New S$37m NUS institute set up to study risk across various sectors

National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.
National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) has launched a new institute to study risk, together with a United Kingdom foundation.

The Lloyd's Register Foundation has donated 10 million pounds ($17,644,017) to set up the institute, the largest foreign gift for research NUS has received to date.

The Lloyd's Register Foundation Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk is the first of its kind in Asia.

It will study and enhance public dialogue on risk, to better help policy makers, business leaders, scientists and the general public make decisions on safety.

Lloyd's is a UK-based charity that supports research, training and education to safeguard life and property.

Besides Lloyd's funding, NUS has also contributed 11 million pounds ($19,438,068) towards the institute.

The institute, which will be based at NUS's Kent Ridge campus, will have about 50 researchers across a broad range of disciplines from engineering to data analytics. They will tackle problems that cut across sectors and geographical boundaries.

For instance, a recent NUS risk perception study in China and India showed that people overestimated the likelihood of events with low true frequency, such as death from terrorist attacks and food poisoning.

But they underestimated the likelihood of events with high true frequency, such as cybercrime.

Such findings highlight the disparity between actual risk and perceived risk. The new institute aims to bridge this gap.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who was guest of honour at the launch, said: "All of us have to deal with risks on a daily basis - be it our health, safety or financial risks, to name but a few. But the reality is that we are not very good at assessing and evaluating risks."

Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance, added: "There are many reasons for this. Sometimes it's due to incomplete or inaccurate information about the nature of risks, particularly in relation to new threats, such as an emerging infectious disease.

As examples, he cited people who to this day refuse to vaccinate their children against measles, or deny the existence of global warming.

"Without adequate preparation against these risks, we may end up with serious consequences for our society and our way of life," he said.

The institute will undertake up to 30 research projects in its first five years. In this time, it also plans to offer up to 30 fellowships to young scholars in the region to pursue research related to risk communication.