- "Part Three is a rather big letdown though. And No, I Won’t Even Charge PSC A Cent For My Brilliant Ideas, while offering sensible suggestions target specifically at PSC, is somewhat dated already and sadly sounds like a laundry list of ‘been there, done that’ suggestions. Which is probably testimony to the difficulty of the problem of fixing the system while it’s not obviously broken… yet. Suggestion One, to cut down the number of awards, already went into effect last year. They’ve trimmed their ’soft target’ intake from about 150 scholars/year to 50. The other bit , to have a scholarship aimed at graduate school for existing civil servants, sounds exactly like the existing Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship scheme. I fail to see the difference."
The astute Mr Wang will now explain. Cutting down the number of undergrad awards was only a side point for Mr Wang. The main point of cutting down is merely to have more funds to offer more graduate scholarships for existing civil servants. And how is Mr Wang's 1st Brilliant Idea (henceforth, "1BI") different from the existing Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship scheme? In several ways.
Firstly, civil servants as well as non-civil servants may apply for the LKY scholarship. Whereas the 1BI is open only to existing civil servants. Secondly, the LKY scholarship comes with no bond. Whereas the 1BI comes with a bond. Thirdly, the LKY scholarship allows a free choice of the course of study and uses traditional selection criteria (such as a good record in social or community services or sports). However, the 1BI focuses on the applicant's actual work performance and requires him to choose a course relevant to his existing career in the civil service.
These are very important differences. The 1BI helps the Singapore government to retain human talent by means of a bond. The LKY scholarship does not. Also, the 1BI is a much more specific & effective tool for selecting the correct people to be trained in the specific areas where the Singapore government needs people to be trained.
For example, suppose there is an outstanding young economist, John Tan, working at the Ministry of Trade & Industry. Everyone agrees that his performance is amazingly impressive and everyone sees a lot of potential in him. John really likes his job in the civil service and he really loves the high-level economic planning that he can do at MTI. "I want to plan the nation, not just a company!" he says. He played a big part in the India-Singapore free trade agreement that the two governments recently signed. John hopes to do a Masters degree in economics so that he can acquire new knowledge and do his job even better in future.
John is a prime candidate for an 1BI scholarship, and it is clear that he is a good catch for MTI. After all, they've seen him in action, in the actual workplace. However, using traditional PSC selection criteria, John is an immediate loser. After all, he had flunked his Chinese language exam twice, and he had only taken one S-Paper (Economics - he scored a Distinction, but still that's only one distinction). His performance in other subjects was spotty - he even got a D for Literature. Furthermore, he had a lousy CCA record (he had spent all his free time in the library reading about economics. Instead of playing sports or musical instruments or selling flags in Orchard Road).
Under the PSC traditional scholarship criteria, John's human potential goes to waste. The D for Literature kills his scholarship hopes. Never mind the fact that no economist in MTI really needs to know the difference between free verse poetry and iambic pentameter. Never mind the fact that you don't need to know how to play tennis or have a Diploma in Classical Piano in order to be a top-class economist. John just won't get his PSC scholarship.
However, under Mr Wang's 1BI, John's talent (as an economist) is recognised for what it is. The 1BI scholarship will help John to develop his talent further, and bind him for a further X years of service to the civil service. John may never learn to appreciate Chaucer or Shakespeare or to distinguish between the Key of C and the Key of A Minor. But Singapore will benefit from his years of service as a strategic economist.
Conclusion - Mr Wang is smarter than the PSC. Ahhh, but you already knew that, didn't you? Back to my critic's next point:
- "Idea Two, to choose consciously for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, sounds very much like a bursary scheme of financial aid, albeit ‘upgraded’ in the sense that it would be just as prestigious (presumably) as a non-busaried scholarship."
Ex-President Wee Kim Wee's granddaughter was a President's Scholar. Ex-Minister Tay Eng Soon's daughter was a President's Scholar. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's two sons and one daughter were all President's Scholars. These scholars were all people who didn't need scholarships to go to Oxford, Cambridge and wherever else they went. If they hadn't received those scholarships, Daddy and Mummy would have paid for them to go anyway, thank you very much. Instead, taxpayers' money (YOUR money, MY money) was used to send these rich kids.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the trend has only grown stronger through the years. An ever-increasing percentage of PSC scholarships go to wealthy kids who do NOT need the money. They would go to the best overseas universities REGARDLESS of whether they got the scholarship or not. Daddy can afford it.
