Science and public policy

19 May 2017 | General News
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Prof Mahbubani speaking on the rise of Asian science during a panel discussion, together with (from left) Mr Letta, Prof Houllier and Dr Cheong

NUS and Université Sorbonne Paris Cité (USPC), a consortium of 16 premier educational institutions and research organisations in France, showcased work jointly conducted by the two establishments over the past three years during a conference held at University Town from 18 to 19 May. Titled “Science, Policy & Society”, the event also explored innovative solutions to future challenges in the areas of public health, education, culture and the environment.

“This alliance provides an important conduit for cross-regional collaboration between Singapore and France in both education and research…this [conference] is a strong testament to the academic synergies arising from this partnership,” remarked NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan in his opening address. The USPC-NUS alliance, formed in 2015, has received about 90 project proposals and funded some 30 projects to date.

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Prof Tan praised the USPC-NUS alliance as a conduit for long-term collaboration between Singapore and France

The opening panel of the conference examined the interplay between scientific research and public policy, and its social implications. Touching on the geopolitics of research, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) at NUS said, “There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm now in Asia to do more research and science…the great impulse in Asia is to catch up with the rest of the world…ask any of the policymakers what’s the secret sauce, and they’ll say it’s science and technology. That’s what we need more of. We have to do more research, we have to be at the forefront, and we have to invest in it.”

…ask any of the policymakers what’s the secret sauce, and they’ll say it’s science and technology. That’s what we need more of. We have to do more research, we have to be at the forefront, and we have to invest in it.

He added that in this area, the strong passion of the French complements the typically pragmatic, measured nature of Singaporeans, and will help the latter develop bold ideas that would carry the nation into the next 50 years.

The panellists — which also included moderator Mr James Crabtree, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at LKY School; Dr Cheong Wei Yang, Deputy CEO of National Research Foundation; Professor François Houllier, USPC President; and Mr Enrico Letta, former Italian Prime Minister and Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po — also discussed the perceived elitism of science and necessity to close the gap with ordinary citizens, as well as the demand for greater industry collaborations. Another point highlighted was that “blue sky” or fundamental research can result in huge social impact, and therefore there should be a balance between investing in research projects with direct social translation and those done out of scientific curiosity.

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The two-day conference explored engaging research projects jointly conducted by NUS and French insitutions in a range of disciplines

A session on innovative approaches to public health challenges demonstrated concrete examples of collaborative projects between NUS and French institutions. One such project, a collaboration between the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS and the EHESP School of Public Health, studied land planning in urban environments. It is estimated that physical inactivity in the Singapore elderly population will cost the country approximately $108 million by the year 2050. Public policies for the built environment, such as bicycle-sharing schemes in Paris and green spaces in Singapore, will go a long way in contributing to a healthier and more active population.

Other sessions at the conference looked at digital technologies, intercultural partnerships, pedagogical approaches and smart solutions for sustainability.

A Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between LKY School and Sciences Po School of Public Affairs on 18 May at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus to launch a new two-year Double Degree Programme. Eligible students will gain an in-depth understanding of public policy issues from Asian and European perspectives, as well as industry exposure through client collaborations and developing solutions to real-world policy issues. They will graduate with a Master in Public Policy degree and a Master in European Affairs degree from LKY School and Sciences Po School of Public Affairs respectively.