24 May 2007

The vile and malevolent Ng Eng Hen

Khaw Boon Wan may be the stupidest man in the Singapore Cabinet, but his sheer destructive capability is dwarfed by the sheer mendacity and malevolence of his colleague Ng Eng Hen.

The illustrious Mr Ng is, after all, the labour minister who wanted to reclaim jobs for Singaporeans - in the marine, nursing, and cleaning industries. He is the same man who runs a ministry that won't let anyone know the real unemployment rate in Singapore. And yes, he's also the man who chairs the PAP's covert blogger operation.

However, Ng Eng Hen has just about outdone himself this time, in a rare application of massive stupidity in wrong-headed public policy that can only bring about the apocalypse - witness his "new initiatives to lure talented professionals".

Q: How on earth does he want to lure talented professionals (read "foreign talents")?
A: By luring them even before they are talented professionals!

The Work Holiday Pass scheme of Singapore is aimed at young students and graduates from overseas, according to the Channelnewsasia report. It is open to those aged 17 to 30. There will be 2000 places available a year. "A positive experience of living and working in Singapore under the Programme would encourage some of them to work here when they graduate, or at a later stage in their careers", says Ng Eng Hen.

There are, to put it mildly, some problems with this scheme. How on earth are we luring foreign professionals by extending visas to college students? Apparently, the phrase "talented professional" has become so debased that anyone could qualify, even before they enter the workforce, or gain the experience that sets them apart of elite professionals - i.e. the type of foreign talents that Singapore should really be going after.

Unlike the Work Holiday visas offered by the US, Canada, UK, or any other country, Singapore's WHP has virtually no conditions and restrictions on what sort of jobs the applicants can apply for, or how much they are allowed to earn. One non-obvious implication of this uniquely singaporean Work Holiday scheme is this: in effect, it introduces 2000 foreign undergrads into the short term labour market. Given that fresh local graduates in recent years tend to spend about a year working in contract or temp jobs - a sign of a shift in the labour market to contract work - it means that these 2000 young students will compete directly for the same jobs as local grads.

How should we put this into context? According to Singapore's Department of Statistics, in 2005 there were 3,500 graduates from local universities. So... picture dumping in 2,000 foreign students and fresh grads into the labour market right now. Is there any wonder that I consider Ng Eng Hen to be the most destructive and malevolent man in the Cabinet?

I've always wondered about how sincere our leaders are about their love for foreign talent - ooops, "talented foreign professionals" - and whether Singapore really needs so many of them. Stephen Appold has wondered the same thing, and actually bothered to find out. The final report is gruesome in its details, and even horrifying in its conclusions, written 2 years ago:
Arguably, university-educated migrants are not needed in Singapore at all. Less controversially, they are not needed in the large number in which they are found... Despite the high employment growth, an expanding surplus of university graduates has been chasing the available jobs with predictable effects: slower salary increases, the downward filtering of graduates into less-desirable jobs, the erosion of the relative income advantage of educated labour.
And the 2,000 visas for young students and graduates will just make it even worse. Ng Eng Hen aims to further depress wages and destroy local graduates!

Update (12 noon)

So the University of South Wales has shut down operations barely 3 months after its new buildings opened to students here. It's not economical, its dean says, to run the place given the drastically lower-than-projected student rate - and there's the matter of MOE and the Singapore government not allowing UNSW to reduce its operations and retool plans for a lower student intake. WTH. IMPEACH Ng Eng Hen! Impeach Ng Eng Hen now!

Of course, the moral of the story is still the same.
Despite the high employment growth, an expanding surplus of university graduates has been chasing the available jobs with predictable effects: slower salary increases, the downward filtering of graduates into less-desirable jobs, the erosion of the relative income advantage of educated labour.
It's a lesson that might actually explain the reason for UNSW's failure to attract students. Greater implications - if potential university applicants are aware of their drastically reduced rewards, the downward filtering into less-desirable jobs... then Singapore is just about finished as an education hub - no uni can attract a sustainable amount of local or even foreign grads. The domestic economy and labour market just simply don't have the space.

References: Appold, Stephen J. "The weakening position of university graduates in Singapore's labour market: Causes and consequences", in Population and Development Journal, 31, no. 1 (Mar 05): 85–112.


Anonymous said...

In the first place what does a heart (or is it breast) surgeon know about running a ministry, not to mention manpower policies.

How does the PAP get to sleep at night knowing what they do are causing misery to their fellow countrymen?

Anonymous said...

i think you shouldn't generalise and imply that all doctors can't be politcians or run a country just cos they're doctors. it's not mutually exclusive. there've been great doctors turned politicians in other parts of the world before.

but still, for Dr. Ng's case, id tend to agree. :D

eileen said...

Sounds more like a tourism thing. Those who would apply for WHP here are middling or well off SEA students interested in travel and spending money than actual work. And local employers are not likely to hire WHP holders, resulting in WHP holders taking on jobs on the lower rung of the food chain.

Yes, it is v interesting that there is a vigourous reaching out for foreign talent. I think there is something no one's telling us.

akikonomu said...

Hi Eileen!

If students are more interested in travel and spending money, there's always the very generous holiday visa. Take note that the WHP isn't open to any SEA countries - only US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, HK, Japan - countries that basically have the longest tourist visa periods in Singapore.

Yes, I expect the WHP holders to end up in the contract and temp job market. Where many fresh graduates have been forced into this decade.

wenjuan said...

The first thought that ran through my mind was the injustice of it all. Locally-based foreign-born students without PR or citizenship (esp. those not on scholarships) aren't able to work here to pay off their school fees or earn extra income but foreigners from far-flung countries who do not pay a dime to local educational institutes can!

Anonymous said...

The presence of excessive foreign talents is especially obvious in Biopolis.

The most prestigious one is the NSS listed below.




If you have any friends who are doing a local PhD, or better yet, completed one - please go and ask them what their PhD training is for in Singapore's contest?

The following conclusions will be rather typical:

1. PhDs are here to support the research of the foreign scientists. The top job of running a lab belongs mostly to the foreigners. I am sure a-star's management will claim that these foreigners are here to train the local scientists, but do they monitor whom these foreigners hire and fire?

2. The a-star management never told you this, but this place is just an different avenue to attract a different breed of tourists ie scientists.

All the following things have the same purpose of attracting more foreigners over here, which each attracting a slightly different breed of among them:

The Singapore tourist promotion board, Sentosa, two integrated casino resorts, biopolis, orchard road, formula One, youth olympics, Changi airport, Geylang, government policies pertaining to manpower issues, silence regarding unemployment figures of Singapore citizens excluding PRs, etc.