day trip into Johor Bahru.)

* * * * *

The Kway Teow Man put up a long but interesting article by one Shirley Lim Geok-lin, "Singpore's elusive identity quest" (ST, June 8, 2006), which deserves to be read in full. I sympathize with much of the article, especially the parts to do with the author's identification of the problem. In a nutshell, as Singapore continues to connect up with (and benefit from) globalisation, there is an increasing felt "lostness" among Singaporeans of especially the younger generations. We are supposed to be more at home in the world at large than in any one given place, let alone Singapore. This is certainly an issue that will continue to haunt us for some time to come. But there are also less appealing parts to the article. What follows is not a detailedly argued critique or commentary, only some desultory reflections.

At one point, the author responds to an earlier letter to ST by a Li Shengwu, who "called to task an earlier letter praising the Ministry of Education's decision to review the literature syllabus to incorporate more local writing."
To insist on retaining an Anglo-American literature canon, which has already exited many British and US universities, on account of its supposed superior merit and universality indicates a mind that has not yet grasped the relation between aesthetic judgment and the ideology that produced the judgment.

The Internet and other IT technologies have spawned a younger generation of globally interlinked and hyper-modern sensibilities. The countries that produced Shakespeare, Yeats, Plath, Huxley and Larkin have revised their university curricula to include Anglophone literature by stunning masters such as Seamus Heaney, V.S. Naipaul, Toni Morrison and other writers who have emerged from new societies to produce texts received not just as local but as world writing.
First, notice that in revising their university curricula to include Heaney, Naipaul, Morrison and others, the British and American universities have not opted for that which is local to them, but that which is other. The example of these universities might suggest that we ought not be overly stubborn about Shakespeare and Yeats, but it does not support our including local literature--local to us--in our own curricula.

Second, there is a tension between, on the one hand, charging that Li has "a mind that has not yet grasped the relation between aesthetic judgment and the ideology that produced the judgment" that the old Anglo-American canon has "superior merit and universality" (which, incidentally, is a non-argument); but also saying that Heaney, Naipaul, Morrison and others have been received as "world writing".

The suggestion of the latter claim seems to be something like this: Heaney, Naipaul, Morrison--or Chinua Acebe and Wole Soyinka--might have begun as 'local' writers, but they have been received by, e.g., the British universities, to be of world statue. In other words, their writings exhibit qualities that can be appreciated by non-Irish, non-Ghanians, non-Indians, non-Carribeans--the people of the world. In particular, dare I say that these writings exhibit qualities that warrant their reception as good literature, as writings that are worthy of serious attention by non-Irish, non-Ghanians, non-Indians, non-Carribeans, and so on? And as the author later tells us, "If Singapore authors have not received world attention, it is not because they are local"--in other words, their productions too, might one day be received as "world writing".

But what the author holds out with one hand, she might as well have taken back with the other. If I had taken Heaney, Naipaul, Morrison, Acebe, or for that matter any number of Singaporean writers to have produced writings of "superior merit and universality", I would merely have displayed "a mind that has not yet grasped the relation between aesthetic judgment and the ideology that produced the judgment". If Mr. Li's preference for Shakespeare and Yeats betrayed an underlying ideology that "produced" his preference, the same can only be suspected of the judgments that led to the inclusion of Heaney, Naipaul, Morrison in the British curricula ("diversity" or "multiculturalism" perhaps), and more importantly, should be suspected of any proposed inclusion of any writer--local or otherwise--to Singapore's literature curricula.

I am thoroughly sympathetic with giving our own writers a chance; but presumably it is not just because they are ours, but also because they are good and worthy of attention. But what the author has insinuated, is that I couldn't possibly make judgments of the latter sort, except perhaps as a reflection of my being beholden to some "ideology". To believe otherwise is merely to displayed "a mind that has not yet grasped the relation between aesthetic judgment and the ideology that produced the judgment".
Friday, May 12, 2006


In Berkeley until 23 May to file the dissertation and graduate (the paperwork thereof, mostly), and to catch up and say goodbye to friends and teachers. Vacating (or evacuating) Toronto took us some nights of sleeping at 4 am, 21 boxes of books, baby toys and other stuff shipped home, and many farewells. So this is also a much needed rest and recuperation, in the warmth of the Californian sunshine. Most asked question for the past week: "You're leaving Canada? Don't you like this place?" Expecting similar questions for these two weeks.

update: (19 May) confined to a 56K connection where I am staying in Berkeley. Don't expect to blog until I'm back in Singapore (end of month). Filed the dissertation a couple of days ago: what a relief. They gave me a lollypop with the words "Phinally Done" (sic) on it. In other news, Eric Kaplan was the speaker at graduation. Kaplan turns out to be an ex-graduate student, who did everything but the dissertation before he was wisked off to write for David Letterman, Futurama and Malcolm in the Middle. I finally know the reason why the Professor in Futurama is named Hubert Farnsworth. It was a good speech, not least because it wasn't a lecture. Otherwise very busy meeting with friends--people I won't get to see for a while. Last 4 days in North America for some time to come: the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another.

update: (27 May) Back safely home in Singapore.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Singapore Gaga Run Extended

Just received this in my inbox:

* * * * *

No, this blog is not exactly dead or abandoned. The blogger is just very busy doing the final bits of editing for his dissertation, packing and selling stuff for a big move, saying goodbye to friends in Canada, and doing his part looking after a very active little girl... In the meantime, pop over and visit the Sg Elections '06 site.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Puzzling figures on university admissions

Update: The profs on my committee are now chewing on my 300-page pile. A short break is thus in order. And just as I was about to sit back and have a cold drink, I ran into a bunch of ST Forum Page letters on university enrollment... which gave me an odd sense of déjà vu (bada bing, bada bong, bada bang).

Seems it was reported in ST recently that there were some 74,000 applications from junior colleges and polytechnic graduates for only 12,800 vacancies among all our three universities (I'm still waiting for a friend to help me track down the original report, but I'm assuming that the figures are as reported; update: got it).

The 12,800 (expected) intake figure rings true, considering the rate of increase over the past years (source).

But 74,000 applications?

The number of students graduating each year with 2 'A' and 2 'AO' passes (including GP) has been hovering around the 10,000 mark between 1991 and 2004 (source). Since Pre-U enrollment for the same period has been fairly consistent (source), we can expect that for 2005, there can't be that many more than 10,000+ graduating with the same qualifications.

The number of students graduating from the Polys in the same time period has been steadily increasing from 6,000+ to 16,000+ (source). Assuming that it's increasing at the same rate, there should be about 18,000+ Poly grads for 2005.

But once you add the two numbers together, you get about a total of 28,000 JC/Poly grads for 2005. This is the total local pool ("from junior colleges and polytechnic graduates ") of local applicants to the local universities. And since there is a well-known cap on the intake of Poly graduates, we should expect the actual pool to be considerably smaller. Let's say that all of the JC graduates (with 2 'A's and 2 'AO's) and 15% of the Poly graduates applied to the local universities this year. That gives about 14,200--let's round that to 15,000--applicants.

