To the editor
The Business Times
I refer to the letter entitled "JHU-A*STAR break-up raises more questions" from Mr. Leong Sze Hian published in the 27 July edition of The Business Times.
The key question is whether the return on Singapore's investment in DJHS has been satisfactory.
The answer: Not satisfactory.
We reiterate that DJHS was established to achieve 3 goals: (i) establish a centre of immunology, experimental therapeutics and cancer research with an international reputation; (ii) establish PhD training at DJHS in Singapore; and (iii) recruit senior investigators with international reputation to appointments at DJHS and full-time residence in Singapore. DJHS failed to deliver on its commitments on all three goals.
With reference to the KPIs, they were what DJHS reported to A*STAR. By its own rating, DJHS did not achieve 8 of the 13 KPIs. The 5 that DJHS said had been achieved do not outweigh the 8 that were not met. Whether the 5 KPIs, including the number of papers published, have been met has yet to be determined by A*STAR, in the light of the sparse presence of full-time senior investigators based in Singapore.
Mr. Leong asked whether A*STAR's goals for DJHS were "realistic and achievable within the time frame stipulated". We would clarify that the KPIs were not imposed on DJHS but were arrived at through negotiation and mutual agreement.
With reference to the issue of recruiting senior scientists as opposed to junior scientists, A*STAR is fully supportive of nurturing young research talent. Hence our extensive National Science Scholarship programme. But the Agreement with DJHS explicitly required the recruitment of senior investigators to lead the research programmes and to mentor students and young scientists. We need good "generals" to lead our own young "lieutenants".
Mr. Leong said "what is more important now is to try to understand why it is so difficult to get researchers willing to come to Singapore". A*STAR has had no difficulty in attracting some of the best scientific talents in the world to re-locate to Singapore. These include world renowned leaders in their fields as well as bright young post-docs.
By happy coincidence, we are able to quote from the latest issue of TIME Magazine (23/07/06):
"For a serial kidnapper, Philip Yeo looks harmless enough. But to hear some people tell it, he's a dangerous man. Over the past six years, Yeo has been roaming the world, trailing talented scientists in Washington; San Diego; Palo Alto, Calif; Edinburgh and elsewhere, and spiriting them back to his home country of Singapore? What distinguishes Yeo from other kidnappers, of course, is that his targets go willingly. They happily relocate to Singapore's new 2 million-sq.-ft. Biopolis research centre."
With reference to the scholarship bonds, A*STAR as a public entity using public funds, is obliged to the Singapore tax-payer to ensure that its scholars return and serve Singapore after completion of their studies. Johns Hopkins, as a privately funded university, may issue bond-free scholarships if it chooses to do so, but it should not expect A*STAR to fund such scholarships on its behalf. A*STAR is not aware of any other government entity that awards overseas study scholarships without requiring the recipients to return after completion of their studies.
Dr Andre Wan
Biomedical Research Council
Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Business Times, 28 July 2006 - DJHS did not deliver as promised