Building a global schoolhouse: international education in Singapore.
Many arguments made in favour of the global trade in education services are predicated on a well-accepted discursive trope--that of global cultural flows. The fluid nature of global flows implies that movements of students, money, information, technology and ideas are an outcome of globalisation and mediated by individual choice without the intervention of nation-states. Writings on global cultural flows and transnational education exchanges are also noted for celebrating the transformative potential of hybrid practices and formations.
Taking Singapore as a focal point, this paper seeks to unsettle the assumptions surrounding the notion of global cultural flows by examining how international education is assembled and ordered by the Singaporean nation-state. Long regarded as a source of international students ('priority market') by Australian and British universities, the city-state is now building itself to become an exporter of international education through the Global Schoolhouse Project. Singapore is therefore an appealing case from which to explore the links between discourses of globalisation and the policy responses adopted by the nation-state, which drive both the production and consumption of international education. The paper also discusses the spatial mobility of tropes such as globalisation, knowledge-based economy, innovation and cosmopolitanism, their re-workings into political, cultural and economic regimes at the local-national level, and the emergent hybrid formations (1) of place and identity that are arising.
Although globalisation is often represented as the enlistment of places, regions and countries into large-scale networks thought to be replacing boundaries, what remains under-examined is the emergence of new boundaries within these 'new' networks. It is potentially fruitful, then, to inquire about the areas where boundaries emerge and disappear, and the measures taken to keep particular boundaries stable ahead of others. To this end, the paper also discusses the boundary-maintaining processes which Singaporeans encounter and engage with, while studying overseas. It reveals some of the tensions arising from double-movements of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, and their influences on the social subjectification of Singaporeans.
This paper uses analytical approaches from the 'governmentality' (the art of governing) school to understand the Singaporean government's policies to reengineer the state as a knowledge-based economy (KBE) through the Global Schoolhouse Project. At its simplest, governmentality describes a framework for understanding how governmental mechanisms elicit the cooperation of individuals by creating conditions for their productive potential to be unleashed. Governmentality delves into the interactions between strategies of power, forms of knowledge and modes of subjectification in the governance of individuals and populations (Foucault, 1999).
Before proceeding, a few comments about the methodology underpinning the research which informs this paper are needed. First, this paper takes the poststructuralist position of challenging the teleological reasoning, and 'grand theory' status of globalisation. Accordingly the spatial mobility of tropes such as 'globalisation', and related concepts such as the 'new economy' and 'knowledge-based economy' are understood as having performative underpinnings, rather than being anchored in epistemological and ontological realism (Currie & Newson, 1998; Hay & Watson, 1999; Larner & Waiters, 2002). Of particular interest is the role of epistemic communities in shaping the globalisation debate. It is argued that these communities, made up of the discourses and networks of bureaucrats, consultants, journalists, technocrats and academics, do not merely report on or describe globalisation, but actively constitute the object of their study (see Larner & Wakers, 2002).
Second, in an attempt to bring greater complexity to understanding how globalising processes are shaping international education, this paper argues for historical depth and complexity in studies about global flows. It also highlights the need for empirical work to capture the multidimensionality of places and networks and the 'multi-vocality' of identities--the different meanings invested by the same actors in different capacities and placed in different situations (Hannerz, 2003). To this end, the paper is based on data obtained from a variety of sources, including policy documents, academic research papers, media items, political speeches, marketing narratives, formal interviews with students and university administrators, and participant observations at international education exhibitions. All these discursive items are connected with governance; they are linked to aspirations to shape the conduct of others and have power effects.
Politics of competing empires
The acquisition and settlement of Singapore is a story of competing empires. Purchased by Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company for 1000 Spanish pounds in 1819 after he had installed a preferred and illegal heir as ruler of the Johor sultanate, Singapore's 'discovery' enabled the British to wrest the highly lucrative Far East trade monopoly from the Dutch. Singapore achieved a limited autonomy from the British colonial government in 1959, and in 1963 joined the federation of Malaysia before seceding in 1965 (Chua, 1998, pp. 28-29; Hart, Fernandez, & Tan, 1998, pp. 65-83).
For much of its history, Singapore has been a node in the 'survival circuits'--a major destination for the lower end of foreign ethnoscapes driven from their home countries by the push factors of poverty and unemployment. It retains this role today as a temporary home to large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled guest workers, the marginal subjects of globalisation from the economic peripheries of Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. As construction workers, cleaners and maids, they help create the conditions for Singapore's sparkling city-scape and broad, clean and green vistas, while freeing Singaporeans from their domestic drudgeries to work towards their aspirational desires. Known as the '5 C's', it is cash, credit cards, condominiums, country-clubs and cars which mark out the successful Singaporean from the rest (Wei, 2000). The city-state is also a transit point for foreign talent--the knowledge merchants who are reputed to be helping the city-state to remake itself as a 'new' knowledge-based economy by assisting Singaporeans to become more innovative.