Where did the 74,000 applications from "junior colleges and polytechnic graduates" come from? --How many students are applying to more than one university?

more: Found an earlier news report (.pdf from SMU's site) from 2004. That year, NUS received 13,600 applications for about 6,000 places, NTU received 12,000 applications for 4,500 places and SMU received 7,000 applications for 850 places. (That will be 32,600 applications for 11,350 places--from probably plus minus 13,000 applicants.) The report also mentioned that the usual practice has been for students to send in one application to NUS/NTU's joint admission. 2004 was the first year students could apply separately to the two. But it turned out that many applied to both NUS and NTU anyway, and quite a few to all three. add: Looks like in the case of SMU, there were 10,600 applications for 1,260 places.

more: The ratio of number of local applications vs. number of places in the local universities is not a terribly instructive piece of information. What we need is historical data concerning the ratio between number of local applicants vs. number of places in the local universities. I believe that this is the only meaningful way to assess whether it has become harder for a local JC/Poly graduate to get a place in the local universities, and in particular, whether his or her position has been made worse by the influx of international students. And the short answer (I've blogged the long answer months ago; see links at top of this post) is: as far as getting a place in a local university is concerned, the position of the local JC/Poly graduate has been improving for the last 20 years, an improvement that has not been impacted--except in terms of largely unfounded emotional reaction about foreigners taking the locals' place--in any adverse way by the increasing international enrollment in NUS/NTU/SMU. This is not to say that the position of the local JC/Poly graduate cannot be made even better than it already is, but wanting another scoop of icecream is not the same as complaining that one has received one scoop less than those who came before.

maybe more later... (busy editing the dissertation, and selling stuff in preparation for the big move)
Monday, April 10, 2006

Sighted in Toronto

(Loss for words)

(HDB block in the heart of Toronto)

(Penny having some grocery shopping fun)

...back to work now.
Thursday, April 06, 2006

Short Update

The (main) professor appears largely satisfied with the complete draft (minus introduction). It's all revisions, endnotes, front-matter, bibliography from this point on. In short: still extremely busy (I don't expect to be blogging much for the next month and a half). But I'm definitely seeing more of the light at the end of the tunnel. Taking the opportunity of a short break to make a few minor changes to the template--including changing the "Time Zone" from "Canada/East" to "Singapore". A big "Thank you" to all the readers who left such encouraging words in the comments to my previous post.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Punk'd!! And posting this at the expense of lunch...

OK, ok... I'm taking a bit of time out of my ridiculously hectic schedule to fill out the 'It' in this ST article on Opposition Parties slamming podcast ban rule:

"However, teacher Victor Yang, 31, who blogs on politics here, said: 'It's a step forward.
'There is a generation that is trying to work towards more leeway and fewer restrictions, and by coming out to say this, the Government is acknowledging that the electorate is changing.'"

Context, tsk, tsk... context... sigh...

In the conversation I had with Serene, the point I was trying to make was that the government imposed restrictions on podcasting and vodcasting reflected its unwillingness to completely surrender control on the terms of political debate and discourse, but that the government was conceding the fact that bloggers will inevitably comment on politics. I was trying to explain the distinction between blogging about politics, and persistently promoting a political viewpoint (which is the condition under which blogs are required to register). Something Data at Singapore Ink also comments on.

I was making the point that since we are expressing political views without persisting in promoting any political viewpoints, we don't need (at Singaporeangle) to register as a political website, and the government isn't likely to clamp down on us. In that respect, the government was conceding ground to political debate that does not constitute the advocacy of a political position. Really, I have no issues with that. As discussed earlier on this blog by Huichieh, there is something in what MM Lee said to Jamie that resonates with me, the idea that if you are dissatisfied with what the political party in power stands for, organise yourself, win support for your cause and take on the government.

I do think the PAP stays in power because it does have broad support among the people, but here is where I made the other point, that the electorate is increasingly becoming vocal, and that the government, in conceding openly (rather than leave the OB markers invisible) that discussions of a political nature will be tolerated (ok, problematic word, I am not going to address at this point) is responding to the changing nature of the electorate.

I am interested in observing how the upcoming and the subsequent elections will reflect changing social norms given that a large part of PAP's success in maintaining its position in power will depend ultimately on the vote of a generation that has very different expectations concerning restrictions on expression compared to the ones before.

Of course, if our views are political and we express them consistently, then of course definitions over what constitutes 'persistent', 'political view' can be argued over (as Data points out)... but I did get the feeling that the fact that more explicit boundaries are being drawn is a step forward; and helps us decide what to say, and how to put it across.

So, those of you wondering how I managed to make such a comment in the context of the ST article, here's the story.

Perhaps Serene was just running a very tight deadline and was eager to put in the obligatory 'other point of view' and had run out of time to explain the context. But, sigh... should have replied through email instead, or if I didn't have the time to compose one, decline the interview.

P.S. I also made the point that the banning of podcasts and vodcasts was something I had no opinion on whatsoever because I have not ventured into the technology (yes, yes... I belong to the Stone Age) and that's something that really isn't a loss to me at this point of time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Buried in work

Attempting to close the books on a chapter (the penultimate) that has grown to about 1.5 x twice the size of most of the others, while battling flu season as winter draws to a close and spring looms on the horizon. See you soon, hopefully.

Break over. Back to work.

update: the chapter's done and it's almost twice the size of the other chapters. One more to go.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Singapore GaGa at The Arts House

Opens 11 Mar, through to April 16 (but not showing on April Fool's weekend).
Wednesdays (7.30pm), Saturdays and Sundays (4.30pm).
Ticket Price: $8 and $6 (student concession).
Ticket Hotline: 6332 6919

More on

Nuff said.

update: Tym blogs about a blogger-only private screening which she attended Monday (6 Mar).
Sunday, February 26, 2006

Reports on the Forum: The (In)Significance of Political Elections in Singapore

(Cross posted on Sg Elections '06. From this point on, all posts that are directly related to the elections will be posted exclusively there, if I get around to do any.) [IMPORTANT NOTICE: Several readers have emailed saying that they believe the other site has been compromised. Until the issue is resolved, I'm delinking.]

Previously mentioned here. As I said then: Someone please attend and tell me about it. Well, reports are coming in. Wayne points to a report on ST. Mr. Wang has another. Double Yellow (bless his soul), attended the forum and came back with his "interpretation of what transpired at the forum", complete with summaries of each of the presentations. He even has the Q &A session written down "but will transcribe it only if people are interested and I recover from my carpal tunnel syndrome".

Ok, back to work...

quick update: I've posted this on the other site, but NUS has the webcasts out for the event.
Saturday, February 25, 2006

Help Needed

Hi everyone,

I was hoping to use video clips of the Jamie Han vs Harry Lee encounter at the Kent Ridge Forum for a class on civic discourse.

Does anyone know how I might find these someplace?

Thanks in advance.
Sunday, February 19, 2006

First Toronto-Singapore Short Film Festival: My Impressions

The First Toronto-Singapore Short Film Festival was a success. The organisers did a good job. Considering that this is the beginning of a week-long break at the University of Toronto, and the fact that temperature was minus 10 celcius (without windchill), the turnout out was excellent. I estimate probably more than a hundred but below two hundred, with a good proportion of non-Singaporeans as well as Singaporeans.

The only real glitch--and it turned out to be such a pity--was that the DVD for the last and longest film, Singapore Gaga by Pin Pin Tan was damaged and we only got to see about 1/5 of the whole thing. The organisers were saving the best for the last; but with that unforseen turn of events, the Fest ended with Singapore Rebel as the last number instead. The other regret is that I wasn't able to take many photos because of the lighting condition. Still, a couple of shots of the reception held during the intermission turned out decent. One of the organisers, Mr. Chia Yeow Tong, can be seen on the photo to the right (furthest guy on the right facing front)
As for the films themselves, I won't include the synopses here since they are all available on the Film Fest's site, and in most cases, the films have their own sites as well. Rather, I'll restrict myself to making a few brief comments about my own impression of the films, not all of which will make complete sense if you have not seen the films.

