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“Scholarships For Foreigners, Debts For Singaporeans”: Putting The Commentary In Perspective

Information provided by the government and the institutions is wholly inadequate, and does not paint a complete picture.

166 comments on (as of March 4, 2012), and the debate on The Thinking Fish Tank continues (here); however, it is hardly surprising that the issue of scholarships awarded to foreign students has struck a nerve with a plethora of Singaporeans – especially young local undergraduates – who are annoyed by the lack of clarify and information (here).

The commentary itself was written in a poignant and impassioned manner, and for good reason (many of the perspectives highlighted resonated with many of the readers); however, the article was guilty of a number of fallacies. I wanted to just take the opportunity to point out some of the contentions, follow-up on the opinions that I had posted a week ago, as well as to raise additional questions that should be addressed.

Contemplating The Presentation Of Statistics

[The writer] realised that for [her] course’s cohort of around 60 pupils, 2 Singaporeans are on the NUS scholarship, 1 Malaysian is on the ASEAN scholarship and 17 Chinese Nationals are on the [u]ndergraduate [s]cholarship for PRC students.

The figures provided by the writer are certainly not representative (an example of hasty generalisation), but the writer is hardly at fault: information provided by the government and the institutions is wholly inadequate, and does not paint a complete picture. There are a number of questions that should be asked of the administration:

– How many foreign students are here on government scholarships funded by taxpayers?
– Based on those figures, what percentage of these awards is bonded?
– Do significant numbers of foreign students remain in Singapore for future endeavours?
– How are the scholarships distributed across the universities and corresponding faculties?
– Are foreign and local students interviewed or accepted based on the same set of criteria?

Are we not as bright as the foreign talent we import? Well, I can tell you confidently that many of my Singaporean peers are as good if not better than these foreign scholars.

This is an anecdotal observation, but only Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Education (MOE), Miss Sim Ann, has provided the indicator that “around 45 per cent complete their undergraduate studies with a second-upper class honours or better; only 32 per cent of Singaporeans do as well”. As many individuals have already established, Miss Sim Ann’s comparison is premised upon dissimilar benchmarks: we should be look at scholars against scholars, not foreign scholars against the community in general.

The Woes Of Generalisation

This touched the heart of the principal from Raffles Junior College. Yet, not even an appeal by the principal of Raffles Junior College could persuade NUS to review the application or at least grant him an interview … Yet, he was awarded the prestigious bond-free Singapore Australian National University Alumni Scholarship … He is now studying at ANU, which values him more.

I do question the writer’s decision to position such an example in the commentary; she might either be trying to imply that her friend’s rejection could be the result of the Singapore government’s willingness to “give scholarships to others than their own” (in the broader picture of the article, that the failure could be attributed to unjustified favouritism, or a predilection for foreign students), or that the NUS scholarship selection process might be somewhat flawed (again, a hasty generalisation, and post hoc ergo propter hoc, the fallacy of false cause).

It’s just that my current worry with convenient generalisations is the possibility that some might begin to express their frustrations against the foreign student population as a whole.

There could be a number of reasons for his failure to qualify for the interview (cognisant that NUS and ANU might have employed different yardsticks for their scholarships), but these permutations are based largely on my personal postulations: his essay might have been poorly written, or he might have gone off-tangent; he might have had less-than-satisfactory co-curricular or community service involvement (which are gaining prominence as differentiating factors because of academic inflation, I feel); or he might have been simply out-matched and out-classed by his Singaporean counterparts.

We’re not asking for an allowance for food and accommodation like the kind of scholarship that is dished out to foreign scholars. We’re just asking for free tertiary education for Singapore (sic) students with potential.

At this juncture, it would be meaningful to also pose the question – in addition to the aforementioned queries – on the number of scholarships awarded to Singaporeans.

I had previously proposed the idea of a quota system.

With that, could we then introduce a quota system on these scholarships to ensure that Singaporeans are given priority? Presently in our tertiary institutions, about eighteen percent of the places are filled by foreign students (based on figures provided by the Prime Minister during last year’s National Day Rally speech). Based on this distribution, could we then introduce a scholarship quota system – say, set at five to eight percent, or customised based on current figures – to empower and encourage more Singaporeans. This is a cap, so if insufficient foreign students make the mark, the remaining scholarships would then be offered to the Singaporeans (here).

I agree that we should give qualified Singaporeans to further their education in a sustainable manner (that tuition fees in local colleges are heavily subsidised is a good start, though its persistent increase is a cause for concern), so raising the number of scholarships and financial aid makes good sense. It’s just that my current worry with convenient generalisations is the possibility that some might begin to – unfairly – express their frustrations against the foreign student population as a whole.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


7 thoughts on ““Scholarships For Foreigners, Debts For Singaporeans”: Putting The Commentary In Perspective

  1. That of foreign scholars only around 45 percent complete their undergraduate studies with a second-upper class honours or better is quite inadequate in my opinion. You mean less than half of these so called scholars actually do well in university? Are we seeing 32 percent of Singaporean students (who do better than more than half of the foreign scholars) getting scholarships? (I stole this point from a comment I read somewhere.)

