Unfair to assume that academics in autonomous universities self-censor: Dr Maliki Osman

SINGAPORE – The wide-ranging work of autonomous universities here on local issues is evidence that academics in Singapore do not shy away from politically sensitive topics, Second Minister for Education (MOE) Maliki Osman told Parliament on Monday (Jan 10).

Titles like Is the People’s Action Party Here to Stay? are part of the more than 8,000 Singapore-related publications in the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ public listing, with more being added over time, Dr Maliki said in response to a question about academic freedom.

“MOE has also funded projects on topics that may be considered sensitive, under its competitive grants,” Dr Maliki added. “Many researchers in the autonomous universities also work with government agencies to study complex issues.”

This includes the integration of bi-national families here, coping strategies among low-income households, and the development of racial attitudes during early childhood.

Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) had asked MOE whether the Government planned to look into the findings of a survey on academic freedom published last August by the website Academia.sg.

The website is formed by academics who said their work is to “compensate for the ill-effects of…long-term and systematic politicisation of the governance of academia in Singapore”.

The survey found that respondents who work on politically sensitive topics were more likely to report that they felt constrained in their ability to research or engage the public, noted Mr Perera.

In response, Dr Maliki pointed out that the authors of the survey had said their response rate was about 10 per cent, as 198 out of 2,061 academics they contacted had replied.

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Among the 10 per cent who responded, only a minority reported significant concerns about academic freedom in Singapore, he added.

“I would therefore advise some caution in generalising the findings from the survey as representative of how all academics in Singapore feel,” he said.

Academics in autonomous universities here have been able to teach, engage in discourse, research and publish on a wide range of topics, including domestic politics, race, religion, and gender issues, said Dr Maliki.

“It would be unfair to our academics to assume that they self-censor or feel inhibited,” he said.

Following the debate, Mr Perera wrote on Facebook that he had filed his parliamentary question for oral answer as he wanted to ask supplementary questions of the Government “given the serious nature of these findings and the importance of academic freedom of Singapore”.


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