'Not a bad thing' for Singaporeans to be in demand abroad: PM Lee

Singapore - Just as Singapore aspires to have the best talent from around the world to come and work here, it is right to expect Singaporeans to desire to move abroad and explore new opportunities as well, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

"Singapore is part of a global community and we have to accept that," he told reporters after chairing the annual meeting of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC).

He was responding to a question by The Business Times about the issue of "brain drain" and what could be done to encourage more local talent to remain at home.

"It's not a bad thing at all for Singaporeans to be in demand all over the world, and to be distributed in many cities and research centres. (They can) gain experience, learn what the world is like, pick up ideas and perhaps one day to come back (to Singapore)," he said.

His comments came on the same day when news broke that three top Singaporean scientists based abroad would be returning to continue their research here, attracted home by the Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme unveiled by Mr Lee three years ago.

"Scientists learn in many different countries. They travel and see the world. Some come back, some don't. We get others (to come) and some settle here while some move on. It's part of a community," he said.

"But this is Singapore. We hope that a significant number of Singaporeans will be here to form a core, and we will be able to anchor an R&D hub in Singapore."

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Mr Lee disclosed that this issue of retaining and attracting talent was discussed at the RIEC meeting at the National Research Foundation's headquarters in University Town.

He noted that 60 per cent of research students at the leading universities in the US were foreign, and that members of the faculty also hailed from many countries.

"We need to be like that, and we have to take that attitude. Our people will go where there are opportunities. We have to create those opportunities and the challenge and excitement in Singapore, as well as that critical mass, so that they feel like coming back," he said.

As he outlined the priorities for RIE2020, the next plan to spur Research, Innovation and Enterprise here, he said Singapore's success in R&D would depend on having the best people doing research here, and that included both Singaporean and foreign talent.

"We need to train our young, encourage them and interest them in science and technology. We must give them the sense that it is indeed possible to do exciting things in Singapore and change the world," he said.

"We have to be able to attract international talent and be open to talent, in order to deepen our pool, create new knowledge and enhance our technological expertise. If we can do that and get the right mix, we can make this a creative, fertile and innovative and enterprising environment."

This article was first published on January 9, 2016.
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