13 February 2006

Language & Numbers

Feb 13, 2006
Good English for S'pore to be education hub
I READ with interest the report, 'JC - Is it a tough climb?' (ST, Feb 9).

The subhead, 'English not so good - how to survive GP?' requires a closer look by educators and all interested parties. It is wrong for O-level graduates to think polytechnic education is an escape route from the General Paper (GP). They must know GP will help to build a better command of English and keep up to date with the changing world. It is important that the education system helps students communicate effectively in English and be knowledgeable enough to compete in the job market and international arena.

Perhaps polytechnics should offer GP as an optional paper in the course syllabus and encourage more students to study it in addition to their main discipline.

It is important to be aware that Singapore's reputation as an education hub depends to a large extent on the high standard of English practised by Singaporeans. Therefore, O-level graduates should make use of every opportunity to study English and not see GP as an obstacle or a source of fear when deciding their further study.

To encourage more students to take GP, I suggest the following.

First, teachers should not discourage O-level students from attempting the argumentative writing topic in their English paper. I have heard many students say teachers do not encourage them to try the argumentative writing topic because it is hard to score good marks. Teachers do not do students any good by this because they develop a fear of argumentative writing, and A-level GP essays are mainly on this type of writing.

Second, junior colleges should invite professional journalists to talk to JC1 and JC2 students on good writing skills and discuss current affairs. Newspapers should publish more reference magazines like No Sweat by The Straits Times to aid students in their reading and arouse more interest in current affairs.

Simon Ng Yap Peng

Thoughts, thoughts.

The first thought that strikes me is a rather ironic one. Some Singaporean students shy away from junior college because GP is a compulsory JC subject and failing it would impede their subsequent attempt to enter the local universities. However, our local universities throw their arms wide open to students direct from the PRC. In other words, as far as university places are concerned, we discriminate against Singaporean students with a poor command of English, but we welcome foreign students who never did GP at all and who speak and write even worse English than those Singaporean students.

Well, well. Yet another disadvantage of being a citizen in Singapore.

The second thought that strikes me is that the PRC students tend to do extremely well in Singapore's universities despite having a poor command of English. This is also quite easy to understand. The PRC students flock in large numbers to our Engineering Faculties, where mathematical aptitude is far more important than linguistic ability. The PRC students are conspicuously absent from faculties such as Law, Arts, Mass Communications or even Business Administration. So it's a matter of knowing where your strengths are.

My third thought is that if PRC students can be bad in English but still make great engineers, then Singaporean students who are bad in English may also nevertheless make great engineers (or mathematicians, or IT programmers or chemists). Which in turn leads us to realise that it could be rather stupid for local universities to deny places to Singaporean students on the grounds that those Singaporean students did badly in GP.

Instead the local universities should give greater consideration to the kind of courses that the Singaporean student wants to study. If the Singaporean student failed GP but wants to study English Linguistics & Literature, then we may justifiably be sceptical or dismissive. But if he wants to study a course which requires some kind of proficiency other than proficiency in the English language, then really the poor GP grade should not stand in the way.

Fail, fail lor. GP only what.

51 comments:

straydog said...

"...argumentative writing topic in their English paper?"

Forget it. This is not to slime the teachers here, but if one is not trained to write argumentatively, how can you expect one to grade and argumentative paper?.

Let's stick to the fail fail lor strategy...

Anonymous said...

Singapore certainly need to revise its education system and especially its selection system.

But if access criteria to education should be the same for all whether from PRC or from Singapore, English should not be forgotten even for scientific work.
In my company when recruiting people from China we have to eliminate people we cannot understand just as we have to eliminate people who lack motivation.

Huichieh said...

Actually, passing GP is not even a NUS minimum admissions criteria. Rather, the criteria is:

- Pass in at least two subjects at 'A' Level and offered General Paper (GP) at one sitting.

- Mother Tongue, which can be met by a minimum of D7 for MT at the 'O' Level (among other possibilities).

In other words, you have to have at least taken it.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Thank you, Hui Chieh, for that clarification. But does that mean that failing GP really has no implications? If that is so, then the Singaporean students choosing poly instead of JC for fear of GP must be making a mistake. Why not just go to JC, and if necessary, fail GP with impunity? (Assuming of course that you do well enough in your A-level subjects like Maths, Physics etc to qualify for NUS/NTU).

Hui Chieh, your clarification does open up another question - why is it that Singaporean students are required to take and achieve at least a D7 for mother tongue in order to get into NUS; whereas students coming straight from India do not? Aha, another disadvantage of being Singaporean.

Straydog - I think the letter writer was referring to the O-level stage (before going to JC to do GP) where the English syllabus has an essay component, and students can choose to write, say, a short story, or an "argumentative type of essay" or some kind of personal account eg "A Memorable Experience in School" etc.

Anonymous said...

just to let u all know tat

those singaporeans who fail gp but have good results like 3A.. normally have no problems at all entering local universities engineering course.

in fact, the criteria for grades is always on the decline as our universities take in more and more students.

Anonymous said...

It irks me off that some foreign students really do not command the language well enough. It just creates barriers during discussions and all when no one can comprehend them.

What further peeves me off is that some of these students go on to become tutors. How can a Economics tutor from PRC can't even pronounce BENEFIT or PURCHASING conduct a lesson well? The same case for tutors who cannot say alpha, beta, gamma, delta.

Perhaps you pay peanuts and you get a monkey. Varsity education is a HOAX.

Bishop and Castle said...

Ah ya ...straydog ... Mr wang is obviously part of our education system... I think he can argue...what ...everything also want to depend on teachers...

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, since there are so many disadvantages of being a Singaporean, then not very logical for you to stay on here. Why don't you just leave? I promise not to call you quitters.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Oh, I rather liked GP actually. Heheh.

Sacrelicious said...

Instead of relying on GP, the local uni should accept alternatives test to gauge a potential student's capability in the command of the english language. Test such as IELTS or TOEFL should be accepted as an a measurement of a student(include A-Level/Poly students) level of english command.

Perhaps English prep course in the area of academic essay writings and oral presentations could be offered to potential students who still fail miserably in the linguistic area. Therefore they still can be enrol in the undergrad program and continue to improve using that 3-4years period of time.

Sacrelicious said...

Hui Cheih -> NTU require this: "A pass in General Paper, which may be waived in special cases where, in the opinion of the Admissions Selection Committee, the applicants have done exceptionally well in other subjects at 'A', 'AO' or 'O' levels;" Ref: http://www.ntu.edu.sg/admissions/SingaporeStudents/cata_criteria.htm

So it's a double standard even among the local uni thou they come under 1 employer.

wk said...

You are over-generalising the PRC students mr Wang, I've met alot of chinese friends with an impecable command of the english.In a few years when they graduate, looking for local jobs but most would rather go back cuz china is still developing. I' cant imagine how we can compete with those who are fluent in both languages unless we go one up and become tri-lingual.

Anonymous said...

seems like being trilingual is the only way out for sgians since PRC students can command the english language well enough in their years of stay over here (and they're required to work in sg for a couple of years to fulfill the MOE tuition fees subsidy bond). Oh yes, and for those who don't meet the minimum requirement for GP (less than B4 in NUS / less than C6 in NTU), students are required to sit for a Qualifying English Test, failing that which they are required to go through an english course in NUS/NTU.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm,I wouldn't say sporeans are bilingual. Alot of the ppl have poor command of both languages. Our chinese std is definitely alot lower than that of mainland china's. If their english is better than us, then I see no future for us. But I feel English is actually our mother tongue. Let's face it...All our lessons are taught in english. Do you think you can express stuff like ethanol in chinese? Chinese periodic table? Write Chinese econs or law paper?

Huichieh said...

Ok, I'm back.

The MT requirement is interesting in its own right. Let me quote it in full:

Meet the Mother Tongue (MT) requirement for admission by having one of the following:

* a minimum of D7 for the higher MT paper taken at the 'O' Level examination.

* a minimum of D7 for the 'AO' MT paper, higher MT or General Studies in Chinese

* a minimum of 'O' grade for the 'A' Level MT paper or higher MT paper taken at the 'A' Level examination.

* a pass in the MT 'B' Syllabus paper at the 'A' Level examination.

If a candidate is exempted from MT as approved by MOE, the MOE-approved subject-in-lieu will be considered as the MT subject.

Candidates who are unable to fulfill the MT requirement for admission but satisfy all other admission requirements will be admitted on a provisional basis. During their course of study, they will be required to attend the MT course conducted by the University or attain the minimum requirement as listed above by retaking the MT paper at the ‘A’ Level examination before they are allowed to graduate.


