SINGAPORE: Does Singapore place an over-emphasis on foreign talent?
That is one of several issues raised during a forum on integration organised by think-tanks from Germany (Konrad Adenauer Stiftung) and Singapore (Institute of Policy Studies).
It was an exchange of ideas between Singapore and visiting German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Dr Maria Bohmer, who was described as the architect of immigration policies in Germany.
One forum participant, a foreign academic in a local university, made an observation on the high proportion of foreign academics in universities in Singapore, prompting a robust discussion on workplace discrimination.
Zainuddin Nordin, chairman of OnePeople.sg, said: "We are a young country, let's be honest about it. We are only 50 years old. We didn’t have many PhDs out there in the early years. We want to have good institutions, good reputation, and we’ve tried to build those over the years.
“But all these efforts, if we look around, we won't have many Singaporeans who have done research in the early days. The number of people with doctorate and PhD qualifications was not many. We had to do a lot of opening of doors to bring in people from outside, and I think that culture over time has been imbibed into the system.
“But maybe now when we have reaped the benefits of our own education system -- more and more Singaporeans are holding Master’s degree, PhD, and doing research in local and foreign countries -- things will change. I would believe that more and more of our qualified people will be able to hold out on their own and be able to groom younger Singaporean talents."
Mr Zainuddin said it is critical is to build a core Singaporean workforce.
Often, perceptions get in the way.
As one speaker put it, sometimes terms like "foreign talent" can undo the building of bridges because the notion of foreign talent has evolved into "foreign is better or superior, and locals just don't have it".
Dr Lai Ah Eng, adjunct senior fellow of the University Scholars Programme at National University of Singapore, said: "It puts oneself down, that you're not as good, you lack the talent, compared to somebody else -- inferior. I think it's got elements of that by now and that's not good for the confidence of the individual, and not good for a sense of belonging and a place in Singapore as a citizen."
The government has made policy adjustments -- from tightening the inflow of foreign workers to implementing the Fair Consideration Framework, which requires firms to consider Singaporeans fairly in the hiring process.
Germany, too, has a similar law called the Priority Regulation, which requires companies to look for a suitable German national before hiring a foreigner.
Like Singapore, Germany is also grappling with issues of integration; issues such as competition for jobs and the need to balance the needs of its citizens.
There are about 15 million immigrants in the country -- that is about 18 per cent of its total population.
Ms Bohmer said: "It is a conscious effort on the part of the Germans and the foreigners who come in, so we can bring it to a point where we can say, we do not talk about each other but we talk to each other."
Other initiatives Germany has found useful in integrating its immigrants include programmes tailored to specific groups, such as professionals or even spouses of immigrants, and having pre-integration programmes so families are prepared for life in Germany before they leave their home countries.
This includes mandatory German language courses. - CNA/gn
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