betty November 4, 2020

Dr Jeremy Fernando, a former lecturer and Tembusu College fellow at the National University of Singapore, was recently dismissed for being in an intimate relationship with an undergraduate. In Parliament yesterday, Minister of State for Education Sun

In the past five years, the institutes of higher learning here handled a total of 172 cases of sexual misconduct committed by students and staff.

Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling disclosed this figure in Parliament yesterday as she stressed her ministry’s zero-tolerance policy towards such cases at Singapore’s six autonomous universities, five polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Teaching staff and students are expected to uphold professional codes of conduct in their interactions, she said.

“So when there is a breach of those codes of conduct, the punishments are swift,” said Ms Sun in response to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), adding that both students and staff can be suspended or dismissed from school for their actions.

The figure of 172 sexual misconduct cases between 2015 and last year translates into an incidence rate of 0.12 for every 1,000 staff and students, she said.

Ms Sun’s response follows the recent incident involving Dr Jeremy Fernando, a former lecturer and Tembusu College fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who was sacked on Oct 7 for being in an intimate relationship with an undergraduate – a breach of NUS’ code of conduct for staff.

The undergraduate, along with another student, also alleged that Dr Fernando made non-consensual advances towards them. NUS has filed a police report.

Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) asked if the Education Ministry plans to engage relevant experts to provide training and sensitisation to staff on how to handle sexual assault cases, given that children are getting exposed to sexual material and content at a much earlier age through digital media.

To this, Ms Sun said NUS has set up a victim care unit to handle cases of sexual assault and similar units are in place at other autonomous universities.

On top of that, schools also provide sexuality education that is targeted at different age groups, with teachers providing specific scenarios in secondary schools so that students will know how they can protect themselves. Sexuality education teachers also receive specialised training, she said.

Workers’ Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) asked if investigations into complaints about sexual violence and sexual misconduct can be conducted independently – by parties outside of the universities or institutions where such cases have been reported.

Responding, Ms Sun said the police carry out independent investigations when there are concerns about serious offences that may have occurred, after a police report has been made.

Otherwise, in institutes of higher learning, a board of discipline would be convened to investigate the offence. Students are included on the board to provide perspectives on the issue.

“Investigations are carried out through campus security and the issue is very seriously considered by senior management,” she added.