AS SINGAPORE runs up against new social challenges, it will need more local social science researchers to understand the country's situation, conduct applied research and offer possible policy solutions, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Ton said yesterday.
Speaking at a gala dinner to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) economics department, Mr Goh said the social sciences will help the country look beyond gross domestic product and boost the holistic well-being of individuals and community.
There is a shift towards "an aspirational economy", or one that supports intangible goals such as family relationships, work-life balance, health, a sense of community and a network of friends, he told about 300 academics, alumni and students.
"An aspirational economy assures us of our basic needs and material comforts and, at the same time, continuously generates growth and opportunities which enable us to pursue our higher-order aspirations," said Mr Goh.
Such an economy sets the stage for social science research to make a big impact, he said, as it will allow Singapore to remain competitive while pursuing compassionate policies. Mr Goh also called for social science researchers to take note of local realities. For instance, economics researchers should work on empirical questions relevant to Singapore, rather than esoteric ones or abstract concepts.
This point was also brought up by Professor Julian Wright, who heads the economics department. "It is critical that what we teach is differentiated, locally relevant, and more interactive," he said.
Some changes are in place for the economics department.
From next year, economics honours students will for the first time be able to specialise in a topic, in areas such as quantitative economics or financial and monetary economics.
The department will also introduce a compulsory module where award-winning lecturers from different fields are invited to address real-world economic questions.
At the event at National University of Singapore Society Kent Ridge Guild House last night, Mr Goh also launched a student-led economics mentorship programme, a collaboration between the NUS Economics Alumni and NUS Economics Society. Current economics students can learn from and be mentored by graduates of the course.
Mr Tan Tai Kiat, an economics department alumnus who started the programme, said: "Looking back on my student days, I think I would have appreciated such guidance."
Second-year economics student Pius Tan, 22, landed an internship at an oil and gas company last year through people he met from the scheme. "It allows us to build up a professional network," he said.
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