Archive | March, 2011

Singapore’s First Liberal Arts College To Start In 2013

31 Mar

SINGAPORE : Singapore's first liberal arts college is all set to take in its pioneer batch of students in two years' time.

The Yale-NUS College will open its doors to the first batch of 150 students.

More details were released on Thursday after Yale University and the National University of Singapore finalised an agreement which had been delayed.

Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, president of the National University of Singapore (NUS), said: “What will be distinctive about this college would be the fact that it will bring together some of the best elements of liberal arts education that is already present in Yale (and) take some strengths from NUS and develop a new curriculum that really blends the ideas and contexts of the West with ideas and contexts of Asia.”

This is the promise of the new Yale-NUS college – the curriculum will be broad-based, involving the arts, humanities, sciences and mathematics.

And after four years, students will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts or Science with Honours, awarded by the National University of Singapore.

Professor Tan said: “This is a school in NUS, and what I think is the important and valuable element here is that Yale will be very, very involved in the curriculum, and jointly recruiting faculty (members) and jointly bringing in students.

“And what they bring to this partnership is a deep understanding, knowledge and experience with liberal arts education at its highest level.”

The size of a typical classroom will be capped at 18 students, and this is to promote interaction and an emphasis on critical thinking.

Another feature that will set Yale-NUS apart is the presence of three residential colleges that will house about 330 students each.

Professor Lily Kong, vice-president of university and global relations at NUS, said: “The residential model is, I think, by far one of the most exciting features of this college. It will entail students living on campus with some of their professors.

“What it will mean is that students will take the learning out of the classroom into the dining hall. They will continue their discussions and debates, share ideas with one another.”

NUS said the fees are expected to be higher than courses offered by NUS' Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Science Faculty.

The agreement between Yale and NUS was reached despite reservations among some Yale faculty members. They had voiced concerns on what they saw as “the lack of academic freedom” in Singapore.

But administrators from NUS said such opinions were not shared by the majority.

“They have looked quite closely at what we do in university and I think they are fully satisfied that the faculties here can do research in areas that they choose, and that they teach the topics that they cover without restrictions,” said Professor Tan.

NUS explained that there was a three-month delay in finalising the agreement, which was due late last year, because it took longer-than-expected to iron out many aspects of the agreement.

Professor Kong said: “They were all just different aspects of work that needed to be done. They needed more time than we had budgeted for, in a sense.

“Amongst those things would be working out the financials – because we needed to make sure the college would be on sound footing. It was also getting the agreement in legal terms worked out.”

Now that they have been settled, the new college has begun its search for 100 “passionate and innovative” faculty members.

After the initial intake of 150 students, the number will grow to 250 every year. So the four-year course will see the college take in a total student population of about 1,000 from Singapore as well as other countries.

Professor Kong said: “The academic quality is a given. But more than that, these must be interesting individuals who bring diverse interests and backgrounds to the classroom,” said Professor Kong.

“We don't just want Singaporeans only, because part of that diversity and that interest in the classroom is also to have some international students. So as far as what the proportion will be exactly, much depends on that diversity that steps forward. But certainly, up to 80 percent will be Singaporean students,” she added.

Yale-NUS will begin its outreach programme at junior colleges from July.

– CNA/al

Channel News Asia

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Threatens Global Supply Chain

31 Mar

SINGAPORE: A widening nuclear crisis that has already forced some shipping firms to avoid Japan's key ports and sea lanes, could upset the global supply chain and hamper the nation's recovery, analysts say.

German container shipping giant Hapag-Lloyd has halted services to the ports of Yokohama and Tokyo – the two major facilities on Tokyo Bay – over fears of radiation contaminating its vessels, crew or cargo.

Other shipping lines have not so far interrupted port calls in the Tokyo Bay region, but have established no-go zones around the Fukushima nuclear power plant crippled by the quake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan on March 11.

Radiation from the plant is a “clear and present danger” to shipping lanes and ports on Japan's northeast coast, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at consultancy IHS Global Insight.

Workers have so far failed to contain radiation leaks from the plant, which have contaminated farm produce and drinking water and prompted several countries to ban food imports from the area.

Levels of radioactive iodine-131 in the sea off the plant hit 4,385 times the legal limit on Thursday, their highest reading so far, officials said, amid a struggle to deal with large amounts of radioactive water at the site.