Singapore is often held up as an exemplar that membership of an integrated global economy offers every nation and every race the opportunity to leap-frog from third world poverty to first world prosperity within a single generation. However, in keeping with a Foucauldian schema, the Singaporean success story must be taken as one particular historical-geographical incarnation of post-coloniality. A rubric of factors, simultaneously local and global, embracing geography, population, demography, internal political struggles, and Cold War superpower rivalries, shaped its development. Following Latour (1993) it can be argued that the problematisation deployed by its political elite at independence helped to embed the city-state into Euro-American politico-economic and intellectual networks. Having minimal natural resources made redundant any notion of constructing a sheltered socialist economy, choices which were open to other postcolonial nations such as India (see Chua, 1998, p. 29). In a post-colonial region strongly resistant to the possibilities of continuing exploitation by the region's former colonial masters, Singapore's decision to assume the identity of a willing and able free-market node opened significant opportunities. The political leadership of the largely English-educated and multi-ethnic People's Action Party (PAP) which led Singapore to political independence took a decidedly unsentimental view of maintaining strong ties with the west. The first Prime Minster, Lee Kuan Yew, observed:
We had no raw materials for them [foreign companies] to exploit. All we had was the labour. So why not if they want to exploit our labour? ... And we found that whether or not they exploited us, we were learning how to do a job from them, which we would never have learnt. We were in no position to be fussy about high-minded principles. We had to make a living. (Han, Fernandez, & Tan, 1998, p. 109)
Significantly this decision enabled the English-educated Chinese political leadership to assert dominance over the left-leaning, Chinese-educated community, sections of which had ties with Communist China (Rodan, 2001, pp. 143-144; Sai & Huang, 1999, pp. 132-143).
Power and governance
Media commentaries on Singaporean politics and governance have largely deployed crude top-down models of power. Such models fail to take into consideration the existence of other forms of governance that facilitate the consensual subjectification of the social body in ways that can further the national project. In an electoral democracy like Singapore, citizens are political actors with the potential to resist or reject government-sponsored changes (Coe & Kelly, 2002, p. 342).
In the Singaporean context, the state has exercised its capacity to govern by influencing the popular imagination through discursive means (discursive power) and through governance by care (pastoral power). One of the most obvious manifestations of pastoral power is in access to state-funded scholarships for promising Singaporeans to pursue higher education in high-status overseas universities. In a society where education is held in reverence, the government has been able to seal its legitimacy to govern by facilitating access to high-status educational goods.
The acquiescence and cooperation of the citizenry is also achieved through the sophisticated use of a collection of discursive devices featuring economic pragmatism, meritocracy, modernisation, vulnerability and survivalism (p. 354). Perhaps most prominent among the tropes deployed to govern is the 'crisis and survival' discourse which rallies Singaporeans to 'pull together to survive' (see Barr, 2000, pp. 226-234; Emmerson, 1995, pp. 95-96; George, 2000, pp. 52-56; Rodan, 1993, pp. 58-59). As a discursive strategy, narratives of crisis have been immensely powerful in both shaping and instituting acceptance of the government's policy platform of 'market pragmatism' and its concomitants, individualism ('no one owes another a living') and meritocracy (Chong, 2003; Chua, 1998). By manipulating its geographic marginality as a small state with a small population and no natural resources, the Singaporean government is able to exempt itself with a clear conscience from the rules that might apply to other nations. In the past, it has been able to circumvent ethical dilemmas such as trading with the military regime of Burma and, further back, the apartheid government of South Africa.
Governance is also exercised through disciplinary modernisation. At independence, the impulse to modernise resulted in the introduction of English as the official language and a host of policies to steer Singapore's multi-ethnic population to identify with the nation, rather than their ethnocultural communities (George, 2000, pp. 39-40, 65-69; Kwok, 1999, p. 54; Lain, 1999, pp. 11-12). Also under the aegis of modernisation, the government introduced a raft of investor and business-friendly policies including an industrial relations platform in the 1960s to curb trade union activity, and liberal immigration rules to tackle labour shortages in the 1970s (Coe & Kelly, 2002). By the 1980s, the state began exploring ways of increasing value-added economic activity, which in the 1990s took the form of nation-building strategies aimed at re-working the city-state's identity to that of a knowledge-based economy and high skills society (Coe & Kelly, 2002; Low, 2002). The acronym 'KBE' (knowledge-based economy) became a staple of ministerial speak.
No country, if it wants to progress, can isolate itself from this globalized world of competition. You either keep up or you get left out. As a small economy, Singapore is dependent for its livelihood on being able to act as a useful node in facilitating the world currents of commerce and business. Hence we have no choice but to ride on these new trends of technology and globalisation. (Deputy Prime Minister, Tony Tan, 2000)
Many of Singapore's policies, including its education policies, can be read as responses to the new iterations of global capitalism which started to emerge in the 1990s. The government's Industry 21 platform was formulated to re-engineer Singapore to become a knowledge-based economy, and is based on three key strategies: first, building the requisite human capital for a knowledge-based economy by way of skills and research capabilities in the labour force; second, as part of a push to facilitate trade and foreign investment, the state has instituted safeguards for the protection of intellectual property; third, by 'steering the Singaporean mind-set towards a risk-taking culture' (Shanmugaratnam, 2004a).
In 2004, the Globalisation Index ranked Singapore as the second most globalised country after Ireland. The Index measures a country's global links along four axes: economic integration, technological connectivity, personal contacts and political engagement (Foreign Policy, 2004). The official line on globalisation is that the city-state does not have the choice open to other nations (Goh, 1999; Tan, 2000). What is omitted from such political pronouncements is the role played by the nation-state in enabling and constituting the conditions for globalisation (Coe & Kelly, 2002, p. 354).
