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Dr Tony Tan said we shldn't make it too difficult for foreign talents to come - 19Jul2011

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Published on Jul 19, 2011

SINGAPORE: Former Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Tony Tan, said he believes in a higher education policy that puts Singaporeans first.

But he said this is different from a "Singaporeans only" policy.

Speaking at a public lecture at the Singapore Management University, Dr Tan said as an international city, it would be a mistake for Singapore to close its doors to foreigners.

""Singaporeans first" is different from saying "Singaporeans only". While putting Singaporeans first, we should not make it too difficult for international talent to come to Singapore. Finding the right balance is not going to be easy but we must try," said Dr Tan.

He said the primary responsibility is to citizens and that's why they have priorities in school admission and in scholarships for further studies.

Dr Tan was education minister in the 1980s and later oversaw the development of the university sector.

In his lecture on higher education, Dr Tan highlighted three challenges.

These include the unprecedented growth of China and India as well as demographic shifts.

He said Singapore needs a system that is comprehensive, flexible and open and believes these values will help Singaporeans tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Dr Tan said he was offering his views as a private citizen.

Since announcing his bid to be President, some have questioned the policies he had implemented.

During the question and answer session, he was asked by Professor Koh Tai Ann from the Nanyang Technological University if there were any policies he felt had been wrong.

Dr Tan did not give any examples, but said his general approach was to study the past, while looking to the future.

"It's more beneficial I think to look ahead and to see what are the new issues that will come up, the new challenges, rather than to spend a lot of time discussing what might have happened, what I did right, what I did wrong."

After the event, Dr Tan was further quizzed by reporters on the Graduate Mothers Scheme. He was asked why he spoke out publicly against the policy only after it had been rolled back, and if this was a sign that he was not independent-minded.

Dr Tan said the scheme was one of the first issues he took up when he became education minister in 1985, and managed to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to drop the policy as he felt it was unfair and not fulfilling its purpose.

When asked about his stand in 1984 which was the year the policy was implemented, Dr Tan said, "I see little benefit in going back to see what might have happened. One looks at the issue when one has the authority to act about it. And the important thing is when you have the authority, you should exercise it wisely."

When asked what could be done to further the education sector, Dr Tan said while the Elected President has no executive authority, he can make an impact by drawing attention or championing the cause by school visits and talks with educators.

Dr Tan was also asked if he would ever approve a limitless guarantee on all bank deposits.

The question came from Mr JP Tan, an entrepreneur who was in the audience. He noted that in 2008 at the height of the recession, President S R Nathan approved a potential draw on the reserves, which enabled the government to guarantee all bank deposits, back by some S$150 billion from its reserves.

Referring to the unprecedented decision by Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, to provide "unlimited quantities of money" to keep the US economy afloat following the Lehman Brothers collapse, Dr Tan said if those actions had not been taken, Singapore and the rest of the world would have been worse off.

"One never says never. One never knows what the future will bring about. You have to look at the circumstances of each problem, the importance to Singapore, the consequences of what will happen if you do the wrong decisions.

"It's not the action that is important, but do you have the reserves? Do you have the backing, the ability to take this action?"

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