Scholarship Anger

ANGER. That’s the word which best describes how some Singaporeans feel about the Govt giving scholarships to foreign students, particularly when there’s no bond attached, or when the foreign scholars can break bonds with apparent impunity.

Totally understandable, especially in light of foreign students crowding our universities. But it reflects a poor understanding on the part of critics of what scholarships should be, because their thinking has been perverted by the Govt’s scholarship-bond model of the last 50 years. It also ignores the reality of these “scholarships”, which are really nothing more than inducements to come to Singapore.

But let’s start from basics. What is a scholarship?

Wiki defines it as “an award of financial aid for a student to further education.” It adds “Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.”

Great men like Cecil Rhodes used their wealth to set up scholarships because they wanted to give back to society, to nurture young people towards values they wanted to uphold.

Hence, the selection process focuses on leadership potential, character and noble values such as truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, willingness to contribute to society, etc.

There are no restrictions on the course of study, and there is no notion of a bond at all, because the offer is made in the belief that the recipient lives the values of the scholarship.

This is how scholarships should be.

Chen Show Mao is a Rhodes Scholar, and in the best tradition of Rhodes, has given up his multi-million career to contribute to society as a full-time MP.

He lives the values of Rhodes.

The PAP Government saw scholarships differently. Rather than promoting noble values, it saw scholarships as a means of nation building.

Thus scholarships were given to attract young men and women into the Civil Service. However, in its desire to make the social contract airtight, Govt scholarships came with bonds plus hefty damages for bond-breakers.

While scholars in the early years were grateful to the Govt for providing them a quality education they could not afford themselves, later scholars realised how the Govt had perverted the spirit of scholarships with bonds. They realised that the aim of Govt scholarships was no longer to benefit society or uphold noble values, but a way for the Civil Service to renew its elite.

As such, they had no qualms breaking their bonds and paying the liquidated damages, if they felt they could do better in the private sector themselves, or if they no longer believe in Singapore Inc or the PAP way.

In response the Govt started its name-and-shame campaign against bond-breakers, claiming that scholarship bonds are not just a legal obligation which can be broken at will, but also a moral duty to society.

As a result, many Singaporeans now think that scholarships are a matter of obligations and bonds, and do not understand the spirit of scholarships. Many students I speak to now compare scholarship offers in terms of the conditions and duration of their bonds rather than the values and qualities that scholarship was meant to uphold.

What a perversion!

But back to the present.

Critics complain that the Govt offers so many scholarships to foreigners, which Singaporeans are not eligible for. They are pissed that the Govt shames Singaporean bond-breakers and collects LD from them, but can’t do the same against foreign scholars effectively. They also feel that taxpayers’ money is better spent on helping Singaporean students cope with university fees, rather than on ungrateful foreign students who only want to use Singapore as a stepping stone to go to the US.

I think that if these critics understood the purpose of scholarships (as described above), they would not feel this way. Britain gave Singapore students scholarships under the Colombo Plan, and never asked for anything back. They only hoped that such scholars would return and contribute to economic development in Singapore. Now that Singapore is rich, it is only right that Singapore should help other less-developed countries in the same way, eg through the ASEAN scholarship.

But in the context of the complaints, most of the Govt scholarships for foreigners do come with bonds or a requirement for such foreign scholars to work in Singapore for at least two years after graduation.

The reason is simple– Singapore is short of young people due to our Two is Enough campaign. The hope is that these young graduates will want to settle in Singapore after working two years.

That’s the only reason why Singapore offers so many scholarships to students from China, India, etc. There are no noble values the Govt tries to promote thru scholarships. For the Singapore Govt, it is always about what they give vs what they get.

Obviously, we will not get 100% success. Some scholars may break their “bonds” or leave Singapore for greener pastures after a few years.

There is nothing anyone can do to stop them, but it does not mean the policy is a failure, or that one should stop giving scholarships.

Hopefully, critics will now see that the Govt is not discriminating against Singaporeans by offering foreigners scholarships. What they’re doing is to try to repair a failed family planning policy from 30 years ago.

Whether this is the right thing to do is a separate matter, but there is nothing sinister or discriminatory in the Govt’s actions.

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99 Responses to Scholarship Anger

  1. henry says:

    The Chinese gooseberry is not an attractive fruit, neither is it commercially viable. Yet, it was cultivated with innovative ideas, with a vision of what it could be. Money, time & effort was expended. It is now known as the kiwi fruit with 2 versions, green and gold, produced in a country far away from its original land.

    We can have that too. The issue here is: have we missed the wood for the trees?

    There is anger and frustration because policies are not clearly explained, there is no effort to persuade “buy-in”. The local, pure-bred feel very much side-lined. I feel I am not worthy enough even for my own kind.

    Push harder and there will be social disorder. It is not “if” but “when”.

    When Malayan Railways or KTM kept their rail tracks along a corridor for over a 100 years, without much ado, when our people took over, suddenly, to maintain its greenery, its an issue and “we have to develop it” ?.. you mean cutting grass is a difficult task for a 1st world, 15% GDP economy??

    Something seriously wrong here.

  2. Joanthan says:

    Perhaps a better way to summarize your article is to say that “there exists double mistakes in Singapore’s view on scholarship.”

    The first mistake lies in the government subverting the meaning of “scholarship”, which you have explained in detail. The second mistake lies in the people’s response to the perverted model of “scholarship”.

    People do not have the power to tell the government to change the model of bonded-scholarship. What they can do is to say “since Singaporeans are subjected to rules XYZ when they take up scholarship, the foreigners should jolly well be subjected to the same standards.” I feel that there is nothing wrong in this attitude within the people as a response to the PAP government’s perverted model of scholarship.

    Of course, it is always crucial to keep the right model of scholarship in mind. We can always welcome more overseas students to join us in the hope that they will like this island nation. We can also provide them with scholarships (the genuine one). But until Singaporeans can enjoy such treatment, it is inappropriate for the government to provide foreign students with better scholarship packages (eg. 2-year bond is minuscule compared to the locals’ 4-7 years bond, accommodation privileges, etc.)

    Thus, I think what the policy right now is still discriminatory against Singaporeans.

    • Thanks. If I’m not wrong, the mass “scholarships” offered to foreign students are no more than free tuition. They’re nowhere as prestigious or as well-paid as PSC scholarships, and do not offer a fast-track civil service career path or access to the Civil Service elite. In truth, the “scholarships” are no more than a means to entice youths to Singapore, hopefully to settle down. Hence, a 2-year bond/work reqmt in Singapore would appear to be commensurate with the value of the “scholarship”.

  3. I don’t think the anger is just about the fact that foreigners get scholarships. It’s because people see so many of their friends fail to get into NUS/NTU and have to pay for an overseas education, or they have Singaporean friends who have to work part-time throughout college in Singapore while most of their foreign friends get a free ride. It’s about how the government first denied that there was a need to expand university places, and then when it belatedly did expand them (after years of Singaporeans going overseas to study and never coming back), it’s first thought was to throw money at foreigners rather than further developing the potential of Singaporeans. For example, poly grads continue to have a very hard time getting into local universities.

    Also, I do think that a ‘bond’ that lets you work for any company in Singapore is preferable to the government scholarship bonds that locals are forced to agree to if they want a scholarship. A supposed fast-track to the Admin Service is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. There are many people who would like to work in the private sector.

    • Thanks for comments. I understand the anger but it is not possible to help those who are unjustifiably angry.

      If you understand universities you’ll know that universities compete not only on the quality of their faculty, but also on the quality of their students. Universities want to have world-class faculty who are at the top of their fields, but they also need to make sure that their students have high GMAT scores, SAT scores, etc.

      That’s why people think highly of a Harvard or MIT degree.

      If the local students are weak, then NUS or NTU etc are justified in not admitting them. They may be publicly-funded, but if they took in all and sundry just to do a service for Singaporeans, there would not be much value in their degrees.

      I think the main question is not whether how many university places there are for Singaporeans, but whether anyone who did well was rejected.

      As for your comments on “bonds”, really these are not scholarships being offered to foreign students per se, but merely enticements to get them to come to Singapore and work for two years. The Govt is that desperate, because of our Two is Enough policy’s marvellous success. I hope you can see that. And if you can, then hopefully you can change your paradigm.

      • I don’t think that there’s any evidence that the rejected Singaporeans are weak. I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Also, Fox has argued that based on the honours awarded to NUS students, local students typically do better than foreigners on scholarships.

      • If we can have ‘bonds’ for foreigners to be enticed to stay in Singapore after graduation, why can’t we also have ‘bonded scholarships’ for Singaporeans where the only criterion is having to work in Singapore after graduation? Why must bonds for Singaporeans always be tied to government agencies? Singaporeans are just as internationally mobile as foreigners.

  4. anon says:

    I disagree on that score about scholarship students’ quality. It is only too obvious that when you offer scholarships to other countries, the cream of the crop, would apply esp. when the conditions are attractive. So when you say that local students who have been deprived of a place in their own country because their grades lost out to the overseas students, you are not being particularly fair. Surely, any govt’s first priority has to be to meet the demand at home first as long as the students meet the minimum for a local university education. This is an obligation to its own citizens. Anyway, in what way is it fair for a Singaporean family to have to send its children overseas – mind you these children QUALIFY for a place overseas – incurring a very hefty cost which undoubtedly would set back the family’s financial position when they are good enough for a local education. How does the govt justify such an act of discrimination against its own people?
    Have you also forgotten the many who has gone on overseas, graduated and REFUSED to return because of a very understandable feeling of anger and betrayal by the govt. This govt seems to be interested in looking at things only in a very one sided way -its side – and forgotten its moral obligation to its own citizens.