In the Singaporean context, the use of globalisation as a governing discourse extends back to the beginning of the 1990s. Globalisation was represented and constructed as a constellation of processes of 'exogenous forcing' which demanded particular commitments and sacrifices from Singapore's citizens (Coe & Kelly, 2002; Thrift, 2002). As a general observation, official pronouncements have tended towards portraying globalisation in evolutionary terms:
We live in a new world ... It is a more complex world ... Globalisation is recasting the economic landscape, opening up enormous new markets in China, India and other regions while redefining the international workplace ... Globalisation is magnifying the advantages of those who are able to adapt and to thrive on change, and the disadvantages of those who cling to old ways. (Shanmugaratnam, 2004c)
In this ministerial speech, globalisation is represented as a kind of natural selection, which rewards those who can adapt and disadvantages those who cling to old ways. The evolutionary theme, a long-time feature of Singaporean political discourse, is reworked to help establish a historicist current which endorses the global order of things. In other words, global connectedness and membership of global regimes, particularly in matters economic, is now regarded as a measure of the state's fitness, responsibility and maturity. Notably it is a trend which is not restricted to Singapore (Lamer & Waiters, 2002). But a closer reading of this ministerial speech suggests something else--that the Singaporean government understands globalisation as a geopolitical and geoeconomic rationality, featuring 'economic landscapes', 'enormous new markets' and greater engagement with China and India.
How did globalisation assume such a prominence in Singapore's political discourse, and how is its use similar or different from the trope of modernisation that featured in earlier political pronouncements? Thrift (2002) attributes the discursive prominence of globalisation to two related developments: the Singaporean government's embrace of a North American model of modernity, and the government's decision to 'move up the value chain' by diversifying its economic base towards international service and knowledge-driven industries. These choices opened Singapore up to the related discourses of the new economy/knowledge-based economy. Based on detailed empirical work, Thrift (2000, 2002) identifies the role of 'cultural circuits of capital'--the trinity of management consultants, business schools and management gurus--in producing new business imaginaries, which materialised into a new economic form, the new economy. Throughout the 1990s, Singapore was visited by a steady succession of business gurus, like Tom Peters, Gary Hamel, Michael Porter and Peter Senge, whose ideas were used by the government in its plans to re-engineer the city-state to a knowledge centre (Thrift, 2002, p. 21). The city-state remains an avid consumer of management discourse. It is a stopping point for business gurus on the global speaking circuit. As discussed later in this paper, Singapore's geographic position as a springboard to China has motivated a number of elite business schools to establish offshore branches in the city-state, thus consolidating its role as a node in the circuits of business education.
The challenge of re-constructing Singapore as a centre for knowledge production has placed particular emphasis on the capacity of the city-state's higher education system to cultivate creativity.
We are seeking to inject entrepreneurship and innovation into the Singapore DNA. It is not a project that we can complete quickly. But we have to find every way to encourage enterprise and create a culture supportive of risk--a culture that cheers on those who fail and try again, instead of 'see you no up'. It is also a culture that sees heroes in those who break with convention and forge their own path. That's how we will get the diversity that we need to continue to be a successful economy, 10, 15 years from now. (Shanmugaratnam, 2004b)
The Singaporean government has tackled the task of changing its citizens' mindsets with its trademark tenacity by committing itself 'to inject entrepreneurship and innovation into the Singapore DNA'. In discourse, the state presents itself as a facilitator which unlocks the workings of a genetic template. The idealised subjects of the knowledge-based economy are passionate and courageous risk-takers whose patriotism drives them to channel their passion and energy towards the national project of re-making Singapore as 'a hub for knowledge-based industries' (see Davie, 2002; also Olds & Thrift, 2004). The government's call for a culture change which recognises those who 'break with convention' as 'heroes' suggests a radical rupture from a rule-governed society long known for demanding conformity of its citizens. This new Singaporean differs markedly from the diligent, respectful, communitarian Confucian subject who was regarded as the ideal citizen-subject in the 1980s. Where the earlier Confucian subject was positioned against an imagined western subject who was portrayed by the state as self-serving and individualistic, there are signs now that the east versus west polarity is being diluted in the bid to cultivate the creative, risk-taking subject.
But there are less heroic dimensions underpinning the state's efforts at recrafting and re-modelling Singaporean society and citizenry. In a speech, entitled 'An entrepreneurial culture for Singapore', the hugely influential first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, argued for a greater acceptance by Singaporeans of the social costs associated with the drive towards entrepreneurialism:
For over 30 years we have aimed for an egalitarian society. If we want to have successful entrepreneurs, Singaporeans have to accept a greater income disparity between the successful and the not-so- successful ... We are in a new era of the global economy ... The world has changed and so must we. (Lee, 2002)
In declaring that 'the Cold War is over', Lee argued that the redistributive strategies that were used in 1960s to win the hearts and minds of people were no longer appropriate, and that success in this new era of the singular global economy demands greater inequality. Lee is not alone in normalising a neo-Darwinian ethos; other ministerial pronouncements have adopted a similar tenor:
On the economic front, we have had a bumpy ride since the Asian financial crisis in 1997 ... In football parlance, Singaporeans are beginning to play in the first division ... It is not easy to stay at the top of the league all the time. It is a struggle for a small country but we cannot opt out of this race or we do not deserve to survive. (Wong, 2003)
Being a productive citizen now means contributing to an innovation driven economy. The push to build the entrepreneurial creative subject is not limited to the higher education sector; schools have also been exhorted to do their bit to steer the educated subject towards innovation, creativity and self-improvement. The Thinking Schools, Learning Nation policy nests with the city-state's IT Masterplan and Technopreneurship 21 to steer the educated subject to acquire the attributes of creativity and risk taking. Schools have renewed their nation-building functions--inspiring loyalty by inculcating affective connectivities through citizenship education (Chang, 2000; Spring, 1998, pp. 79-83; Wee, 1998). The myriad strategies aimed at anchoring the Singapore identity in place are too numerous to discuss here, but all point to active attempts by the state to offset the loss of talented, innovative Singaporeans to the western first world.
