Seen and heard this week


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


On 2 April, Yale-NUS College President Professor Tan Tai Yong provided an historical overview of Singapore’s economic story in The Straits Times. He wrote that Singapore’s thriving economy is a result of its ability to continually define and redefine its economic hinterland over hundreds of years as a port city — from serving as a staple port to the Malay peninsula in the 19th century —to identifying India and China as new markets in 2001. This has enabled Singapore to live large as a small island, unconstrained. However, he cautioned that an open city-state sustained by global flows will face tensions when it has to function as a nation state, as the requirements of an international clientele and an open economy may be damaging to the interests of local citizenry. Singapore must therefore find survival not as a port or city, but as a nation and a country.

Dr Nisha Mathew, Joint Research Fellow from the NUS Middle East Institute and the Asia Research Institute at NUS lent insights on international affairs. In view of speculations of a curtail on the power of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Dr Mathew analysed The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) vested interest in the Saudi Arabia Crown Prince in a commentary published in The Straits Times on 5 April. She opined that the UAE wants Crown Prince Muhammed to have an unfettered hold on power as his grand designs on regional hegemony are fortuitous to the UAE, allowing it to work towards securing a key role for itself in the international maritime trade in the shadows of Saudi Arabia. The UAE has also been quietly strengthening its military, making it more than capable of backing its country’s maritime push with force, she said, and that a cut back on Crown Prince Muhammad’s power, if true, may give him a clearer view of what the UAE is planning.

In another commentary published in Channel NewsAsia on 8 April, NUS Business Professor Sumit Agarwal examined the rapid collapse of highly-valued tech start-ups. Valuation of firms, according to him, are no longer based on tangible hard facts such as costs, output of products, sales and cash flows, but are now frequently based on ideas, inspiring or compelling stories, and on other often nebulous, hard-to-grasp concepts. This has resulted in the overvaluation of many start-ups and produced an ecosystem of unicorns, none of which have to reveal detailed results, talk to analysts or open their books because they have not gone public. Citing the case of the bike sharing business, Prof Agarwal opined that the downfall of these start-ups are often due to problems with their business model or capabilities, such as the failure to anticipate regulatory backlash and establish barriers to entry.

Read more about the NUS community in the news.