The first film is Cafe by Kelvin Sng, and a world premiere, no less! (Actually, I thought the "world premiere" took place in my living room when Yeow Tong showed Elaine and I the film; but I guess that didn't count.) The trick to seeing the irony is to actively compare and contrast how Yutaka understands or thinks he understand what is going on at the other tables in the cafe. For me, the strongest performance and most moving moments are from the exchange between Gabriel (Felimon Blanco) and Sophia (Gae Mendoza), two Filipinos working in Singapore while hoping to move on to greater things. In all, my favorite among all of the films shown.

The next film Parcel by Lu Lu Yang is somewhat more bleak, and without the redeeming irony of Cafe, or much of closure as well. In one word, depressing. And after a while, that very cliche piano music that introduces every moody SBC/TCS scene can really become a turn off. Otherwise, a good attempt.

Strings by Jon Lim is actually very gripping. In fact, it is the most gripping of all of the films shown; though being a horror flick ("in the same vein as The Ring and The Grudge" as the Film Fest's site puts it) helps in that department. Supposed to be inspired by true events. I have to admit that it really did keep me at the edge of the seat.

As the organisers later remarked, More Than Words by Kelvin Sng is meant to be modelled after the 70s style productions of the Shaw Brothers. In other words, what you see is what you get: you can more or less predict what will eventually happen to each character. But there is one small twist that, in a way, deviates elegantly from the surface simplicity. At one point in the story, Hao Nan tells his beau Yu Tong that he is not who he seems to be (i.e., beneath that shuai'ge exterior is a ruthless gangster; though, of course, beneath that is a heart of gold). But as the story works itself out, it was Yu Tong who was not who she seemed (to Hao Nan) to be--though, innocent girl that she is, this fact completely eludes her, leading to the ensuring tragedy. After Cafe, this one is a close second for me.

Past Tense by Mirabelle Ang is meant to be a documentary, though as is suitable in these sorts of settings, much more artistic than the ones one might expect from Discovery Channel. As the Film Fest's site puts it, it is "introspective and visually stunning"--and I agree; but the semi-philosophical ruminations and "raising questions of cultural identity" just doesn't do it for me (as is usually the case). In my opinion, it's too heavy-handed in that department, and that detracts a little from the otherwise excellent visuals.

Singapore Rebel by Martyn See should need no introduction. Furthermore, the earlier reviews by Convex Set, Police State and Chemical Generation are all good in their own ways and I do not have much to add to them. But I will make this tentative comment--the fact that after Strings, this turns out to be the most engaging of the lot testifies both to the abilities of Martyn See, but also to the fact that there is still a lot that can be improved with respect to the other films. (As the organisers point out during the Q/A, many of the films were made by budding artists; this makes their achievements all the more impressive.)

But perhaps I spoke too soon. After all, Singapore Gaga by Pin Pin Tan was supposed to be the best, which was why it was saved for the last. And the first 1/5 that we did manage to see was impressive. Maybe I'll find a way to watch the whole thing.

On a different note, Elaine and I are just glad that Penelope was well behaved. She actually sat through most of the films. Actually, she was such a charmer during the reception that she was practically passed from one auntie or uncle to another as several people asked to carry her (though, upon the protests of some, I referred to them as kor kor and che che's instead).

All in all, a good event.
Saturday, February 18, 2006

Two different types of sensibilities and the use of "I think"

Interesting observations on the use of such qualifiers as "I think" by Paddychicken. He was taking to "a friend of a friend"--"a hyperactive kid with strong opinions, a sharp mind and a very fake exterior (or so I thought)", the latter of which Paddychicken attributed to the kid's "thick American accent":
Somehow, the conversation drifted to the use of the words "I think" as a figure of speech. It was interesting to find some commonality in our distaste for these words. He said that this was a sign of weakness - if you think something it means you don't know. It means you are incompetent.

My own personal gripe was that these words are redundant. If you are giving an opinion, you can just state it. No one should misconstrue that you are giving facts, unless you specifically cite an authoritative source.
If I say, "LKY is baiting the opposition parties to run for election in a GRC so they will lose everything", what else could this be but my own personal opinion? Even if I were to substantiate this claim with a 20-page academic paper, it would not be a fact. So why bother to start any sentence with "I think..."? It only serves to weaken the argument because it discredits the self-assuredness of the speaker.

The next time you are in a discussion, especially with a bigshot. Take a listen and see how many people start their spiels with "I think". (Emphasis mine)
Actually, my own sense is that a contrast between a more American-type as opposed to Anglo/British-type sensibility is probably at work here. The latter is much more characterised by the "I think" (and similar) qualifications. It is not unusual to hear older British academics--whom everyone knows to be among the foremost experts on a subject--to preface his remarks by saying "Now I don't really know a lot about his..." even as he goes on to discuss that very subject, complete with many qualifications and "ahems"!

This is also tied to the archtypically British taste for the understatement--of which a little bit rubbed off on us Singaporeans, by the way. Think of the locution, "it's not bad"--the typical American would most probably have said "it's very good", or even "awesome!" I still remember the first time I was asked if I liked my food in the US. My "this is not bad at all!" was (mis)taken for my saying or implying that it is "not good"--rather than the intended opposite. Also related is the habit of not actually saying something but implying it, sometimes by purposely not saying something.

Needless to say, these are all matters of degrees. And worst still, the British are past masters of both the understatement and the most slapstick and most unreservedly bawdy comedy; Monty Python and Blackadder being--in my opinion--excellent examples of precisely the strange combination of these two extremes.

Now since I do--if you might pardon my saying so--have a slight preference for the Anglo/British- as opposed to American-type sensibility on these matters (not in all respects though), ahem, perhaps you might consider the following remarks on the highlighted part of Paddychicken's disquisition. Now it seems to me that it is highly indicative of the very difference I was drawing above in sensibilities and thus associated expectations in a conversational setting.

For those with more of the American-type sensibility and conversing with others having the same sensibility, the default expectation of an assertion is that it is a personal opinion. That's why the qualifications indicating that it should be so taken are either redundant (or indicate an additional level of uncertainty). Which, by the way, suggests that the American-type sensibility is characterised by the expectation that people would be totally forthcoming with their opinions, whether or not backed by anything. In the best instances, we have "strong opinions" coupled with a "sharp mind"; in other cases, we have "strong opinions". It is thus not surprising that those with such a sensibility will find someone from the other side strangely unsure of himself.

For those with more of the Anglo/British-type sensibility and living among others with the same sensibility, the default expectation of an assertion is that it is backed by something solid. Otherwise, it would be prefaced by the qualifiers, or just not said at all. Being forthcoming with one's personal opinions is considered brash, vulgar--ahem, American.