Before moving onto a discussion of the Global Schoolhouse Project, a caveat is in order. An analytic-like governmentality cautions against regarding power's effects in uniform, monolithic and totalising terms and encourages attention to the contradictory, unforeseen and transgressive. On this basis, it should not be assumed that Singaporeans wholeheartedly accept governmental narratives on the necessity for competitiveness, change and innovation. Singaporean popular culture is a useful site for exploring resistance to the state's vision.
I not stupid, a Chinese language movie produced by Singaporean Jack Neo, is a social commentary on the remorseless pressure of living in the city-state. It describes how children experience the neo-Darwinian values of Singaporean society through their schooling and family life. The film centres on three children, Boon Hok, Ko Pin, and Terry, who share the experience of being academic underachievers.
I not stupid, which played to packed houses in Singapore, is unflinching in its criticisms of the government's policy of favouring foreigners, university degrees, instrumental knowledge and business entrepreneurialism. The Singaporean government is embodied in the character of Terry's mother. Methodical and meticulous in organising every facet of her children's lives, she exhorts her offspring to be grateful while brushing aside messy, unproductive feelings and emotions like sadness, anxiety and compassion. The film also explores the popular disquiet generated by the state's foreign talent policy of recruiting top-end western executives and professionals. It captures these tensions in its portrayal of a western advertising executive who wins recognition by appropriating the ideas of his Singaporean subordinate. I not stupid ends on an optimistic note, highlighting the triumph of the social over the post-social and neo-Darwinian. The boys maintain their friendship despite the strictures imposed on their lives by a world of often desperate and calculating adults.
The Global Schoolhouse Project
The global demand for international higher education will exceed 7 million students by 2025. Asia will dominate, accounting for 70 per cent of this future demand ... A large part of this demand will be met in Asia itself in advanced cities like Singapore. Our objective is to make Singapore a 'Global Schoolhouse'. (Yeo, 2003) The key idea is the creation of a virtuous circle: draw in the 'best universities' with global talent, this talent then creates knowledge and knowledgeable subjects, through their actions and networks, then create the professional jobs that drive a vibrant KBE. (Olds & Thrift, 2004)
A pillar of its broader policy to reconfigure itself as a knowledge-based economy is Singapore's Global Schoolhouse Project, which rests on a three broad strategies. First, 'brand-name', world-class universities (WCU) would be attracted to establish a base in Singapore. These world-class institutions are expected to attract students from Asia, bring in foreign talent, raise the intellectual and education standards of Singapore and establish industry-university links to increase the potential for commercialisation of new technologies and new industries (Singapore Economic Development Board (SEDB), 1998). The expectation is that an education-commercial-industrial hub will diversify into a series of clusters in the 'smart' fields--medicine, engineering, creative industries and applied sciences. The second strategy underpinning the Global Schoolhouse concerns the recruitment of international students and here the plan is to 'double or triple' the current numbers of 50 000 (Yeo, 2003; see also Olds & Thrift, 2004). Thirdly, the Global Schoolhouse Project is anticipated to help steer local universities towards an entrepreneurial American mindset, and at the same time strengthen the local, private higher education for-profit sector.
All three dimensions of the Global Schoolhouse platform nests with the broader Singaporean policy of internationalisation--increasing the city-state's competitiveness by expanding its economic space beyond its geographical boundaries. The Singapore Trade Development Board (TDB), now known as International Enterprise Singapore, is the state instrumentality charged with helping public and private education providers to expand their overseas operations and build partnerships in promising new markets like China. Given that education is the largest consumer expenditure in China after housing, Singaporean companies have moved rapidly to participate in education ventures in partnership with the Chinese state and with Chinese private corporations. One of the most successful Singaporean education companies is Informatics, a private provider which has established 65 centres in 35 Chinese cities to teach business management and information technology (Dolven & Saywell, 2004).
Significantly these hybrid and multi-scalar articulations of public-private partnerships help to consolidate education as a private good and a service industry at the local, national and supranational scales. In justifying the incursions by private education providers into China, media reports (see Dolwell & Saywell, 2004; Economist Asia, 2002) often invoke a reductionist form of human capital theory, and make the argument that private education is cheaper for the state ('recipients benefit more than their country as a whole'), professionally empowering for educators who once suffered under the strictures of bureaucratic centralisation, and altogether fairer and more equitable ('those who attend grand publicly funded universities come from richer families'). For education entrepreneurs like the Chief Executive of Informatics, edu-business 'is a good investment ... This is a cash business. If they owe you money, you don't teach them' (Ong cited in Dolven & Saywell, 2004, p. 27).
