NUS geographer Brenda Yeoh awarded ‘Nobel Prize for Geography’ – the prestigious Vautrin-Lud Prize

Professor Brenda Yeoh from the Department of Geography at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has been awarded the international Vautrin Lud Prize 2021 in Geography. Modelled after the Nobel Prize and widely regarded as one of the highest honours in geography, it is awarded to geographers for outstanding achievements in the field.

“I am honoured and humbled that my research has received a nod from peers for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. I thank the University for giving me support, encouragement and the opportunity to work on the salient issues related to transnational migration that is affecting our society and I look forward to advancing research in this field,” said Prof Yeoh, Raffles Professor of Social Sciences and Director for Humanities and Social Science Research at the NUS Office of the Deputy President (Research & Technology).

Established in 1991, the prestigious award is given annually to a single laureate by a five-member international jury at the International Geography Festival in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France. The first Singaporean to receive this accolade, Prof Yeoh was presented the prize at the Festival’s 32nd edition which took place from 1 to 3 October 2021.

The award sees her joining the who’s who in the geography pantheon which includes David Harvey, Marxist economic geographer and Distinguished Professor of anthropology and geography from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Prof Doreen Massey – a British social scientist and geographer renowned for her work on space, place and power.

At the festival, Prof Yeoh also delivered an impressive presentation on “The Temporary Migration Regime in Pandemic Times: The Opportunity to Do Things Differently” in which she spoke about the exacerbating effect of COVID-19 on the precarity that transient migrant workers face, and how it laid bare the unsustainable nature of temporary migration for nation-states such as Singapore.

However, she observed that, “despite the challenges, the pandemic also offers an opportunity to reconfigure and move temporary migration toward a more sustainable and equitable basis.” Prof Yeoh proffered that this could involve offering visas and contracts of longer duration and selective pathways towards residency status to reduce ‘churning’ (the pace of reallocation of workers and jobs), incorporating migrant workers into national healthcare safety nets to improve migrant welfare and societal resilience, and careful recalibration of using automation and technological substitutes to augment migrant labour.

A scholar with deep expertise in transnational migration

Prof Yeoh is a human geographer by training. She read geography at Cambridge and went on to complete her doctorate at Oxford University. She joined the NUS Department of Geography in 1987 and has been teaching and researching in the Department for over three decades. She has deep expertise working on a wide range of migration research in Asia, including key themes such as cosmopolitanism and highly skilled talent migration; as well as gender, social reproduction and care migration.

Currently Research Leader of the Asian Migration Cluster at the Asia Research Institute, NUS, the prolific scholar has also published extensively in 35 books and over 230 journal articles. She serves as editor of Asian Population Studies and sits on the international advisory boards of notable migration journals such as International Migration Review and International Migration.

This latest recognition adds another feather to Prof Yeoh’s proverbial cap. She was recently elected to the Fellowship of the distinguished British Academy – the United Kingdom’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences – for achieving distinction in the field. Click here for more details.