Donald Low (Singapore Academic)

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Donald Low
Donald Low.jpg
EducationBachelor of Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Master of International Public Policy (MIPP)
Alma materOxford University, John Hopkins University

Donald Low How Tian (born 1973) is an academic professor, consultant and author with a background in economics and international public policy. From 2012 to 2018, he served as the Associate Dean for research and executive education at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) in the National University of Singapore (NUS).[1] At the time of writing, Donald Low is based in Hong Kong as the Director of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)'s Institute for Emerging Market Studies (IEMS).[2][3] He is also an Associate Partner at the political advisory firm, Centennial Asia Advisors where he works with clients from governments, multinational corporations and educational institutions.[2][4]

Background[edit | edit source]

Education[edit | edit source]

Donald Low studied at Oxford University, where he graduated with a double first class honours in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He then pursued his graduate studies at John Hopkins University, where he received a Master's degree in International Public Policy from the School of Advanced International Studies.[5]

Early career in government service[edit | edit source]

Donald Low (left) pictured at the Administrative Service dinner in 2005. Photo credit to MICA.

After completing his tertiary studies, Donald Low held various administrative positions with the Singapore government for over 15 years. Notably, he was the Director of Fiscal Policy at the Ministry of Finance from 2004 to 2005.[6] He then served as the Director of the Strategic Policy Office in the Public Service Division from 2006 to 2007.[1] In June 2012, Donald Low was a guest speaker representing Singapore at the inaugural conference of the ASEAN Coalition for Clean Governance in Penang, Malaysia.[7]

Career in academia[edit | edit source]

Donald Low delivering a seminar at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in 2019. Photo from source.

Donald Low is a Singaporean academic who has written and published commentaries about Singaporean economics, governance and public policies.[8][9][10] Speaking at a research seminar titled "Challenging The Singapore Consensus" that was organised by the City University of Hong Kong in 2016, he said:

"I think among development policy circles, they are quite misguided in espousing the view that developing countries should try to copy or mimic the Singapore model... My central argument is this: I don't think the Singapore model can be copied, certainly not in its entirety. If it turns out that the Singapore model can be copied, I'm not sure the outcome would be desirable for those countries that copied it".[11]

Donald Low has also been a speaker at various other lectures, seminars and round tables in the course of his academic career.[12][13][14][15] Over the years, he has built professional partnerships with contemporary academics such as Cherian George and PJ Thum, one of the founders of New Naratif.

National University of Singapore (2012 - 2018)[edit | edit source]

In October 2012, Donald Low started working for NUS as an Associate Dean of executive research and education at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).[1] He led the executive education efforts at the LKYSPP and also took charge of its case study unit. In April 2018, it was announced that he had resigned from NUS.[16] In a Facebook post, Donald Low posted a statement about his resignation, saying:

“For the record, I’m leaving on very good and happy terms with the school. It’s been a very meaningful and fulfilling 5.5 years, and I’ve enjoyed working with colleagues and students. I will miss them very much. I’m also looking forward to some serious holidaying.”[16]

Despite resigning, he continued working with LKYSPP in the capacity of an advisor from May 2018 to December 2018.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (2019 - current)[edit | edit source]

In January 2019, Donald Low started working as a professor of practice in Public Policy and the Director of Leadership and Public Policy Executive Education at the Institute of Public Policy in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).[5] In January 2020, Donald was appointed as the Director of HKUST’s Institute for Emerging Market Studies (IEMS) which researches business and policy issues in emerging markets.[17]

Publications[edit | edit source]

Donald Low has authored three books as of October 2020. He has also written several original articles about Singapore for Academia SG, a website founded in 2019 by a group of Singaporean scholars.[18] In July 2020, he co-authored an article about the Singapore General Elections titled, Why Singapore may lose, whatever the final score that reflected on the People Action Party's "negative campaign".[19]

PAP v. PAP (2020)[edit | edit source]

The cover of Donald Low and Cherian George's latest publication, released in October 2020.

