“There is much to be said for a foreign education – it opens up young minds to the competing cultures of the world, each believing that it possesses a special pathway to the truth” (Aim For Good Rankings And Right Values, The Straits Times Editorial).
Few would disagree with the merits of a foreign education, that it – for instance – “opens up young minds to the competing cultures of the world” (ST, Sept. 23). In fact within the local universities, there are already plenty of opportunities for students to head overseas for a sojourn: exchange programmes with partner colleges, internship stints in foreign companies or within bustling startup ecosystems, as well as courses at the summer schools. Notwithstanding the moral or ethical implications which surround these projects, undergraduates have also arranged overseas community projects around the world, immersing themselves in new experiences.I benefited from the five months I spent in Helsinki, Finland in 2014 too. As an exchange student in Aalto University, besides interactions with our Finnish counterparts and participation in academic activities – and also, learning about the country’s culture and language through a semester-long course – I paid a visit to a Finnish couple to explore the contents of the maternity package, observed classroom proceedings in an elementary school, and interviewed representatives to find out more about the student unions in the country. In Singapore, there has been a longstanding fascination with Finland, especially its education system and generous welfare provisions, so spending time in the country was meaningful.
The only issue? The total cost of the experience. Cognisant of the higher costs of living in the Scandinavian region, even without frivolous expenses or trips around the region, I had to save up beforehand after my National Service and through part-time jobs. And I am further privileged, with a middle-class background. Some schools in Singapore may be generous with their grants and bursaries for students from low-income households, but many are still apprehensive about the financial investments needed.
Pragmatically, it would also make more sense to work over summer vacations, since one is compensated for the labour, and the work experience could even translate into future careers.
In this vein, it has been argued that “[at] much lower cost, [local education] could bring the world home to Singapore”. I agree. The ST editorial also points to the foreign faculty and students present within the higher education sector.
Two things should follow. First, while communicating the many global programmes and the corresponding financial support made available, the universities should be proud of the international representation within their institutions. In addition, they should encourage greater interaction between Singaporean and foreign students – beyond superficial get-togethers – in the form of collaborative projects. Second, the universities must resist xenophobic, short-sighted arguments that places must be reserved for Singaporeans, or that foreigners are not welcomed. An inward-looking education system will only erode the country’s competitiveness in the future.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.