SINGAPORE: The six Autonomous Universities (AUs) in Singapore handled 56 disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct by their students in the last three academic years, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Monday (May 6).
Of them, 14 cases were committed outside of campuses.
Seventeen cases happened in Academic Year 2015, 18 in Academic Year 2016 and 21 cases in Academic Year 2017.
Twenty five out of the 56 cases were from the National University of Singapore (NUS), two from Yale-NUS which has its own Board of Discipline separate from NUS, 20 were from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and six were from Singapore Management University (SMU).
Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) each had one case.
Among them, 37 cases were related to voyeurism such as peeping toms and filming of people in vulnerable positions, Mr Ong revealed.
The minister was responding to questions from Members of Parliament (MP) Lim Biow Chuan and Desmond Choo as well as and non-constituency MP Leon Perera on the number of sexual misconduct cases involving students of the AUs and the disciplinary frameworks in place at universities.
The number of cases for each AU is closely related to their student numbers, said Mr Ong. He added that the number of sexual misconduct cases involving student perpetrators per 1,000 students hovered at 0.21, 0.21 and 0.2 over the last three years showing "no discernible trend".
Of the 56 cases, the victims in 37 cases reported the crime to the police. Four cases are still under investigation and there was insufficient evidence to make out offences in two of them, he said.
Of the remaining 31, 10 cases were "serious offences" and resulted in jail terms of between 10 days and eight months, Mr Ong said. These include cases of outrage of modesty or multiple instances of voyeurism.
In addition to police investigations, the universities also carry out their own disciplinary processes and mete out a combination of penalties within its power. These range from official reprimand which will be reflected in a student's formal educational record, to suspensions and expulsions, Mr Ong said.
Five out of the 56 cases are still awaiting disciplinary hearings, while four students have withdrawn from the university before sanctions were imposed.
Out of the remaining 47 cases, 34 resulted in an official reprimand, 26 resulted in suspension of up to two academic terms and 20 were banned from entering students' dormitories.
"They do not add up to 47 because cases typically receive a combination of penalties," Mr Ong said.
In determining appropriate sanctions in each case, Mr Ong said the university's disciplinary body takes into account the severity of the misconduct and any mitigating factors, such as how remorseful and forthcoming the offender was during investigations, the potential for rehabilitation, and the presence of any mental health issues.
For offenders with psychiatric conditions, mandatory counselling and psychological treatment will be required.
"But if we look at the 10 police cases involving serious offences which led to jail sentences, there was only one expulsion, which was subsequently reduced to an 18-month suspension after appeal and taking into account of the offender's psychiatric condition," Mr Ong said.
AUs WILL NEED TO REVIEW THEIR DISCIPLINARY FRAMEWORK
He said that there are "two strong reasons" why the universities' disciplinary frameworks need to be reviewed to strengthen the penalties.
First, there is a need to "better balance" the objectives of deterrence and redress for the victims against rehabilitation of the offender.
"Balancing these objectives is important for an education institution, but it should not end up with penalties that are too lenient and have too soft a bite," Mr Ong said.
"'Two strikes and you're out' cannot be the standard application. But neither should expulsions be the default for all forms of misconduct," he added.
There has to be a "significant" adjustment at the most egregious end of the spectrum of misconducts when they are serious criminal offences that undermine the safety and security of university campuses, he said.
Mr Ong added that if the offender is remorseful and has accepted and been served punishment, he deserves a chance to make good.
Second, Singapore must recognise that voyeurism is a growing concern. With growing exposure to the Internet at an early age and technological advances that have made video recording easier and more undetectable, this has led some to think that voyeurism is not a serious offence.
"The young today grow up with the Internet. They are exposed to pornography websites. They know of miniature photography and recording devices and sometimes they get it through their WhatsApp. Over time, they may have the idea that this is no big deal. This is what we are worried about. It doesn't manifest in terms of higher incidence rates, at least over the last three years ... but we do worry about this underlying trend," Mr Ong said.
"As our circumstances change, the AUs must likewise keep up with the times and ensure that their policies and processes remain relevant in establishing a safe and supportive environment for all students," the minister said.
Across AUs, polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Educations (ITEs), disciplinary frameworks will be reviewed, he added.
MP Foo Mee Har asked if MOE would consider prescribing minimum standards to the disciplinary actions that will be meted out for as the universities are reviewing its disciplinary frameworks.
In response, Mr Ong said that the ministry needs to respect the autonomy of AUs in having their own board and governing themselves, separate from MOE.
"For us to issue standards, codes or rules to the universities, I think it would not be appropriate. We can do that for polytechnics because they are statutory boards and for ITEs," Mr Ong explained.
OPPORTUNITY TO REFLECT ON CHARACTER OF SOCIETY
Mr Ong said the strong reaction to Ms Monica Baey's situation showed that people in Singapore have a strong sense of justice, who see the importance of differentiating between right and wrong.
"But we should always refrain from trial by media, doxxing and resorting to mob justice. No matter how wrong an offender is, we need to respect the due process," Mr Ong said.
"During this episode, the harshest punishment for Nicholas Lim came from social media. I hope that as a society, we will give him and his family the time and space they need, to reflect on his actions, to turn over a new leaf and move forward," he added.