What kinds of hybrid formations: The world-class universities
As Olds and Thrift's study (2004) shows, their mode of entry into Singapore and the differing levels of product and financial risk entered into by the world-class universities (WCU) are a useful reference point for understanding state-market relations under conditions of globalisation. INSEAD, a leading French business school, established a 'greenfields' campus, INSEAD Asia, sprawled over an area of 2.86 hectares, and estimated to have cost US$40 million (so far). Its entry into Singapore was the most high risk in financial and product terms. It is expected to establish its own research priorities and develop new and different management education 'products' from that of its home campus in Fontainebleau in keeping with its position as a node in the Asia-Pacific region.
American business schools, by contrast, sought to minimise risk in their expansion to Singapore. The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School largely devolved risk to the Singaporean state which entered into a five-year contract with Wharton. The government accepted responsibility for financing the operation of the Singapore Management University (SMU), whereas Wharton's responsibility was limited to the provision of intellectual leadership (Olds & Thrift, 2004). Described as 'a publicly funded private university', the SMU will not be required to adhere to civil service regulations but will have 'free rein to adopt the best practices of world-class universities' (Tan, 2002).
The University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business (GSB), another prominent WCU, embarked on a strategy to reduce 'product risk' by exporting 'a fixed product' from its home base (Olds & Thrift, 2004). Its marketing campaign rests on promoting the homogeneity between its Singapore branch and the home base in Chicago. Promotional statements reassure prospective applicants that 'the professors who will teach in Singapore are the same [italics added] ones who teach on our main campus' and the 'same' [italics added] MBA program' is offered (Friedman, 1999). Although the high cost strategy of flying in faculty to deliver courses does present greater financial risks to the GSB, its decision to have a Singaporean base is premised by a need to have a 'global presence'. For now, the issue of profit is incidental (Olds & Thrift, 2004). The GSB's endeavour to reduce product risk and maintain the integrity of its brand raises issues about the extent to which the education it offers is culturally appropriate and creates the conditions for a mutual and reciprocal hybridisation.
A straight-out cultural imperialism is unlikely; cultural and national ethnocentrisms are more likely than not to be diluted by professors who could lay legitimate claims to being reflective practitioners of their craft, and by students who debate and challenge theoretical paradigms from the reference points of personal and professional life experiences. That stated, questioning existing power-knowledge constellations and building new knowledge regimes require academic rigour, time and sustained effort on the part of educators and students. It is debatable whether flying in for a week or so to deliver an executive MBA course, or attending evening and weekend classes as an add-on to a busy professional fife, creates the optimal conditions for a considered reflexivity. As Olds and Thrift (2004) observe, reflexivity must take into account the individual's relationship to the social; it cannot operate only in relation to the individual as an autonomous subject.
The presence of other world-class universities in Singapore (see Table 1) is largely realised through collaborations with local institutions. Although many of these partnerships are discursively constructed as 'alliances', partner universities appear to have inserted the necessary clauses to protect their brand names. The graduates from the Singapore-MIT alliance, for example, will be credentialled by the two local Singapore universities--National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), not by MIT. Although Australia is a favoured destination for a large number of Singaporeans, its universities were not initially considered in the Singapore government's 'world-class' education hub plans. The University of New South Wales was eventually invited to come aboard in 2004 (O'Keefe, 2004). The reasons for the city-state's reticence is embedded in perceptions that Australian degrees are of a lower quality. As many private institutions cater for students perceived to be academically weaker, partnerships between Australian universities and local private higher education providers are also considered detrimental to the Australian reputation. In a country where positional status is central, the 'hard sell' of Australian degrees, which are a daily feature in the city-state's main newspaper, is perceived to further dilute reputation.
The Singapore education brand: 'Springboard to a better future'
A key platform in the Global Schoolhouse Project is the goal to actively market Singapore as a study destination for students from Asia.
With the end of the Cold War and the re-entry of China, Vietnam and India into the global marketplace, the Asian landscape is changing dramatically. Over 2 billion people want a better life for themselves and their children. They are prepared to work very hard and for very low wages ... They in turn want their children to be better educated so that their lives will be improved ... The hunger for education is creating a huge flow of knowledge from the developed countries to the developing Asian countries ... By tradition Asians know that a good education can alter decisively the life chances of a child. Many are therefore prepared to pay large amounts to secure the best education for their children ... Singapore will increasingly become a global player in this education market. (Yeo, 2003)
Noticeably absent from this discourse is the nation-state which, in the case of Singapore, is actively working to create the demand for cross-border education. Nor is the nation-state's responsibility to alleviate the hunger for education among its citizens, considered. In this resolutely neoliberal discourse, demand for international education is portrayed as being driven by a particular consumer: 'the hardworking Asian parent ... prepared to work for low wages'. There are discernible hints of a frontier subjectivity based on the adventurous, self-improving, self-sacrificing, risk-taking individual. The discursive links between traditional (Asian) values such as diligence, duty and responsibility help to occlude public-good considerations, while normalising education's private good and instrumental qualities.