My own sense is that it is meant to be a tie-in with larger policies concerning education in Singapore in general. So rather than focus on university admissions criteria, the issue is really with that larger picture, i.e., national policies concerning bilingualism, etc. (about which I don't have a fully worked out comment).

re: Sacrelicious's comment: I'm not sure what to make of that "double standard" charge. Yes, both NUS and NTU are 'national' universities, but that in itself does not prevent them from having different admissions criteria, does it? After all, both universities have their own governing boards, conceptions of what makes for a good education, etc., etc. (In fact, I think it would actually be better if there are real differences, so that they can offer different 'products' between which the student can choose.) If for whatever reason you think NTU's requirement is over stringent, then it's something to be taken up with NTU...

Something else: ideally, it's really up to the individual universities to set their own criteria. Don't forget that a university education is not just training, but also a signal to potential employers or to society at large. If I were to have a degree from a place that has, say, Latin as an admission criteria for the degree I am taking (I'm making this up, of course), though no one uses Latin around here, it does signal to certain potential employers that I took the trouble to jump through hoops just to get into that prestigeous university--and that signals something about me. The same thing could be said about all those ECA stuff people are concerned to chalk up. Otherwise, one degree holder pretty much look the same as another.

A source of unhappiness, I take it, comes from the admission of foreign students with questionable command of English. But as far as I recall (from someone who actually does a bit of this recruiting, but more at the grad school level, for NUS), they do have to have a command of English.

The actual details for the international application is here. Notice that for the PRC student, he needs both the "PRC National College Entrance Examination or Gao Kao" and SAT I and II. That's for the undergraduates. I can't seem to quickly find any one page set of criteria for the grad school applicants. My sense is that would differ from faculty to faculty, department to department.

Huichieh said...

By the way, the problem with the tutor (or professor!) who can't speak fluent English is not one that only we have. The Americans complain about that all the time (I had an earlier post about it). From what I heard, some departments get around it by not having them teach, which leads to the local grad students complaining that they are being let off easy...

drunkenpanda said...

Some of my classmates were discussing this today, about how some of their secondary schools discouraged them to pick the argumentative essays. I like argumentative essays. D: I get to do them over here in poly, in Issues and Viewpoints.

What's the big deal with GP anyway? JC students seem to talk about it as if it's life and death or something. But it's really just English. Isn't it?

Wait, wait. The point of GP is what again? To test english, or your ability to analyse and issue and give sound points in argument? Really, I'm confused.

Anyway, about bilingualism and how it is not enough, I agree. I am taking a third language (Japanese) because I anticipated stiffer competition from the PRC in particular, who could master English given time and speak way better Mandarin than me. Having some command in this third language would give me just a little edge, or so I hope.

singaporean said...

Ethanol = 乙醇

So hard meh? I swear I didnt cheat by using a translator.

GP made me jittery because I was afraid I would write out of point (I think I did), I was afraid I couldnt finish writing in 2.5 hours (I didnt) and I was no good at summarizing (I'm still long winded).

Getting an edge doesnt involve speaking multiple languages. You just need to be proficient at ONE. Most Singaporeans, myself included, dont meet that simple criterion. Our language education is just too watered down. No offence to drunkenpanda especially since your writing looks fine, but as someone familiar with polytechnic education, I think the polys are too obssessed with looking cool and are wasting the students' time in offering French/Japanese courses even though the students' most pressing and most value adding need, is a decent command of English. (I spent three full years studying Japanese as a third language in secondary school, even passed JLPT 4, but I still cant follow anime without subtitles, let alone conduct business in it.)

Back to uni admission criteria, while the GP/MT policy didnt hurt me, but my wife managed to flunk her MT after 3 attempts, and as a result, her grades good enough for Accountancy didnt matter: she was dumped in Arts. I'm sure there were many more Singaporeans who didnt even have Arts as an option because of the GP/MT policy.

Is it fair to make to make Singaporeans jump through hoops while opening a backdoor for foreigners?

Huichieh said...

Two additional points:

1. I just found the English Language requirement on the international applications FAQ for NUS:

Applicants should present one of the following to fulfill the English Language requirement:

Test - Minimum acceptable score
EL1119 - C6
IELTS - 6.0
MUET - 180
'O' Level English - C6
TOEFL - 550 (or 213 for the computer-based test)

Please note that only TOEFL and / or IELTS scores obtained in the five years leading up to 24 March of the year of application will be considered. E.g. For applications closing on 24 March 2006, the validity period for the scores is from 24 March 2001 to 24 March 2006 (both dates inclusive).


So theoretically at least, there is an English requirement that all applicants must fulfill.

2. The 'discrepancy' between criteria for Singaporeans vs. non-Singaporeans. Here are two additional comments on the issue (apart from my earlier one that it cannot be seen in isolation from larger national language policies).

(a) Having an MT requirement might seem as if NUS is asking for more from the local than from the foreigner but if you think of it not so much as a MT but a 2nd Language requirement, things don't look the same. The fact is, requiring English from the applicant from China, Thailand, or for that matter, Sweden, is to ask for competency in a second language (apart from Chinese, Thai or Swedish). From this perspective, the Singaporean is not being held to a higher standard on the assumption that the Chinese student would be fluent in Chinese, the Thai student in Thai, and the Swede student in Swedish--on top of the English. (One might even think that he is held to a lower standard IF one thinks that a D7 at AO is a lower standard than, say, C6 in English at 'O' Level.)

(b) In any case, it is not as if the international student really has any easier time getting into, say, NUS. He is, in fact, very likely to be competing with his fellow countrymen for far fewer places than the typical Singaporean. And even if he meets the minimum criteria, the likelihood is that only the very best applicants would be taken--which means that if he really wants to come, he has to be much better than what is stated in the minimum criteria. In other words, focusing on a specific line in the list of criteria seems too much like special pleading. It's not true that the typical Singaporean student is being held to a higher standard--when we look at him from the perspective of him competing with other applicants in general. Everybody's got hurdles to overcome.

Please understand that I am not making light of the difficulties that specific individuals will necessarily encounter. But rules are not tailored for individuals.

Furthermore, there will always be more applicants than places--so there will have to be some way or other to select. And frankly, at the stage where most of the (local) applicants are so good anyway--as is the case in Singapore--no matter how the selection is done, someone will feel as if he's on the receiving end. But it is not as if the requirements are not well publicised from early on. And even if these requirements are not actually used, it will still be the case that the few will be selected from the many--by whatever unpublished criteria.

Another comment I often encounter is that those who failed ot make it to NUS ends up in the States or in Australia, etc. But I'm not sure why that is a bad thing--it's not as if it's part of NUS/NTU's mission to ensure that as many Singaporeans who wants to get into University will definitely have a place in NUS/NTU. That mission is incompatible with the mission to make NUS/NTU more competitive internationally, which means making its credentials more valuable, etc. (And if you don't find its credentials valuable, then the entire discussion is moot.)

Anyway, my own prediction is that--within limits, and correcting for different national standards--there will be an increasing uniformity of standards between local and international students. When that happens, I look forward to *more* and not less complaints from the locals about the local universities not taking special care of the locals.

singaporean said...

Huichieh,

making NUS/NTU competitive internationally may be important, but due consideration should be made to allow poorer Singaporeans access to education as well.

For many Singaporeans from poorer families like me and my wife, even third rate unis in Australia is not an option because we simply couldnt afford the costs then.

Not to mention the foreigners who clear the entry requirements get FREE education, annual allowance of up to 5k, plus free guaranteed housing like the multi million Prince George Park hostels where few Singaporeans are allowed to stay. (They should hang a sign: Singaporeans and dogs not allowed)

The foreigners may be brilliant in maths and science, but they didnt have to jump through other hoops made for Singaporeans, be it project work, CCA or two years of slave labour aka NS, not to mention the retention rate of the foreigners are is as little as 40% (bond breaking no less), even though they are offered PR upon finding a job on graduation.

If the government seeks to provide equal opportunity, it should offer subsidies for overseas education for NUS/NTU/SMU rejectees, in the form of say, bursaries or low interest education loans.

But they wouldnt do that, because most of the purported subsidies are really market arbitrage. Nobody in their right mind will pay 18k per year to study in NUS/NTU/SMU with the possible exception of the protected profession, medicine. Regardless of what nonsense rankings NUS/NTU has, graduates of most third rate unis in Australia are still more employable, whether locally or internationally.

Huichieh said...

Nobody in their right mind will pay 18k per year to study in NUS/NTU/SMU with the possible exception of the protected profession, medicine. Regardless of what nonsense rankings NUS/NTU has, graduates of most third rate unis in Australia are still more employable, whether locally or internationally.

