Singapore urges students to earn PhDs in biomedics

Singapore officials are concerned that if students aren't willing to be in school for the long haul, there won't be enough homegrown talent to fuel their biomedical industry - one of the country's most economically promising sectors.

"Many young people in Singapore, they finish their first degree and happily go to work," says Economic Development Board (EDB) chairman Philip Yeo, who is spearheading the city-state's drive toward the life sciences. "But in the biomedical centers,... if you don't have a PhD, you can be a test- tube cleaner or technician."

Few students want to add 10 years onto their studies to train in biomedical sciences. Many also worry that there will not be jobs at home after they go abroad to study.

Singapore has earmarked $3 billion ($1.6 billion US) to boost research and development in the field. The EDB has separately set aside $500 million a year for biomedical PhD scholarships, fellowships, and exchange programs to overseas universities.

A "Biopolis" dedicated to biomedical research will be ready by 2003 and will offer close to 1,000 jobs, as would other projects, officials say. These gaps would have to be filled by Europeans, Americans, and Japanese for now.

A new College of Life Sciences is set to open by 2003. Yeo says it will take five to 10 years to build a local pool of expert talent. "We need young people who are willing to take a long term view of education," he says.

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