    One does not deny that the govt may offer scholarships to outsider after its own planning, but to do it without building and providing the nec resources to accommodate local students and foreigners, and instead depriving the former in order to accommodate the latter is robbing peter to pay paul. Can you blame the anger even hostility of the locals in such a scheme of things. It is NOT surprising therefore for the existence of this legacy of alienation among Singaporeans towards the govt and they delight in heaping scorns rather than praise upon it!
    It is fashionable to quote Kennedy about ‘what you can do for the country’. The issue is sometimes, ‘it is what the country has done TO (alienate) me’ in this (and in so many other instances), that it at the root of this disharmony between the people and govt.
    The people are at the receiving end, so it is invariably the responsibility of the govt for creating the estrangement, this affective divide, in the words of Catherine Lim.

    • Thanks. You see it as a them or us scenario; but is it the case? If NUS sets a certain cutoff point for its applicants, and some locals do not qualify, shld it lower its entry criteria? At this point no foreigners have come into the picture yet, and indeed, they shld only come into the picture after all qualified locals have been taken.

      Could you provide evidence where well-qualified locals have been rejected?

      Notwithstanding the above, you do know that no matter at what pt NUS decides to set its admission criteria, there will still be borderline cases who fail to qualify and will thus be pissed off. How do you deal with that?

      Unlike primary or secondary schools where you can ask the weaker applicants who don’t qualify for top schools to go to neighbourhood schools, there’s no such option here. We don’t have 20 or 30 universities here, and even if we did, employers would be wary of the quality of the bottom half.

      Unlike primary or secondary education, university education is not an entitlement and not a universal aim. The govt has set a target of 25% of each cohort to enter university. I don’t know if the right no shld be 20% or 25% or 40%; I’m not an educational expert. But I do know the no is not, cannot and must not be 100%. Hence there will always be those who don’t make it and blame the Govt.

      What can be done? Especially if the anger is not justified?

      • Nobody said it has to be 100%. It has been pointed out many times that Singapore’s percentage of grads is much lower compared to other developed countries. There is plenty of room to increase it without resorting to FT especially when many of the rejected make it into top universities in the UK and Australia (outside of Oxbridge–I even know someone who got into Imperial College but not NUS). It’s simply a poor talent management strategy to give other countries the first bite at students who are clearly recognised by good non-Singaporean universities to be of graduate quality, since many of these students will remain overseas after graduation.

      • “Nobody said it has to be 100%. It has been pointed out many times that Singapore’s percentage of grads is much lower compared to other developed countries. There is plenty of room to increase it without resorting to FT…”

        Thanks for comments. My response is: (1) Whether 25% is the right no is something you may wish to debate with someone else. I am not an educational expert, I don’t know what the right no should be. However, if the Govt has set a 25% target and they claim to have achieved it in 2008 then there is no reason for the 75% who can’t qualify to fault them, with or without the presence of foreign students.

        (2) There is no “resorting” to FT per se in this context. The import of foreign students is to address a family-planning policy failure. The hope is that these impressionable youngsters will choose to settle down in Singapore after graduating and working two years, maybe even take up citizenship out of gratitude to the Govt for the “scholarships”. Like it or not, this is a desperate measure to remedy our shortage of babies and youths. Why else do you think the Govt would throw money at 18/20-year-olds? They got nothing better to do with the money?

  5. anon says:

    It’s a matter of simple arithmetics. If you have X number of places and decides to give Y number of places to foreigners, the numbers available for locals is simply Z, as in X-Y=Z.

    I am sure you agree that selection is largely based on a ranking system.
    I am sure too that the selection of foreigners for Y places is similarly done. So the simple relationship is if Y increases, Z decreases.

    In a situation, where X=Z, nobody could justifiably complain. Nobody would complain if the govt also ensures that X= Z+Y.

    We are not talking about the borderline cases, who in any case would also be unlikely to gain admission elsewhere. We are talking about those lower on the ranking list who are in effect edged out by places being taken up by foreigners brought in by the govt.

    I do not believe that countries which gave Colombo Plan scholarships to Commonwealth countries did it at the expense of their own people. And they did it truly to help fellow countries upgrade, unlike some countires, like Singapore which did it for less altruistic motives as immigration and politics.

    • Thanks for comments. Your argument rests on the assertion that foreign students are taking away places from deserving Singapore students. I’m not sure that is the case.

      I have some experience of this. My wife couldn’t qualify for NUS. Neither did my two cousins. Even my best friend couldn’t qualify for NUS, despite repeating his A levels twice.

      This was in the 80’s and early 90’s, before the foreigners came to NUS. I don’t know if they blame the govt, but objectively, they weren’t very academically-inclined; they didn’t have good grades.

      My wife eventually did her degree thru Monash via distance learning. My uncle sent my two cousins to England. My best friend went to Canada.

      It was not about foreign students crowding them out, but the standards NUS wanted to maintain.

      I know that as Singapore develops, there’ll be greater expectations that everyone should get a university education, and those who are not accepted will feel frustrated. Coupled with the influx of foreign students, the natural conclusion is that they’ve been deprived of university places by foreigners.

      I’m willing to maintain an open mind on this but I’d ask that you provide evidence that there’s been a systematic rejection of local applicants who are well-qualified to enter university. As I mentioned, whether you set the target at 20%, 25% or 40%, there will always be those who are rejected.

      The fact that these rejected applicants can find overseas universities willing to accept them is not enough. Unfortunately there are universities abroad which are just degree-churning mills. I’ve encountered many such “graduates” myself. When I interview these candidates, some of whom even have masters degrees, I often wonder, are they really graduates?

      PS. Re X-Y, actually it’s not so simple. Usually the numbers are flexible, because universities operate using lectures and tutorials rather than fixed classes with individual form teachers. Hence the no admitted each year really depends more on the quality of applicants and the popularity of the course, rather than hard limits. Hence each year’s cohort can vary significantly, and is determined more by the quality of the applicants rather than limits.

      • Like I said, I know people who got into places that are clearly not degree mills, e.g. Imperial, Nottingham, Warwick, Melbourne, Monash, but failed to gain admission into local universities. Of course, I have no access to statistics. If MOE would release such statistics, it would be very helpful.

      • The says:

        /// This was in the 80′s and early 90′s, before the foreigners came to NUS. I don’t know if they blame the govt, but objectively, they weren’t very academically-inclined; they didn’t have good grades.
        .
        ,
        It was not about foreign students crowding them out, but the standards NUS wanted to maintain. ///

        Yes, local Us have minimum standards. Demand for university places outstripping supply. Some who meet the minimum standards are not given places. That’s before the influx of foreign students. The recent invasion of foreign students only make a bad situation worse. Now you are not only competing with local students, but with foreign students who are older and more matured.

  6. lim chai yen says:

    Well written, I myself was on local training award with the SAF, Once enjoy the free university days and fully paid for three years, coming back is a pain. You are right, it is a what you get and what you need to pay for next 6 years. The meaning of scholarships have not been understood. It is a bond not a scholarship. So don’t be too pity about it. We have Singaporean to our own country,
    Your conclusion is to cover up the failed family planning for last 30 years is very true.

  7. The says:

    /// Britain gave Singapore students scholarships under the Colombo Plan, and never asked for anything back. ///

    Instead, it is the Singapore government that imposed bond and other conditions on those Colombo Plan scholars.

    /// If you understand universities you’ll know that universities compete not only on the quality of their faculty, but also on the quality of their students. ///

    Yes and no. Most of these foreign students are 2 to 3 years older. That being the case, it is not a level playing field. Their grades are better because of the extra years of learning. On this issue, I am quite sore that our primary and secondary school students are competing with the more mature overseas students. 2/3 year extra schooling can make a huge difference in the grades, especially at a young age. Even with the same IQ, the fact that our local students are younger will mean that their mental age is lower and they are thus disadvantaged against the foreigners.

    I still can’t get over the fact that a few years’ ago, there was this girl from the PRC who was awarded a President’s Scholarship. She was 2 years older than the rest. And this is not your ordinary bursary or cheap schemes “which are really nothing more than inducements to come to Singapore” disguised as a scholarships.

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  9. henry says:

    Ok, sorry for the macro view.
    What is the purpose of getting a tertiary education, particularly an institution in Singapore? And why get angry ( if ) not accepted yet able to enter another university overseas?

    Our entire curricula, from primary, secondary, junior colleges is geared towards the 3Rs.
    There are Ls(language) and Rs(relevant subject) to configure in order to funnel effort towards a chance at entering the local unis. This is meant to filter out students who dont have the required academic “fit”

    I dislike this system of assessment. The approach is too rigid. Does that mean your cousins are not “intelligent” enough for NUS? yet able to qualify for a 1st world country tertiary institution?

    This is the point of the anger.

    Singapore aspires to be “there” among ivy leagues and uses a method of culling that seems to ignore passion and a home grown gosseberry. Create another entry criteria. Nuture the soil, plant the seed, encourage the growth, reap the fruits. Do not deny learning just because “we have limited resources”
    Then again, there is the other side of the coin: people pursue a degree for the sake of salaries.. any degree from anywhere.. exactly what you encountered, because the singapore context is:
    minimum degree holders for any ‘executive’ functions, when in reality, a diploma should suffice.
    So, we have tons of foreigners with dubious degrees appointed into jobs that our polytechnic students could do.

    Its the gooseberry.

  10. Elaine says:

    Scholarships were given out by wealthy Western countries to foreign students as a form of noblesse oblige. Spore doesn’t have that compunction. Its reasons are cold and calculated: getting in instant talent, promoting good relations with neighbours, and trying to redeem its image of being cold and calculated. I think Sporeans still have a right to be angry.