But therein lies the precise dilemma, isn't it? If the NUS/NTU degree is, in any case, worth less than a degree from "third rate unis in Australia ", if the rankings are simply "nonsense", then why should anyone be worked up about not getting into NUS/NTU? (What the person is basically saying is: "I being denied a chance to have a part in this crap!"--but why even bother?) On the other hand, if the NUS/NTU degree is going to worth anything at all (including whatever little it is now worth), then lowering the admissions criteria will not really help either.

Again, as I mentioned in the previous comment, it is not obvious at all that the international student is, objectively speaking, somehow having an easier time getting into NUS. They too have hoops through which to jump, just different hoops.

(Note: I am not even personally all that enamoured with the MT requirement; but as I said before, this connects with larger issues about national language policies, beyond the specific issues to do with NUS/NTU admissions. And I am only so-so enthusiastic about project work...)

I suspect the real solution to the issues you are raising has nothing to do with NUS/NTU admission criteria, but, say, having more university level options available in Singapore, so that, as you put it, "poorer Singaporeans" can have "access to (tertiary) education as well". (Secondly, and hopefully, as the economy continues to develop, employers will be less hung up about paper qualifications as well...)

On the perks for the international students--I'm not sure where you get the figures from--are these graduate students you are talking about, or undergraduates? The last I checked, an international undergradute student pays just slightly more than the local. They receive approx. the same level of tuition grant, for which they are bonded "to work for a Singapore-registered company for three years upon completion of their degrees". If any undergraduate international student is enjoying the sorts of perks you describe, my suspicion is that they are on some fat scholarship.

(Grad. students are a different kettle of fish--they will always have different perks. But it's a completely different ball game for them. This is the same in the US and elsewhere.)

Finally, I think there is tremendous scope for low interest loans for overseas education, bursaries, etc., etc. (Or better yet, an education account that can be used in a variety of avenues, including overseas; but, sorry, I am not the ministery of education, or finance.) But, again, none of this has anything to do with NUS/NTU admission criteria in themselves.

Sacrelicious said...

What if a local student's mother tongue is the English Language. Does it means the student just need to take the GP and satisfy both the GP and MT requirement?

singaporean said...

Huichieh,

hasnt it occurred to you that for a Singaporean to study in Australia, one has to pay to fly there, pay for the food and lodging and pay quite a bit more than an Aussie citizen in school fees, and for some Singaporeans like me in my younger days, it was prohibitively expensive. And as someone who had seriously considered getting a loan, I dont think the options are many, for undergraduate studies. Heck, I needed a loan just to study in NUS, and I nearly couldnt find a guarantor. So even if NUS/NTU/SMU is crap, it is the best crap many Singaporeans can afford.

As for what foreigners I was talking about, I was intentionally vague. I was referring to the PRC students. The numbers I quoted were mentioned in this PRC article. The article also mentions that NTU is lowering it's admission criteria for PRC students this year because it still couldnt meet the government mandated quota of 20% foreign undergraduate students.

As a result of declining birthrates and SMU, NUS and NTU are facing difficulties in enrolment, but yet are obstructed by government policies limiting graduates to 20% of each cohort, irregardless of their abilities. Local polytechnics had requested permission to offer degree programmes and was firmly denied.

Anyway, I dont think NUS is crap, just mediocre. If you believe the rankings, NUS would be a better university than, say Cornell. Yah right.

Sacrelicious said...

I am fine if the foreigners pay full fees and certain percentile of the seats are reserved for them but in this case they are getting tutions grants which are funded by taxations from the people here.

Can we safely estimate that the 20% quota can actually be met by students from polytechnic which have an average B grade? With that grade, you have the options of many courses in australia universities for example. Wouldnt it be a solution to their problem stated here: "As a result of declining birthrates and SMU, NUS and NTU are facing difficulties in enrolment,"

Let me propose another suggestion. Why not allow local A-level/Poly students to pay the full tuition fees if their grades just missed the entry requirement by less than 2-3%.

I am sure that will solved their enrolement "numbers" problem.

budak said...

GP was my favouritest subject in JC!!

Anonymous said...

GP as entry into university is not so much of a big deal. u can fail your gp, but still be able to enter university - that is, if u have straight As. i have two classmates in my cohort who had this situation.

of course, as someone who's been through the entire education train pri-sec-jc-uni route, i've come to the conclusion that foreigners have it better in singapore than singaporeans.

in sec school, i had a foreign classmate whose parents were PR in singapore and was in singapore for several years. he was made to take a second language, and so took mandarin with the rest of the class but kept failing at it. so he switched to french, but didnt fare to well either. by some miracle, his mum worked out a deal with MOE that exempted him from the second language. so while i was struggling to pass my chinese language for a place in jc, he was not subject to the same criteria, although there are certainly more languages available for study other than mandarin or french for him. it sucks to be singaporean, doesnt it?

in jc, i didnt really care for gp, overslept for the paper and got a c6. had to take the Qualifying English Test for uni entry, the standard of which was much more challenging than a GP paper. submitted a half-written paper, and passed. However, it is noted that i took the paper along side several english speaking/educated CHIJ girls, and PRCS. the CHIJ girl failed and had to take an english course for her first sem, but my PRC friend who couldnt speak a word of english passed. conclusion? they collect the papers, and randomly pick enough to fit into the english course for the year - congrats, the rest of u pass. so GP for entry is not a barrier for both locals and foreign friends, the entry test is merely a "wayang".

this is why, during the course of my study i have met teaching assistants who speak very fractured english or preferred to carry out lessons in mandarin if the class comprised of all ethnically chinese students, lecturers who cannot speak coherantly (racially and nationally diverse, not just PRC ok), and if they are prc lecturers, may break into mandarin because they have the luxury of a mostly chinese lecture group. can u believe i even met a singaporean arts and soc. sci undergraduate who cannot form a proper sentence in english in his essay? so english is not a big deal, we welcome foreign students. they can come here, enjoy government sponsorship and pay the same amount of school fees as the locals, and just work here for a couple of years getting "work experience overseas" which can mean flipping burgers at macdonalds, before heading home. how many of these "foreign talent" truly make singapore their home? it sucks to be local doesnt it.

why do u supposed that nus is the highest ranking uni, but it's graduates face the lowest employment rate and lowest average starting pay? (SMU btw, has 100% employment)

why do u suppose biopolis has so little locals? why is it that 1/3 scholarship holders are singaporan and 1/4 of post-grad scholarship holders are singaporan? is singapore importing talent, or merely freeloaders?

plus side of it all is, while i am tied to my country because of my family ties, i have no "love" for my country at all. i owe her nothing, really, if all that is given is just enough to make me go "well, at least there's something." and not go about rioting.

Huichieh said...

hasnt it occurred to you that for a Singaporean to study in Australia, one has to pay to fly there, pay for the food and lodging and pay quite a bit more than an Aussie citizen in school fees, and for some Singaporeans like me in my younger days, it was prohibitively expensive. And as someone who had seriously considered getting a loan, I dont think the options are many, for undergraduate studies. Heck, I needed a loan just to study in NUS, and I nearly couldnt find a guarantor. So even if NUS/NTU/SMU is crap, it is the best crap many Singaporeans can afford.

But of course--it was prohibitively expensive for me and my brothers too. My point is not that going overseas is not expensive, or even that it is a genuine option for many people in Singapore. The question is: What has any of this got to do with admissions criteria per se? Secondly, what has it got to do with the MT criterion in particular?

As I said in my previous comments, it seems to me that the real issue you are raising has more to do with, e.g., there not being enough options (beyond NUS/NTU) at the tertiary level in Singapore, and beyond that, the availability of low interest loans, bursaries, etc., etc.

Huichieh said...

As for what foreigners I was talking about, I was intentionally vague. I was referring to the PRC students. The numbers I quoted were mentioned in this PRC article.

Ok, I just read the article on NTU's recruitment exercise in 浙江. (a) The bulk of the students are self paying (自费). (b) Some few selected on the basis of results can apply for part of all of the the tuition grant, and are bonded (少量入学成绩优异的公费生...可申请享受新加坡教育部的学费津贴,相当于减免全部或部分学费,但有个条件即毕业后需为新加坡注册公司服务3年). (c) Those who are in financial need (需要经济援助的学生) can apply for the tuition waiver plus 3,600-5,000 per year stipend.

I'll be quite curious to know how many eventually qualify for (c).

The article also mentions that NTU is lowering it's admission criteria for PRC students this year because it still couldnt meet the government mandated quota of 20% foreign undergraduate students.

I don't see anything in the article that actually says the above.

Yes, there was that line about NTU as "the proud princess who lowered her herself", but that very line also says "in face of the bright students of Zhejiang" (面对浙江优秀的高中生). In fact, the impression is that we are talking about a very small numner of students (39 so far) from the top schools of the region. One example cited is a girl who topped her class, etc., etc.