In the competitive international education market, Singapore is taking a safe stance by emulating the marketing strategies of the Anglo-American education industry. Like the United Kingdom and Australia, the Singaporean government has embarked on building an education brand identity--the Singapore education brand. The brand's identity is premised on selling the country's educational excellence, its quality infrastructure and its cosmopolitanism, all of which serve to construct its marketing slogan, 'Springboard to a better future'. Selling the country is as important as selling the strengths of its education system and much is made of Singapore's 'GDP of S$160 billion', 'the world's busiest port', 'young, fast growing', 'the best business environment in Asia', 'the most competitive economy'; 'quality of life that surpasses London and New York' (Singapore Education, 2003).
Like the Education UK and Study Australia promotional campaigns, Singapore is also marketing its multiculturalism: 'a melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian cultures' (Singapore Education, 2003). The commodification of its ethnicity has long been a feature of Singapore's tourism marketing, but its appearance in the marketing of education suggests the increasing importance of branding place, city and country in the grand project of building a new economy of knowledge-based industries. Branding and commodification practices also reveal the arrival of a new discursive formation--educational tourism. That being the case, global education markets favour an Anglo-American homogeneity; only 'safe' expressions of cultural diversity are permissible (Marginson, 2003). Singapore's selection as the locational choice for INSEAD Asia ahead of Hong Kong was shaped, in part, by perceptions by INSEAD staff that 'Hong Kong is a Chinese city. Singapore is more international than Hong Kong' (Olds & Thrift, 2004).
The Global Schoolhouse Project reveals changing state-market relations under conditions of globalisation. It illustrates how the interests of a developmentalist state have been aligned with international interests of elite education institutions, in particular, elite business schools (Olds & Thrift, 2004). The state retains its regulatory role while limiting its pump priming to narrowly defined spheres of innovation. In several respects, then, the Global Schoolhouse Project is characteristic of 'roll out neoliberalism' (see Peck & Tickell, 2002). The Singaporean government provided financial incentives for the foreign universities in the form of soft loans, research funding and reduced land values. The INSEAD site was purchased for 1/3 of its commercial value and it received $10 million in research funding (as reported in Olds & Thrift, 2004). The government also contributed towards the renovation of the House of Tan Yoek Nee, the 120-year-old heritage building which is the site of the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. The Singapore Management University (SMU) received government support in all aspects of its planning, development and financing, and the Ministry of Education subsidises the tuition fees of all SMU students, including international students, who are required to work in Singapore for three years after graduation. It is the deployment of such capital friendly policies and practices by nation-states like Singapore, which have enabled 'the stretching of the institutional architecture of elite Western universities across global space' (Olds & Thrift, 2004).
What helps to give roll-out neoliberalism gravitas, momentum and ultimately electoral support in Singapore are two factors. First, the internalisation of the discourses of crisis and pragmatism helps to convince the population that there is no choice but to re-orient the city-state to become a knowledge-based economy. Second, the government's evangelical embrace of management discourse brings the resources of an entire imaginative community to work to convince Singapore's citizens that they are 'factors of production ... like a mineral resource with attitude' (Olds & Thrift, 2004). Access to a cutting-edge business education like that provided by the world-class universities is promoted as creating possibilities for the realisation of citizens' own entrepreneurial aspirations (Clifford & Shari, 1999).
The Global Schoolhouse Project is also instructive of the extent to which the state's policies have helped to re-conceptualise education as a service and a private good. In its quest to 'always be ahead of the pack snapping at our heels' (Lee, 2003), the state has introduced policies which support all four modes of supply defined by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS): cross-border supply (distance education provision by foreign and Singaporean providers); consumption abroad (Singaporeans studying overseas); commercial presence (foreign campuses in Singapore, and Singaporean providers overseas); and presence of natural people (foreign talent in Singapore).
As Harvey (1990) observed so astutely, membership in the advanced capitalist world does not guarantee a stable prosperity; countries have to keep competing fiercely with each other to establish themselves as financial, consumption and entertainment centres. Although Singapore has long been regarded as investor-friendly, increased competition from low-cost sites like China means that it needs to exceed its earlier incarnation as a safe, modern, business-friendly city (Singapore Inc.). Courting investors and meeting the needs of a mobile, libidinal capitalism means constructing the virtues of a city, by selling a vision, dream image and spatial myth (Sparke & Lawson, 2003). It is with this goal in mind that the Singaporean government embarked upon a promotional campaign to re-brand the island as a vibrant and liveable renaissance city with a thriving arts culture (Wee, 2001).
From Singapore Inc. to 'a renaissance city'
The primary objective of crafting a cosmopolitan, renaissance image for the city-state is to make it attractive to the supermobile, transient largely EuroAmerican elite of knowledge workers (see Amin & Thrift, 2002; Olds & Thrift, 2004). A footloose workforce needs to be adequately serviced and made to feel at home. As Amin and Thrift (2002, pp. 59, 74-75) observe, 'soft' factors like leisure, entertainment and quality of life for families are significant in the business services and knowledge industries. To succeed, global cities have to have a dual identity, as 'places of orientation and vitality for the deracine knowledge entrepreneur/worker' (p. 59). In other words, they have to offer comfortable levels of cultural synchronicity, but with enough exoticism thrown in to arrest perceptions of their social marginality in the hierarchical orderings which distinguish 'hip' global cities from dull and paternalistic places. The Singapore Tourist Board works hard to create the right image for the island-state by manufacturing and promoting an east/west cosmopolitanism, with marketing slogans promising 'a city with its head in the future and its soul in the past'. The Renaissance Project exemplifies how effectively culture can be used to refashion individual, institutional and national identities. The performing arts, once relegated to a peripheral role during the city-state's relentless drive to modernise and get ahead, are now being deployed to establish a new identity for the city-state and its citizenry.
