Thursday, July 21, 2011

The 'Singaporean first' myth

IN A recent lecture on higher education at Singapore Management University, Dr Tony Tan pointed out how crucial it is not to impede international talent from coming here.

He essentially voiced his preference for a 'Singaporeans first' policy for higher education, rather than 'Singaporeans only' ('Tony Tan: S'poreans first, but don't shut out talent'; yesterday).

While I agree with Dr Tan's dismissal of a 'Singaporeans only' tertiary landscape, I am befuddled by his perception that Singaporeans are demanding this.

On the contrary, what Singaporeans are infuriated by are government and local university measures that excessively favour foreign 'talent' for admission.

For example, the National University of Singapore (NUS) does not have a clearly defined way of calculating the admissions score for international students.

NUS assesses admission at its own discretion and on the students' past education transcripts.

Polytechnic students, on the other hand, are admitted based on a strictly defined admissions score, comprising 80 per cent polytechnic results and 20 per cent O-level results.

Obviously, polytechnic students who might have excelled in their studies, but who have done less than spectacularly in the O levels, are disadvantaged.

Does NUS consider a polytechnic education less rigorous?

In addition, most needy local students have had to seek financial refuge in loans and bursaries, both of which do not provide complete financial relief.

The less fortunate must juggle part-time work and university studies.

Contrast this situation to that of the foreign students: Financial aid for them does not only come in the shape of exclusive scholarships, but also in Education Ministry tuition grants.

The penalty for most of these students who can already afford the higher costs of overseas education? Working with a Singapore-registered company for three years.

Dr Tan said it is not easy to find the right balance.

For a start, apply greater selectivity for the ministry's tuition grants for foreign students.

Also, a clearly stipulated admissions determinant, which resembles the template imposed on Singaporeans, should be adopted.

While many recognise the advantages of having an international student body, resolutely doing so without selectivity is pointless.

Let those who cannot afford such an education prove their mettle, and those who can, rightfully pay for their fees.

Adam Liew