Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: Building a Global Policy School in Asia by Kishore Mahbubani and others - book review

Summary and takeaways from the book.

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy is a global public policy school in Singapore.

The book is "It is part history and part reflective memoir and it contains both analysis and anecdote."

ISBN: 978-9814417211
Published: Sep 2, 2012
Pages: 208
Available on: amazon

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy is a global public policy school in Singapore.

The book is "It is part history and part reflective memoir and it contains both analysis and anecdote."

In this book "a few key participants in the growth of the School to reflect on their experiences".

The authors are Kishore Mahbubani, Stavros N. Yiannouka, Scott A. Fritzen, Astrid S. Tuminez, Kenneth Paul Tan.

Good governance

Governance is concerned with "role of the state and its relationship with the individual".

"most if not all political philosophers reached the same broad conclusions: that “the state came about as a means of securing life itself [and] it continues into being to secure the good life.

leaders and officeholders of state should cultivate in [themselves] the capacity to ease the lot of the whole populace

Governance and public policy is about "how best to organise and govern society".

Shifting power centers

"By the mid-1930s the centre of gravity in the study of public administration began to shift away from Germany and towards the United States".

The approach to governance and public policy in Germany and Europe before 1930's was "primarily concerned with the inner workings of government bureaucracies". This continued as center of education of governance and public policy shifted to USA.

In 1960's, this was supplemented by "quantitative, analytical approaches".

After 1960's social issues also became prominent.

The change for 21st century is that governance and public policy is global. This is driven by realization that major challenges are global: COVID, climate crisis, globalization and deglobalization, mass migration, global poverty, changes in geopolitics from unipolar to multi polar world, and shift of wealth from West to East.

In addition, some challenges are "interdependence, complexity and systemic risk; roles of states, societies and markets; The pace of change is accelerating".


"We were acutely aware when we started the School that many Asian societies were on the right economic track. The big challenge they faced was whether they could develop the strong political, social and administrative institutions to keep this economic growth going".

Bias against Asian ideas

"This bias towards the Western experience has also created a problem for faculty in Asian schools.

Since they live in and write about Asian societies, their chances of getting published in leading Western journals are much less than those of Western scholars. However, to get 'tenure' in a leading global university like the National University of Singapore, they have to publish in leading journals, which are mainly Western journals.

In short, Asian social scientists do not compete on a level playing field with Western social scientists


Prof. Kishore Mahbubani writes: "I asked Joe Nye what the curriculum of a public policy school should consist of. He replied, 'Kishore, it should rest on three pillars: Economics, Politics and Leadership and Management courses.'"

Discussing failures

Prof. Kishore Mahbubani gives an example: "there has also been cross-cultural misunderstanding in our School".

"Some students from China were upset that in the process of discussing a case study from China, some of the 'failures' of that case were also discussed.

The students regarded that as a national insult and protested vigorously.

We had to carefully and patiently explain to them that their role at the LKY School was not to serve as ambassadors of their country but as students. Students can only learn from critical enquiry and ques- tioning. Indeed, we emphasised that they would be more valuable to their country if they could dissect and learn from their country’s failures as much as their successes. In subsequent years, I made it a point to emphasise to all incoming classes that they should act not as ambassadors but as critics of their own countries in classrooms

Independent Student Initiatives

"Student community is the independent initiatives that the students have taken on their own volition. Without much prodding from the School, they set up their own journal, called the Asian Journal of Public Affairs (AJPA)".

Physical Location and Beauty matters

"'professors of good universities have a much more positive attitude towards their work'. And what was his answer? 'One reason may be that most of our colleges and universities are physically attractive. The very notion of campus evolves in our minds a picture of dress, lawns and imposing structures.' The LKY School is blessed with all these elements."


Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy has almost a million dollars for each student in its endowment - USD270 million for 300 students. It has the third highest endowment of any public school.

"Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and his Cabinet worked hard to raise money. Mr. Lim Boon Heng was put in charge. He made direct phone calls to many. As a result, SGD67 million was raised, of which SGD4 million was used for a Discovery Channel documentary on Singapore".

"All the funds we have collected for the endowment fund are invested by the NUS Investment Office. In return, we get a payout of approximately 4 percent a year from the endowment fund. Hence, when our endowment fund approaches USD300 million, we should get a guaranteed base of USD12 million a year (or over SGD15 million of income per year). This will provide a healthy financial base for the School over the long term".

Small market

The Market for Public Policy Education is relatively small. "4,000 applicants for the MBA programme while we get 750 applicants on average for our MPP, MPA and MPM programmes every year."

"why more young people prefer business schools to public policy schools is that a graduate of a good business school gets an immediate financial reward. As a Forbes article put it, 'Graduates at the top business schools typically get their hefty investment back within four years of leaving school... it would be practically impossible to do this because most civil services in the world (with the possible exception of Singapore) pay relatively poorly".

Success and praise

"The well-known Washington Post columnist, Matt Miller, put it well when he said, 'Singapore thus stands as the leading modern example of how development as pragmatic problem-solver can dramatically improve people's lives. This ethos has virtually disappeared from U.S. governance at the national level".

"He added, 'The island’s real ideology is pragmatic problem-solving. It works thanks to cultural traditions that let this eclectic blend flourish. The system is nurtured by talented, highly paid officials who have the luxury of governing for the long-term without being buffeted much by politics'".

Related articles

From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 by Lee Kuan Yew
The ASEAN Miracle: A Catalyst for Peace by Kishore Mahbubani, Jeffery Sng

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