Let's think in terms of the national interest. First assumption: places like Cambridge, Harvard, Yale offer a very high-quality education. Second assumption: A high-quality education is a good thing. Third assumption: the more Singaporeans receive a high-quality education, the better for Singapore. If you agree with these assumptions, then logically this follows:
If public money is to be spent on individual Singaporeans' high-quality education overseas, then the money should go to bright Singaporeans who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford such education. In other words, DON'T use taxpayers' money to finance people who are already filthy rich. Those people are going overseas anyway, and no, it won't hurt their pockets. Mr Wang suggests the following guideline:
If the parents earn more than $500,000 a year, then the student should not be eligible to apply for a public scholarship, unless there are some truly exceptional circumstances. Like, his parents hate his guts and refuse to give him a single cent.
There. Next criticism, please:
- "And with regard to Point Three, to have scholarships with reduced the bond terms, PSC has proven themselves over and over again to be very rigid about the period of bond service, that it is completely non-negotiable except via liquidated damages. And scholars at local universities already have three-year bond periods anyway. And to play the devil’s advocate, it wasn’t too long ago that overseas scholars had their bond reduced from eight to six years."
Mr Wang is not suggesting that people accept scholarships with bonds, and then negotiate for shorter bonds. That would be a painful administrative hassle for everyone.
Mr Wang is suggesting that the PSC offer different types of scholarships, some with shorter bonds. Mr Wang is also suggesting that the PSC need not try to pay all tuition expenses for an overseas scholarships. For example, the PSC can award only 50% of the money that it currently hands out to an overseas scholar. The bond is accordingly shortened. The scholar pays for the rest of the expenses himself.
Mr Wang's critic points out that local scholars already have 3-year bonds anyway. However, Mr Wang is working on the assumption that there are better places in the world than NUS, NTU, SMU etc for bright Singaporeans to study at. Thus Mr Wang's scheme is to enable more bright Singaporeans to be able to afford to go to top universities overseas, without:
(A) being given what they don't need (100% coverage of overseas expenses, when a lower percentage, say, 75% or 40%, would do); or
(B) being saddled with what isn't necessarily good for them OR the PSC (a very long scholarship bond).
Next criticism, please:
- "Brilliant Idea Number Four, to foster greater cooperation across scholarship agencies, is to some extent already implemented, but only in one direction. PSC scholars are advantaged over non-PSC scholars, to the extent that they have more opportunities to ‘jump ship’, to transfer to a specific statutory board if they so wished. It’s not a well-publicised feature of the scholarship, but it exists. The official channels are closing though, with PSC justifying their closure with the proliferation of specialized scholarships. And FIREFLY is perhaps an example of a scholarship that offers some diversity of choice, albeit not at the level of PSC’s Open scholarships, where the doors to practically all ministries (and several stat. boards) are wide open."
Frankly, Mr Wang did not know about this Firefly scheme. After checking it out, Mr Wang is most unimpressed. Puh-lease. These are all statutory boards answerable to the same Minister of Trade & Industry. They all fall under the same umbrella. How much diversity in job options do you really expect to get under Firefly?
Mr Wang's idea is much grander in scope. It allows for movement from the Singapore government to the government-linked companies. When you consider the fact that there are many GLCs, you see that Mr Wang is offering a far wider range of career options for PSC scholars.
Many government jobs are peculiarly "government". Many private-sector jobs have no parallel in the government. By allowing scholars the possibility of accessing the two realms of the working world, Mr Wang massively increases the probability that PSC scholars will be able to find a job that best suits their temperament and personal interests. This is much more preferable than the scholar growing unhappy where he is , threatening to break his bonds, and getting labelled in the mass media as an immoral, ungrateful sinner.
- The Death of Socrates, 1787, Jacques-Louis David