    Posted by Quanxiang | March 7, 2012, 9:41 pm
  2. “It’s just that my current worry with convenient generalisations is the possibility that some might begin to – unfairly – express their frustrations against the foreign student population as a whole.”

    I’m pretty sure it ain’t a possibility no more. It’s a reality in its early stages already. And here in Singapore, the term “foreign scholar” inadvertently conjures up an image of a Chinese… national! PRC scholar! The recent Sun Xu saga only serves to strengthen this stereotype, which in my opinion, is a WELL-JUSTIFIED stereotype, because (although I have no statistics) I am DAMN SURE MORE THAN HALF of foreign scholars here are PRCs! In fact, I estimate 80%.

    Shockingly (or perhaps not so shockingly), the PRC scholar is FAVOURED over his (foreign scholar) counterparts, as evidenced in this article: http://www.tremeritus.com/2012/03/06/nus-going-all-out-to-make-prc-scholars-feel-welcome/

    “It appears that not only the PRC scholars’ study and living expenses are sponsored, even their entertainment expenses (e.g. outing activities to the zoo, bird park, Universal Studio at Sentosa etc) are separately covered.”


    Please go back to where you came from, Cylons. SO SAY WE ALL!

    Posted by Joel | March 8, 2012, 12:20 am
  3. Your blog shows a very sound maturity in the topics you have picked. I am putting in my views that I have recently written on another blog. (March 16, 2012 at 1:48 am), which I think is very relevant to your blog post here.

    ‘Scholars are supposed to uphold the best of characters apart from a superior level of intellectual capacity. Why is it that we have different kinds of scholars who are ill mannered?

    While there are foreign students who are nice, there are certain groups of people who are not. The uproar, as I see it, doesn’t come overnight. This is a country where it is very open to foreigners. Ask those who had been abroad to tell you if they were given this kind of treatment? Many suffer from some kind of discrimination, only differing in intensity. Most could be passed off quietly, whole some can be hard to swallow. Even with good grades, many aren’t asked to be offered a job or even a citizenship. The opportunity is often given to their own students first before giving the foreigner, rarely the other way round. During the course of study, there were some v nice people who would go the extra mile to help as they knew you were on your own. But bearing in mind that when interests comes at hand, they never or rarely pass the chance to a foreigner. If we have a great time and have spare opportunities, the uproar wouldn’t be that fierce. The reason why this is so, is because many have suffered under this
    system. No one likes to waste time and effort ploughing only to see their chances being taken away. Many Singaporeans have earned good foreign degrees and are well known overseas as being diligent, talented and superior students whose focus in studies is strong. But because we are foreigners, we are not entitled to a lot of other benefits. Ask those who study in Europe. Getting money is very hard especially when you are neither an EU citizen or a PR. PRs are hard to get overseas in the first place when you are not their kind. At least they are harder to get than over here, even though you may arm with a degree and an ability to pass on to a
    higher degree at a top university. Why should we, Singaporeans, feel like we are living on a foreign land is another. This is our land, we welcome foreigners who respect us. Not those who think they are owners of this land just because they come from a bigger country or with a mindset thinking they are kings to do whatever they like. It is just plain wrong.

    Everyone has got only one life. To be deprived of opportunities to grow when you have been following rules is just not fair. Many have chosen to do their way. Some went abroad to fight it out. The point is not so much on Sunxu alone. It’s an uproar against what is right and what is wrong. I believe in people who adhere to their convictions and follow through. There
    are many who deserved a scholarship better than some of these so called scholars. And I hope that authorities could restructure their systems from this incident alone. Times are hard. We shouldn’t make it harder for our citizens here. Could go on, but I think I have written a heap already.’

    To add to the above, I have always been wondering how scholarships are given when the Sunxu saga began early this month. I do think the system of electing scholars are off. Many of our own students have to venture abroad and so are many professionals appear to be more recognized overseas too. Often makes me wonder how we operate here. And again bravo to your site. I wish some people could be more like you.

    The sunxu saga, beeach of trust, scholarship and a lavk of good uobringing–http://daringtochange.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/the-sun-xu-saga-breach-of-trust-scholarship-an-absence-of-good-upbringing/

    Posted by @Karen_Fu | March 20, 2012, 8:26 pm
    • Dear Karen,

      You are very kind with your words; I’d like to think that I have a lot more to learn, and would hope that my views and perspectives evolve and mature over time. Nonetheless, thank you very much for your comment.

      I don’t think I can add much to your opinion, other than my view that we should not cease the giving of scholarships for foreign students, but quotas could be introduced, and the criteria (and the corresponding quality of these foreign scholars-to-be) more stringently callibrated.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 20, 2012, 10:32 pm


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