Subtle attempts are also at hand to challenge and transform perceptions held by some of a 'police state'--an authoritarian state with repressive media laws. Olds and Thrift (2004) noted that foreign academics associated with the world-class universities project were encouraged by senior university executives to re-imagine the city as a 'nanny state ... not an evil police state ... think how a British nanny acts to the children and what that means' (Bellace as cited by Olds & Thrift, 2004).
A renaissance city cannot be peopled by the parochial; the state has therefore embarked on re-figuring the Singaporean citizen. A new subjectivity, the renaissance Singaporean is being fashioned, described as 'well-rounded, [with] an inquiring and creative mind, a passion for life.... a civic-minded active citizen. He appreciates and cherishes his heritage. His graciousness is underpinned by a fine sense of aesthetics' (Lee, 2000). The earlier hypercompetitive 'survivalist' subject, known in Singlish (Singaporean English) vernacular as the kiasu Singaporean, is chastised:
Let us get rid of our self-centred, selfish and overly materialistic streaks. Let us be more cultivated and refined, with a keener sense of the beauty in human relationships, music and our cultural heritage. (Goh Chok Tong, 1996)
Refiguring the citizen-subject is hardly novel: the Singaporean government has a long history of changing the criteria for the ideal citizen-subject. What is new, though, is that these latest attempts at remaking the citizen are being undertaken in ways that appear participative, exciting and empowering. However the rhetorical purchase on graciousness, refinement and aesthetics should not be regarded as a deviation from a long-running, hard-edged pragmatism aimed at securing competitive advantage for the city-state.
Exposure: What kinds of hybrids
Singapore's engagement as a consumer of international education can be traced to pre-independence days, when aspiring political and bureaucratic leaders were recipients of educational aid programs like the Colombo Plan. A term widely used in Singapore to capture the 'cultural capital' that accompanies overseas education is 'exposure'. In the light of writings by globalisation theorists on the productive possibilities for cosmopolitanism, exposure is a useful site for analysing the complexities arising from the transnational and transcultural exchanges which constitute international education. The anticipated cosmopolitan global subject was expected to reject territorially inscribed logics and sentiments, such as parochialism, jingoism and xenophobia. However more recent work has analysed globalising forces and processes in terms of a double movement of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. Poststructuralist theorists have also argued that the discursive prominence given to the trope of networks in globalisation literature draws theoretical attention away from boundaries. Given this, it is useful to inquire how international education networks help to maintain, or alternatively transcend, boundaries. I provide a synopsis of student chat room narratives (2) obtained from the Straits Times, the city-state's main English language newspaper, to explore the extent to which overseas study creates the conditions of border crossings and hybrid exchanges.
Three desires underpin 'exposure'. First, there is a desire for 'self-goods' such as personal growth, independence, empowerment, the opportunity to acquire independent living skills and the ability to develop a different identity from a family-centred one. Second, exposure is driven by the desire for a cosmopolitan habitus that comes from living and studying in a different cultural and national milieu. Third, there is a desire for positional goods: career success and monetary rewards or, in Singapore-speak, the '5 Cs'. To this end, the most coveted exposure arises from studying in a discipline attractive to the market, and in a prestigious high status university such as America's Ivy League and Britain's Oxbridge universities. References to 'prestigious institutions' are accompanied by rankings of countries: 'u should try to go to great world class research universities ... aren't any in australia ... about 50 in the US and 50 in europe'.
While some postings refer to the instrumental benefits of understanding difference and diversity in the new global economy, on the whole, there are relatively few postings which refer to lasting friendships, which suggests perhaps that social capital across national boundaries is not a notably common or valued aspect of exposure. For some, the overseas sojourn intensifies identification with Singapore and a renewed commitment to their responsibilities as citizens:
[It] makes you more appreciative of Singapore. (Student a) My fellow Singaporeans, being able to study abroad has really broadened my social skills ... Ironically, I actually feel more in touch with my Singaporean identity ... COME BACK MY FELLOW COUNTRYMEN. So that we can contribute together in our unique way to achieve a better future for all Singaporeans. (Student b)
Notably, a series of disciplining strategies appear to be in place to remind students of their ethnocultural and national identities:
Many of the Singaporeans viewed me as a 'traitor' because I was surrounded by Europeans ... I had very few Singaporean friends ... not because I did not like them but because they tend to stick to themselves. (Student c) I know that there is a stereotype in Singapore that those who return are often arrogant, trendy--foreign attitudes and American accents etc. That much hasn't changed since the last century when Dr Sun Yat Sen tried to promote western values into China ... I would like to say that not all graduates from American or Australian universities are like that. Many are the children of neighbours, hawkers, taxi drivers. (Student d)
These narratives reveal an awareness that exposure has to be kept within acceptable parameters. A place-based, essentialist and state-inspired imagination works to discipline students towards acceptable forms of transcultural and transnational exchanges. Thus technological know-how, critical thinking, innovation and creativity are regarded as valued outputs from the transnational and transcultural exchanges arising from exposure to overseas study, and from the state-sponsored Global Schoolhouse Project. Compared with its careful selection of world-class universities in its efforts to re-construct Singapore as a Global Schoolhouse, the state has less control over what intercultural borrowings Singaporeans absorb while studying overseas. However government officials are not reticent in warning students against embracing those western imports regarded as having high social costs, such as liberal democracy. Unabashed self-interest is not well regarded either. As a disciplining device, Singaporean graduates who fail to meet their responsibilities to the state by serving out their bonds in the civil service are often publicly named in the city-state's newspaper.