Rockie said...

aiyah so easy to solve this problem!

first let me summarise:

Local or PRC fees for local university - negligible difference.

but PRCs seem to get into local uni more easily than locals.

whereas overseas degrees are considered better than local degrees.

Solution: Let local uni take in 100% PRC, and gahmen subsidise all local students (like they subsidise PRCs) to go study in china universities!

Outcome:
- no more GP problems for locals
- no more quota issue for unis
- jobs for singaporeans! since overseas degree is more welcomed. since china developing, there also a lot of jobs wat.

so next time angmoh ask u "which part of china is singapore in?" u can answer "the southern most part!"

singaporean said...

Huichieh,

you are approaching the matter in a very academic way. Do you actually know any PRC undergraduate at all? You are free to prove me wrong, but I know a fair number of PRC Engineering undergrads and I believe almost every single PRC student you see in NUS come under (c), ie full fee paid for, plus up to 5k allowance every year (and that is more than the annual pay of the average NS man)

And if you actually paid attention to what was going on during your undergrad days, you may recall that out of the blue, NUS was imposing quotas on the hostels to limit the number of Singaporeans, so as to accomodate the foreign students.

The issue on the anti-Singaporean discrimination in NUS was beaten to death here as well.

Given your reputation, I would expect more substance from you, rather than nitpicking.

Huichieh said...

But look, my supposed disagreement with you is a fairly narrow one. You might consider it nitpicking--and that's your right. Perhaps it is nitpicking (but it also implies that I am actually in agreement with you on other issues).

The question I am trying to figure out is simply this: how will changing the admissions criteria--especially the MT criteria--actually help with all the issues you raised. And I do think that they are genuine and very, very serious issues, issues that will come back to bit us all eventually. But like the reason for the MT criteria, they point to far larger factors than just the MT criteria and cannot be tackled on that narrow front. (At the very best, the MT/GP issues are mere symptoms of something deeper and bigger.) So you might say that my point is very limited--but surely it is not, for that reason, invalid? On the other hand, I really can't say much about that larger picture since I don't count myself to be in a good position to comment.

Incidentally, in my own undergraduate days, I did not see many international students at all. It's been a while. In any case, FASS usually does not have as many of them as, say, Engineering. I did encounter an increasing number of them when I was tutoring--but even then, from Malaysia, from the US, even from Sweden, but very, very few from PRC (because of the nature of the course).

And since I've been away for so long, it is not as if I would actually know the details on the ground as someone like yourself would. But I'll wager that the situation varies tremendously between faculties and departments. I always hear complaints about the non-English speaking tutor or professor from, say, Econs; but never from Philosophy, or History for that matter. It seems that even within one faculty, some departments suffer more than others on the issues you raised.

Furthermore, what I can say is that from the point of view of the larger perspective (of making NUS/NTU more internationally competitive), there is something very right about the (officially stated) policies--even if (as is usual in Singapore), they are often so terribly implemented.

Incidentally, when I said that I would be interested to know just how many of those PRC students fall under (c)--that wasn't a rhetorical question at all. I would really like to know--because it would affect how I view the bigger picture.

Kelvin Tan said...

Haha, interesting 20% quota for foreign students. I can imagine the reasoning behind to be as follows:

Premise: Harvard, Princeton, MIT etc are world class universities. What do we see in these universities, we see many International students!

Conclusion: To make NUS/NTU/SMU world class, let us increase the proportion international students in them!

Correlation implies causation?

Problem: Not as many international students want to come here compared to the US.

Solution: Pay them to come!

Multi-Pundit said...

I just want to correct one or two misconceptions. Since we're talking about undergraduates here, most Ivies hover in the range of 6-10% international students, according to Princeton review, which would be a fair estimate to me.

International students provide diversity, according to the officials anyway. The competition is inherent in the application process. My guess is that Singapore equates a good crop of undergraduates to translate to a better yield for the university, so they make it more attractive for international students to apply.

Having worked in the NTU graduate admissions office, I've noted that a majority of applicants are usually from a select network of Cambodian and Burmese universities, with a couple of Indian universities thrown into the fray.

Not that this applies to NUS, but the mentality is apparent - we get the best these international/regional students have to offer, and bump the quality of our graduating class a few notches. I'm not really sure what this accomplishes, because most of the foreign nationals I know have little intention of staying in Singapore long tem. This of course, is a generalised observation.

What is queer about this whole process is that Singapore faces the dilemma of providing adequate (and afforable) education for all stratifications of its tertiary, uhh, educatees. What I fail to understand is why the policy is slanted towards the 'international students will make us better' mentality, when it seems they are neglecting the Singaporean aspect of the equation.

Ivies don't have a large international (and not even 10%) student population because it makes them more competitive; the international student population exists simply because people are clambering to get it. There seems to be some confusion with how to improve a university's standing, and international students seems to be the shortest route. Whether they remain in Singapore to serve their bond, that is another question as well.

Good thing I dropped out of junior college and poly.

Anonymous said...

posted on a forum by a foreign undergraduate with regard to the recent fee hike:

"$180 might not be a burden to local people.But need they ever think that almost half of the student from NUS are foreigners.Not every student are from rich contry like Singapore.$180 did cost a lot. I can use this money for 2 moths for my daily expension.

Do they think that Singapore Government give student grant to us is consider very kind to us?Hey man, please dun forget, we have to work in Singapore for 3 years. We are Bonded.We are not owning anyone of them.

What reason makes them to increase the tuition fees anually.Then if they said they dun have enough money for their expenses ,why should they build the "beautiful" university hall instead of using the old one.They are just want to show off to the people that NUS is rank top 25 in the world.

What the hell"

He's just a regular student, and that is his mentality.

1 - In spite of his spelling, he is coherent. however, this is written not spoken. sometimes the accent can be thick, making it hard to decipher. note tho, doesnt just apply to PRCs, it can apply to ang moh lecturers too.

2 - from the way he phrases the posting, perhaps its a language difficulty but i think he got one rpetty fine, i got the impression that he sees himself a victim of sorts in singapore's society. We singaporeans, in effect, OWE him for the fee hike, and his inability to pay for the fee hike.

2 - he does not think that our government's subsidy a good thing, or anything to be grateful for, and from the way he phrase it, dare i say it is his RIGHT to GET a subsidy as a foreign student even. honestly, can u blame them for exploiting singapore? he says he doesnt owe our government and our country anything.

So many of the ppple i went to school with - sri lankan, malaysian, prc -- it's a multinational affair -- they do not intend to stay on in singapore after graduation and completing their bond. to quote one of them - "why would i tie myself to such a small country which has nothing? i would rather go back to my own country!"

in response to Huichieh,

Having an MT requirement might seem as if NUS is asking for more from the local than from the foreigner but if you think of it not so much as a MT but a 2nd Language requirement, things don't look the same. The fact is, requiring English from the applicant from China, Thailand, or for that matter, Sweden, is to ask for competency in a second language (apart from Chinese, Thai or Swedish).

true, but u cannot enter uni if you get below d7 for ao-level chinese, or fail chinese b syllabus, but you can enter nus if u fail english. and i'm talking bout the situation where you have decent grades but fucked up language competency. i wonder which language is more important? how funny it is that i am forced to study mandarin that is too simplified to be used in china, when my national language is bahasa melayu, just because i am ethnically chinese, of hokkien decent, but unable to communicate with my elders who can share the wisdom of tradition because i cannot speak hokkien.

in addition, LKY himself has admitted that the ideal of being able to speak two languages fluently is justthat - an ideal. it's a skill few can master.

but in any case, i think the main focus should be that the problem is this: the main medium of communication in uni is in english, but because of the demographics of the university, the lessons are being carried out in a language that the population is by and large incompetent in. i'm all for a standard of english from the locals, but because of the importance of the language for communication, forein students from none english speaking countries should too, be subjected to the same high standards regardless of whether or not it is in first or second language.

i'm sure you are aware that in nus students tutorials and labs are taught by honours and masters students which are both foreign and local students. in my 3 years with nus, i have only attended 2 small group tutorials conducted by the lecturers themselves, and they were both from the arts faculties. i assure u, i have not come across any small group tutorials conducted by lecturers in the science faculty. They were all conducted by graduate students, many of which had incredibly poor competency in english, and are unable to articulate well enough to TEACH and share in the knowledge in which they DO have. as such, all students, because of the way lessons are taught in uni, should be subject to the same standards of english language regardless of whether or not it is the first or second language.

haha, it would be so much better if the lecturers are subject to english competency tests as well.

so i do not think it is unfair to demand competency in english language of students who arrive from non-english speaking countries simply because it's the medium of communication here.

i can understand why Singaporean is so worked up with you. some comments you made about asking those who think NUS is terrible to leave for overseas unis as terribly myopic. so much so it spurred me to type sleepily a comment here and include you in it. Like Singaporean, i chose to study in nus, even tho i feel that it is mediocre, simply because i cannot go overseas for a degree. if i had the money, i would have definately gone. Why stay here and be a second-class citizen in my own country?

besides, is it too much of me to demand more from my national uni which claims to be a world class institution? too much to demand that tax payers money used in subsidies for foreign students to be justified when the retention rate is only about 4%? too much to demand that my country put its citizens first?