But of course, these are just my personal opinions.

coda: Since I am at it, let me quote Christoph Harbsmeier on the Classical Chinese literary-rhetorical sensibility, which has a small connection with the above. In Classical and Literary Chinese:
Whatever the audience can understand from the context is preferably omitted in literary style. Explicitness is felt to be vulgar. It is not by chance that there is no word for scilicet 'i.e., you should remember, that is to say' in Classical Chinese. What you should know is omitted for the very reason that you should know it. (Language and Logic, 144)
As the Master himself puts it: 辭達而已矣!(LY 15.41).
Friday, February 17, 2006

Sourcing for information on the issue of international student enrollment in NUS/NTU

Still on the objective impact of the increased international enrollment at NUS/NTU upon the local students, especially on the question whether the former development has prejudiced the educational opportunities of the locals. My attempted quantative analysis in the previous post suggests that the answer is "no" or "not obviously", that is, the data is at least consistent with the claim that (anecdotal observations, subjective perceptions aside) the increasing numbers of international students are not depriving locals of places, that the Government's international student program is a "separate 'package' running parallel to the education of local students".

Even granting the truth of my tentative conclusion above, it doesn't mean that one cannot have a deeper philosophical disagreement with the policies driving the recent developments in the local university scene. That is, even granting the claim that the increasing numbers of international students are not depriving locals of places, one might nevertheless believe that tax dollars should not be spent on foreign students simpliciter, that if there is going to be any increase in enrollment, it should all go to the locals (i.e., calling for an increase to the proportion of each local cohort entering university), and so on. These are much more contentious issues that cannot be resolved by any straightforward appeal to data; but by the same token, they should not be confused with the more mundane issue underlying my tentative conclusion.

One question now is, are there other sources of relevant information that will make the analysis more complete. The answer is a qualified "yes"--it exists, but not as much or as comprehensive as one might wish. Since I don't actually have the time to look through the stuff found so far, this is just a link dump for the moment. If you know of any information, do drop me an email or leave a comment. I would be much oblidged.

Statistical Data

- Education Statistics Digest Online (has data going as far back as 1984, but not specifically on international students).

A couple of useful overview articles that contain some analysis as well

- Jason Tan, "Recent Developments in Higher Education in Singapore", International Higher Education (Winter 1999)

- G. Sanderson, "International Education Developments in Singapore", International Education Journal 3.2 (July 2002)

Stuff from the MOE website

- Press releases on the meetings of the International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP) in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005. This is more tantalizing than useful. We know that NUS/NTU increased their international student enrollment upon the recommendation of the IAAP. It would have been useful if the actual recommendations and reasoning of the panel are available.

- A couple of Forum Page replies from MOE: "Reducing Tuition Grants for Foreign Students" (Dec 21, 2004), "More varsity places part of reform" (Jan 21, 2005). As with the case of most official forum page replies, they tend to be rather useless. However, the second letter contains an interesting bit of data:
Currently, about 21 per cent of the primary one cohort every year enters our local universities. Of this number, about 2 percentage points come from the polytechnic route while the remaining 19 percentage points come from the junior college route. By 2010, when the projected 25 per cent of the primary one cohort is admitted into our local universities, the polytechnic route's share will be increased from 2 percentage points to 6 percentage points. This translates into a tripling of the number of polytechnic graduates admitted into our local universities.
- Several Parliamentary Replies on university education: Sep1, 2004, Apr 20, 2004, Jan 5, 2004, Apr 19, 2005. The Apr 20, 2004 and Apr 19, 2005 replies are especially relevant.

- Archived Speeches by Minister/Acting Minister of Education--I've not have a chance to comb this yet. (see below)


- The Percentage of the Primary 1 Cohorts admitted to NUS/NTU either via the JCs/PUCs/CIs or via the Poly's, 1980-1997 (click to see larger version):
I've also turned the data into a chart, together with extrapolations based on the information in the forum letter quoted above:
corrected: Looks like the data and chart are ok, just that I interpreted them incorrectly. For instance, the figure for 1997 (20.4%) tells us that 20.4% of the relevant P1 cohort (presumably of 1983) entered the local universities in 1997. (I wrongly read it as saying that the 20.4% of the 1997 P1 cohort entered the local universities, which would be impossible as a statistics since that cohort has not entered the right age!) Note also that the information is from 1997, and the projections are projections given the data known then. It would be interesting to see how the actual figures for 1998-2004 go. I'll update that when I have the data. (My thanks to ted for his alertness.)

- A reader points to the MTI Economic Review Committee Report, which has a section on education.Relevant speeches archived on the MOE website with the important bits extracted where possible.

DPM LEE, 23 Aug 97:

- "6. When you go to university, if you are a good student, you will find many scholarships chasing you. There are PSC scholarships, EDB scholarships, MAS scholarships, SPH scholarships, and company scholarships. There are SAF scholarships, even for women. (This year we awarded the SAF Merit Scholarship to two very good recipients.) Plus, for those who prefer not to be tied down by a bond after graduation and want to keep their options open, there are in extremis father-mother scholarships, for with rising incomes, nearly every family can afford to pay tuition fees in NUS or NTU. In any case, NUS and NTU now have a "needs blind" admission policy, so any student who wins a place will be able to fund his studies through scholarships, bursaries, loans or paid work."

PM GOH, 24 Aug 97 NDP Rally Speech:

- GLOBALISATION (read ss. 46-84)

DPM TAN, 19 Feb 98:


RADM TEO, 20 Mar 98:

- "Will there be enough places for Singaporeans? ...there will be enough university places for Singaporeans who...make the grade. The increase in intake of foreign students will be undertaken as part of the university's overall expansion plans and will not be at the expense of Singaporeans. There is flexibility to enlarge the intake in most courses if there is demand. In fact, for the coming academic year, 1998/1999, there will be increases in intakes in almost all the faculties, ranging from 1% to 11%, except for Dentistry, Law and Business, where the intakes will remain about the same. Members will understand the reasons for Dentistry and Law. For Business, we are making adjustments as well. The total intake will increase by about 4½%. For the academic year 1999-2000, a further 4½% increase in undergraduate intake has been projected. We will refine this number as we go along. So there is no shortage of places for Singaporeans."

- "The establishment of the Management University in 2000 will result in an increase in the number of places for students wishing to pursue an undergraduate business course. While NUS will reduce its undergraduate Business Administration intake slightly from the current 600 to 500 in the year 2000, and NTU will stop offering its undergraduate Business programme, there will be more places available in SMU to make up for these changes. So in fact the Business intake will increase overall. The facilities given up by NTU's undergraduate Business programmes will be used for an expansion of NTU's post-graduate Business programmes and increase in the number of engineering students taking Business minors and to house the overall expansion in post-graduate students in all disciplines.

- "Bilingualism is a cornerstone of Singapore's education system. SMU has stated that applicants will need to satisfy the minimum grade in the mother tongue, as in the case for admission into NUS and NTU. There is no change to this policy and we do not intend to make any changes. The minimum requirement to apply for NUS and NTU is a grade of D7 in mother tongue, either as a second language taken at the "A" level examination or as a first language taken at the "O" level examination. Currently, candidates who do not satisfy the above requirements for mother tongue may still submit an application for NTU or NUS. If selected, they will be admitted on a provisional basis. During the course of their study, they will be required to meet the requisite minimum language requirements before they are allowed to graduate. I am sure SMU will apply the same flexibility for deserving candidates."

DPM TAN, 17 Apr 98:

"At my speech at NTU in February, I emphasised three fundamentals which should not be compromised in the review of the University Admission System : First, continued emphasis on high academic standards and rigorous selection criteria in order to identify and reward students who work hard and who perform well academically; Second, retention of reasonable standards of competence in the Mother Tongue and English because bilingualism is the cornerstone of our education system; and Third, gradual implementation of the new University Admission System to allow sufficient time for students and teachers to adapt to the new requirements."

