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Perceptions of the European Union among Tertiary Education Students in Singapore

Article contribution to the Asia-Europe Journal by Assoc Prof Barnard E Turner, Senior Fellow, EU Centre & Academic Convenor, European Studies Programme, FASS, NUS

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In the first such study here, Assoc Prof Barnard Turner polled some 700 students from Singapore’s three main universities during the third quarter of 2008 to assess their perceptions of the European Union/Europe.  They represented a statistically valid 1% of students at NUS, NTU and SMU, a demographically important group. The survey extends an earlier project led by National Centre for Research on Europe (NCRE), which measured media, public and elite perceptions of the EU in Asia. The chapter on Singapore, by A/Prof Turner and Ma Shaohua, is available in the volume “The EU through the Eyes of Asia” edited by Martin Holland et al (Singapore-Warsaw 2007), also profiled in this website’s section. The results of the university survey mirrored the NCRE survey only in some respects; other results were “surprising”. In spite of being one of Singapore’s top trading partners, tertiary students put China, Asia, India and the US ahead of the EU in importance, perhaps suggesting that respondents are more certain of Asia’s role as a region than for Europe’s. EU-China relations were ranked higher in impacting EU/Europe-Singapore relations than the Asia-Europe Meeting. Interestingly, zones where there were a higher proportion of Asian respondents registered a lower interest in EU/Europe. Still, the survey overall found strong interest in both the EU and Europe, albeit a low level of actual knowledge as to the specifics of what constitutes the Union. 9 in 10 believed they could or should know more about EU/Europe. But students were equally divided when asked if they could make clear distinction between the EU and Europe as a whole.  They were unclear on how far the EU’s eastern geographic boundaries extend. Only 1.4 in 100 got the task right, most of whom were European exchange students! Substantial numbers omitted Finland, half omitted the Baltics, and many, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus, perhaps in a sign that the EU tends to be perceived as a ‘Western European’ construct, or that Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ still remains for many an operational mindset. 2 in 5 did not recognize the EU flag. Then again, fewer students could identify the ASEAN flag. Gender, year of study and frequency of access to media did not seem to affect the results significantly. The level of interest in the EU has yet to lead to higher recruitment numbers for European Studies.  Turner suggested that visits to European companies, over 2000 of which have offices in Singapore, events such as sponsored movie nights and adopting a more holistic approach by focusing more on European culture, informal talks and outreach activities, might prove useful to gradually expand the idea of Europe.

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