I suppose you'll find fault and nitpick here and there in what i'm trying to say (summary: Singaporeans should feel/see the perks of being singaporean, or else what is citizenship for? why is it that my father/brother/husband/son serve ns for my country?). but go ahead and just continue to cough up something to say to play the devils advocate. but hey, u and i, we're products from the same system.

Cheers
Karp.

Huichieh said...

true, but u cannot enter uni if you get below d7 for ao-level chinese, or fail chinese b syllabus, but you can enter nus if u fail english.

Note quite. If you really fail English, as in is incompetent in English, I'll wager that it is neigh impossible for you to have met the other requirements at the 'A' levels. The last I checked, those exams are administered in English.

how funny it is that i am forced to study mandarin that is too simplified to be used in china, when my national language is bahasa melayu, just because i am ethnically chinese, of hokkien decent, but unable to communicate with my elders who can share the wisdom of tradition because i cannot speak hokkien.

I'm not sure I disagree. I have my own reservations about our nation's language policies. But as I keep saying above, these are issues to do with our national language policies in general, and in this instance, the university admissions criteria are at the receiving and not the giving end. There is no way to tinker with the latter without a more fundamental revamping of the former, ergo, focusing on the latter in some sense misses the point. (Think of it this way, it is not obvious, purely from NUS's own point of view and abstracting from larger national directives, that NUS should care about an MT requirement.)

because of the importance of the language for communication, forein students from none english speaking countries should too, be subjected to the same high standards regardless of whether or not it is in first or second language...so i do not think it is unfair to demand competency in english language of students who arrive from non-english speaking countries simply because it's the medium of communication here.

I absolutely agree with everything you say! And if NUS has been less than consistent or sufficiently stringent in requiring English competency, it is NUS's own fault. Or to be fair, since I do get the impression that things vary a great deal between faculties and departments, it's the specific departments' fault.

Same thing with regards to what you said about English competency on the part of the instructors. (Just as an aside: the philosophy department always have had our MA students do the tutorials for the year one courses--and this goes back a long way. I had MA tutors for my first year courses, one Singaporean, the other American. And of course, I went on to do the same tutoring when I was an MA student myself. As far as I know, no one has ever complained about anybody's English--at least in my own time. Though a couple of Swedish exchange students did ask me to slow down when speaking.)

On the last part of your comment. I am not even sure I completely disagree--perhaps I didn't make myself clear, perhaps it's a matter of nuance. So let me try this.

I would be crazy to believe that NUS is somehow already world class. (I have seen my share of genuinely world class universities.) However, it is not obvious that NUS/NTU simply do not stand a chance at becoming more world class. And believe you me when I say that this is going to be the work of a generation. Throwing money is nice, but this sort of things take time, lots of it. But, given time, it can be done to some degree.

(But this goal may not be completely compatible with another goal--that of having NUS/NTU meet purely local demands.)

Second. My point about "those who think NUS is terrible" is not that they should leave for overseas universities. As I said, not even I believe that this is a genuine possibility for many Singaporeans. It wasn't one for me. Rather, my point is (a) it is hardly obvious that it's necessarily a bad thing for those who can afford it to go overseas; and that (b) there is a tension between the sentiment that NUS/NTU are somehow terrible, while at the same time blaming NUS/NTU for not admitting one, and worst still, to blame specifically the already clearly laid out for all to see in advance criteria of admission, or for that matter, the international students. (By the way, "tension" is not the same as contradiction.)

It just doesn't seem as if it is NUS/NTU, and specifically, the admissions criteria that are at fault. Putting the blame at that level just sounds too much like special pleading.

The following is more controversial.
You mention "perks of citizenship". But why are we assuming that "an university education" should be part of such a thing? (To even think of the issue in that way is already to think of the country--or to be more precise, the state in a very specific way. And this is not something that is uncommon to Singaporeans--we always expect a payoff, we expect that, having put in our bit, the government will do something to take care of us. That the country somehow owes it to us in very specific ways in terms of personal outcomes given that we have, e.g., paid our taxes, done our NS, etc. Unfortunately, this is a way of looking at life is the result of government policy, one that is coming back to bite them now...)

And even if we do assume this, why should "enrollment in NUS/NTU specifically" be a plausible expansion of the assumption?

As I keep saying, there are other more obvious alternatives. There is tremendous scope for more financial assistance, loans, or for that matter, just a wider range of institutions to choose from--from globally oriented ones, to more locally tailored ones. Not even in California does every aspiring student have even an atom of a chance at entering UC Berkeley or UCLA (abstracting from those who went to private universities). Many go to the less prestigeous UC universities, or other state colleges, or community colleges, etc. My own sense is that it is precisely the relative lack of such a range of tertiary options that is the true underlying cause of the problem in Singapore. But these alternatives take us beyond a narrow focus on just NUS/NTU or their admissions criteria.

In a nutshell: I am not denying the overall significance of the various points that "Singaporean" or yourself ("Karp") raised, but I am saying that part of his unhappiness is somewhat misdirected--which is not to say that they would not be justified if directed at other things.

Huichieh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Huichieh said...

Anyway, thanks (or no thanks) to this thread, I found myself pouring over what little is provided by way of statistics on the Singapore Education Digest (and other sources) to draw some tentative conclusions about the extent to which the increasing number of international students in the local universities have somehow made it harder for the locals to get into NUS/NTU. So this is a trackback (URL corrected).

Anonymous said...

"My own sense is that it is precisely the relative lack of such a range of tertiary options that is the true underlying cause of the problem in Singapore."

That's my point in the perks of citizenship. tertiary options are lacking. and yet, it seems that locals do not have priority entry. what is detering some richer singaporeans from pursuing education overseas is the cost - and thus there is a factor of control for foreign students as opposed to locals in those overseas countries. Now compare it to Singapore, foreigners come here and pay the SAME amount of school fees because of the government subsidy derived from YOUR taxes, work in a foreign land due to a 3 year bond and return home with "a foreign education and 3 years work experience in a foreign land". There is so much to be gained from coming here, studying, working, and LEAVING.

And why am i worked up? Because as a citizen, i believe it is my RIGHT to an education, regardless of primary school, secondary school or tertiary. And in terms of RIGHTS,I believe that deserving locals should have priority for entry into universities especially since the spaces are so limited between 4 of the choices, and the idea of attracting and retaining foreign talent by the present means is so obviously flawed due to its high rate of failure which is probably due to the way things are run.

how else is it that singaporeans that go overseas to study on exchance or scholarship, refuse to come home to singapore,

but foreign students cant wait to go home?

Foreign students can miss their home country, singaporeans are incapable?

Or lets put it this way,

If the Gov. has so much faith that a subsidy would make foreign students stay on and make singapore their home, and a 3 year bond a suffice length of time for them to FEEL that singapore has become their home, than perhaps the same should be done for the locals - let them pay for an overseas education through CPF and with a Gov. subsidy, and in return, must return to singapore to serve a bond. With 20 years living in Singapore prior, in addition to 3 years bond, singaporeans would surely feel like singapore is their home ...as opposed to 20 years in china, and a 3 year bond in singapore...i mean,if that's the logic....

i don't count staying in campus for your entire education really "absorbing" singapore culture and would make singapore feel like home. you hang out on campus with friends of your nationality, speaking your own national language, cooking together your national foods in the hostel kitchen, talking about news from home and how good it will be to go home (which is often accompanied by singapore sucks i cant wait to go home) and you go clementi u're surrounded by foreigners --- you don't really immerse in the heartlands, and mix with the locals.

"Note quite. If you really fail English, as in is incompetent in English, I'll wager that it is neigh impossible for you to have met the other requirements at the 'A' levels. The last I checked, those exams are administered in English."

Are you kidding me? i thought it was held in mandarin! hahahaha no, seriously, during my course of study, i've met really brilliant people, those with the straight As for A levels and attained a spot on the dean's list in JC. And of those people, I have come across a few who cannot speak an entire sentence in English comfortably, choosing instead to converse in mandarin. I have also come across a few who cannot write a coherant sentence with proper grammer for at least 70% of that sentence, and singaporean citizens no less - those who had spent their entire lives in the Singapore education system where english language is a FIRST language. And of course, there are an amazing number of students, who FAIL their A levels Chinese and yet score Straight As for the other papers, even history. Why? because the graders for subject papers tend to mark based on the facts given, rather than language. and as for the more technical modules, all you have to do is write down lines of facts and figures. thus it is not right to brush it off to "all papers were done in english and thus there is english competency".