    Chee Soon Juan was one of the famous cases of “not smart enough to enter university” but can teach there after graduating. The PAP got it wrong. And like the situation with private tuition, since the better off can afford to put their kids through the additional classes, the govt can wash its hands off any requirement to spend more money to build more schools and hire more teachers in order to cater for better teaching outcomes. All those Sporeans who went overseas and returned with a degree didn’t find themselves out of a job, as the govt “feared” they would. Nor were they of such low standard compared with their peers who did get into the local U’s since their pay and prospects are on a par or even better than the latters’. Spore shld then have set up another university to absorb some of those who just missed the cut to NUS — like the way ACS has Barker Rd for its weaker students, without compromising on the quality of the school overall.

  11. The says:

    /// What is the purpose of getting a tertiary education, particularly an institution in Singapore? And why get angry ( if ) not accepted yet able to enter another university overseas? ///

    Henry Gooseberry – why get angry? Because of costs. Tertiary education in Singapore for Singaporeans generally cost less than S$10,000 a year. For overseas university courses, the tuition alone is easily a few times that amount per year. And add food & lodging and the air tickets. Not many families can afford to send their children overseas.

  12. anon says:

    You can’t be serious about Unis not having admission quota?!
    Stibbons had answered on my behalf your claim that those who can’t get into NUS don’t qualify because they don’t meet the standards.

    A ranking list is universal because there are always more students who qualify than there are places available. Some universities, such as Yale, are so acutely aware of this that they take pains to reiterate to unsuccessful applicants that it is not that they, the applicants, don’t meet the requirement, but because places available are finite.

    By the way, NUS wasn’t always that ‘hot’. I have heard technicians complained that the engineers turned out by SU (as NUS was known) often are long on theory but short on field work/expertise. I had colleagues who were CP scholars, 1st class honours from reputable Aussie Unis, who were of the opinion that the 1st year of the local degree course was a ‘waste of time’ because it was more of a repeat of Pre-U (JC). These ex-colleagues were among the pioneers who help Goh Keng Swee set up the local defence industries.

    • Sorry. My bob-boo. What I meant was that the quotas can change each year as I’ve seen cohorts of varying sizes.

      As for Stibbons’ point, one hopes that those were Type I errors. Or maybe like Show Mao, they wanted to do medicine or law but couldn’t get in because of the govt’s control over such graduates. Or maybe competition for their choice of study was particularly hot, and they did not want to accept a place in some other faculty. Who knows? One hopes and believes that NUS professors and admission committees do not set out to select lousy students and reject good ones.

      • Fox says:

        I am Fox.

        Let me say a little about myself. When I graduated from RJC in the late 90’s, my A-level scores (A-levels + special papers) were good enough to place me in the top 100 of the nearly 800 A-level candidates in my JC. I entered NUS in the early 2000’s. I applied for an NUS scholarship and did not get it despite my rather good A-level results (people with my A-level scores could qualify for the SAF/OMS scholarship). This despite that I chose to take up an unpopular course (Science faculty). In fact, many of my RJC friends who also applied did not get the scholarship. I qualified for the more popular courses such as law. This should dispel any notion that I am a late bloomer. I had also applied to the top Australian university, Australian National University. They awarded me a tuition scholarship (which meant that I didn’t have to pay any tuition fees). I didn’t go because I couldn’t afford the living expenses. I also received some partial tuition scholarships from other universities in the US and Australia but I could not afford to go unless it was an all-expense scholarship.

        In NUS, I had several coursemates from Indonesia, China, Malaysia and India who were on scholarships. Of course, they were better than the average NUS student but their results were no better than mine and my friends’. In fact, I did better than most of them as I graduated with 1st class honours and some university prize, the name of which I have since forgotten.

        Throughout my uni days, to support myself, I had to give tuition. In my 3rd and 4th year of NUS, I rarely went home before 10 pm during the regular semester. In contrast, my Indian coursemate, who was on an SIA scholarship, could afford to go on holidays and other frills that I did not even dare to imagine. He later graduated with a second lower. For me, the semestral break was the only time I could get enough sleep. I survived on coffee and cigarettes for a large part of my undergraduate life because of the amount of school and paying work I had to take up.

        Most good local students could not even smell the kind of financial support that these foreign students received. To get a scholarship, I had to either sign up as a teacher or a civil servant, neither of which I had ever any intention to becoming. In contrast, the foreign students were only required to serve 3 years of bond for their scholarships. They could do anything they want so long as they stayed in Singapore.

        I was a good student but I never received any financial support from NUS and any local organization. Even foreign universities were more generous than NUS, the university supported by the state that I had given 2.5 years of my life.

        Now that you have read this, do you understand why some people would resent the scholarships given to these foreign students?

  13. Fox says:

    I forgot to mention: one of my professors called me the best student that he had in the 15 years he had worked in NUS.

    • Thanks for comments. Touching story. But I’d like to ask you, after reading my post, do you understand why the govt does this? Is it to spite you, or is it to correct a population problem?

      While I understand your frustration, I must point out that you were offered/eligible for a scholarship that would put you on the inside track in the civil service. That you had no interest in this is fine, I understand, I refused a local teaching scholarship too. But at least you had a chance for a scholarship.

      That students resent the foreign scholars is likely to continue until the govt comes up with a better way to attract youths to Singapore. If you have any ideas on that front, please contribute.

      Lastly, NS and NUS have nothing to do with each other. Even in anger one should not lump unrelated things together. Your NS obligation applies whether or not you go to NUS, and one is not right to ask for different treatment due to NS.

      Ditto, the SIA scholarship has nothing to do with the Govt. Don’t mix things up, even in anger.

  14. Fox says:

    Of course I do understand why the govt does what it does: to correct a population problem. However, although it is a solution, it is not proven to be the best solution. For example, why can’t Singapore simply import university graduates from China or India? At least we can save on the amount of money spent subsidizing their education. Note that the presence of these foreign students is always pitched as a way of improving our universities when it is clear that their presence is really a way of augmenting our labour force (or from my point of view, using my tax money to bring in more competitors for jobs I want and thus lower my salary). Of course, the govt is not trying to spite me but it demonstrates a disregard of public sentiments.

    I disagree with the assertion that NS has nothing to do with NUS. Given that NUS is supported by the taxpayers, I believe that it has a social obligation to give back to the taxpayers. NS helps the govt to save on defence expenditure and free up money for supporting the universities.

    I don’t think Singapore has to attract young people to Singapore by subsidizing their education and living expenses. Why not simply just import fully educated adults to Singapore? There is no evidence that the Singapore govt’s approach is better than the aforementioned suggestion.

    Scholarships such as the SIA scholarship are govt-financed. They are directly funded by MOE but awarded by organizations such as SIA. This is stated on the scholarship agreement according to this SIA scholar that I know.

    • Thanks for comments, but do you see the anger in your words clouding out the logic?

      “Import graduates”… People are not goods which can be “imported” as and when we like. And if they did, don’t you think someone else would be complaining why the govt is paying foreign graduates to come to Singapore?

      Isn’t there’s already enough resentment over the Govt’s FT/PR policy? How is that a better solution?

      Sorry, cannot agree with your assertion that NUS had any obligation to NSmen. It’s fashionable to say I did NS, so I shld get preferential treatment for HDB flats, university education, jobs, etc. It’s not right.

      I didn’t like my NS– I had a “bad” attitude, that’s what my instructors said– but I never asked for any concessions at NUS or anywhere else.

      As for SIA scholarships, you’re right– there are some scholarships that are govt-funded but awarded through companies. I work in the finance sector, which does it through the FSDF fund. The govt funds the tuition, and it’s the company that has to bond the recipient and repay the govt if the bond breaks, which means the company will then chase the student to pay up. But there’s no restrictions on local or foreign applicants.

      These are schemes to improve the skills in the industry.

      • Fox says:

        I don’t think you have to pay people from China/India to come here. Most of them are quite pleased to come here without any financial inducement. Singapore’s population grew by 10 percent over the last 6 years. How much of the new increase is due to these foreign ‘scholars’?

        I’m sorry that I have to disgree with you on the issue of NS. Without NS, we all will have to pay more for defence. Hence, taxes would have to be raised. Surely, some economic redistribution is in order although university admission/financial support may not be the best way to do it. Nonetheless, I think that there is a much stronger obligation for state-supported institutions to use their resources to support the locals.

        That is a good explanation as to why the govt continues with this policy. It’s called auto-pilot. You have to back to the 90’s when times were very different. In the mid-90’s, before China opened up to the world, you could catch very good students with these scholarships because there were relatively few opportunities for these people to leave China. Hence, it was worth the premium to lure in the very very good scholars. For example, I had seniors who transferred over to NUS from Tsinghua, Fudan, etc. Also, it wasn’t so easy to import labour from China and India in the 90’s since their respective governments had significant restrictions on overseas travel.

        However, by the mid-2000’s, there was a noticeable drop in the quality of those who came in. Those who came in usually transferred from good but not so fantastic universities in China. I know because I was an instructor in NUS and taught some of these China scholars.

        This policy may have been a sound one in the 90’s but its benefit has shrunk significantly relative to its cost by the 2000’s. I suspect that the cost-benefit ratios of yesteryears no longer hold.

      • Fox says:

        Come to think of it, in which sector are labour shortages that you refer to being remedied by these foreign students? Construction, semiconductor, electronics, petrochemical, etc? Suppose we need more people to assist in the construction of MRT tunnels, does importing these pre-undergraduates help? Suppose we are short of process engineers in the petrochemical industry, does importing these pre-undergrads help? Suppose the finance sector is short of actuaries, does importing these pre-undergrads help? They have no specialized skills/education and no work experience. Why can’t we let employers bring in the skilled labour that we need. At least the state won’t have to spend money subsidizing these pre-undergrads.

    • “I don’t think you have to pay people from China/India to come here. Most of them are quite pleased to come here without any financial inducement.” 

      I think you should look at the problem holistically. 

      First thing you have to ask yourself is, was the Two Is Enough policy a resounding success? If so, then logically we are short of youths. Note youths—not 30/40-year old professionals, although we are short of them too.

