Sunday, July 30, 2006

S$1B in research funds for NUS/NTU

Well, at least the money is going to the local institutions...BUT - the allocation of funds is to be decided recommended by a panel of nine, most from outside of Singapore. Another case of foreign advice good, local bad?

This comes in the wake of the A*star - JHU break-up.


1. Do these nine people have the technical expertise to really understand the promises of all the proposals submitted? $1B is no small change.

2. How is the panel selected? On the basis of ...? Who are the members of the panel? Do they understand the 'uniqueness' of the Singapore system? Or will it lead to another clash of cultures in terms of producing results or KPIs?

3. From what little I know of America's NSF grant proposal selection system, there are many groups of senior scientists deciding on whether grants are awarded. These vary from field to field and change on a frequent basis. So our panel of nine will be appointed for five years?

High-brow input on how to spend MOE's $1b

Weekend • July 29, 2006

Derrick A Paulo

The advice of nine academics from around the world will help determine how the Ministry of Education (MOE) spends $1.05 billion.

The money is how much the MOE will have for five years, starting this year, to support academic research in Singapore universities — almost double the amount available in the previous five years.

But before the universities can get the funding, they must first go through nine people in China, Europe, Singapore and the United States.

They are the academics, scientists and research administrators appointed last month by the MOE as members of a new advisory group, the Academic Research Council.

The council's overarching goal is to develop research excellence in the universities to help turn Singapore into a world-class centre for innovation and technology.

But while it may take 10 years before that descriptor can become reality, admitted council chairman and Boston University president Robert Brown, the council's impact will be felt immediately.

The council, which held its inaugural meeting here this week, will advise the MOE on the allocation of research funding, and next month, it will be issuing its first call for proposals for research projects.

Professor Brown expects the universities to submit 40 to 50 proposals, but the council may not recommend them all to the MOE for approval.

One of the criteria is the research must have a "high impact" on the area of study internationally, Prof Brown told reporters on Friday. "Second, is that research impact of economic, strategic value to Singapore? Third is the ability of that investigator to deliver that research. Fourth, do we think the budget is reasonable for what they're trying to do," he added.

In their comments to the media, the universities do not seem fazed by the council's gatekeeping role.

"NTU supports, welcomes and embraces competitive funding. In the past few years, NTU has been competitive with its peers in winning internationally reviewed calls for proposals from MOE and from A*Star," said Nanyang Technological University vice-president of research Tony Woo.

The most important proposals the council will receive will be for new research centres of excellence.

These are like research institutes, and the council wants them to be the "best two or three in the world" in what they do, said Prof Brown, an honorary citizen of Singapore.

The council won't specify the centres' research fields, and will be careful about proceeding with proposals.

The universities, however, are bullish.

"We intend to respond in the areas that the Government has already identified as important, plus, generate novel ideas for world-class research centres that will break new ground," said National University of Singapore deputy president of research and technology, Prof Barry Halliwell.


Kwee More said...

S'pore muz be the only country in the world tat entrusts allocation of massive funds in the hands of 9 foreigners....can u imagine china, india, korea, japan, australia, france, italy, etc. doing tat??

Corporate Manwhore said...

Actually for NSF funding proposal decisions, its done every May. As for the seniority of the scientists involved, I know of young scientists being flown to washington for this (My previous advisor is a young Canadian, and he was on the NSF panel for the environmental engineering proposals in 2003.).

Pays pretty well, US$500 per day (might have changed since 2003), but its like jury duty treatment, no contact with outside influences while you're on job for 3 days.

And you get to read incomprehensible research proposals overloaded with technical jargon, buzzwords...Fun. Not. At least this is what my boss told me after he returned to the lab.

Corporate Manwhore

Elia Diodati said...

Erm, and exactly how competitive is this funding? Two universities ain't that much of a playing field. It's more like playing Pong than the kind of proposal.

If you can't get funding even with such limited competition, either your proposal must REALLY suck, or it's too researchy in that the outcome is not obvious. Can anyone else find irony in telling academics that their work is too, er, academic?

Anthony said...

Oh lords.

This just turns $1 billion in funds into a game to convince 9 people that YOUR research is most worthy, regardless of how worthy it actually is.

A lobbyist's wet dream it is.