Officials have said that tidal dispersion means there is no immediate health threat, and that the iodine degrades relatively quickly.

Aside from health issues, radiation-tainted ships and their cargo risk being rejected by receiving ports, leading to heavy economic losses.

Authorities at the Chinese port of Xiamen last week turned away a Japanese merchant vessel over radiation concerns. The ship had sailed past the coast of Fukushima prefecture at a distance of 67 nautical miles, industry sources said.

“If more shipping lines start to restrict their ships calling at the Tokyo Bay ports of Tokyo and Yokohama, this has very severe logistical implications for Japanese trade,” Biswas told AFP.

Over one third of Japan's sea container shipments go in and out of the two ports, he said.

“Although shipments can be diverted to more southerly ports such as Kobe, it will create tremendous logistical problems for the southern ports of Japan to handle very large additional shipping volumes.”

Shipping firms carry the bulk of global trade. Small high-value goods like electronic components can be carried by air, but large items such as autos and heavy machinery would suffer in such a situation, Biswas said.

Hapag-Lloyd is currently servicing the ports of Kobe and Nagoya and will continue to monitor developments at the Tokyo and Yokohama ports, said spokeswoman Eva Gjersvik.

She added that it was too early to quantify the costs of the disruption.

“We have drawn a circle of 100 kilometres around Fukushima as a possible contaminated area and blocked all our containers within this area for further movements,” she said by email.

Hapag-Lloyd has independent surveyors carrying out radiation spot checks on its vessels serving other parts of Japan.

Danish shipping firm Maersk said it would continue calling at Japanese ports as long as it is considered safe, and its offices in Japan remain open, but it has imposed a 140-nautical mile no-go zone around Fukushima.

“We have made precautionary preparations including the availability of iodine tablets should it become necessary,” said Maersk spokesman Michael Christian Storgaard.

APL, a subdidiary of Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines, has put in place a larger exclusion zone of 200 nautical miles. Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line said its vessels continue to service Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya, but it is “closely monitoring” radiation.

Neil Davidson, a senior ports advisor at UK-based shipping consultancy Drewry, said that cargo diversion would mean extra costs for importers, exporters and shipping companies.

“Supply chains would need to be re-organised, and longer lead times built into flows,” Davidson told AFP.

“For ships, this impact would be less as the diversion to other ports might actually save sailing time. However, there is a question about the ability of other ports (or) terminals to handle more ships (or) cargo.”

Japan is a major producer of cars, heavy machinery, auto parts and electronics goods and components.

But the country's imports of iron ore and steel for reconstruction efforts – as well as oil, gas and coal for electricity – would also be hit if shipping supply lines are disrupted, affecting economic recovery, Biswas noted.

“Bringing goods and food to Japan is more vital than ever in the light of the recent earthquake and devastating tsunami,” Maersk's Stoorgaard.

– AFP/fa

Channel News Asia

IPhone Users Turning To Unauthorised Stores For Repairs

31 Mar

SINGAPORE: More iPhone users are turning to neighbourhood phone repair stores to fix damaged parts, due to high repair costs at telco providers.

Industry experts said the high costs are because, iPhone's maker, Apple, does not provide the telcos with spare parts.

Repairs for a cracked screen can cost at least S$300 at one of the telco providers.

The neighbourhood phone repair stores only replace the damaged parts of the phone – which makes it cheaper to repair.

However, they will not divulge where they get the spare parts.

Even though they are not authorised by Apple to fix the iPhones, such stores have reported good business.

Some store owners said they get between 20 and 30 customers a day.

Some shops even give their customers a one- month warranty, should the spare parts fail.

– CNA/cc

Channel News Asia

Radiation In Sea Off Japan Nuclear Plant Hits Highest Reading

31 Mar

OSAKA: The level of radioactive iodine in the sea off Japan's disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear plant has soared to its highest reading yet at 4,385 times the legal limit, the plant operator said on Thursday.

The level of iodine-131, reported a few hundred metres (yards) south of its southern water outlet has risen in a series of tests since last week, carried out by plant operator the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Previous readings there were 1,250 times the legal maximum on Friday, 1,850 times the limit on Saturday and 3,355 times the limit on Tuesday.

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant's six reactors — triggering explosions and fires, releasing radiation and sparking global fears of a widening disaster.