      To attract 30-40 year old professionals, the PAP has liberalised the FT/PR policies— to much consternation as you know.

      But to attract youths, ie those still in school—that’s a different kettle of fish. If you’re a youngster in China—why would you leave your homeland to come to Singapore, esp if you have good grades and can enter a Chinese university.

      Hence the inducements.

      As I said, the rationale is to try to catch them when they are young and impressionable. Hopefully, they will grow up in Singapore, work here, marry here, get citizenship here, etc.

      Put aside your anger and think about whether this is a genuine attempt to solve a population problem.

      Re NS/NUS— I think you ignore that more than 10 years of education are already subsidised by the state (ie primary, secondary, JC), and that NUS fees are also subsidised. That is a lot of support for locals.

      The “scholarships” given to foreign students are a price to pay for PAP’s Two Is Enough mistake. The price of the scholarship will be redeemed, more or less, if the graduates work in Singapore and pay taxes for three years. That’s the equation the govt planners have done. Do you get it?

      Of course, they take bets, some may leave before three years, some may stay more than 10 years, even become citizens. Is it a worthwhile bet? I’ll let the public do their own calculations.

      Your point re the quality of foreign scholars may be true. But you forget the aim of the policy. It is not to attract the best and brightest. Do you think NUS is Ivy League, that the best and brightest will come to NUS if they could go elsewhere?

      Notwithstanding that, as long as the scholars meet certain standards, ie they are not stupid, the govt is happy to place bets on them becoming citizens.

      We have labour shortages in every industry like you wouldn’t believe. Banking, finance, F&B, IT, etc. Many of them fill with PR and work-permit holders, even for executive positions, simply because there are’t enough Singaporeans to do every job. By bringing in young students to study and graduate here, the govt will hopefully be able to reduce the influx of foreign workers with dubious degrees from strange Indian universities, and instead have more local graduates who eventually may become citizens.

      But it’s a long hard slog—simply because once upon a time, Two Was Enough.

  15. Fox says:

    Let’s say we are short of people in their teens. Is the solution to bring in teens from other countries. Being short of teens now is not a problem because teens don’t work. It only becomes a problem 10 years later when the teens become productive adults and we are short of productive adults.

    Let me give a concrete example. Let’s say we are short of 10,000 18 year-olds in 2010. (I am making up the numbers.) Which is a more cost-effective solution?

    1) Import 10,000 18 year-olds in 2010, and school and feed them until 2015 where they become productive 23 year-olds.
    2) Increase the number of 20-something educated immigrants in 2015 by 10,000.

    Ultimately, it is not population replacement that matters. It is the labour force replacement that counts. You have not argued why (1) is a superior solution to (2). Solution (2) allows us to take advantage of the educational subsidies in China/India at the cost of quality variability, which is not necessarily a bad thing since overseas-educated graduates may have training in areas not offered by our local universities.

    I do not deny that there is a population shortage. I do not deny that solution (1) is a solution. But you have not shown that solution (1) is superior to (2).

    • Thanks for comments. But I have to point out the hyperbole.

      1. “Feed them for five years”… First, people feed themselves. I doubt the foreigners’ scholarships covers everything– unlike the PSC scholarships, some of whom even provide full army officer pay during the years of study.

      2. You misunderstand the reason for bringing in youngsters. It’s because they want naturalised Singaporeans. Not foreigners. That’s why you get them young.

      As you may know, many American-born chinese speak like Americans, act like Americans, etc. Many can’t even speak chinese. That’s because they’ve never been in china. Likewise, while the govt can’t import babies, it wants them as young as possible, so they can become more singaporean.

      It’s not just about numbers.

      3. It’s not for me to argue which solution is better. I’m not a govt policy planner, I only wrote this piece to help angry people understand why certain things are happening.

      Indeed, it is normally critics of the policy who are asked to show why their alternartives are better than the current. In this case, you’re the critic, it’s actually incumbent upon you to show why your proposal is better, rather than me to show why current govt policy is better than your solution.

      • Fox says:

        1. The MOE scholarship for PRC nationals does cover everything: tuition, living expenses and the air ticket home. Ditto for the SIA scholarship.

        2. I’m not sure why we need more naturalized Singaporeans per se. Are they going to serve NS? Are Singapore required to contribute more to state coffers? What are the benefits to Singapore, apart from labour force augmentation?

        3. I disagree again. If your solution is one that requires substantial funding and there is a plausible alternative that requires funding, the onus is on the person who proposes the more expensive solution to justify it. Of course, I’m not saying that you have to the one who justifies it.

        You also know perfectly well that the govt tries its darndest to pitch these scholarships as means of improving our local universities when their real purpose is, as you point out, population replacement. By pulling this trick, it shifts the debate from whether this is the more cost-effective solution of population replacement to whether Singaporeans want better schools.

    • Thanks for comments.

      On your assertion that PRC scholars get full living allowances + airfare back, etc with just a three-year requirement to work in Singapore, I will need you to provide some substantiation.

      Based on my research, I’ve found that the 3-year requirement is the MOE Tuition Grant Scheme (see https://tgonline.moe.gov.sg/tgis/normal/studentViewTuitionGrantSubsidyInfo.action) and only covers tuition. And the application process even requires the applicant to provide two sureties who will agree to bear the liquidated damages in case the student does not fulfil his obligation.

      In other words, the govt pays the tuition for foreign students, in return for three years of work obligation from these students upon graduation. And they’re not so stupid to just give away the $$ without guarantors.

      I have found fully funded scholarships which are available to foreigners. An example for Hong Kong students is here (http://admissions.ntu.edu.sg/UndergraduateAdmissions/Pages/UndergraduateScholarshipforHongKongStudents.aspx).

      They get the same terms as all Singapore scholars, ie 6-year bond upon graduation.

      In other words, I have not found anything that substantiates your points, that PRC students get fully funded scholarships with only a 2 or 3-year obligation to work in Singapore.

      Notwithstanding the above, I do not deny you feel cheated. I have tried to explain why I think the Govt does this. But it’s up to you to accept.

      It is not my job to defend the quality of govt policy. But I cannot agree that it is the govt’s job to show that their policy is better than yours. Even in Parliament, when opposition MP’s question the Govt, they are expected to come up with better alternatives, not just throw stones. And they have to fight to convince the House that their proposals are better than the current policy. Else they cannot expect the House to vote in their favour. Because by default, one goes with the current policy unless a substantively better new policy is found.

      That’s why sitting MP’s are so hard to topple. Because the electorate must be convinced that the challenger is better than the incumbent. Not the other way around.

      • Fox says:

        It is 3 years of obligation for the tuition grant and another 3 years for the scholarship. There is no scholarship without the tuition grant (although you can take the tuition grant without the scholarship and serve 3 years). Because you can serve the scholarship bond and the tuition grant concurrently, the bond is set at 6 years. The *effective* *scholarship* bond period is 3 years. The tuition grant pays for 70 to 75 percent of tuition and the scholarship pays for the remaining 25 percent + airfare + living allowance. I am pretty sure of that.

        There is no requirement to serve out the 6 years in the sponsoring company if they don’t want you (see http://www.bursabeasiswa.com/Downloads/sembcorp/SIA.NOL.pdf) and they don’t usually take in the scholars anyway (because there are too many of them). If you don’t believe me, try googling the following terms “sia-nol scholarship site:linkedin.com” (http://www.google.com/search?q=sia-nol+scholarship+site%3Alinkedin.com) and see how many former SIA-NOL scholars actually joined SIA or NOL after they graduated.

    • Then it’s six years. Seems like a pound of blood to me.

      • Fox says:

        It’s 6 years in total but only 3 of the 6 years can be attributed to the scholarship itself. Hence, the *effective* bond period is 3 years. It’s only 6 if you take into account the tuition grant (which is wholly distinct from the scholarships).

        You are wrong about the bond being equivalent to the scholarship bonds served by locals. Unlike the locals, the foreign students can pick any Singapore-registered company to serve out their bond.

        And that is, if they actually serve out the 6 year bond. It appears to me, by clicking on a few of the profiles on Linkedin, that quite a number of leave Singapore before their 6 years are up.

    • Thanks for comments, but sorry I cannot agree with you in this context. And it appears to me you’re getting down to nitpicking.

      The fact that these “scholarships” do not bond foreign “scholars” in a specific organisation for six years should be a very clear signal to you that these are not the kind of elite scholarships from PSC that the Singapore govt has been offering its citizens for the last 40 years.

      They are merely a tool to get more youngsters to Singapore.

      Hence I do not understand why you keep harping this point.

      Yes, I know you want have your cake and eat it too. I’m sorry that you can’t find it in Singapore. But those are the terms.

      You want a fully-paid scholarship, you serve six years in the civil service, what’s the big problem? You don’t wanna serve six years, buy your way out after three years, what’s the problem?

      You don’t seem to appreciate that the six-year bond in the civil service or the uniformed services puts you on the inside fast track– something these so-called PRC scholars will never get. That’s why the Govt is using companies to push through the scholarships rather than doing it directly themselves through PSC.

      As to whether these PRC scholars serve six years– if they don’t, they don’t. It’s a question of the liquidated damages and whether the govt is able to go after the guarantors effectively. Perhaps you should write to your MP and ask him to table a question in Parliament on this, if you want to know the numbers.

      But the point is that, all this is being done in the hope that youngsters will come to Singapore and sink their roots here. There’s no 100% guarantee, but at least it’s not 0%, because at least we tried.

      I also do not agree with your suggestion to import 25-year olds instead of giving scholarships. People are not just economic digits– that’s what critics like to remind the PAP govt of. There is a valid reason why the Govt wants more people who want to be citizens, not just economic digits to come here to make up the numbers in the labour force.

      • Fox says:

        1. I am not saying that what the foreign students enjoy is better or comparable than what PSC scholars get. It was never my intention to use PSC scholarships as a basis for comparison.

