“Giving students a say in their education helps them fulfil their purpose in learning. Which I believe is broader than what their future employers want.” — Leon Perera
The Workers’ Party member of parliament, Leon Perera delivered an adjournment motion in Parliament entitled “Fostering a Stronger Voice for Students and Staff at Institutes of Higher Learning in Policy-making.” It proposed mechanisms to foster a stronger culture of accountability and transparency in those institutions.
“I decided to speak on this topic having spoken to many students and staff at IHLs in the course of my constituency work. Many of them have also written to me to highlight specific incidents during which they felt they were not heard by the governing bodies of their IHLs,” posted Leon on social media after his speech in Parliament.
The Aljunied member of parliament said that in some cases the students felt powerless and unable to ensure that any changes could be made except through public pressure on social media. He explained that this is often because student representatives and rank-and-file staff do not have oversight over the decision-making processes of the management.
“Giving students a say in their education helps them fulfil their purpose in learning. Which I believe is broader than what their future employers want. We must recognise that IHLs are not merely factories to churn out economically useful graduates, the part of their lives students spent at IHLs is often among the most memorable and informative.”
Leon proposed five measures to improve accountability:
Improving senate representation – Including more rank-and-file faculty on senates or other oversight bodies
Boosting student and staff oversight – Adding a representative for the student body and staff onto the governing body
Empowering petitions – Requiring the consideration of petitions that can enjoy support past a certain number of signatures
Learning from best practices – Sharing best practices from Singapore IHLs, level up feedback handling process and accountability mechanisms
Fostering student groups – Simplifying the process of setting up new student groups
Leon highlighted an incident where accountability culture could be improved, the hall allocation at Nanyang Technological University for the 2021/2022 academic year.
“The release of hall allocation results on the 1 July 2021 left many international students who had been staying on campus throughout due to Covid-19 homeless and scrambling for alternative lodging before the 15 July deadline,” said Leon.
“Local students were also affected, especially year one and year two students, who were supposed to have been guaranteed on campus housing according to NTU’s guidelines. A petition signed by 5,500 people was set-up to urge the management to reconsider their decision, and a day later a statement was put out that more hall spaces were opened up.”
According to MP Leon, other students’ discontent includes the infrequent campus bus timings and the lack of halal food at NTU; where out of the 30 halal options, many are at the vending machines and a limited number of halal stalls at the canteens.
Over at the National University of Singapore, there was a perceived lack of accountability and transparency over the merger of Yale – NUS College and the University Scholars Programme.
“The timeline of implementation was short, with the announcement in August last year. There was an early claim that the replacement NUS College would provide a liberal arts education. Then a later announcement said liberal arts subjects would likely not be included in the core curriculum to the surprise of many.”
Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education responded to the adjournment motion and suggestions proposed by Leon Perera, saying, “Mr Leon Perera has said many things, many of which we all can agree. But I would say that we would also take a very nuanced position on some of the points that he has made. First, Mr Leon Perera’s speech can be summarised into one of accountability, and I agree. We should promote accountability.”
The Minister then touched on the many examples raised by MP Leon and questioned whether ‘Leon Perera meant what he said, or he accepts what he said is not representative of our IHLs and that certainly our IHL’s have room to improve.’
“I will take it that in the spirit that Mr Leon Perera is trying to help us improve our IHLs administration and what he says is not representative of the state of our IHLs. I take this in good spirit. I, for one, will be the first to agree with Mr Leon Perera that all our institutions, IHLs included, have room to improve, and we will take into account the many comments that he said,” explained Minister Chan.
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