Scholarships for foreigners, debts for Singaporeans

Finally, the foreign scholar issue has hit the papers. I have struggled to comprehend this strange educational policy since I stepped into the National University of Singapore and realised that for my 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 Undergraduate Scholarship for PRC students (website: National University of Singapore) . While foreigners enjoy the luxury of studying without worrying about monetary issues, my fellow Singaporeans step into society ridden with debt. Some of them work to finance their studies and others take bank loans which leave them with a debt of more than S$24,000 when they step out into society. They have to pay their tuition fees and accomodation, all out of their own pocket.

As Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng stated, scholarships should be based on merit, not nationality. Is that to say that out of all the Singaporeans in my cohort, only 2 are as good as the 17 Chinese scholars? 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. Speaking from experience with my course mates, they are just as bright and hardworking. Some too are able to achieve what the Ministry of Education calls upper class honours. It is thus surprising that these scholarships are handed out to foreigners while we leave our own young Singaporeans ridden with debt.

I understand that foreign talents are needed to provide vibrancy and differing perspectives in the classroom. Indeed, we also need these foreign talents as drivers of our economy and we need to attract people with the potential, skills and knowledge in order to continue our upward progress. However, what I cannot comprehend is why Singaporeans have to be sacrificed in this venture. Why can’t Singaporeans with the same calibre and potential as these foreign scholars be awarded the same scholarship?

After my A’level results, I could only watch helplessly as one of my friends who scored straight As for the A’levels get rejected, without even an interview, by NUS for an application for an NUS scholarship. My friend had no means of financing his university education and was in desperate need of a scholarship. 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.

You may say that he wasn’t good enough for the scholarship. Scholarships are only awarded to those who excel in both academic and non-academic arenas. Yet, he was awarded the prestigious bond-free Singapore Australian National University Alumni Scholarship which is only given to 2 Singaporeans a year. He is now studying at ANU, which values him more.

Why couldn’t NUS have at least granted him an interview? Why do foreign scholars appear to obtain these scholarships so easily while Singaporeans are rejected so readily? Why do my friends have to step into society debt-ridden while the foreign scholars enjoy the luxury of being debt-free?

It’s not about how many foreign scholars attain upper class honours. It’s about how many Singaporeans attain upper class honours but were denied scholarships.

This is how our society treats us and our parents who pay taxes. They’d rather give scholarships to others than their own. They’d rather leave us with the burden of debts from pursuing our tertiary education than offer each promising Singaporean a ~$24,000 scholarship. The S$6000 annual living allowance awarded to foreign scholars can nearly fully finance the annual university tuition fees of one Singaporean. That’s all we’re asking for. We’re not asking for an allowance for food and accomodation like the kind of scholarship that is dished out to foreign scholars. We’re just asking for free tertiary education for Singapore students with potential.

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