RADM TEO, 31 Jul 98:

"I am pleased to note that NUS and NTU have marketed themselves aggressively in the past years and are on track to reach their target of 20% foreign intake. For the academic year 1998/99, preliminary figures (up to 20 Jul 98) indicate that NUS and NTU have recruited more than 1,500 foreign students which make up 16.5% of their undergraduate intake. 70% of these foreign students are taking up courses in Engineering, Computers and Science. It is particularly important for Singapore to build up centres of excellence in these areas in order to catalyse the growth of high technology industries and ensure an adequate supply of qualified persons."

RADM TEO, 13 Oct 98:

"15. In 1981, we had about 10 research scientists and engineers per 10,000 labour force. Today, there are more than 60. [please see Graph] In 1985, the mean years of schooling in Singapore was 5.7. Today, about 20% of each cohort reach university, another 40% graduate from a polytechnic and more than 20% receive vocational skills training. Together, this implies that more than 80% of each cohort will receive some form of post-secondary education."

DMP LEE, 20 Jan 99:


PM GOH, 27 Aug 99 NDP Rally Speech:

"We also want to make NUS and NTU first-rate universities. NUS and NTU have already achieved high standards. They do not lack facilities and resources. Their constraint to doing better is talent.

Top universities in the US like Harvard and MIT recruit from the top 0.25 percent of a cohort of nearly 4 million, taking just over 1,000 students each per year. Only the brightest students have a chance. Furthermore, they recruit not just from the state they are in, or even the whole of the US. They draw outstanding students from the world over. So they attract top-rate professors, which in turn makes more top students want to enter these universities. Harvard and MIT can do this because they are private, not state universities. They do not have to look after all the students from the state of Massachusetts. They also have the advantage of long histories, and huge endowment funds from alumni and well-wishers. There are other state universities, which take the many other good students who do not make it to the elite institutions.

NUS and NTU are state universities. They have a responsibility to take in all Singaporeans who qualify. They admit about 20% of every population cohort, thus catering to a wide range of talent and ability. Together they take in 8,000 students.

To upgrade themselves, NUS and NTU must systematically enrol bright students from the region. Though they can never match the academic excellence of Harvard and MIT, they can emulate Harvard and MIT, and try and attract top students from Asia. Not every bright Asian student can afford to go to Britain or the US. Singapore is cheaper and closer to home. We do not expect all these students to stay on in Singapore. Many will go back and contribute to their home countries. Over time, they will form a regional network of old school ties, people who are well disposed to Singapore and whom we can do business with.

Last year, foreign students made up 16% of the total undergraduate intake in NUS and NTU. The two universities will increase their intake of foreign students to 20%. This increase in foreign students will not be at the expense of Singaporeans. We will always provide enough university places for local students who meet the admission standards."

DPM TAN, 18 Dec:


RDAM TEO, 7 Jan 2000:

"Singapore’s Universities of Tomorrow" | Interesting statistics: at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the enrollment is 79% in-state, 12% out-of-state and 9% international; at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, it's 65%, 30% and 5%; for NUS, it's 85% local and 15% international, while at NTU, it's 77% and 23% respectively; note: the populations of the states of Illinois and Michigan were approx. 12.3 million and 9.9 million respectively according to the 2000 census.

"17. ...France has an open-admission university sector where everyone who graduates from high school can enrol, and a highly selective grandes écoles sector which admits only the crème de la crème – the top 2%. Even among the grandes ecoles, there is a pecking order. I recently visited one institution in Paris which admits only the top 0.1%. If we scale this to Singapore's size, this translates to an intake of just 50 students per year.

18. To take an even more extreme example, China's prestigious Tsinghua University admits 2,500 students a year, which if scaled to Singaporean terms, translates into 5-6 students per year. This is like NUS or NTU picking only each year's President's Scholars for the freshman class."

RDAM TEO, 13 Mar 2000:

"33. ...While there are students who score within the top 30% in English, Mathematics and Science but bottom 30% in Mother Tongue Language in PSLE, none has been channelled to the Normal stream as a result...

34. ...only about 2% of students who sit for the Mother Tongue Language papers at 'O' and 'AO' level fail to meet the requirement of grade D7 or better..."

(Done for 1997-2000)
Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thoughts on some Singapore education statistics

[note: the title was changed to reflect the contents of the post more accurately. | followup: here.]

Thanks (or no thanks) to this at Mr Wang's (see the comments), I found myself pouring over what little is provided by way of statistics on the Singapore Education Digest. (update: and more; scroll down) There are no specific statistics for international students in Singapore. The question is whether proxies can be arrived at. Here, a few items stand out.

(a) From 2000-2004, the "Gross Enrollment Ratio" for the Tertiary age (16-20) has been consistently 45-47% (very slow increase). [NOTE: "Gross enrollment ratio for a given level of education is derived by dividing the total resident enrollment for a particular level of education, regardless of age, by the resident population of the age group which according to national regulations, should be enrolled at that level."]

(b) The full time enrollment at the pre-U level (both JCs and Institutes) is 24,800-24,600 (slow decrease).

(c) On the other hand, The full time enrollment in the polys in the same period increased from 52,000 to 56,000; and more importantly, the same for the universities increased from 36,000 to 41,000+ (and quite possibly still growing at the same rate!).

What the figures suggests to me is that the massive expansion of NUS/NTU plus establising of SMU (in 2000) over the past few years is basically an expansion of the international student component--which would collaborate subjective or anecdotal impressions. (Anyone has any better grasp of the numbers?) But this also means that--objectively speaking, assuming that I've taken the numbers right--approximately the same (or a very slowly increasing) proportion of Singaporeans per education cohort has been entering the local universities over the past few years.

(One problem is that "Gross Enrollment Ratio" does not distinguish between university and poly enrollment. But the fact remains that full time enrollment at the pre-U level has been fairly steady, while university enrollment has massively expanded. So let's say that the figures are at least compatible with and suggestive of the impression that roughly the same proportion of Singaporeans per education cohort has been entering the local universities from 2000-2004.)

Here's the more controversial part: If my take on the numbers is correct, it seems that the typical Singaporean student (say, in 2004) stands more or less the same (or a very slighly improved) chance as his or her predecessors (within the time frame) at enrolling in one of the local universities--that is, in the specific sense that roughly the same proportion in each cohort makes it.

What then is the basis of the oft heard claim (see the comments here) that it has become harder for the local to get into the local universities; and specifically, because of the increased emphasis on recruiting international students?

One thing is for sure, because of the changes in the system at the secondary and pre-U level in the same period of time, the local student now has to do more--e.g., project work--then his or her predecessor. And anecdotally at least, it is more pressurizing now than, say, ten years ago. Secondly, there is also the factor of increasing social expectations. Neither of my parents entered university; but all three of their children are graduates. The gaozhong diploma was already quite something in their time; the same cannot be said today. Conversely, more people now expect to enter university. Yet all this is compatible with the objective possibility that from 2000 to 2004, the typical Singaporean student at the pre-U level stands more or less the same chance at entering one of the local university.

But this also means that the claim that it has become harder for the local is at best only tangentially related to the issue of an increasing number of interational students in the local universities. For instance, it is just not obvious that he or she is fighting with more people for either fewer or the same number of places--in fact, there are more places in general. And abstracting from the international students, roughly the same number of locals are fighting for roughly the same number of places. That seems to be the impression given by the numbers.