Cheers, Karp

Huichieh said...

re: your last para. Well, I'll admit to have said that tongue in cheek. Funny because I was just having a conversation with a friend who taught for a while at --blank-- JC and he thought that the level of English was atrocious. Note however, that the true implication of what you are saying is that NUS/NTU should beef up the English competency requirement across the board, for all students, local or foreign. The outcome may not be pretty.

I have no ability to divine the mind of our dear leaders, so I can't really comment on the part about "the Gov. has so much faith that a subsidy would make foreign students stay on and make singapore their home". Nevertheless, I do get the impression that the massive recruitment is more than just for manpower or population considerations. Some are saying that it is part of a larger strategy to basically build up a group of people who have studied and stayed here--wherever they end up after that--and thus, over time, build up a world wide reputation by word of mouth, etc. not to mention the personal and business connections they would have. It's hard for me to say if this is going to really work, but suffice it to say that it doesn't appear obviously crazy, even if it's going to take a while before we see any real fruits.

* * * * *

And why am i worked up? Because as a citizen, i believe it is my RIGHT to an education, regardless of primary school, secondary school or tertiary. And in terms of RIGHTS,I believe that deserving locals should have priority for entry into universities especially since the spaces are so limited between 4 of the choices, and the idea of attracting and retaining foreign talent by the present means is so obviously flawed due to its high rate of failure which is probably due to the way things are run.

At this stage, I'm afraid we are in the region of a philosophical disagreement that cannot be overcome by appeal to facts. I do not, never did, believe that education of any kind is a right. I'm not even sure that it is wise for any country to make it an entitlement.

Nor am I even sure if you really mean what you said literally. I'll assume that it makes sense to talk about education--at the tertiary level as either a right (or perhaps more plausibly, an entitlement). But you did say that "deserving locals should have priority for entry into universities"--but bringing in desert gets us beyond any straightforward right or entitlement. At best, we have a conditional right or entitlement--the student has that right or entitlement only in virtue of his possessing whatever it is that merits his deserving the thing under consideration. But once you go there, we are in the ball park of questions to do with what counts as the basis for this desert? And you can't mean the mere fact that, say, the person is a citizen, of the right age, paid taxes, did NS, etc., I hope. What if he is not academically inclined? Are we, as a society, committed to saying that nevertheless, he has a right to a BA or BSc in whatever field he chooses? Even if he is academically inclined, it doesn't follow that we would say that he should have his pick of degrees--it will depend on the match between his abilities and the requirements of the course at hand. (And even then, it doesn't follow that he deserves a degree--a brilliant student who doesn't do his work and flunks out does not deserve his degree.)

But we are just talking about entrance. What qualifies as the suitable basis of merit for entrance into a university? One that would make sense for a society such as ours to adopt, and that would be equitable...

I'll say up front that I don't have complete answers. But the least I will say is that talking about access to tetiary education as a right, or even entitlement--unless we live in the world of fancy--doesn't really get us anywhere.

how else is it that singaporeans that go overseas to study on exchance or scholarship, refuse to come home to singapore, but foreign students cant wait to go home? Foreign students can miss their home country, singaporeans are incapable?

But Singaporeans refuse to come home for all sorts of reasons. To begin with, some places in the world are just more beautiful, life is easier, there are more opportunies, they met their spouse, they prefer wide open spaces, tall mountains, running rivers, or just snow. (Not only do I not have anything against them, I always wish them well wherever they go.)

So likewise the reason why many foreigners who studied here might conceivably want to go elsewhere. I'm not sure if there is anything to write home about in these observations.

Secondly, the drift of what you are saying is that, somehow, because all these foreign students don't intend to stay here anyway, they deserve not to enjoy the chance to study here. Maybe. But by the same sort of reasoning, why couldn't one say that since the typical Singaporean--on your account--can't wait to leave anyway, the only thing stopping him is that he can't afford the one way ticket--likewise do not deserve to study here? (Because he did his NS? But why does doing NS--abstracted from considerations of academic merit--makes one more deserving of an education?)

Look, there is something you are saying that I will agree with in a heartbeat. In continuing to attract foreign students for whatever reason (and there are many good ones on that score), our education system--at all levels--must make sure that the educational opportunities of Singaporeans are not thereby prejudiced. This has to be a right principle; the rest (as far as I am concern) are only rhetoric.

Once we zoom in to this, we can ask ourselves: is it true that the educational opportunities of Singaporeans have been prejudiced--on account of the increasing number of foreign students?

And here, I am in a bind. While anecdotal and subjective 'evidence' abounds, hard data is...hard to come by. What I do know is that officially, the international student enrollment is meant to be in addition to, on top of, existing enrollment, and not in place of. And what statistics that are available is at least consistent with this claim (you can read the analysis for yourself by linking from my previous trackback). The fact is, our pre-U enrollment levels have been fairly stable--around 21,000-24,000 since the early 90s. But university intake has seen a steady increase of (on average 5%/yr), from 5,000+ in 1984 to 12,000+ in 2004. Even correcting for all the foreign students (a feature only beginning in the very late 90s), it is not obvious at all that there are now more local students competing for the same or fewer places. If anything, there are more or less the same number of local students (at the Pre-U level) competing for roughly the same if not a slowly increasing number of places--pretty much reserved for them.

This is not to deny that (as I said in my post), there aren't other serious issues that can be raised--whether it is such a good thing to have so many international students, whether they should be given the same level of tuition grant, whether Singaporeans have been discriminated against when applying for a place in the residential halls, whether the international students are sufficiently competent in English, whether having such a large international student body has any connection whatsoever with improving education experience, or university reputation, or rankings, etc., etc.

All very good questions, but they are not the same as the basic issue of whether the educational opportunities of Singaporeans have been prejudiced--on account of the increasing number of foreign students.

Interestingly, a third party study of the system said the same thing. I quote:

"Public perception is that the increasing numbers of international students are depriving locals of places, but it is clear that the Government's international student program is a separate 'package' running parallel to the education of local students."

(From: G. Sanderson, "International Education Developments in Singapore", International Education Journal 3.2 (July 2002): 97).

Huichieh said...

Takchek pointed to something interesting and relevant from a 2004 "Reply by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Acting Minister for Education on Higher Education" in parliament". I quote:

24. Mr Low Thia Kiang raised the issue of MTL requirements...in relation to Mr Low Thia Khiang's question, I would emphasis also that it is important for the universities themselves to decide on the admission criteria. If the universities or any of their faculties were to decide that MTL is important for a particular course, they will make it a requirement. Indeed, some faculties at NUS and NTU already do so. We see this in the degree programmes for Communication Studies and Chinese Studies. What the UAC recommended, which we agreed to, is to stop mandating that every student counts his MTL grade as part of his admissions score for every course...

26. Mr Low also asked why General Paper should remain a requirement for university admission. I should first clarify that GP is not an English language paper as such. It seeks to develop students' logical reasoning and analytical skills. It requires students to read more widely and take an active interest in current affairs. These are important attributes for university education. However, it is for our universities to decide if GP should remain relevant in future.


Anyway, just for the record.

Incidentally, I feel that the thing about not counting MTL grade as part of admissions score is definitely a move in the right direction; though in a speech made in the previous day, Tharman Shanmugaratnam also defended the decision to continue having a MT requirement ("12...However, students will still be required to have a passing grade in MTL to gain admission").

Nutshell: the government is trying to walk the fine line between goals that are somewhat in tension with each other: Having the MT requirement around goes against the goal of making NUS/NTU more globally oriented; but scrapping it would signal a fundamental change Singapore's language policies. In the meantime, the government attempts to split the difference.

singaporean said...

The founding principle of Singapore is that of equality and meritocracy.

Dr Aline Wong was quoted as saying all local students who qualify for a university place would gain entry to a Singapore university and that places would always be competitive due to the number being determined by "projected manpower needs".

But what must a student do to _qualify_ for a place in Singapore universities? Singaporean students are getting so exam smart that the A level exam is no good as a gauge for university admission, hence the aborted experiment of adding SAT tests as an additional entry requirement.

Shouldnt NUS/NTU/SMU just take in all who can meet the grade requirements, as what Dr Aline Wong promised?

