Thursday, 18 April 2013

Lock-in Mobility and The Non-linear Model of Innovation in Singapore University Education

The new non-linear model will affect the mobility of  students due to the lock-in effect. This will make education planners think within the box rather than outside the box as they think the ‘jump-start’ approach has helped Singapore obtaining world standard in education and innovation.
In some ways, the new Singapore university education is adopting the ‘jump-start’ approach. The old and established universities are in the linear model of innovation.  But the newly set-up universities and institutions are very different.  There are all partner-institutions with foreign big names:

1.   Singapore University of Technology and Design is a project in collaboration with MIT. (
2.   Lee Kong Chiang School of Medicine is a joint medical school between Imperial College London and NTU, Singapore. (
3.   Yale-NUS College (

Based on the success and feedback of Singapore Management University and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, the current ‘jump-start’ non-linear approach is an expansion of the model.  Will it create more lock-in effects that prevent out of box thinking and solution?        

Linear model of innovation

It is a straight line from basic research, applied research, development, and testing (technology) to commercialisation (application).

Trajectories and lock-in effect
Technological development and advancement produce system, products and services easy to use.  This makes people revolve around a certain standard or habit (e.g. window operating system or touch screen technology). The lock-in effect will take place when people refuse to think of other solutions outside the standard.     

For example, the MRT system, transport planners think the train service is the best solution and refuse to allow parallel bus routes. This will affect the mobility of the commuters who have no alternative.

By adopting non-linear approach, these new institutions can ‘jump-start’ their innovation. They can avoid the routine path of Linear Model of Innovation and carry out applied research, development, testing and commercialisation at the same time and still retain the basic research.

This approach will give Singapore the latest technology and innovation in the world. Other advantages include shorter learning curve, quick obtainment of knowledge and more exchanges.  It can also move Singapore university education to world standard at the shortest possible time.

Why commercial partnership fails
This is different from commercial partnership between local companies and foreign universities that is mainly for profit purpose.   Except business education, like INSEAD, Chicago Business School, ESSEC, etc. other non-business education ventures are not doing well or had closed down, for example the failed UNSW Singapore, the troubled TischAsia (    

There are critical success factors for this non-linear approach. Financially, the host country must be willing to invest. This is not suitable for developing or poor countries. Also, you must prepare to let foreign partners to lead the institutions.  As for students, they will have to pay higher tuition fees (comparing to older Singapore universities). Less qualify local students have to be replaced by talented foreign students with free scholarship.

Singapore seems to meet almost all the framework requirements for such a non-linear model. Be it education, competition, governance, finance, intellectual property rights, standards and public procurements.  Few countries in the world can meet all these conditions.

There are minimum operational problems as the design planning, concept and management of the whole setup are done by foreign experts with additional local inputs.  It looks like a perfect ‘jump-start’ innovation, just like the economic policies of Singapore.  The government will do whatever it can to meet the requirements of big foreign investors. It will create and import required software and hardware for heavy weight foreign investments.  

However, there are trade-offs politically and socially. Local students and their parents complain that they do not have opportunities to study locally and have to pay more to study overseas.  It is also difficult to (measure and) fairly distribute the wealth created by this innovation if there is any.

Perhaps, the most difficult issue is how to break the ‘lock-in’ mobility. Singapore, unlike Hong Kong, refuses to upgrade its polytechnics to full university. Polytechnics are another class of higher learning in Singapore. Singapore Institute of Technology is purposely setting up, partnering foreign universities, to offer degree courses to polytechnic graduates.

It will be more difficult for slower learners or even average students to benefit from the general modern ‘literacy’ of the non-linear model. 
How to ensure fair distribution of innovation
Singapore has obtained the latest technology and innovation from the world. We also invest heavily by providing good class education to local and foreign students.

How can we ensure there is a fair distribution of innovation products?   The jump-start model creates opportunities for talent students and enriches them with international mobility.     

This in fact touches on the basic problem of the population debate and also the question of chicken and eggs. If we do not provide the best environment, the talents do not want to come. However, with international mobility, the talents may not want to share innovation wealth with you as they can move to other countries easily.

In order to keep them and keep their innovation in Singapore, we have to offer them very high salaries.  

So, we are in a ‘lock-in’ situation. We are not able to think out of the box and we continue to debate within the Singapore standard or the PAP standard of economic policies and options.

It is a hard question that requires out-of-box thinking and ‘lock-out’ solutions.   But it is also not easy to find the right answer either as talents alone are not enough.   

No comments:

Post a comment