Long-time dean of RSIS Barry Desker hands reins to envoy Ong Keng Yong

Barry Desker hands reins to envoy Ong Keng Yong and Prof Joseph Liow

The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) will get a new head, after longstanding dean Barry Desker steps down as dean today.

Mr Desker, who has helmed the school - and its predecessor - for 14 years, will hand the reins to Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, who will take on the post of executive deputy chairman.

The new position was created as the institution's academic and policy research responsibilities have grown.

RSIS said in a statement that the new structure will allow Mr Ong, who is Singapore's outgoing High Commissioner to Malaysia, to oversee the school's executive and administrative matters and also chart its role as a think-tank.

Meanwhile, Professor Joseph Liow, who was associate dean, has been made the dean and chief academic officer. He will focus on the school's academic development.

Mr Desker said his years at RSIS were a very satisfying period in his professional life.

"I am happy that RSIS will be in very capable hands with Ong Keng Yong and Joseph Liow at the helm. RSIS has become a leading professional school of international affairs and has developed a reputation as a policy-oriented think- tank focused on international security and regional and global affairs," he told The Straits Times.

"Together with my colleagues, we built RSIS into an institution which has contributed to major debates on regional and international issues. Keng Yong and Joseph will bring RSIS to the next level."

Mr Desker was ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1993, and headed the Trade Development Board from 1994 to 2000. He is also non-resident ambassador to the Vatican and Spain.

Under his watch, RSIS has grown from having 18 students to more than 200 a year. It also expanded its research areas to include counter-terrorism, national security, non-traditional security issues such as food security, the environment, energy security and international trade.

The school also launched the RSIS Alumni Association in August.

The autonomous institute at the Nanyang Technological University had started out as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) in 1996, led by founding director S R Nathan.

After Mr Nathan was elected President of Singapore in 1999, Mr Desker took over as director of IDSS in 2000.

Over the years, IDSS expanded, and was eventually upgraded to a full school in 2007, named after Singapore's first foreign minister, Mr S. Rajaratnam, to mark his contributions to the nation.

IDSS is now one of several centres under RSIS.

Prof Liow said RSIS has done well under Mr Desker's "visionary leadership".

"I have been privileged to be part of his leadership team in the past six years, and look forward to working with Ambassador Ong, who will be bringing with him vast experience and fine credentials," he added.

He said he hoped to work together with Mr Ong to enhance the quality of the school's academic programmes as well as policy research.

Mr Ong, a former director of Singapore's Institute of Policy Studies, has also held diplomatic posts in India, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

From today, Mr Desker will be a distinguished fellow at RSIS. The father of two said this would give him more time for family, reading, writing and attending conferences.

yuenc@sph.com.sg