        Why can’t Singaporeans get a similar package: a 6 years bond with the condition so long as they remain in Singapore, in return for full funding of tuition and living expenses to attend our local universities?

        You see, that’s the sticking point. To get full funding of tuition and living expenses to attend NUS, you basically have to sign up to be a teacher or a civil servant, even if you are not inclined to or interested. I had no interest in either when I finished my A-levels. For example, if you want to be a software engineer, work in banking, go for graduate studies, etc, then getting such a govt scholarship would conflict with your postgraduation goals. On the other hand, the scholarship offered to these foreign students poses no such restrictions.

        2. I question the assumption that these scholarships and getting them to stay in Singapore during their impressionable youth would make them more likely to stay in Singapore and eventually take up citizenship. This really rests on the assumption that they get a *positive* impression of Singapore.

        These people are not stupid. They can tell that their scholarships are a privilege that the locals cannot enjoy. Why on earth would you take up the citizenship of a country that treats its own citizens worse than it treats potential immigrants? If anything, privileging potential immigrants over the locals only encourages the former to stay as potential immigrants. In fact, it acts as a push factor for our locals to emigrate!

        Furthermore, 18 year-olds grow up to be 25 year-olds. Even if they take up SG citizenship, there is nothing to stop them from reconsidering their decision to take up SG citizenship later. Ultimately, what will make people stay are things like access to good affordable healthcare, crime rates, living standards, etc. These scholarships are only good for getting them to come here but they won’t make them stay.

        3. I do not understand your argument about economic digits. 25 year-olds from India and China are also humans and they are just 7 years older than 18 year-olds from India and China. They too can also become citizens of Singapore. I do not see anything less humane about giving work permits and employment passes to 25 year-olds from China and India.

    • The Education Minister’s reply to a Parliamentary question on 9 Jan 2012 confirms what I wrote: Scholarships to foreign are one of the PAP’s strategies to remedy our population “problem”. See below. Note to Fox: I am not defending the PAP’s strategy here. I am just explaining why this is done. It’s not to deprive Singaporeans of university places or to piss them off deliberately. They believe there is a genuine problem, and they believe this is the best option to deal with the problem at this time. If you disagree– fine. Vote in someone with a better idea, or even run for Parliament yourself.

      Mr Heng Swee Keat: For students from ASEAN countries, MOE offers scholarships to promote mutual understanding and goodwill in the region. In the past few years, MOE awarded around 150 scholarships annually to students from the ASEAN countries at the pre-tertiary level and another 170 at the undergraduate level. The scholarships cover school fees and accommodation, and the annual cost is about $14,000 for each pre-tertiary scholarship and between $18,000 to $25,000 for each undergraduate scholarship. Around 65% of pre-tertiary international scholars progress on to our Autonomous Universities.

      In addition, our schools, universities and the corporate sector also offer a range of scholarships to quality international students to create a diverse student body that encourages the learning of important cross-cultural skills, as well as to meet the manpower needs of our economy. With Singapore’s decreasing fertility rates, it is important that even as we seek to better develop our talent pool, we augment this with working professionals and students from abroad. This helps us to maintain our economic competitiveness and ultimately raise the standard of living of our people.

      Of all the international students who graduated from our Autonomous Universities in 2011, around 45% did so with a Second Upper class of Honours or better.

      Upon graduation, scholars are obliged to work in Singapore or Singapore companies for up to six years. More than eight in 10 scholars have been working in Singapore and are contributing to our economy. As for those who did not start work immediately, many had deferred their bonds to pursue postgraduate studies.

  16. henry says:

    “…..By bringing in young students to study and graduate here, the govt will hopefully be able to reduce the influx of foreign workers…”

    Hope has never been a good strategy.

    Fox has brought in valid points. The Gov’s plan to address a mistake has triggered a side effect:
    The perception that the local citizenry have been sidelined.

    This again is the result of unclear explanations, goals and intent. It is of course clear to people who launch and practice the plan.
    How can we achieve a social compact when only people with inside information or able to “read between the lines” are the only ones that understand?

    Whatever, the mechanics of how this plan works ( addressing population policies) is privileged
    information, and the results hurt the citizens. Is this the desired outcome?

  17. Jee Soh says:

    This is a very very interesting thread. I am following the debate between FOX and POLITICAL WRITINGS closely. Please dont stop.

    I agree with Political Writings that the “Stop at Two” policy was a total disaster on both the moral and practical levels. Thanks to a brain dead MSM and a docile population, the ruling party have never been brought to account for their attempts at birth control when there was no need for these wretched controls in the 60’s and 70’s. The ruling party’s iron control of the populace in the 60’s and 70’s brought to heel the alternative dissenting voices which could have highlighted the disastrous consequences of the Stop at Two policy which spilled into the 80’s and 90’s.

    I agree with Fox that the ruling party’s attempts at giving scholarships to foreigners has reinforced the popular idea of the government helping the foreigner at the expense of the native born Singaporean. Kuan Yew’s philosophy of making it tough for the average Sporean in not getting a free ride has unfortunately run smack into the impression that foreigners are, relatively speaking, getting more breaks than Sporeans.

    Political Writings maybe right in that the invitation and incentives for intelligent foreign students to study and stay in Singapore is an attempt at make up for the shortfall in our demographics but as Fox has rightly pointed out, there seems to be something amiss when local students are NOT courted in a similar manner. I am in agreement with Fox that those who complete their 2 year NS and reservist obligations should receive educational incentives and grants which demonstrate the prestige and honor of being a local citizen. Non citizens should view these incentives as a sense of deprivation on their part and cause them to want to be citizens.

    Perhaps the solution is to do away with the pyramid view of education and drastically increase the capacity for more places in the local universities.

    • Thanks for comments. Re your last point, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. As it is, I think there’s too many graduates already and it cheapens the degree. Having a degree is like nothing nowadays, which is why some even do a masters before their first work experience. And the quality of some degrees and the grads themselves is quite dubious.

    • Fox says:

      Jee Soh,

      I do not assert that the giving away these scholarships is done at the expense of the locals. I only question the cost-effectiveness of such a policy (compared to the obvious alternative where you bring in fully educated foreigners) as well as the fairness of the scheme.

      • “Why can’t Singaporeans get a similar package: a 6 years bond with the condition so long as they remain in Singapore, in return for full funding of tuition and living expenses to attend our local universities?”

        You’ve hit the point and I don’t think there’s a solution. Because whatever benefits are given to foreigners with the intent of luring them here, people like you will always ask, why can’t I have the same, why are you treating foreigners better? Whether it’s free tuition, free airfare, free lodging or free whatever, I am pretty sure there’ll be such complaints. So is there a solution?

        It’s a perennial problem that happens everywhere. Eg in telcos, new customers get all the benefits because the mobile operators will give all kinds of freebies to get them to sign on. Existing customers get pissed off.

  18. Fox says:

    So, you think that these foreigners’ desire to become Singaporeans will increase because the govt treats non-Singaporeans better than how it treats Singaporeans?

    I am beginning to see the logic…

    • Your comments do not logically follow from what I wrote. When I explained that whatever benefits this govt gives to entice foreign students to come to Singapore, there will still be locals who will complain, that’s all it means.

      It does not logically follow from the above that such benefits will get them to become Singaporean.

      All it will do is to entice them to come to Singapore for 3-6 years.

      It is how Singaporeans treats them in the 3-6 years they are here that will be crucial in determining whether they want to become Singaporean.

      The free tuition is basically just the ante.

      • Fox says:

        But do you not see the point that when the foreign students see that they enjoy benefits that are not extended to citizens, it lessens their incentive to forgo their status as non-citizens?

        “It is how Singaporeans treats them in the 3-6 years they are here that will be crucial in determining whether they want to become Singaporean.”

        And if taking up citizenship depends on experiencing life in Singapore for a few years, then the same applies to young 20-something PRC and Indian nationals who are educated in their home countries. We get plenty of those without using any enticement. Are they somehow less easily impressed by the good life in Singapore?

    • Can’t help you there. Sorry.

      If you don’t understand that economic migrants are different from student migrants, I can’t help you.

      Why do you think that Singaporean teenagers who went to Australia to study ended up getting PR there, and eventually migrating there?

      • Fox says:

        You seem to place a lot of premium on the age difference. Singaporean *teenagers* who go to Australia to study end up getting PR there because they are attracted to the quality of life there and also because their families are there. Singaporean young adults in their early twenties who go to Australia to study and work also end up getting PR there. 18 year-old PRC/Indian scholars are not teenagers.

        You are trying to put forward the argument that acculturation is a much stronger wooing factor at the age of 18 than at the age of 23 to 25. I do not believe that the 5 year difference is so crucial. Acculturation does not become more difficult when you are in your twenties.

    • And you don’t seem to understand that the younger you get them, the better your chances. Why do you think Singapore parents are so afraid their kids won’t come back once they go overseas to study? It’s not because their families are there. It;s because they get a job upon graduation, they meet boy/girlfriends there, they want to marry a local, and suddenly they don’t want to leave any more.

      You may not agree with the policy. But now that you know the aim, you can at least understand why they do it.

      Our floodgates are open wide enough. There’s enough complaints abt foreign workers as is. It’s not because the govt can’t get enough foreigners in per se. I don’t think this govt is so stupid as to throw money at young potential immigrants if they can get older immigrants for free.

      They want young ones for a reason. You may not agree with the reason, but at least I hope you can see the reason.

      As I said, I’m not a govt policymaker, I don’t really care whether you agree with their policy or not. And I’m not gonna waste any more time on explaining the logic to you.

  19. Seen It All Sinkie says:

    I have read the complete exchange between FOX and POLITICALWRITINGS with great interest. It seems to me it is a total waste of time on the part of FOX’s sincerity in attempting explain the facts. FOX, I believe you are communicating with a manipulating PAP mole.

