Opinion: Want to work on global development issues in Asia? Start by studying there

The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Photo by: Bernard Oh / CC BY-NC

After 27 years abroad as a professor at Oxford and Harvard, I decided to return to the region where I grew up — Southeast Asia — in August 2015, to join the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore as Li Ka Shing Professor of Political Science.

What were the considerations that led me to leave the United Kingdom for Asia?

“Come back and interpret Asia” was how the dean of the school, Kishore Mahbubani persuaded me to return to Asia. I had thought that I was perfectly happy interpreting Asia from Oxford. It took me a year of teaching and researching in Singapore to appreciate the significance of professor Mahbubani’s pitch.

As power shifts from the West to the East, I found it enormously exciting to be in Asia, to watch and grapple with, the economic and political changes taking place before my very eyes. Bombarded daily by the effects of those changes — from the proliferation of competing new regional economic initiatives to shifting strategic alignments that confound conventional wisdom — I found my research agenda becoming more vibrant and even urgent. Given the growing global demand to better understand the perspectives of the new Asian powers, my colleagues and I have also been busy articulating an “Asian take” on key global developments.

4 benefits to studying in Asia:

1. Feel the pulse of a changing Asia, particularly in Singapore, a gateway to the region whose strategic location puts it at the crossroads of the vectors of change.

2. Assess the implications of these changes for global and regional development.

3. Work with a distinguished faculty at the forefront of analyzing global economic and security issues from an Asian perspective.

4. Join forces with peers from China, India, ASEAN, Japan, the Koreas, the United States and Europe to shape new thinking about global affairs and international development.

Equally relevant was the cosmopolitan makeup of the classroom. Over 80 percent of our students come from outside of Singapore, with strong representation from China, India, the ASEAN countries, the United States and Europe. My classes had an emotional resonance that I had not anticipated: imagine discussing the U.S. pivot to Asia or the economic and strategic implications of One Belt, One Road, with students from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, India and the U.S.

Teaching U.S. foreign policy, in America, for example, meant studying it from the perspective of the formulators of those policies; teaching the latter in Asia, involved debating the same policies from the perspective of those at the receiving end.

The diversity of perspectives can, on occasion, be a challenge for consensual understandings, but the greatest payoff is the ability to expose our different implicit assumptions or points of departure in enlightening and productive ways.

Woody Allen once quipped that 80 percent of life is showing up. I believe there is something to that: I would like to encourage those curious about Asia to consider showing up at the LKYSPP or other programs in the region to immerse themselves in Asia, feel its pulse, and decipher the region’s changing economic-security dynamics. Upon graduation, they would have acquired a respected degree in international affairs, an insider perspective to development in Asia and a global network of friends whose support they can count on, as they stride out to make their mark on the world.

You know you need a postgraduate degree to advance in a global development career, but deciding on a program, degree and specialization can be overwhelming. In partnership with the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, Duke Center for International Development, American University Kogod School of Business, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore and the MPA/ID Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, we are digging into all things graduate school and global development in a weeklong series called Grad School Week. Join online events and read more advice on pursuing a postgraduate education here.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Khong Yuen Foong

    Professor Khong Yuen Foong is Li Ka Shing Professor of Political Science at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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