SINGAPORE - The Education Mnistry (MOE) expects institutions to be open and timely when addressing allegations of sexual misconduct, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday (Nov 2).
At the same time, the institutions have to take into consideration the facts of the case as well as the need to ensure the safety of their communities and safeguard the well-being and privacy of victims and other members of the community who are directly affected.
They must also ensure that police investigations are not affected, said Mr Wong in a written reply to a parliamentary question by Workers' Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC).
The minister noted that Ms He's questions come on the heels of a recent incident involving a former teaching staff member at the National University of Singapore (NUS) who was dismissed for being in an intimate relationship with an undergraduate - a clear breach of NUS' code of conduct for staff.
The undergraduate, along with another student, also alleged that the teaching staff member - Dr Jeremy Fernando, a former NUS lecturer and Tembusu College fellow - made non-consensual advances towards them.
"Given the undergraduate's allegations of sexual misconduct against the individual, a police report was made and the investigation is underway," said Mr Wong.
He said MOE has been working closely with institutes of higher learning to review and step up their efforts to tackle sexual misconduct in a holistic manner.
This includes expanding efforts to educate students and staff on respect and appropriate behaviour, such as through face-to-face workshops, online modules and student briefings during orientation.
Campus infrastructure has also been beefed up, including expanding closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera coverage and increasing the frequency of security patrols.
The institutes will also provide victims with more support, and impose tougher penalties for sexual misconduct, Mr Wong added.
On whether the ministry will consider regular reports on sexual misconduct or violence on campus, he said a police report is typically made for allegations of serious misconduct. This will be a matter of public record if the alleged offender is charged in court.
Separately, institutes of higher learning also conduct their own internal investigations to determine if an alleged offender has breached their code of conduct, he said. Those who did so face disciplinary sanctions.
Students may be suspended or expelled, while staff may be dismissed. MOE also monitors trends of cases of sexual misconduct involving staff and students, and institutes are required to provide necessary information, he added.
In the case involving Dr Fernando, NUS had come under fire for not giving timely updates and for not being more forthcoming about how it handled the case.
In response, NUS' dean of students and associate provost (special projects) Leong Ching had said the university will be more transparent in internal communications regarding sexual misconduct, without compromising the privacy and welfare of victims.