Note: this does not mean, of course, that there aren't other serious issues that can't be raised with regards to the increasing number of international students--whether it is such a good thing to have so many of them, whether they should be given the same level of tuition grant, whether Singaporeans have been discriminated against when applying for a place in the residential halls, whether the international students are sufficiently competent in English, whether having such a large international student body has any connection whatsoever with improving education experience, or university reputation, or rankings--all of which are good questions that can and should be debated (assuming that we even have hard data to work with). My point is only this: it is just not obvious that even if all the international students are not there, anything would really change--objectively speaking--for the typical local student applying for admission at one of the local universities, unless, one assumes that a larger proportion of the local students at the pre-U level (which, incidentally, has been fairly constant in absolute terms in the time period) ought to be given a place in the local universities.

I'm not even sure where this is going--there are just too many pieces of the puzzle missing. For one thing, a more complete set of statistics over a longer period of time would be helpful--both for the overall local education scene, and for each of the local universities. (update: I found somewhat more data to work with, scroll down)

coda: this article (jump to p. 85) on the international education scene in Singapore is very interesting (hat tip: knightofpentacles): G. Sanderson, "International Education Developments in Singapore", International Education Journal 3.2 (July 2002): 85-103. First, it seems that the increase in international student enrollment is not just a purely Singaporean's initiative. There has been input from an "international advisory panel" (1997):
...perhaps the most resource-intensive initiative thus far arising from the 1997 recommendations by the international advisory panel, has been subsidised expansion of the international student program in Singapore with the clearly-stated aim to 'recruit top talent' to enhance the reputation for excellence of local institutions. (p. 96)
Furthermore, officially at least, the increase in international student enrollment is meant achieved on top of rather than in place of existing local enrollment:
In 2000, the Minister Rear Education reported that both NUS and NTU had met their targets of 20 per cent enrollment of international students. This appears to be the limit at which the Government is prepared to subsidise the program to achieve goals associated with building the reputation of Singapore's institutions. Public perception is that the increasing numbers of international students are depriving locals of places, but it is clear that the Government's international student program is a separate 'package' running parallel to the education of local students. Senior Minister of State (Education), Dr. Aline Wong, stated that "foreign students who enrol in institutes of higher learming are, on the whole, better qualified than their Singapore peers and they will raise the quality of the institutions and add to the vibrancy of the academic environment". Further, she maintained that all local students who qualify for a university place would gain entry to a Singapore university and that places would always be competitive due to their number being determined by 'projected manpower needs'. (p. 97)
Needless to say, I have no comments for or even any way to objectively verify Dr. Wong's claim. Anyway, the next bit is also interesting:
It is clear that Singapore's international student program is focused on 'spreading the word' about Singapore's institutions around the globe. The program has concentrated on enrolling students from neighbouning countries in the first instance, because of the Perception that students from western countries do not yet see Singaporean institutions as attractive options far a full degree in terms of relative standing and career enhancement. Many students from western countries are, however, beginning to gravitate to Singapore for exchange opportunities. The Government's subsidy program is akin to the aims of the International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) in Australia, where excellent students from abroad we sponsored to undertake postgraduate studies at Australian institutions. A main aspiration of the IPRS is that Australia's reputation as a provider of postgraduate tertiary education will be enhanced by the academic carerrs of the IPRS students and positive word-of-mouth marketing. (ibid.)
This is enough of a break from work.

ok: I found more data to work with. Maybe there will be more to this post later. Sigh...

update: more data is available from the Education Statistics Digest Online, which has quite a bit of data, some of which goes back to 1984. But again, there is no specific data on international students. It took me a while to extract what I think is the relevant data, part of which I've turned into a chart (click to see larger version):
education chart
The main points:

The Pre-University Cohort: Between 1984 and 2004, the enrollment in the JCs have increased from 14,000 to 23,000, but as early as 1986, the trend is that JC enrollment has not seen tremendous growth, but has instead fluctuate mostly between a little below 20,000 (lowest 18,901 in 1992) to just above 24,000 (1988, 1989, 2001). Enrollment for the PU-Centers and Centralised Institutes, however, have definitely seen a decline. Until 1992, they still given a combine enrollment of some 6,000. Since then, it's been a steady decline to under 1,000 in 2004. The combined pre-university enrollment has moved from over 21,000 in 1984, to a peak of over 30,000 in 1988-89, to basically a steady trend fluctuating between 21,000 to 24,000 from 1992 to 2004. There is also data for students who sat and passed at least 2 'A's, 2 'AO's (including GP) from 1991 onwards. The number is, not surprisingly, also fairly constant--anywhere from just below 8,800 to just above 11,000, with the trend from 2000 onwards basically just above 10,000.

University intake and enrollment: The above contrasts sharply with the situation in the universities--NUS/NTU, and since 2000, SMU. The basic trend is one of steady and fairly consistent increase in intake and thus enrollment of approximately 5% (on average) per year. Consider: in 1984, the universities take in 5131 students and have a combined enrollment of 14,666. In 2004, the numbers are 12,194 and 41,628 respectively.

I am not a statistician--so take what I say with a pinch of salt--but unless I am completely mislead by the numbers, it seems that since as early as the late 1980s, approximately the same number of pre-university level students per year have been competing for not fewer, but a steadily increasing number of places in the local universities.

Now there is no hard data for the proportion of international students in the universities, but let's grant that in 2000, they achieved the target of having 20% of the enrollment for international students. Since this increased emphasis on international students was first established in 1997, let's say that for 1998 and 1999, they managed somewhat below that percentage while aftger 2000, around 20%, plus and minus some. But even with these complications factored in, we are still talking about either roughly the same (or a much more slowly increasing) number of places for a fairly steady (or at best, very slowly increasing) number of pre-university students per year. This means that at best, the conclusion of the last paragraph should be qualified to: since as early as the late 1980s, approximately the same number of pre-university level students per year have been competing for not fewer, but roughly the same or a very slowly increasing number of places in the local universities.

Once again, I will have to be circumspect. The available data does not allow for hard conclusions. But what it does suggest is that, subjective perceptions to the contrary, it is not obvious at all that it has actually become harder--competition wise as opposed to, say, the increasing workload across the board in the schools--for the local pre-university level student to gain admission in the local universities. Nevertheless, there is something in the data that is worth noting. In the decade from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the steady increase in university enrollment--without the additional complication of an increasing number of international students--is not matched by any correspondingly increasing pre-university enrollment. It might well be the case that in those years, it became (in some sense) 'easier' to gain entrance into the universities than before. If this is right, then what might have happened is that the new emphasis on international enrollment in the late 1990s onwards slowed this trend (of there being an increasing number of university places for the same number of locals). This might well be the 'objective' basis of the more recent unhappiness.

afterthought: there is one other complication that I almost forgot to mention. In the above discussion, the "local student at the pre-U level" refers to someone who is enrolled in one of the local JCs, Pre-U Center, CI, etc, i.e., someone in the local system. But this doesn't mean that he must be local--he could well be an international student who came to Singapore to do his Secondary or Post-Secondary education. Again, I have no knowledge of any statistics concerning their numbers and what proportion of each cohort they occupy. How this additional complication will end up qualifying my (already tentative) analysis above remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is highly indicative that the usual complaint is that international student enrollment at the university level is somehow depriving the local pre-U student of his place in the universities, rather than at the lower levels. [A preliminary glance at the data indicates that enrollment in the primary schools--as in the case of the pre-U level institutions, seems to have stablized at around the 30,000 level since the late 1990s. The enrollment in the secondary schools has been even more stable--and for much longer; around the 16,000-18,000 level, that is, until the 2000s, where it shows an increasing trend (towards and past the 21,000 mark). Don't ask me what to make of all this...]

another chart: at the prompting of Elia's comment, I am also putting up the data for university intakes (1997-2004) sorted by courses. As can be seen, the two courses that show the most increase are Engineering and Science, also anecdotally the two in which most of the international students can be found (click to see larger version):
additional: Now, anecdotally, the bulk of the international students are in Engineering and Science--which, as can be seen from the above chart, are the very two faculties that saw the greatest expansion since 1997. For Engine, the intake in 1997 was 3,017, and 4,320 in 2004--that's a 43% increase over the period. For Science, it's from 920 to 1,592, a 73% increase. In the same period, overall intake grew from 9,250 to 12,194--a smaller 30% increase.

