Academic dependency, and is Yale-NUS and Duke-NUS proof of it in Singapore?

As an aspiring scholar, it is imperative to open your mind to concepts and ideas from a range of sources. However, academic dependency may be an undermining force that influences academic creativity and should be of interest to anyone of any discipline. Although Syed Farid Alatas discusses this in a specific context in his paper “Academic Dependency and the Global Division of Labor in the Social Sciences”, the situation is generally applicable and is quite similar in other disciplines such as the natural sciences. A particularly interesting angle is how academic dependency may frame and shape ideas, how that impacts research, and overall the trajectory of a discipline over time.

Alatas (2003) describes the dimensions of academic dependency as the dependence on ideas, media of ideas, technology of education, aid and investment, and dependence in the West for skills. The author brings up Project CAMELOT as an example that overtly implies both political and academic imperialism. Although it was quickly recognized as a mistake, government research agendas could be more open with their intentions, whether imperialistic or not. At present, the US government continues to fund research internationally which in some cases might be construed as somewhat imperialist, but proposal wording is thoroughly vetted to maintain political correctness (e.g. agriculture and food security, economic growth and trade, etc. (USAID 2013)). In the case of openness, the countries on the receiving end would at least be aware of the intentions and the implications.

Whether government research agendas of Western countries are displaying dominance overtly or not, the establishment of Yale-NUS and Duke-NUS in Singapore is proof that the West still dominates in many aspects of academics. This obvious and deliberate partnership between NUS and universities from a Western power country can be attributed at least in part to academic dependency if not majorly. Another example is how New York University (NYU) has also independently set up fully functional satellite campuses in several countries around the world, but the reverse does not seem to be happening. In addition to sharing research agendas, sharing authorship between researchers from developed and developing countries is now common practice. Dunkin found that authorship dynamics varied by discipline and between solo and multiple authorship just within University of Sydney (Dunkin 1992). It would be interesting to survey how the addition of Yale-NUS and Duke-NUS will change authorship dynamics among researchers in Singapore.

Alatas asks us to consider academic dependency a crippling handicap for the scientists in developing countries. It seems that one way to overcome this would be for those countries to look inward instead of Westward. However, it may be quite difficult to deviate from the current trajectory pushed by the West (and often pulled by non-West) because academic dependence is already so integrated and accepted and has been for quite some time. Research by the academically dependent on this topic would be greatly insightful for furthering understanding and would increase the awareness and reflection on this issue by all groups.

Literature Cited

Alatas, S. F. (2003). “Academic Dependency and the Global Division of Labour in the Social Sciences.” Current Sociology 51(6): 599-613.
Dunkin, M. (1992). “Some Dynamics of Authorship.” Australian Universities’ Review 35(1): 43-48.
USAID. (2013). “What We Do.” Retrieved 19 Feb, 2013, from http://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do.

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