The truth is that NUS/NTU/SMU cannot do that even if they want to, because the local universities are essential tools of social engineering by the government. An excessive proportion of local graduates will make Singapore hard to govern. So, instead of allowing a larger proportion of Singaporeans enter the local university due to declining birthrate, the government chooses to top up with foreign students. Just think about it: Singapore is no longer short of engineers, but why do we still have burgeoning engineering faculties that are fueled entirely by PRC scholarship holders? What projected manpower requirements? As many as two thirds of the PRC scholarship holders leave Singapore to go to the US or back to China immediately on graduation.

singaporean said...

If Singapore universities are genuinely meritocratic, we should have

1) A unified admission system. No tweaked requirements to make it easier for foreigners. For the longest time, the universities strictly capped the admission of the polytechnic graduates into the universities, precisely because the government wants to see the bulk of local graduates jump through the A level and accompanying hoops, as they make them up. In the past it was GP/MT/SAT, now project work/CCA, who knows next it will be backflips,sword swallowing or even burning hoops. What is "good" for Singaporeans cant be that wrong for foreigners, can it? If NUS/NTU officials can be free enough to fly overseas and evaluate foreigner talents, then why cant they spend more time looking at individual talents of Singaporeans?

2) Fair use of taxpayers' money. The government spends over 100 million every year to fund the PRC scholarships, and to what end? Most of the PRC scholars just vanish off after graduation. If the same sum is spent on Singaporeans, local undergraduates will probably need not pay much school fees; it will go a long way to help a lot of Singaporeans who are not poor enough to qualify for assistance or smart enough to get a scholarship.

Instead, we have university fees going up again and again, and at least this singaporean has this nagging feeling that the rise in fees has a lot to do with defraying the costs for bringing in more PRC scholars. If we do not want Singaporeans to depend on this welfare "crutch", then how is it beneficial to the foreigners to be paid to study here?

3) Equal access to facilties.
For the longest time, NUS hostelites were complaining that there was insufficient hostel rooms, but the university couldnt care less. One fine day, foreign students start complaining about the horrible daily morning commute to school, something that plagues Singaporeans equally, and the university "solves" the problem by kicking Singaporeans out. Even today, foreigners still have priority access and quotas in the NUS and NTU hostels. NUS went so far to spend yet another 100 million to build an exclusive foreigners only hostel: Prince George Park.

As far as NUS/NTU are concerned, there is little doubt that Singaporeans are treated like second class citizens.

Anonymous said...

What if he is not academically inclined?

Ay, it's your right to do many things, just because you have a right to, doesnt mean u do it. It's just about having access to that right. If you are academically inclined , and wish to pursue a university education, than the choice to study should not be denied on the fact that there are not enough places in the university. 20% foreign students? that's 20% of places denied to Singaporeans. And because the 20% of the unbalance in the student demographics in nus, most foreign students are found in the sciences and engineering, instead of other faculties such as arts. Hence, although intake is a mere 20%, it's 20% of the entire population, but the enrollment of these 20% are shuttled to a few faculties, of which they form about half of the population.

Whilst you can enter science with a modest grade of BBB for 3 a level subjects, you will have a hard time entering science with BCE, and would have better luck trying Arts intead. Considering how Singapore's main economies are more technical rather than humanity based, isn't it alarming that the singaporean graduate population are mostly found outside of the science/engineering faculties?

I cannot fathom how u will say that education is not a RIGHT. If the gov. were to say, deny you education because you are female, would that be a cause to require education as a right? Having the Rights to education does not entail the forcing of a uni education on an individual, neither does it dictate whether or not the individual goes for arts or science. If at the end of the day the individual prefers arts over science inspite of singapore's industry, than so be it.

Note however, that the true implication of what you are saying is that NUS/NTU should beef up the English competency requirement across the board, for all students, local or foreign. The outcome may not be pretty.

what Mr Wang is trying to push in this topic, is that foreign students enjoy an easier entry because they are excused from the "torture" of GP.

All i'm trying to say, is that inspite of the difficulties of students when it comes to GP, it is still an important subject to have because it boosts english competency by pushing students to articulate themselves and express their views/findings/studies in a way that allows knowledge to be shared. and we should all be subject to the same standard of english as a criterion as well!

What's the point of having international diversity, having international talent, if people cannot communicate effectively with each other?

Some are saying that it is part of a larger strategy to basically build up a group of people who have studied and stayed here--wherever they end up after that--and thus, over time, build up a world wide reputation by word of mouth, etc. not to mention the personal and business connections they would have.

The only kind of reputation we're gonna have is

1 - we hardly interact with the lecturers
2 - TAs are incompetent with lessons
3 - go to singapore to study..got subsidy and u dun owe them anything.
4 - i studied and worked in singapore for close to ten years, but i still returned home or pursued a career in the states because jobs are hard to come by in singapore...

But Singaporeans refuse to come home for all sorts of reasons. To begin with, some places in the world are just more beautiful, life is easier, there are more opportunies, they met their spouse, they prefer wide open spaces, tall mountains, running rivers, or just snow. (Not only do I not have anything against them, I always wish them well wherever they go.)

So likewise the reason why many foreigners who studied here might conceivably want to go elsewhere. I'm not sure if there is anything to write home about in these observations.


and hence, singaporeans are leaving. foreigners are living. so there's something wrong with the system isnt it?

Finally, on a last bit of textual diarrhea,

- although MT score is not included in uni entry, are even aware of what kinda scoring system there is? there is no definate "if u score 15 u're in!", suggesting that the score shifts based on the unmber and quality of applications.

- 20% added onto the student population? 20% of a 100 is 20. as such the entire school poplation would be 120? as if uni isnt crowded enough. all these statistics as to how many foreign students are actually enrolled in nus are all held in great secrecy. and where do these addtional 20% mostly enroll? why is it in some tutorials and labs the local is in a "foreign land" ?

- those foreign students that DO stay have been in sigapore since they were in secondary school. they have spent enough time here to have lost their friendships with pple back home, and find returning home a depressing and daunting prospect. We obviously cannot buy a citizen, nor can we buy a GOOD reputation.

Nutshell: the government is trying to walk the fine line between goals that are somewhat in tension with each other: Having the MT requirement around goes against the goal of making NUS/NTU more globally oriented; but scrapping it would signal a fundamental change Singapore's language policies. In the meantime, the government attempts to split the difference.

I cannot understand why we bend ourselves over backwards like hell just to attract foreign talent, but in the end, hold on to a mt criteria and subject the locals to discrimination. policies can be changed, or else what is the government for? again, removing the need to include mt into the entry score doesnt mean anything, if the scoring methods are not made known.

The foreign students get the best deal here.

cheers, karp.

Huichieh said...

I have a presentation in 4 hours, and even without that, I really should get back to my work. So, though I would like to respond to the latest comments by "Singaporean" and "Karp", it may take a while. I hope you don't mind. In the meantime, I beg you (yes, you: "Singaporean" and "Karp") to take a look at the data (and tentative analysis) presented in my long post on my own blog, and the link dump--if you have not done so already. (I hope Mr. Wang doesn't mind me putting up links to my own site.)

Thank you for the civil discussion so far. I do believe that you are trying your sincerest best to find your way forward by what available light there is, and only ask that you believe the same of me.

I take my leave for now.

Huichieh said...

Ok, I'm back.

Singaporean said: The founding principle of Singapore is that of equality and meritocracy. Dr Aline Wong was quoted as saying all local students who qualify for a university place would gain entry to a Singapore university and that places would always be competitive due to the number being determined by "projected manpower needs". But what must a student do to _qualify_ for a place in Singapore universities? Singaporean students are getting so exam smart that the A level exam is no good as a gauge for university admission, hence the aborted experiment of adding SAT tests as an additional entry requirement. Shouldnt NUS/NTU/SMU just take in all who can meet the grade requirements, as what Dr Aline Wong promised?

The truth is that NUS/NTU/SMU cannot do that even if they want to, because the local universities are essential tools of social engineering by the government. An excessive proportion of local graduates will make Singapore hard to govern. So, instead of allowing a larger proportion of Singaporeans enter the local university due to declining birthrate, the government chooses to top up with foreign students. Just think about it: Singapore is no longer short of engineers, but why do we still have burgeoning engineering faculties that are fueled entirely by PRC scholarship holders? What projected manpower requirements? As many as two thirds of the PRC scholarship holders leave Singapore to go to the US or back to China immediately on graduation.