But most importantly of all, the number of students with 2 'A's and 2'AO's (including GP) has been fairly stable at 10,000 plus/minus for the entire period (scroll up to see previous chart).

Now I would find it highly implausible that there has been a massive increase in the number of local students wanting to study Science and/or Engineering over the period 1997-2004--i.e., as high as an increase of 43 or 73%. If anything, I expect the number of local students wanting to study Science and/or Engineering to be fairly stable through the same period given that the number of students with 2 'A's and '2AOs' (with GP) is so stable (in fact, the entire JC/PUC enrollment is fairly stable as well).

The data is certainly consistent with and suggestive of the proposition that roughly the same number of local students are fighting for a steadily increasing number of places--for them--in faculties such as Engineering and Science.

(Notice also that through the same period, the intake for most of the other courses is fairly stable, or at best, saw much smaller rates of increase than either Engineering or Science. This ties in with my point that, once you abstract from the international enrollment, the demand for the various courses is fairly stable, because the size of the 'A' level cohort is fairly stable.)
Saturday, February 11, 2006

Singapore Elections '06

The contributors at Singapore Ink, The Void Deck and From a Singapore Angle has just started a joint-venture: Sg Election '06. Go take a look! (I will have to say up front that I might not have time to do much blogging either there or here; see this.)

[IMPORTANT NOTICE: Several readers have emailed saying that they believe the other site has been compromised. Until the issue is resolved, I'm delinking.]

Other sites to do with the elections: Singapore Elections, Singapore Elections Watch, and Singapore Rally.

Pundits and junkies alike: Enjoy!
Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Off to Chicago

To present a paper; back Thursday.
Sunday, February 05, 2006

Buried by work...

On hand: a first complete draft of five chapters (ca. 41,000 words). Projected another two chapters (ca. 18,000 words) more to write up from existing notes; and then a long Introduction, the Appendix, the Bibliography, etc. This is on top of a paper to give at a workshop in Chicago the coming week, and another presentation obligation the next week. Not expecting to blog much anytime soon...

update: but I like this piece by Mark Steyn so much I just have to quote a couple of extracts:
...the Danes are a little bewildered to find that this time it's plucky little Denmark who's caught the eye of the nutters. Last year, a newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published several cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, whose physical representation in art is forbidden by Islam. The cartoons aren't particularly good and they were intended to be provocative... we should note that in the Western world "artists" "provoke" with the same numbing regularity as young Muslim men light up other countries' flags. When Tony-winning author Terence McNally writes a Broadway play in which Jesus has gay sex with Judas, the New York Times and Co. rush to garland him with praise for how "brave" and "challenging" he is. The rule for "brave" "transgressive" "artists" is a simple one: If you're going to be provocative, it's best to do it with people who can't be provoked...

Very few societies are genuinely multicultural. Most are bicultural: On the one hand, there are folks who are black, white, gay, straight, pre-op transsexual, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, worshippers of global-warming doom-mongers, and they rub along as best they can. And on the other hand are folks who do not accept the give-and-take, the rough-and-tumble of a "diverse" "tolerant" society, and, when one gently raises the matter of their intolerance, they threaten to kill you, which makes the question somewhat moot...
Read the whole thing. | also relevant is this. (On the term "fundamentalist", see this long discussion, the whole thing.)

coda: a voice of reason from the Muslim world--
We will note that we find the cartoons to be incendiary, insulting and very abrasive. We also take issue with the general stance of the Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which has a reputation for publishing inflammatory material. Yet, it would be wrong to take away their freedom of expression, regardless of how horrid their material is...

When confronted with such a situation, we deplore the use of violence in all its forms, as well as threats of violence and derogatory and racist remarks being thrown in the opposite direction. We condemn the shameful actions carried out by a few Arabs and Muslims around the world that have tarnished our image, and presented us as intolerant and close-minded bigots.

Anyone offended by the content of a publication has a vast choice of democratic and respectful methods of seeking redress. The most obvious are not buying the publication, writing letters to the editor or expressing their opinions in other venues. It is also possible to use one’s free choice in a democracy to conduct a boycott of the publication, and even a boycott of firms dealing with it. Yet an indiscriminate boycott of all the country’s firms is simply uncalled for and counter-productive. We would be allowing the extremists on both sides to prevail, while punishing the government and the whole population for the actions of an unrepresentative irresponsible few.

We apologize whole-heartedly to the people of Norway and Denmark for any offense this sorry episode may have caused, to any European who has been harassed or intimidated, to the staff of the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Embassies in Syria whose workplace has been destroyed and for any distress this whole affair may have caused to anyone.
Well said! | elsewhere: somebody compiled an archive of the depictions of Mohammed throughout history; very educational. | the Guardian reports on how a failed attempt to find an illustrator for a children's book led to a clash of cultures.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

First Toronto-Singapore Short Film Festival: Island on Celluloid

latest: my impressions of the films.

Supercedes earlier post. | Scroll down to see latest updates.

Newly received from my friend the mastermind behind the project (the programmer for this festival, who got the short films from the Singaporean film makers, who met up with all the student clubs involved, and who represents rOCKERpOET):

1st Toronto-Singapore Short Film Festival: Island on Celluloid

Date: February 18, 2006 (Saturday)
Time: 12.45 pm to 4.15pm
Venue: Innis Town Hall

The Cinema Studies Student Union, in association with Asian Institute of the University of Toronto presents the 1st Toronto-Singapore Short Film Festival. This inaugural event is co-organized by rOCKERpOET, the Malaysian Singaporean Students' Associations of the University of Toronto and York University, as well as the Asian Film Society of the University of Toronto. ADMISSION IS FREE, and all are welcome.

The 1st Toronto-Singapore Short Film Festival is the first film festival of its kind in Toronto. Our objective is to introduce Singapore to the audiences of Toronto through short films made by Singaporean filmmakers. Film is an incredible combination of sound and images, which could well be the most realistic depiction of life as compared to other art forms. To be able to see Singapore on celluloid is a unique experience, since audiences in Toronto know little about the country, not to mention the films it produces.
note: Innis Town Hall is in the Innis College Building (marked "IN" on this map)

update: They've put up a website now.

update (1 Feb): Thanks, to Olorin, a small mistaken in the title is being corrected. | The synopses for the films are now up on the website as well. So far, we have Café (22 min) by Kelvin Sng, Parcel (13 min) by Lu Lu Yang, Strings (28 min) by Jon Lim, More Than Words (18 min) by Kelvin Sng, Past Tense (30 min) by Mirabelle Ang, Singapore Rebel (26 min) by Martyn See and Singapore Gaga (55 min) by Pin Pin Tan. Languages include: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, Japanese and Filipino!

somewhat related: Justina of Singapore Watch has a bit about the local film industry.
Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy Chinese New Year!

