01 Feb 2014
Topics Singapore

As policymaking becomes more complex and issues more vexatious, the role of public policy schools has come under the spotlight.

The Role of Public Policy Schools

As policymaking becomes more complex and issuesmore vexatious, the role of public policy schools hascome under the spotlight. One dilemma is that pointedout by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former dean of Princeton'sWoodrow Wilson School of Public and InternationalAffairs and now president of the New AmericaFoundation. Scholars at policy schools do extremelyimportant work, she asserts, but often, that's notwork that policymakers read. LKY School Vice Dean ofResearch Kanti Prasad Bajpai weighs in.

Can you give an example ofresearch at the LKY School thatis making a difference?

There are several excellent projects withpolicy implications in policy design, policyfailure, public management, health andsocial security, regional economics, watermanagement, sustainability, development,and Asian security. We have China-relatedresearch in virtually all these areas. Beyond this, one key project is at theCentre on Asia and Globalisation on thedevelopment of Russia's Far East. This is ahuge territory with massive resources, andRussia, China, Japan, South Korea, Norway,and Singapore are all involved, looking atwhat can be done to develop it in everyone'sinterest. The Asia Competitiveness Institutehas also done some impressive workon a Competitiveness Index, comparingprovincial level competitiveness. TheIndonesia study has just come out, whichthe Indonesian government has been veryinterested in. The India and China studieshave also just been released. Finally, urbanisation is a huge emergingtrend in Asia. A group of researchers atthe School are working on different angles, including an interesting project funded bythe Microsoft Corporation on second-tiercities and how they have become ICT, education,and potentially trade hubs goingforward, and the implications of that forSoutheast Asia. These are just some of the very interestingthings happening in the school.

Anne-Marie Slaughter recentlysaid in a Washington Post articlethat policy schools used tobe much more about how totranslate ideas into solutions topublic problems. Do you thinkpolicy schools remain relevanttoday, and what is the role of apolicy school like ours in Asia?

I think Slaughter is on to something.Having said that, if you look at the numberof public policy schools opening in Asia,that's an indication that people do thinkthey're important. It's a market test, isn't it?Clearly, something is brewing. So what's brewing? One is the realisationthat the public realm is important, thatthe market is not everything. It can't solveeverything - and it poses its own problems.After 2008, that's clear. One has topay attention to the public realm and therole of the government. What else is publicpolicy? It's about how governments andother actors get together to solve collectiveproblems. Where I think Slaughter is right is thatfrom a problem-solving view, there hasbeen a movement towards a greateracademic focus, with faculty seeking topublish in highly-rated journals and releasingbooks concerned with scholarly debatesin policy studies. A balance is required. Youcan't have good policy-oriented work withoutsome fundamental conceptual, theoretical,and empirical research. But you can'talso be stuck there and not produce realtimestudies. In the LKY School, we have a goodbalance. There are colleagues doing moreconceptual work, who turn their attentionfrom time to time to problem-solving. Andthe reverse is true as well. The school's focus on Asia in the worldis also essential. Cutting across researchhere, the focus is Asia how Asia fitswithin global norms and developments, butalso how Asia is increasingly defining thosesame structures. That fits with Singapore.Singapore has been an active player inshaping arrangements and bringing ideas tobear, but it has also been open to receivingand adapting ideas in its own way. The LKYSchool, hopefully, is doing that, not just forSingapore, but for all Asia.

You're writing a book onChina-India relations. Can youtell us more?

Yes, Professor Huang Jing and I are workingon this book. At its core is the ideathat this is a special relationship that coulddefine the future for India, China, the restof Asia, and the world. Current literatureclaims that these two countries are doomedto conflict, that two rising powers lookingfor a place in the sun cannot work together.We're saying that the world has changed,their place in the world has changed,and the expectations of their people havechanged. There's a growing interdependencebetween these two, and therefore avery good chance, and a very good reason,for them to collaborate. Separately, we're also working on aproject with Dean Kishore Mahbubani ona grant from the Ministry of Education,which has brought together six Chineseand six Indian scholars to write aboutIndia-China relations in five to sixdifferent areas, including development,trade, investment, energy, environment, andwater issues, amongst others.The secondproject will cover a range of issues that Jingand I are not able to address in our ownbook very deeply. There's just so much youcan put into one book!
Topics Singapore