  20. Pingback: Everybody’s Favourite Punching Bag Series: National Service | Political Writings

  21. Caleb says:

    @Seen It All Sinkie, that is a very biased comment. In my opinion, POLITICALWRITINGS is the one who had been trying hard to be unbiased.

    @Fox, age does matter. There is no need to even give it a second thought. Having a 2/12/18/23/30/45/70 year old stay in Singapore will SURELY have different levels of impact on their desire to stay here. It has a lot to do with what happens to them at that age period. From 18 to 23, you are growing up to become an adult. Many things become clear and you form your life direction. Of course, 23 would be similar, but the argument PoliticalWritings provided was that 18 is simply a better age than 23 for this purpose.

    You argue that locals should be given the same offer to stay in Singapore. That is absolutely ridiculous. People have a tendency to stay in their home country. Without any incentive, it is more likely for a local student to remain in Singapore after their studies than for a foreign student to magically want to come to Singapore.

    Locals who can find greener pastures overseas will go. Bond damages can help prevent that, but you are just giving them grief. I believe it is fair and good for deserving locals not be bound but such terms when they can fly higher else where.

    How about those who are not at that level? Well, they probably can’t and won’t go overseas anyway. Why do we need to provides incentives for them to stay? It doesn’t make any sense at all.

    Do note that from experience, with the exception of a few locals, most of the better students in NUS are foreigners, not just in terms of grades, but in terms of attitude towards learning.

    Think about it this way. Being born in Singapore is already a very great privilege. What makes you different from another person who was not fortunate enough to be born here? Their parents still have to pay the same taxes to some government. Are you being selfish? Since you already have the good fortune to enjoy Singapore for 18 years, is it too much to give another deserving individual some money and put him on the same path as you, in Singapore?

    “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. The whole world is a zero sum game. Some people contribute more, some take more. Do you want to be the ones who contribute more or take more? I personally want to be one who contributes more. Have I contributed more to Singapore as compared to what Singapore has given me in the last decades? Hell no. Not by a long shot. Not for a long time. I believe it is the same for you.

    I wish Singaporeans will learn to complain less and see how lucky they are.

    • Fox says:

      You need to look at this issue holistically.

      The fact that citizens have it worse than potential citizens tends to encourage potential citizens to remain as potential citizens. While scholarships may lure the foreign students in, it disincentivizes them from taking up citizenship once they realize that honey pot is not available to actual citizens. It is a matter of the psychology of scarcity: if citizenship comes with exclusive privileges and benefits and is not readily available, it becomes more attractive.

      • Caleb says:

        You cannot look at it at such a high level. You have to go to the individual level. Just like there is a big income divide, and we cannot say Singaporeans are all middle class. That’s just not true.

        These potential citizens were treated preferentially. They will not look at the unfortunate Singaporeans who missed going into local university and think that their fates will be like that. Most probably, they will be looking at the best of Singapore, and aspire to be that.

        Now, suppose I am from Europe and over here I pay high taxes and the unemployed gets really good benefits. A professional considering migration to Singapore will probably not care that we don’t have unemployment benefits!

        People care about what matters to them. A foreign scholar will probably consider that his future sons will have to go through NS should he choose to stay in Singapore, but I can assure you that they will not think “wow, if I stay here, and I don’t earn enough, my children will be marginalized”. No, that is just too far fetched.

      • Fox says:

        Actually, even very good *local* students don’t get free tuition and scholarships like the foreign students. I pwned most of the foreign scholarship holders in my course in NUS despite not having a scholarship and having to work part-time. And it is not because my A-level results were poor.

        Also, the foreign students that we get are not that good. As a former instructor in NUS, I’m willing to wager that if all local students with 4As are offered free tuition to study engineering and science in our local unis, the foreign students would find it much harder to raise their games. This notion that they are the ‘best’ is really very far from reality. They are good but NOT that good. When they have children, it is likely that their kids will be going to NUS where they will be discriminated against. If anything, they may think: I’ll be better off being a non-citizen so that my kids can get one of those foreigner-only scholarships or skip NS.

    • Fox says:

      @Caleb:”Do note that from experience, with the exception of a few locals, most of the better students in NUS are foreigners, not just in terms of grades, but in terms of attitude towards learning.”

      I find this argument to be rather meaningless. Suppose all the local student pull up their socks tomorrow, works their balls off, and become 1st-class honours calibre undergrads. Do you think that they would be given similar scholarships by the government? Or that the foreign students would lose theirs?

      No no… of course not. It is not as if these scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit regardless of nationality.

      • Caleb says:

        @Fox: If they pull up their socks, then there will be less spaces for foreign students! Or, we will get even better foreign students.

        Like PoliticalWritings have said, there is a minimum standard to meet. And that minimum standard can change. If the average improves, I am sure the minimum will also increase. That said, for a short while, a few years maybe, more local students will qualify, and perhaps too many will qualify, raising the bar not just for locals but also for international students. After those few years, NUS/NTU will gain greater repute and more qualified foreign students will be interested and apply. Then, we will return to the current, or similar, balance.

        You are arguing two different things here. Entry to university, and scholarships. Entry to university is based on merit, and perhaps there is some quotas involved. As for scholarships, there are a few kinds of scholarships! The two main kinds, as PoliticalWritings have mentioned, are “calculated moves by public/private corporations to secure talent” and “calculated moves by the Singapore government to increase population”.

        If all Singapore students pull their socks up, less of the first kind will go to foreigners (like the SIA case you mentioned. But nothing will change for the second kind.

        To reduce the number of type 2 scholarships given out to foreigners, Singaporeans need to have more babies.

        Now, as to why I make that statement, I am simply expressing my opinion that my NUS days was enriched primarily by the presence of foreign students. Yes, Singaporean students are fun to hang out with, go for parties, play sports, etc. But I enjoy doing academic work with foreign students more. Of course, I did have really good Singaporean classmates too, but I got lucky.

        That said, unless Singaporeans buck up, I would not want the number of foreign students to decrease. It will compromise the quality of education NUS delivers.

      • Caleb says:

        Pardon my grammatical errors. Typed in a hurry.

  22. Fox says:

    @Caleb: ” That said, for a short while, a few years maybe, more local students will qualify, and perhaps too many will qualify, raising the bar not just for locals but also for international students. After those few years, NUS/NTU will gain greater repute and more qualified foreign students will be interested and apply. Then, we will return to the current, or similar, balance.”

    That is not true. You’ve been duped by the Singapore government’s propaganda. Changes in the reputation of NUS/NTU have little to do with the quality of the undergrad. Their reputation has more to do with their ability to perform world-class research. Many universities in the US have comparable undergrad quality as NUS but much higher ranking.

    I speak of course as an academic with a PhD from a real world-class university and having years of experience interacting with other US academics. But please don’t take my word for it. Go ask any professor in NUS or NTU.

    In fact, go ask the VC of NUS this: suppose you have 10 million dollars. Will NUS’ reputation be enhanced more by NUS using that money to (1) hire a top senior professor from Harvard or (2) fund 50 scholarships for PRC undergraduates?

    • Caleb says:

      I have not. I do know reputation has more to do with the faculty than the undergraduates. But the word is MORE, not ALL.

      Yes, the faculty directs the research, but, to do good research, you need more than a good manager. You need good peons too. Where do peons come from? Undergrads or post grads!

      Tell me, will a top senior professor want to do research or teach in a university where local students are not interested in learning and he will have a tough time finding research students?

      On top of that, most research students are foreigners. Locals are just not interested. They just want to get a degree and work in a bank as a manager and earn lots of money doing nothing particularly useful. Thats Singaporeans for you. You know that is true to a large extent.

      • Fox says:

        Of course., I’m not advocating that we deny foreign postgrad students their financial support. My argument is against the undergrad scholarships. The fact of the matter is that undergrads do not contribute much to research and thus, have little effect on the reputation of the university.

        “Tell me, will a top senior professor want to do research or teach in a university where local students are not interested in learning and he will have a tough time finding research students?”

        Actually, most top senior professors don’t care about teaching beyond doing the bare minimum. The top people in NUS/NTU don’t give two hoots about teaching. Research is where the professional prestige and pride are for people in academia.

  23. Caleb says:

    We are going off track here. But are you suggesting that it is a good idea to improve the reputation of NUS/NTU by employing people who don’t care about teaching?

    I have just re-read your comments and I believe you are not in opposition of PoliticalWriting’s explanation for the scholarships, but rather the justification of those scholarships. So, there is nothing to discuss in this area (explanation).

    As for the justification, I’ll repeat my comment:

    ”Do note that from experience, with the exception of a few locals, most of the better students in NUS are foreigners, not just in terms of grades, but in terms of attitude towards learning.”

    So, what I meant was “please, give more scholarships to foreigners. They enrich the university experience for those who want to be there to learn. Please reduce the number of local students, sieve out those who don’t really want to learn. If that is not possible, please do not make it any easier than it is now by giving them money.”

    You feel me?

    • Caleb says:

      That’s an exaggeration by the way.

      My primary point of view is still that Singaporean students already benefited significantly for the first 18 years of their lives. No need for more concessions.

    • Fox says:

      You said:

      “That said, for a short while, a few years maybe, more local students will qualify, and perhaps too many will qualify, raising the bar not just for locals but also for international students. After those few years, NUS/NTU will gain greater repute and more qualified foreign students will be interested and apply. Then, we will return to the current, or similar, balance.”

      But as I have pointed out, the above argument is not true. The raising of the reputation of our local universities has little to do with sponsoring many foreign undergrads to study in our local unis.

      You may wish to argue that they can enhance your learning experience. Of course, having good students around helps but why restrict financial incentives to only non-local students? If we want more good local students in science and engineering (and stop them from gravitating to law/medicine/accounting), why not give bond-free scholarships to local students to study science and engineering?