Penny in the new outfit from Nainai.
Friday, January 27, 2006

Forum: The (In)Significance of Political Elections in Singapore

(Someone please attend and tell me about it...)

Organized by the Department of Political Science, NUS, no less, and supported by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.
25 February 2006 (Saturday), 8.30am
NUS Lecture Theatre 8

Since the 1960s, general elections in Singapore have continued, many say convincingly, to reinstate the People's Action Party as the ruling party. Since the early 1990s, when the Presidency became an elected office, Singaporeans have only voted once for their President. What does all of this mean for the future of elections as an institution of democratic politics in Singapore? Are elections really able to express the will of the people? Have elections ever presented real choices and alternatives for voters? Can elections continue to act as a government's main source of political legitimacy? Are elections anything more than political spectacle to periodically re-enchant a depoliticized administrative state? These questions and others will be discussed by a panel of experts in the Singapore Forum on Politics 2006:

Dr Gillian Koh
Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Studies
"This Is Not An Election Ploy!" Dissecting the Government's Policy Agenda

James Gomez
Assistant Secretary-General (2nd), Workers' Party
You Have a Choice: Empowering Singaporeans to Elect their Representatives

Viswa Sadasivan
Chairman, The Right Angle Group
The Media's Roll In Political Elections

Chandra Mohan
Advocate & Solicitor, Tan Rajah & Cheah and former Nominated Member of Parliament
Political Elections in Singapore: Constitutional and Legal Perspectives

Dr Geh Min
Nominated Member of Parliament and President of Nature Society (Singapore)
Do We Have the Government We Want?

Professor Kirpal Singh
Associate Professor of Literature & Creative Thinking, Singapore Management University
Alternatives to Political Elections: A 'Post-Electoral' Democracy?

Chaired by
Dr Kenneth Paul Tan
Assistant Professor, Political Science Department, NUS

Admission is free. All are welcome.
But you need to register.
Please confirm your place by sending an email to Zauwiyah Majid ( with the following details:

Title/Name: ______________
Designation: _____________
Organization: ____________
Telephone number: _______
Postal address: ___________

As these Forums have been very well attended in the past, please register early to avoid disappointment. All enquiries should be directed to Dr Kenneth Paul Tan, c/o

About the Speakers:

Dr Gillian Koh contributes to the Institute of Policy Studies' work in the area of Politics and Governance. Her on-going research interests lie in the areas of state-society relations, public consultation, and the development of civil society in Singapore. Her recent projects include a study on public consultation reviewing the work of the Economic Review Committee (2002-2003), Remaking Singapore Committee (2002-2003), and the Censorship Review Committee (2002-2004), and organizing a cross-sectoral public forum on the Government's proposal to license a casino in Singapore. She is also currently involved in a survey on national identity and other political attitudes of Singaporeans, and another project focused on developing scenarios of Singapore in 2030. She is also currently a member of the Supervisory Panel of the Feedback Unit, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree (1988) from the National University of Singapore, a Master of Arts degree (1990) in Third World Studies at the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, and a PhD in Sociology from the same department and university in 1995.

James Gomez is the 2nd Assistant Secretary-General of the Workers' Party (WP). He joined the WP in 2001 and served for a period as chairman of its Policy and Communications committee chairing two public consultation exercises on the New Poor and Social Cohesion and the Casino Proposal. He was also recently part of a six-person committee that put together the latest Workers' Party Manifesto. He is presently, vice-chairman of the North-East Area Committee and advisor to the Northern Area Committee. James by profession is a researcher and has lectured at various universities and published widely in scholarly books and journals.

Viswa Sadasivan is Chairman and founding partner of The Right Angle Group of companies - one of the largest independent TV production companies and consultancies in Singapore. With more than 20 years in the TV and media industry - in news and current affairs as TV anchor of programmes such as Feedback and Talking Point, Senior Controller, and in other top management positions - Viswa is one of the most respected and experienced media figures in Singapore. Over the past 7 years, Viswa has also established his credentials as a much sought after strategic communications and crisis management coach and consultant. In public service, Viswa has been on several key government committees and boards that include the Economic Review Committee (2003), Remaking Singapore Committee (2003), Media Development Board, the government's Feedback Unit, the Central Singapore Community Development Council, Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), National Youth Achievement Award Council, the Singapore Mediation Centre, and the Government Parliamentary Committee on Defence & Foreign Affairs. He is a respected political and media commentator/observer in Singapore. Viswa holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the Kennedy School of Government and Administration, Harvard University.

Chandra Mohan has been an advocate & solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore since 1977. He is a partner in the law firm of Tan Rajah & Cheah. He is the current President of the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS). He graduated from the University of Singapore in 1976 with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours). From 2001 to 2004, he served as Nominated Member of Parliament of Singapore. He is a member of the Council of the National University of Singapore, Chairman of the International Relations Committee of the Law Society of Singapore, member of the Management Committee of Action Group for Mental Illness, Justice of the Peace and Deputy Registrar of Marriages and Licensed Solemniser, and member of the Criminal Law Advisory Committee, Ministry of Home Affairs. In the past, he has served as President of the Law Society of Singapore (1995 to 1997), Board Member of the Board of Legal Education of Singapore (1995 to 1998), Vice President and Senate Member of the Singapore Academy of Law (1995 to 1998), President and Secretary of the Roundtable (a civic and non-partisan organization in Singapore) (2001 to 2004), and member of COMPASS, Ministry of Education (2002 to 2004).

Dr Geh Min (MBBS, FRCS, FAMS) is an ophthalmologist by profession. She is a nature lover and a committed conservationist of both our natural and man-made heritage. She is presently serving her 5th term as President of the Nature Society (Singapore) and has sworn in as a Nominated Member of Parliament on 29 November 2004 with serving term from 1 January 2005 to 30 June 2007. She is a board member of The Nature Conservancy's Asia Pacific Council and the Water Network of Public Utilities Board. She is also on the Board of the Singapore Environment Council and heads the Environment and Health Functional Committee of the South-West Community Development Council. She was also a member of the URA Focus Group on Land Allocation for Concept Plan 2001, the URA Subject Group on Rustic Coast Parks & Waterbodies Plan, the Air & Climate Change focus group for the implementation of the Singapore Green Plan 2012, SGP2012 Coordinating Committee, the resource panel for Women's Workgroups at Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and the Advisory Committee of the National Weather Study Project. She sits on the board of many arts organizations.

Professor Kirpal Singh is today recognized internationally as a Creativity Guru and is a frequent Keynoter and Plenary speaker at some of the world's most powerful conferences and seminars on Creativity & Innovation. As a writer of fiction and poetry he has an established reputation and he is always on the international Reading/Performing circuit. As a boundary-breaking scholar his numerous essays/articles/books continue to prove provocative and engaging and, as he ruefully puts it, "if only people had listened 15-25 years ago"! Kirpal is now working on a book Leadership Across Cultures: Do We Ever Learn?