– AFP/fa

Channel News Asia

Japan Says No Plan To Widen Nuclear Evacuation Zone

31 Mar

SENDAI: Japan said on Thursday there were no immediate plans to widen the exclusion zone around its stricken nuclear plant, hours after the UN atomic watchdog agency voiced its concern over the issue.

The UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday radiation in a village outside the evacuation zone around the plant was above safe levels, urging that Japan reassess the situation.

In its first such call, the International Atomic Energy Agency added its voice to that of Greenpeace in warning over radioactivity in Iitate village, where the government has already told residents not to drink tap water.

Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, confirmed that “the IAEA has informed us that the level of radiation in the soil exceeded one of the IAEA standards.”

“And the IAEA has advised us to carefully assess the situation on the basis of this report,” he told a regular press conference.

When asked by a reporter whether Japan would now expand the exclusion zone, he said: “I don't think that this is something of a nature which immediately requires such action.”

Japan has struggled to contain its nuclear emergency since a 14-metre (45-foot) tsunami hit the Fukushima plant after a huge quake on March 11, with radioactive substances entering the air, sea and foodstuffs from the region.

Iitate village is 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of the crisis-hit plant – outside both the government-imposed 20 kilometre exclusion zone and the 30-kilometre “stay indoors” zone.

“The first assessment indicates that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation is exceeded in Iitate village,” the IAEA's head of nuclear safety and security, Denis Flory, told reporters in Vienna on Wednesday.

The watchdog advised Japanese authorities to “carefully assess the situation and they have indicated that it is already under assessment,” Flory said.

But he added the IAEA, which does not have the mandate to order national authorities to act, was not calling for a general widening of the exclusion zone.

Amid public fears over contamination from the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, campaign group Greenpeace called earlier Wednesday for the zone to be expanded to evacuate everyone within 30 kilometres of the plant.

It said the government should consider moving children and pregnant women beyond that, after urging Tuesday that residents of Iitate be moved.

Radiation expert Jan van der Putte said “remaining in Iitate for just a few days could mean receiving the maximum permissible annual dose of radiation”.

On Wednesday he added: “Exposing a large number of people to this level of radiation creates a collective risk which is very significant over a long term, in terms of years. Our main concern is an increased incidence of cancer.”

The reading in Iitate village was two megabecquerels per square metre, a “ratio about two times higher than levels” at which the IAEA recommends evacuations, said the head of its Incident and Emergency Centre, Elena Buglova.

The government on Monday told residents of Iitate not to drink tap water, with media reports saying 4,000 residents would be given bottled water.

The level of radioactive iodine in the sea off Fukushima nuclear plant has soared to its highest reading yet at 4,385 times the legal limit, the plant operator said Thursday.

The level of iodine-131, reported a few hundred metres south of its southern water outlet has risen in a series of tests since last week, carried out by TEPCO.

Previous readings there were 1,250 times the legal maximum on Friday, 1,850 times the limit on Saturday and 3,355 times the limit on Tuesday.

“The figures are rising further,” said nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. “We need to find out as quickly as possible the cause and stop them from rising any higher.”

Japan has halted vegetable and dairy shipments from four prefectures around the plant and briefly said tap water in Tokyo should not be drunk by infants, but called for calm and said it was taking these measures as a precaution.

However pressure to come up with fresh ideas intensified Wednesday, as Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the stricken plant, admitted it had no idea when the situation would be under control.

“Key factors are still unknown, such as how the nuclear incident will come to an end… In a word, the very difficult situation is expected to continue,” TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata told reporters.

With crucial control room functions still disabled, experts are not sure what exactly is happening inside the stricken reactors – and some international experts warned that a meltdown may already be in progress.

One of them is Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when it installed the Fukushima units, and who was quoted by Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Available reactor and radiation data from the troubled unit two “suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel” and onto the concrete floor, he was quoted as saying by the daily.

“I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards.”

Japan faces a dilemma in containing the crisis: it must pump water into reactors to stop them from overheating, even as highly radioactive runoff leaks out, halting crucial repair work and threatening the environment.

On Wednesday, it was weighing a series of solutions, from draping reactors with special fabric to sending in military robots to do the risky work.

One stop-gap measure reported by local media involved covering three badly damaged outer reactor buildings with special fabric caps and fitting air filters to limit radiation.

Another plan was to anchor an empty tanker off reactor two, so that workers can pump several Olympic swimming pools' worth of highly-radioactive runoff water into its hull, media said.