      To be honest, my learning experience in NUS was pretty good, needed little enrichment from the foreign scholars, and was only marred by my financial need to work part-time.

    • Fox says:

      “But are you suggesting that it is a good idea to improve the reputation of NUS/NTU by employing people who don’t care about teaching?”

      No. I’m merely pointing out that if you hire a top faculty who is good in research, chances are that he/she would not care about teaching.

      Why else do you think NUS/NTU hire so many PRC professors who can barely string a sentence together in English?

  24. Caleb says:

    @Fox, “If we want more good local students in science and engineering (and stop them from gravitating to law/medicine/accounting), why not give bond-free scholarships to local students to study science and engineering?”

    What do you mean by that? Why would potentially good local engineering and science students gravitate towards law/medicine/account? If they do so because they are motivated by money then they are not good students and we don’t want them at FOE, SOC or Science.

    Why should anyone give anything to anyone else for nothing? Bond free scholarships, as explained by PoliticalWritings, are given to foreign students for the possibility that they remain in Singapore. What can good local students possibly return to the government in excess to what they already will? Not leaving the country?

    Listen to this:
    Foreign Student: “Give me money and I will come to Singapore”
    Government: “Ok”
    Local Student: “Give me money and I will not leave Singapore”
    Government: “Are you threatening me?”

    See? It doesn’t make any sense at all whatsoever.

    • Fox says:

      ” Why would potentially good local engineering and science students gravitate towards law/medicine/account? If they do so because they are motivated by money then they are not good students and we don’t want them at FOE, SOC or Science.”

      Ermm… you do realize that the SIA-NOL, the SembCorp, and the MOE-PRC SM1, 2 and 3 scholarships only allow the scholarship holder to major in science and engineering. They can’t major in accounting, business, law, or medicine even if they want to. They are following where the money is.

      Listen to this:
      Foreign Student: “Give me money and I will come to Singapore”
      Government: “Ok”
      Fox: “Who cares? We can always get foreign professionals, you know, people with real skills. Work permits don’t cost $174,000 a head. The last time I checked, China has a glut of university graduates. Incidentally, that’s one of the reasons you took up the scholarship: to escape the competition in China.”

      • Caleb says:

        @Fox “Who cares? We can always get foreign professionals, you know, people with real skills. Work permits don’t cost $174,000 a head. The last time I checked, China has a glut of university graduates. Incidentally, that’s one of the reasons you took up the scholarship: to escape the competition in China.”

        Remember what PoliticalWritings said? Its about integrating them into the society. Not just to fill jobs.

        You argued that 23 year olds can integrate just as well as 18 years old. But I already said they are at a different phase of life and 18 is most probably an age that is better than 23 for this purpose.

        Of course, you can say that the additional effectiveness of integration at 18 compared to 23 is not worth $174k a head. But that is not the discussion here. The discussion here is that we want more young citizens and this is one way of doing it, and the government has done it.

        Where did you get that value anyway? Even regular scholarships for local universities do not cost that much! The actual value to probably close to a quarter of that.

      • Fox says:

        “Where did you get that value anyway? Even regular scholarships for local universities do not cost that much! The actual value to probably close to a quarter of that.”

        $174K is actually an estimate which was given on TR Emeritus. As someone who has worked in NUS, that is actually a fairly accurate figure.

        Full tuition is $30K per annum for engineering. Over 4 years, that’s about $120K. And that is tuition alone. Throw in living allowance and that is another $6K per annum. Let’s not forget the 8 months of bridging course (which I was an instructor) for PRC scholars before they actually start university. Yeah, $174K is actually quite believable.

  25. Fox says:

    Local Student: “Give me money and I will not leave Singapore”
    Government: “Are you threatening me?”
    Foreign Student: “So, that’s how you treat the locals… Makes me so want to be a Singapore citizen.”

    • Caleb says:

      Are you serious?

      If that is the case, I think we can cease discussions because clearly you have a different idea of what is acceptable behavior. What happened to morals and ethics? A young 18 year old person of questionable competency, who is unable to secure other forms of scholarships making such demands? Or, a young 18 year old person who is able to secure other scholarships but wants to avoid obligation, and making threats? Come on. Seriously.

      • Fox says:

        I wasn’t saying that the average local student should get scholarships. I was using good local students as counterexamples. And it is not true that they do not have alternatives. Even back then in the early 2000s, I was given a full bond-free tuition scholarship by ANU which I did not take up for family reasons. NUS or MOE offered me nothing. This despite the fact that I did very well in my studies.

        Actually, there are many scholarship out there (especially in the US) which Singaporean students qualify for.

    • Caleb says:

      Local Student: “Give me money and I will not leave Singapore”
      Caleb: “Please go. Quickly.”

      • Fox says:

        Actually, I left Singapore some years ago after I had graduated from NUS (with 1st class honours and department prize). It is very difficult for me to have any feelings of gratitude towards the Singapore government or NUS since many of my less capable non-Singaporean classmates in NUS were lavished with all kinds of financial incentives. In fact, in talking to many of my fellow Singaporean exiles of my age, I find that there is considerable anger with the government’s foreign talent policy.

      • Five points:

        1. Foreigners at the expense of locals. Is there evidence that the Govt is giving out university places at the expense of locals? It appears Fox thinks so. But the Govt has stated quite unequivocally that the target is 25% of each cohort should receive (local) university education, and it has presented evidence to that effect. In other words, the Govt says it has already fulfilled its target and places given to foreigners would not have been given to other locals anyway.

        As I mentioned, I’m not an educational expert, I don’t know if the right number should be 20%, 25%, 30%, 50% or 100%. However, I have pointed out that whatever the number, those who do not make it will always cry foul, especially when they see foreign students coming in.

        If Fox wants to argue his case, he has to justify why the number should be higher than 25%. If he wants to do so, his argument has to be made from a macro-perspective, not an anecdotal perspective. Because when one argues at a policy level, one looks at the country as a whole, and how changing one number (in this case, the % of university graduates) can impact an entire country.

        2. Purpose of “scholarships”. I have presented evidence to show why “scholarships” for foreign students are really attempts to repair a failed family planning policy. This concurs with Minister Heng Swee Keat’s statement in Parliament in Jan 2012. I quote: “With Singapore’s decreasing fertility rates, it is important that even as we seek to better develop our talent pool, we augment this with working professionals and students from abroad. This helps us to maintain our economic competitiveness and ultimately raise the standard of living of our people.”

        Obviously Fox thinks this is a foolhardy policy, and his proposal is simply to import young professionals. I disagree for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that there is already enough resentment against FT’s in Singapore. However, Minister Heng’s statement clearly indicates the Govt intends to attack the problem on two fronts– both youngsters and working professionals– and not just working professionals alone.

        3. Quality of foreign scholars. There are complaints, not only from Fox but even from NCMP Yee JJ, that the “scholars” we get aren’t that smart, they don’t produce so many first class honours, they can’t even speak English well, etc.

        If you understand Point 2 above, you’ll see these complaints miss the point. Because they’re not really given “scholarships”, and we don’t really go for the creme de la creme– no one seriously believes NUS is the “Harvard of the East”. Frankly, this policy is not to get the best and brightest per se, it’s just to bring above-average youngsters to Singapore, and hope they’ll stay on.

        Notwithstanding the above, I am doing my third degree at NUS and I’m surrounded by foreign students, mainly from India and China. I can certainly vouch for how hard they work, how they are always prompt in handing up their assignments, how they make sure everything is pristine and perfect in their submissions. They put many Singaporean students to shame.

        4. Undergrad “scholarships” and reputation of NUS/NTU. These have nothing to do with each other. The former is a government initiative to correct a social policy failing from 30 years ago. The latter has to do with the star quality of the faculty and the perceived calibre of the students. The quality of the faculty is within the control of the university. However, the calibre of the students cannot increase unless admission criteria are tightened, which goes against govt policy. Hence there is no basis to link the two.

        4. $174K. From TR Emeritus? I seriously doubt this figure. At best it’s a “fully loaded” cost. Notwithstanding this, the money goes to create jobs in Singapore (lecturers, admin staff, etc) and to grow and develop our universities (in terms of new facilities and buildings, etc), hence the Govt probably views it as (1) benefiting the economy; and (2) left pocket to right pocket, since these are public universities anyway. Hence, the actual outflow is likely much less.

      • Fox says:

        1. Foreigners at the expense of locals.

        I make no such assertion. In fact, I don’t think there should be any restrictions on admitting full-fee paying international students who can make the academic cut.

        2. Purpose of “scholarships”.

        Like you’ve mentioned, I disagree with this policy. Although Minister Heng states that it is a policy to augment Singapore’s workforce, he does not provide any justification. In fact, it appears to me to be a very poorly calibrated policy with little oversight. Questions by opposition MPS (Sylvia Lim and Yee Jenn Jong) on the number of scholarships given out and expenditure have not been answered accurately in parliament. For example, Lawrence Wong had to correct some of his earlier statement on the number of foreign undergrads in our local universities when probed by Sylvia Lim. This indicates that the people who run the schemes have no feel for the size of the expenditure or its purpose.

        3. Quality of foreign scholars.

        I have no complaints about that. The fact that one is hardworking does not entitle one to taxpayers’ money. They are of course hardworking and smart but that is not the point.

        4. Undergrad “scholarships” and reputation of NUS/NTU.

        As you’ve admitted, they have nothing to do with each other even though this argument has been thrown up repeatedly in the past by MOE and people in the government.

        I’m quite curious as to why you reject this assertion by the government and yet take at face value Heng’s statement that “this helps us to maintain our economic competitiveness and ultimately raise the standard of living of our people”.

        5. $174K. From TR Emeritus? I seriously doubt this figure. At best it’s a “fully loaded” cost.

