SMU Research and its impact on Society in Singapore
I had after a few months that I was here at a lunch with Tommy Koh, and he may not remember it anymore, but he asked me during that lunch, “Does SMU do any research?” And I was a bit taken aback by that question and sort of probably answered at that moment, “Yes, look at all the academic publications and all the A-journals that our faculty are publishing.” But frankly speaking, he said “I’ve never seen anything of that in Singapore.” Sometimes these sort of simple remarks that people make stick with you and say what was he really telling there. And what he basically was saying, it may be great what kind of research you are doing as an institution, but we in Singapore don’t benefit from it.
So I have been hammering over the last eight years—hammering is maybe a strong word, right?—say I’ve been repeating several times that yes, we need to do top-quality research, but it does have to have impact on Singapore society. I have to say that the Deans be it, Bryce Hool in Economics, Steve Miller in IS [Information Systems], Gerry George and before him, Howard Thomas, in the Business School—I should mention them all—Cheng Qiang or Goh Yihan in Law School and in Accountancy, they have all taken on the challenge of; we need to have larger scale research projects, we need to be more interdisciplinary and we need to look at what it is in our research that can be of relevance to the society here. So we see that today, compared to 2011 or 2010, the number of external grants that we get from the government has risen very significantly, that the type of research is now much more a portfolio of topics. Yes, still for our young academics, they need to build a reputation in the international academic world, so they publish about their PhDs and in top journals. But at the same time, we have now large-scale research projects that are of relevance to Singapore. I can mention that all the programs like iCity or LARC or whatever in IS, I can mention the CREA—the Centre for Research on Economics of Ageing in Economics. But also more recently, the retail centre in the Business School, or the real estate applied research activity in the Business School together with Economics, or what Yihan has been doing in the School of Law, with governance of artificial intelligence. These are topics that are directly responding to the needs of the Singapore society.