“We are in an unprecedented situation, so we need to think about different strategies, beyond what we normally think about,” an official with the nuclear safety agency told AFP.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government and nuclear experts were discussing “every possibility, including those mentioned in the press”.

Workers will on Thursday begin to carpet two-thirds of the plant's 1.2 hectares (three acres) of grounds with a resin to trap the radioactive particles, the agency said later.

The United States has lent Japan robots of a model battle-tested in Iraq and Afghanistan that can navigate, film and clear rubble in the blast-hit reactor buildings, which humans cannot enter because of very high radiation levels.

US President Barack Obama vowed continued help as he talked to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan for the third time since the disaster, which has left over 11,000 confirmed dead and more than 16,000 listed as missing.

“The United States is determined to support the people of Japan in their efforts to deal with the devastating effects of this tragedy, both in the short and the long term,” Obama said, according to the White House.

The strain of the crisis appeared to have taken a toll on TEPCO's president Masataka Shimizu, 66, who was hospitalised Tuesday evening with high blood pressure and dizziness, having not appeared in public for over two weeks.

The company's shares have plunged to about a fifth of pre-quake levels amid heavy criticism, most recently over news that it ignored expert warnings on the threat of a tsunami before a giant wave crashed into the plant on March 11.

TEPCO chairman Katsumata said he saw little chance that the four stricken reactors in the six-reactor complex could ever resume operations.

– AFP/fa

Channel News Asia

GE: SM Goh Hints To Identity Of SAF General Joining Marine Parade GRC

31 Mar

SINGAPORE: Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong gave the clearest hint yet, on which of the two SAF Generals will join the Marine Parade GRC team for the coming election.

In his latest Facebook posting, Mr Goh said the general speaks some Bahasa Indonesia.

Mr Goh has been teasing political watchers with his postings on this Facebook page over the past 2 weeks.

It was Brigadier General Tan Chuan Jin who led the Singapore Armed Forces Operations team to Banda Aceh and Meulaboh six years ago in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami which swept across several parts of Asia including India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.

Mr Goh added that the general is coming to Ubi on April 3 but without his uniform.

He will observe how the general interacts with grassroots leaders and the man-in-the-market or the street.

In his posting, Mr Goh said “from Sunday, we are ready for battle with a former general in the team”.

Apart from General Tan, other members of the Marine Parade GRC team comprise Senior Minister Goh, Mr Seah Kian Peng, Dr Fatimah Lateef and Ms Tin Pei Ling.

Marine Parade became a five-member GRC following the latest electoral boundaries review.

– CNA/fa

Channel News Asia

SOSEHSOSEH: Ambulans ‘Standby’ Untuk Rita!

31 Mar

SEBUT pasal Rita Rudaini yang tengah hamil lapan bulan, SS difahamkan daripada pihak penganjur ABPBH2010 bahawa Rita sangat teruja hendak menjadi penyampai trofi, malah sudah menempah ‘dress’ rekaan Sayfol Bahrin yang cantik warna ‘Milo’ untuk ke Genting Highlands, Ahad ini.

SS nak tergelak pun ada apabila dengar pihak penganjur terpaksa menyediakan sebuah ambulans sebagai persediaan kalau-kalau nanti ditakdirkan Rita dah sampai masa nak bersalin! Amboi hebat sungguh. Belum pernah terjadi dalam mana-mana anugerah, ambulans disediakan untuk artis. Tapi dulu pun Sharifah Shahira pernah juga bertugas dalam ABPBH ketika mengandung cuma tidak sarat macam Rita.

Kata Rita, dia sangat menghormati permintaan penganjur apabila diundang menjadi penyampai trofi dan ia membuktikan ABPBH sangat bermakna buat artis kita. Jadi bagi mereka yang diundang menjadi penyampai atau membuat persembahan pada majlis itu, SS harap akan menghargai sepenuhnya peluang yang diberikan penganjur.

Janganlah buat sambil lewa dan cakap merapu ‘meraban’. Apapun SS nak tengok dengan siapa Rita datang untuk berjalan di karpet merah ABPBH2010 nanti. Kalau ikutkan, Rita tidak boleh turun tangga Arena of Stars yang tinggi itu dan mungkin akan dibawa terus ke pentas dengan kereta. Wah gitu!

Harian Metro