Seen and heard this week


Seen and heard this week is a weekly column highlighting thought leadership from the NUS community


On 29 March, three different research projects by members of the NUS community were featured in The Straits Times.

One news report featured a study conducted by Senior Research Fellow Dr Mathew Mathews, Research Associate Mr Leonard Lim and Research Assistant Ms Shanthini Selvarajan, all from the Institute of Policy Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS that looked at Singaporean’s attitudes towards religion as part of a larger international study. The team surveyed 1,800 Singaporeans aged 18 and above between August and December 2018, and discovered that while a sizeable proportion of Singaporeans are open to extremists sharing their views publicly, most agreed that religious leaders should not influence politics and that the country’s laws should not be based on a particular religion. The study also found that religion influences people’s views on moral issues, and that younger and better educated respondents tend to have more liberal attitudes. As religion is an influential and powerful force, the tracking of the reach and influence of religion can be crucial in maintaining inter-religious harmony and understanding public sentiment in public policy, said the researchers.

Another study that was profiled was a project led by NUS Southeast Asian Studies Assistant Professor Hamzah Muzaini that hopes to document the heritage and little-known stories of the lives of villagers on the Southern Islands — St John’s and Lazarus islands and Pulau Seringat. The two-year project includes oral history interviews that will lead to an exhibition, a workshop and a self-guided walking tour, and is hoped to yield useful insights into life on the islands in the past. While the islands do not currently have permanent occupants, they were once home to thriving communities and have a long history tied to the orang laut, or sea nomads who were some of the original Singapore inhabitants, said Asst Prof Hamzah, adding that the team hopes to make recommendations on future plans for the islands and will also be assessing the structures on the islands to determine which are worth preserving.

In a commentary, Assistant Professor Leong Ching from the Institute of Water Policy (IWP) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, and NUS Economics Provost’s Chair Professor Lorenz Goette discussed a study they conducted together with Dr Qian Neng from IWP which tested the effectiveness of economic and normative incentives in motivating water usage reduction. The researchers divided 1,000 households into four groups, giving two groups normative incentives and two groups economic incentives in addition to normative incentives, and tracked their water consumption over three months. They found that all four groups had shown significant  reduction in water usage and that adding economic incentives to conserve water had no additional effects on conservation efforts. The authors thus opined that since the normative incentives are as powerful as economic incentives, normative incentives should have a more central place in policymaking.

Read more about the NUS community in the news.