In October 2020, Donald Low released PAP vs PAP; a commentary on the political landscape in Singapore and how the People’s Action Party (PAP) have struggled to adapt to changes in the country.[20][21] In an interview with Yahoo! News, he said:

"What the pandemic revealed and what became clear over the course of GE2020 was that serious doubts have emerged over Singapore's model of elite governance. We've always valorised [and] prioritised having a strong, competent elite government but the pandemic has shown that it needs to go beyond that... you can't just rely on a small group of technocrats to guide the country. You really need to complement a strong state with what scholars call 'strong society'."[20]

Donald Low co-authored the book with the former political journalist for The Straits Times, Cherian George who currently works as a professor of media studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University.[22] The book was self-published by the two academics.[8]

Hard Choices (2014)[edit | edit source]

In October 2014, Donald Low released Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, a book written about Singapore’s governance which discusses topics such as policy issues, social welfare and meritocracy.[23][24] He co-authored the book with the political writer, Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, with contributions from Linda Lim and PJ Thum.[9] The book was first published by NUS Press.

Behavioural Economics and Policy Design (2011)[edit | edit source]

Donald Low authored his first book in 2011. Titled Behavioural Economics and Policy Design: Examples from Singapore, the book cited examples of how the Singapore government successfully integrated and applied behavioural economics and economics principles with policy implementation.[25] The book was first published by World Scientific Publishing.[10]

Newsworthy incidents[edit | edit source]

Removal from NUS webinar (October 2020)[edit | edit source]

Cherian George (left) and Donald Low. Photo from Yahoo! News Singapore.

On 1 November 2020, Donald Low was scheduled to appear as a panellist alongside the former political journalist, Cherian George on the “Public Discourse: Truth and Trust” webinar.[26] The event was organised by the Raffles Hall Association (RHA), a group run by NUS Raffles Hall alumni.[27] The panellists were also engaged to promote their new book, PAP vs PAP.

Abrupt replacement[edit | edit source]

On 28 October, online users noticed that the RHA had put up a new flyer featuring a different slate of speakers. In an interview with the news site, TODAY, Cherian George stated that neither he nor Donald Low had been notified by RHA or NUS about the last-minute change.[28] On 29 October, Donald Low released a statement on his Facebook discussing his removal from the webinar:

“A few friends had messaged me to ask if I was upset about the cancellation of the Raffles Hall talk, I should say that I’m not unhappy with the way things turned out. Of course, I’m a bit cheesed off with the lack of collegiality and courtesy by the organisers who did not even email me to tell me the event has been cancelled. But I'm glad that I no longer have to speak on a Sunday evening to what is likely to be a small audience. Neither my co-author nor I had asked to be invited for this.”[29]

The former journalist, Bertha Henson also weighed in on the topic in an article that questioned the motives of the organisers.[30] According to Raffles Hall Association’s Facebook page, the two academics had been replaced by the former journalist, Al Ramirez Dizon and the NUS lecturer, Shobha Avadhan.[31]

Criticism of Minister K. Shanmugam (April 2017)[edit | edit source]

Pictured: Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K. Shanmugam (left) and Donald Low.

In April 2017, Donald Low made headlines when he posted comments on Facebook in response to Minister of Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam’s interview with the news site, TODAY.[32] Donald Low was quoted to have said the following in response to Minister Shanmugam’s comments on penalties for criminal offences:

“Making laws on the basis of public opinion is populism by another name. If criminal punishments are to reflect only public opinion, one may as well just run an opinion poll each time someone has been convicted.”[33]

Response & subsequent apology[edit | edit source]

Minister Shanmugam responded to Donald’s comments through a Facebook post saying that he had misconstrued his words. Minister Shanmugam's post reads as such:

“Academics, like Donald, have every right to criticise statements made by others, in particular on issues of public importance. But to be meaningful, and sensible, it will be first useful to read and understand what has been said, before jumping in to criticise. Otherwise the commentator does no credit to himself or his institution. Particularly an institution which carries Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s name.”[34]

Donald Low subsequently made two public apologies to Minister Shanmugam, the second one coming after Donald deemed his first apology “insincere and self-exculpatory”. He posted his apology on Facebook, saying:

“I had read the piece (Minister Shanmugam’s interview) in full, but didn’t give your comments sufficient attention in my post. I apologise for that. I accept that my criticism of your views was untruthful, unfair and unsubstantiated. I have let the LKY School down. But above all, I’m sorry for my original post; it was impulsive and reckless.”[35]

