As the United Kingdom (UK) and Singapore observe two centuries of relations, former British High Commissioner to Singapore, Mr Scott Wightman, calls for deeper partnerships in the education and economic sectors.
In an interview with The IAS Gazette in May, Mr Wightman suggested enhancing students’ educational experiences between the two states.
This could be done by opening up visa channels for students and exploring ways to create cross-cultural internship opportunities for students in both countries.
While Singaporeans can now speed up their entry into Britain after the automated ePassport gates (e-gates) service was extended to them in May, the encouraging of cross-cultural employment has not yet been explored.
Believing that it is something that both countries can look to develop in the future, Mr Wightman cited three reasons: “Firstly, it is clear that students would be attracted by that offer.
“Secondly, companies on both sides would significantly benefit from the context that would build-up, and from that, we get to develop cultural and social awareness within those companies.
“Lastly, it would generate new strings of businesses…into further innovation so I think it is something that we should try to make it happen.”
Earlier this year, both countries built on the commemoration of the bicentennial year by signing the Singapore-United Kingdom Partnership for the Future.
The partnership will see both sides build on existing links and strengthen collaboration, particularly in these four areas: the digital economy, sustainable business and innovation, security and defence, and education, culture and youth.
To date, over 12 Memoranda of Understanding have been signed, with more than 30 partner organisations involved, and some 100 branded events that have been held in both countries.
When quizzed about specific educational collaborations with regards to the partnership, Mr Wightman, who completed his four-year stint in Singapore last month, highlighted the recent launch of the My House of Memories application, a museum-led dementia awareness training programme.
The programme, which saw the British Council, National Heritage Board (NHB), and National Museums Liverpool signing a Memorandum of Understanding in April, is an 18-month programme that “helps people with dementia to open up and engage in conversations based around objects that are held within the museum’s collection.”
“This is a lovely example of the partnership working in the cultural sphere but (at the same time) it is also related to innovation and digital economy,” said the former high commissioner who is starting his new role as the director of external affairs in the Scottish government.
Mr Wightman also co-edited 200 Years Of Singapore And The United Kingdom with Singapore Ambassador-at-Large, Mr Tommy Koh. He revealed that while he encountered a lot of interesting information such as the challenges the British military administration faced immediately after the liberation of Singapore and Malaya in 1945, and the longer-term positive political consequences that came after; reading about Britain’s role in the past could get uncomfortable at times.
Upon elaborating, he said there were a couple of essays which focused more on social relationships and the treatment of culture, particularly in the late 19th century that brought up the stark, overt racism that was present then.
But he quickly added that the essays were definitely “instructive ones”.
Questions about Brexit and how it would impact the UK’s relations with Singapore and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region were answered rather positively by Mr Wightman.
Explaining that goods export to Singapore has increased by 30 per cent over the last four years, Mr Wightman noted that this is a reflection of the increased UK business and engagement in the region.
The British government is also looking to the possibility of acceding to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, he added.
According to The Straits Times, the trade deal that accounts for 13.2 per cent of the global economy, 15 per cent of global trade and a market of 500 million people, depending on the terms of departure of the European Union (EU).
Signatories include Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Canada and Mexico.
Despite these optimistic opportunities, a leaked diplomatic cable last month revealed that Mr Wightman had warned of the “lasting damage” to Britain’s reputation caused by the political disarray surrounding Britain’s exit from the EU.
Furthermore, Singaporean leaders were “mystified as to how our political leaders allowed things to get to this pass”.
He added that major investors were also looking to direct more of their investments in Europe towards Germany and France.
While this means Brexit is still stirring uncertainty in the future, one of the positive reactions that Mr Wightman emphasised during the interview is that it can act as an opportunity to ride on global trends and develop the UK’s future economic development in the Indo-Pacific region.
“British companies and universities realised the need to broaden their horizons and we have been seeing a lot of them coming to this part of the world, and in particular, Singapore.
“They are identifying ways to grow their businesses and establish long-term partnerships with leading institutions in Southeast Asia to develop joint research collaborations that bring about stronger relationships with the region.”