        Actually, tuition schedules are available on NUS/NTU’s website. You can see for yourself how much unsubsidized tuition costs.

        Tuition grants are used in the computation of block grants MOE allocates to our local universities. They are not magical made-up figures.

      • 1. Foreigners at the expense of locals.

        I believe you have made such assertions. You have repeatedly given examples of Singaporeans who were rejected NUS places while highlighting foreign “scholars” who were accepted.

        2. Purpose of “scholarships”.

        I am not here to defend govt policy in this area. My purpose in this whole piece is to explain what it is for. I believe I’ve achieved my purpose, ie show that it’s to boost population. I am not here to argue its costs or its merits. You can discuss that with someone else.

        3. Quality of foreign scholars.

        This is not about foreigners’ entitlement. It is our Govt which deliberately chose to expend money in this way.

        4. Undergrad “scholarships” and reputation of NUS/NTU.

        I have nothing to admit here, since I never claimed that foreign “scholars” make us better. I have also not taken Heng’s assertion at face value. All I’ve done in highlighting his reply in Parliament is so that you can hear, from the horse’s mouth, that this is not a scholarship exercise, but a fertility replacement exercise.

        5. I disagree with the figure. These are like rack rates for hotels.

      • Fox says:

        “5. I disagree with the figure. These are like rack rates for hotels.”

        No. There is actually money transferred from MOE to our local universities in the form of block grants. Payment has already been made. Everyone pays the same amount.

      • Fox says:

        @politicalwritings:
        “1. Foreigners at the expense of locals.

        I believe you have made such assertions. You have repeatedly given examples of Singaporeans who were rejected NUS places while highlighting foreign “scholars” who were accepted.”

        I think you are definitely mistaken on this count or have mistaken me for someone else. I’ve never ever said anything about Singaporeans losing places to foreign scholars. My quibble is and has always been purely over financial resource allocation and its cost-effectiveness.

      • I shall leave it to readers to determine if the following quotes substantiate the assertion that you think more deserving Singaporeans are losing scholarship places to less qualified foreign students.

        “In NUS, I had several coursemates from Indonesia, China, Malaysia and India who were on scholarships. Of course, they were better than the average NUS student but their results were no better than mine and my friends’. In fact, I did better than most of them as I graduated with 1st class honours and some university prize, the name of which I have since forgotten.

        Throughout my uni days, to support myself, I had to give tuition. In my 3rd and 4th year of NUS, I rarely went home before 10 pm during the regular semester. In contrast, my Indian coursemate, who was on an SIA scholarship, could afford to go on holidays and other frills that I did not even dare to imagine. He later graduated with a second lower. For me, the semestral break was the only time I could get enough sleep. I survived on coffee and cigarettes for a large part of my undergraduate life because of the amount of school and paying work I had to take up.

        Most good local students could not even smell the kind of financial support that these foreign students received. To get a scholarship, I had to either sign up as a teacher or a civil servant, neither of which I had ever any intention to becoming. In contrast, the foreign students were only required to serve 3 years of bond for their scholarships. They could do anything they want so long as they stayed in Singapore.

        I was a good student but I never received any financial support from NUS and any local organization. Even foreign universities were more generous than NUS, the university supported by the state that I had given 2.5 years of my life.

        “…Also, the foreign students that we get are not that good. As a former instructor in NUS, I’m willing to wager that if all local students with 4As are offered free tuition to study engineering and science in our local unis, the foreign students would find it much harder to raise their games. This notion that they are the ‘best’ is really very far from reality. They are good but NOT that good.”

      • Fox says:

        Contact Singapore sends newsletters and organizes events to keep in touch with overseas Singaporeans. Clearly, it values overseas Singaporeans. Now, if only it can treat the locals just as well…

      • Fox says:

        Your claim was that I assertion locals were losing *NUS* places to foreigners, not scholarship places. Please read your own postings carefully. Thanks.

    • Caleb says:

      Caleb: And don’t come back. Bring your family with you.

  26. Caleb says:

    I have only left Singapore for less than a year after graduating from NUS (with 1st class honours and some prizes too). But I am very appreciative of my time in NUS. Although I had to pay a ridiculous interest for breaking my bond (the total amount of which, including the interest, is less than the amount you claim the government spends on a foreign scholar, which is why I am suspicious of that statistic), I have no complaints about the government. I left because my allocated job is not a fit, and that was the best my sponsor could do; and I have an amazing opportunity right here.

    I won’t call myself a Singaporean “exile” but you just found someone who did reasonably well in NUS, but still left Singapore, who is not angry, not unhappy, and am actually supportive of the government’s foreign talent policy. If anything, I’m unhappy that Singapore decided to be a financial hub, but I figured that the government probably knows what is best for Singapore much better than I do, or any other individual or group of individuals for that matter.

    • Fox says:

      “Although I had to pay a ridiculous interest for breaking my bond (the total amount of which, including the interest, is less than the amount you claim the government spends on a foreign scholar, which is why I am suspicious of that statistic), I have no complaints about the government. ”

      Local bond scholarship holders are not required to pay back the tuition grant portion of the tuition if they break their bond. That makes up about 50 to 75 percent of your fees.

    • Fox says:

      I worked in an average public US university and I was and still am constantly amazed by how much the university can soak the international students in terms of fees. It costs at least 25K USD per annum in fees alone and there are plenty of takers from China/India/South Korea. I work with these students and they don’t appear to be any less motivated than the ones I met in Singapore. They all appear to want to stay on after graduation. Why can’t Singapore do the same with the international students? Scholarships like the ones we give out in NUS/NTU simply don’t exist in the US, at least not at the scale we have in Singapore.

  27. Caleb says:

    Correction, I only got 1 prize, I think.

  28. Caleb says:

    By the way, NUS must have given their scholarship to someone. That someone probably fit the criteria for the scholarship better. Do you mean to say they gave it to a foreigner who is less qualified, just because he/she is not Singaporean? Or are you saying that there aren’t enough scholarships?

    • Fox says:

      There are too few scholarships for locals in our unis. While he was Minister for Education, Tharman stated in 2006 that there were two nonlocal undergrad scholarship holders for every local scholarship holder.

    • Fox says:

      This may come as a shock to you but in many countries (China, Japan, HK, US, UK, South Korea, etc), very bright young people who go to university often do not have to pay for their education. Governments try to ensure that their best people go to their best universities without any financial encumbrance so that they can concentrate on their education.

  29. Seen It All Sinkie says:

    Hey Fox,

    As I said before, you are just wasting your precious time arguing with another PAP moe or probably the same entity assuming a different moniker.

  30. Fox says:

    This appeared in yesterday’s Today.

    Taken from http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC121108-0000142/Use-resources-to-help-Sporean-undergrads–Ngiam

    Use resources to help S’porean undergrads: Ngiam

    “SINGAPORE – Instead of giving scholarships to foreigners who might not sink roots here, the country’s resources could be better used to help Singaporean undergraduates, some of whom have to work part-time to support themselves financially, former top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow said yesterday.”

    Even Ngiam Tong Dow agrees with me that we should take the scholarship money from the international undergrad scholars and give it to Singaporean undergrads who have to work part-time.

    • Despite our numerous posts arguing this topic, I actually have no views on whether scholarships should be given to foreign students.

      I started out this piece explaining how the Singapore govt has eroded the true meaning of ‘scholarship’ and used ‘scholarships’ to serve its own purposes.

      Instead of doing as great men like Cecil Rhodes did, this Govt saw scholarhips as a means to build a cadre of civil servants to serve the country and to create an administrative elite within the civil service. As times moved on, scholarships were also used to attract youngsters into unpopular professions, such as the military and the education service. Now, ‘scholarships’ are part of a multi-pronged approach to solve our population problem.

      But as to whether this is the right thing to do, I don’t have strong views– because I said at the start, I don’t even agree with how this Govt has twisted the meaning of scholarship in the first place. However, I do believe that there are valid reasons for the Govt to act in this manner. And I think that, if a Govt has to resort to paying youngsters to come to Singapore in hopes of solving a population problem, it underscores how utterly serious the Govt sees the population problem is. No matter what people think, this Govt is not made up of stupid people, they do not throw away money for the fun of it.

      I spent quite a bit of time explaining this because there are many many angry young men out there who feel betrayed when they see all the foreign ‘scholars’ on campus, fully paid for by taxpayer money, while they had to pay for NUS. Their anger was compounded by the fact that some foreign ‘scholars’ couldn’t even get 2nd class honours. On the other hand, their scholarship applictions were denied, even though they had better grades than the foreigners. Having served NS, they felt betrayed. In their anger, they could not see this is a population problem, not an education problem that the Govt was trying to solve.

      What I have strong views on is the misguided anger of those who feel that the Govt has betrayed Singaporeans by giving scholarships to foreigners instead of more places in NUS to them because they have served NS. One can be angry– very angry– at the Govt for the large no of foreigners on campus. But one cannot link NS with NUS. That’s not only misguided but also grossly unfair to the girls. It also reeks of a petty entitlement mentality– I did NS for you so you must give me HDB, NUS, etc. (By the way, I hated NS too)

      The Govt had said its target was to have 25% of Singaporean students complete university. It has published numbers to show it has met that target. Not being an economics expert, I don’t know whether that no is right for Singapore. But that is where the anger should be directed at, ie why not 30%, 40% or even 100%. Indeed, I see in the last few months, the Govt has conceded this number may not be correct and has thus decided to open more public universities.

      Ngiam is a man with respected views and I hope he runs for political office. Someone should challenge this Govt on the fundamentals– in a rational way, with solid and authoritative arguments, not in a petty entitlement manner. Notwithstanding this, I don’t see anything wrong with working part-time. Indeed, when I go overseas I see a lot of wait staff who are clearly part-timers from the universties, and when I was at Acacia National Park my tour guides were university students on their summer vacation jobs.

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