References/ Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Seow, Bei Yi. “LKY School associate dean Donald Low resigns”. The Straits Times. April 4, 2018. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Donald Low. LinkedIn. n.d. Accessed on 30 October 2020. Retrieved from:
  3. "Donald Low". HKUST IEMS. Accessed on 3 October 2020.
  4. Who We Are”. Centennial Asia Advisors. n.d. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Biography”. Division of Public Policy. n.d. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  6. Mr Donald Low is Associate Dean”. NanoPDF. February 27, 2018. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  7. PENANG INSTITUTE. "ASEAN Coalition for Clean Governance 2012 | Plenary Session 3 (PART 1)". YouTube. August 9, 2012. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "PAP v PAP: The Party’s struggle to adapt to a changing Singapore". Books Kinokuniya Singapore. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus”. NUS Press. n.d. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Behavioural Economics and Policy Design : Examples from Singapore [Hardcover]". Books Kinokuniya Singapore. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  11. SEARC CityU. "Challenging The Singapore Consensus". YouTube. April 13, 2016. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  12. Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. "[Q&A] Does the Nordic Model still work?". YouTube. April 23, 2015. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  13. "Asia Journalism Forum 2016: Presentation by associate Professor Donald Low". YouTube. October 24, 2016. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  14. Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. "[Lecture] Governing Global-City Singapore: Legacies and Futures after Lee Kuan Yew". YouTube. October 4, 2018. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  15. SEARCH CityU. "Authoritarian governance and Singapore's developmental state: The roundtable". YouTube. April 22, 2019. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Academic Donald Low resigns as associate dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy”. Channel News Asia. April 3, 2018. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  17. About IEMS”. HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies. n.d. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  18. "About us". Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  19. Low, Donald and George, Cherian. "GE2020: Why Singapore may lose, whatever the final score". July 7, 2020. Accessed on 3 September 2020.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Dhany Osman. “On The Mic: 5 choice quotes from 'PAP vs PAP' by Cherian George and Donald Low”. Yahoo! News. October 14, 2020. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  21. Dhany Osman. "PAP reform will benefit both party and Singapore, say academics in new book". Yahoo! News Singapore. October 9, 2020. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  22. "About me". Cherian George. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  23. Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus”. Goodreads. n.d. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  24. Lee, Howard. “From Hard Truths to Hard Choices – Singapore thinkers take on PAP’s entrenched governance mindset in new book”. The Online Citizen. October 20, 2015. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  25. Behavioural economics and policy design: Examples from Singapore”. ResearchGate. n.d. Accessed on 2 November 2020.
  26. Yuen Sin and Koh, Fabian. "Academics Cherian George, Donald Low replaced as speakers in webinar organised by NUS alumni group". The Straits Times. October 29, 2020. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  27. Daud, Sulaiman. “Academics Cherian George & Donald Low replaced as guest speakers of webinar organised by alumni of NUS hall”. Mothership. October 28, 2020. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  28. Oh, Tessa. “NUS alumni group replaces academics Cherian George, Donald Low as panellists for public discourse webinar”. TODAYonline. October 29, 2020. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  29. Donald Low. "I wasn’t planning to promote PAP v PAP some more". Facebook. October 29, 2020. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  30. Henson, Bertha. "Truth and trust, but no info". Bertha Harian. October 30, 2020. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  31. Raffles Hall Association. "RAFFLES HALL ALUMNI LEARNING #6". Facebook. October 27, 2020. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  32. Lee, Jeremy. “Minister Shanmugam Says LKY School Academic Donald Low Should “Read And Understand” Before Criticising”. Mustshare News. April 28, 2017. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  33. "K. Shanmugam rebukes academic Donald Low over remarks misrepresenting his comments on criminal sentencing". The Straits Times. April 27, 2017. Accessed on 3 November 2020.
  34. K Shanmugam Sc. "< Criminal Law and Public Opinion >". Facebook. April 27, 2017. Accessed on 30 October 2020.
  35. Chua, Alfred. “My first apology was insincere: Donald Low to Shanmugam". TODAYonline. May 11, 2017. Accessed on 30 October 2020.