Rather than treating globalisation as imbued with agency to dominate the local, and an evolutionary force (the next phase of societal development), this paper has highlighted how globalisation functions as a governmentality. Globalisation is used as a legitimating metaphor to justify particular policies and practices by nation-states. This is well demonstrated in the Singaporean context where a hegemonic understanding of globalisation as 'exogenous forcing' is re-worked into a long-standing cultural discourse of crisis and survivalism to re-construct higher education and build new capacity through the Global Schoolhouse Project.
Several conclusions can be drawn about the relations between the nation-state and education under contemporary conditions of globalisation. First, the Global Schoolhouse Project highlights the importance of moving beyond zero-sum thinking about the effect of globalisation on the nation-state. The Project illustrates the creative and imaginative ways in which the Singaporean nation-state is re-modelling itself in response to the new iterations of global capitalism. As a strongly developmentalist state, Singapore has largely eschewed the minimalist state approach. Instead the dictates of the market have been mediated by the direct involvement of government in nation-building projects like the Global Schoolhouse, which are concerned with re-engineering the city-state's economic base.
The case of Singapore also suggests the existence of hybrid variants of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is articulated with the political project of economic survival in the city-state but, in more ways than one, the state remains an important actor in economic production. Although the scope of this paper does not extend to an analysis of Singaporean articulations of neoliberalism, the city-state is a potentially useful focal point for investigating the variants of neoliberalism arising outside its heartlands in the United States and the United Kingdom. Second, the case of Singapore prompts reflection on what the unrelenting quest for global competitiveness means for the citizen-subject--more specifically, whether the fast, globalising processes that manufacture 'spaces of intensity', as embodied in global cities like Singapore, increase the likelihood of producing 'fragile subjects' (see Thrift, 2000).
Third, Singapore offers an instructive case study on hybridity under conditions of globalisation. In many respects, the island-state personifies pastiche and melange (Kahn, 1998). The task of appropriating western knowledges and practices has never been a problem as long as it contributes to the national project of attaining economic success as a capitalist, free-market powerhouse. The Global Schoolhouse reveals the value and worth attributed by the government to the American mindset of entrepreneurialism. State-sanctioned hybridities embody hierarchies, differential rewards and the possibilities for greater disparities in status and income. The instrumentalised and racialised parameters that define acceptable hybridities are evident in the kinds of exposure sought by Singaporeans studying overseas. Following Larner and Wakers (2002) and Mitchell (1997), this paper argues for further empirical work into the processes of hybridisation including investigations into how the hybrid is implicated as a governmental project; how it is assembled by states and markets, using which knowledges, from which spaces, and based on what types of social relations. Of particular importance is the need to inquire how the flows and networks which are bundled together as 'globalisation' create productive possibilities for the emancipation of the human subject.
Table 1 World-class universities in Singapore University Initiative INSEAD Greenfields campus--offering INSEAD degrees Chicago GSB Urban branch campus offering U. Chicago MBA degrees MIT Partner in MIT-Singapore Alliance (SMA)-- teaching postgraduate engineering and computing programs with NUS and NTU graduates credentialled by either NTU or NUS Georgia Tech Collaborating with NUS to provide programs in global logistics, information and decision technologies at The Logistics Institute Asia Pacific (TLI-AP). Wharton (University Contracted by the Singapore government to of Pennsylvania) assist in the planning and intellectual leadership of the Singapore Management University (SMU) Technische Universiteit Jointly running the Design Technology Eindhoven Institution with NUS--offering engineering education Technische Universitat Offers a Master of Industrial Chemistry Munchen program in collaboration with NUS Johns Hopkins Runs Johns Hopkins Singapore Biomedical University Centre and numerous programs with NUS University of New Wholly owned and run by UNSW (Australia)-- South Wales will be a teaching and research university; Greenfields campus expected to be operational in 2007
(1) Originally from the discipline of biology where it was used to describe the improved varieties of plant life arising from selective breeding, hybridity's meanings have changed significantly as it moved across disciplines and fields of study. In academic discourse, it is used to capture the ambivalence arising from the intermixing and contestational weave of cultures. In this context, hybridity is sometimes celebrated as part of the postmodern condition and the end of epistemological and cultural essentialisms. In the field of post-colonial studies, hybridity is used to contest notions of cultural purity and challenge the cultural hegemony of the 'west'. Hybridity also features in writings about/on cultural globalisation. Here it is used to counteract claims that globalisation is leading to homogenisation and westernisation. On the other hand, critics of the 'globalisation as hybridisation' thesis have argued that the performances and embodiments of hybridity associated with globalisation demand careful empirical work, which engages theoretically and methodologically, with power, positionality, scale, space and time (Mitchell, 1997).
(2) The chat room discussions were hosted by Straits Times Interactive. Retrieved 28 October 2001, from http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/home
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Ravinder Sidhu is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Education, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072. Email: email@example.com
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|Publication:||Australian Journal of Education|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2005|
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