As far as I know, NUS/NTU do take as all who can meet the well advertised in advance grade requirements. Is there any evidence that they don't? The SAT thing was meant as an experiment in a possible alternative--so that there can be more than one way for the local student to gain entrance. But it didn't work out. Incidentally, Singaporean students are getting more and more exam smart, sure, but as far as the available data shows (all statistical data I cite are basically taken from here), the number of students with at least 2 'A' level passes and 2 'AO' passes including GP has been around 10,000 (plus/minus) since 1992! In the same period, the intake at NUS/NTU/SMU has risen from 6,100 to about 9,700--the latter numbers having already discounted the international students (otherwise, it would be 7,500 and 12,000 instead). As Singaporeans get better, there are also more places for them in the universities. (Another interesting piece of data that I found is this. 5% of the 1980 Primary 1 cohort eventually made it to the local universities. 20+% of the 1997 Primary 1 cohort did that. MOE is projecting that 25% of the 2010 Primary 1 cohort will do so. I posted a chart here.)

Incidentally, there's always been some international students in NUS/NTU--probably in the region of 10%. In 1997, NUS/NTU, upon the recommendation of an international academic advisory panel (IAAP), made it their goal to have 20% of the enrollment from international students--but this parallel to the local intake. In other words, the arrivals of the foreigners is not supposed to affect the locals changes of getting into NUS/NTU. And as far as I can tell from the data, there is just no hard evidence that they actually took the places of the locals. If anything, the data suggests the contrary. (Remember that even correcting for the international students, there is a growing number of places for locals, even as the JC intake/output remains fairly stable over the past decade.)

Incidentally, then PM Goh actually said something relevant to the present discussion in the 1997 NDP Rally. The highlighted parts are especially important

69. The foreign students will bring a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. They will enrich the educational experience of our own students in our universities. No Singaporean student will be deprived of a university place by foreign students, because we have no shortage of places. In fact we are short of students who can meet the entry grade of NUS and NTU.

70. We will offer scholarships to top foreign students coming to study here. Not all will stay on to work in Singapore. Those who return to their home countries will be alumni of Singapore. If we look after them well while they are here, they will continue to be friends of Singapore, and form part of our network of regional connections. Others will work for Singapore companies venturing into the region, helping us to understand and operate in their home countries. They will help our regionalisation programme.


That's 1997, the very year the IAAP (1st session) made it's recommendations. Whether one agrees with the stated goals or not, I don't think the policy makers can be accused of not being clear minded: "Not all will stay on to work in Singapore." Nor, I should add, would it be desirable for all to stay. Increasing the international enrollment is only indirectly connected with local manpower considerations; there are other considerations at work as well. In fact, I am mildly surprised that as much as 60% applied for PR/Citizenship upon graduation!

If Singapore universities are genuinely meritocratic, we should have (1) A unified admission system. No tweaked requirements to make it easier for foreigners.

And the evidence that it is easier for foreigners to enter is...? And I am not saying that it is easy for the local to enter--NUS/NTU has never been easy to get into (grades wise) compared to many other comparable universities in the world. But once again, the entry requirements for the locals are well publicised, in advanced, and applied across the board for the whole of the local school system. The existence or non existence of the international enrollment makes no difference to it at all--the presence or absence of that PRC student would not have made it either harder or easier for you to enter NUS/NTU. How well you do for the A's, both absolutely, and with compared to others in your cohort--those are the sorts of things that make the difference. And presumably, they will be the same without or without the international enrollment.

2) Fair use of taxpayers' money. The government spends over 100 million every year to fund the PRC scholarships, and to what end? Most of the PRC scholars just vanish off after graduation. If the same sum is spent on Singaporeans, local undergraduates will probably need not pay much school fees; it will go a long way to help a lot of Singaporeans who are not poor enough to qualify for assistance or smart enough to get a scholarship. Instead, we have university fees going up again and again, and at least this singaporean has this nagging feeling that the rise in fees has a lot to do with defraying the costs for bringing in more PRC scholars. If we do not want Singaporeans to depend on this welfare "crutch", then how is it beneficial to the foreigners to be paid to study here?

On the PRC scholars not staying--see above. Incidentally, the most recent increase in fees has to do with cost of paying the faculties. As far as I know, the funds for the international students come directly from the government, i.e., some other account. The latest thing is that NUS/NTU are considering a lock-in scheme so that you always pay the fees you pay when you enter--so that increases don't touch you. If you feel that there should be more financial assistance for needy students, etc., that's surely a legitimate issue to raise. In fact, I agree. But it has very little to do with the presence or absence of international students because even if they are not here, these issues should still be raised. (100 million, by the way, is a drop in the bucket in the world of international education. I'm not even sure if it can buy us one F-15SG.)

3) Equal access to facilties. For the longest time, NUS hostelites were complaining that there was insufficient hostel rooms, but the university couldnt care less. One fine day, foreign students start complaining about the horrible daily morning commute to school, something that plagues Singaporeans equally, and the university "solves" the problem by kicking Singaporeans out. Even today, foreigners still have priority access and quotas in the NUS and NTU hostels. NUS went so far to spend yet another 100 million to build an exclusive foreigners only hostel: Prince George Park.

You will have to pardon me for not feeling much about this--I commuted to and from NUS all through my entire 6 years (BA/MA) there. That's 1:15hr to get to NUS and 1:15hr to get home. Sometimes, it's more like 1:40+hr. I'm sure there are others who commuted even longer. Actually, I probably commuted about as much in my JC days as well. Nevertheless, staying in a hostel just doesn't appeal; not to mention the fact that I did a lot of reading, and sleeping, on the commute... Anyway I won't bother to defend NUS/NTU--whoever is in charge probably needs to be more sensitive to such concerns as the ones you raised. But I do hear about locals who stay in PGP, so I'm not sure how valid your complaint is.

As far as NUS/NTU are concerned, there is little doubt that Singaporeans are treated like second class citizens.

I don't know about you. I sure have doubts galore...

Karp: Ay, it's your right to do many things, just because you have a right to, doesnt mean u do it. It's just about having access to that right. If you are academically inclined , and wish to pursue a university education, than the choice to study should not be denied on the fact that there are not enough places in the university. 20% foreign students? that's 20% of places denied to Singaporeans. And because the 20% of the unbalance in the student demographics in nus, most foreign students are found in the sciences and engineering, instead of other faculties such as arts. Hence, although intake is a mere 20%, it's 20% of the entire population, but the enrollment of these 20% are shuttled to a few faculties, of which they form about half of the population.

See above concerning why the 20% does not take away any places from locals--it's 20% on top of whatever places meant for Singaporeans, totally parallel. In other words, rather than say ask why "20% of places [are] denied to Singaporeans" your real question is "why not just expand enrollment of Singaporeans in the local U's by 20%"? which is a whole question of it's own--but a totally distinct one. And it's definitely not one that comes with the same implication of 'injustice' as the former question.

Anecdotally, the bulk of the international students are in science and engineering--the very two faculties that saw the greatest expansion since 1997. For engine, the intake in 1997 was 3,017, and 4,320 in 2004--that's a 43% increase over the period. For science, it's 920 to 1,592, a 73% increase. (In the same period, overall intake grew from 9,250 to 12,194--a smaller 30% increase.) But most importantly of all, the number of students with 2 'A's and 2'AO's (including GP) grew from 10,554 to 10,923--actually, the numbers (if you have read what I said above) has been fairly stable at 10,000 plus/minus for the entire period. Now I would find it highly implausible that there has been a massive increase in the number of local students wanting to study science and/or engineering in the same period--i.e., as high as an increase of 43 or 73% If anything, I expect the number of local students wanting to study science and/or engineering to be fairly stable through the same period given that the number of 2A2AOs is so stable (and in fact, JC/PUC enrollment is fairly stable ar about 24,000 through the period as well).

In other words, roughly the same number of local students are fighting for a steadily increasing number of places--for them--in the universities.

(Another bit of circumstantial evidence: through the same period, arts intake in the universities is fairly stable at just under 2,000, accountancy 7-800, business 1,300, all fairly stable--which ties in with my point that, once you abstract from the international enrollment, the demand for the various courses is fairly stable--because the JC enrollment is fairly stable, and has been so for almost 2 decades! I have a chart of these figures here; scroll down.)

SO: even granting that a right is involved, it just doesn't look like anyone deserving has been deprived. At the very least, he's not showing up in the objective data.

Whilst you can enter science with a modest grade of BBB for 3 a level subjects, you will have a hard time entering science with BCE, and would have better luck trying Arts intead. Considering how Singapore's main economies are more technical rather than humanity based, isn't it alarming that the singaporean graduate population are mostly found outside of the science/engineering faculties?

But what's this got to do with anything? The question is not whether you can enter science with BCE but whether you could have entered science with BCE even if the international students were not there. And frankly, if the dons at the science faculty decide that BCE is not good enough, it's there call. In fact, the sheer fact that it's actually not difficult to predict whether or not someone would be accepted into whatever faculty shows just how stable things are even across years. If anything, it has not gotten much harder has it? Is it now the case that for science, only the AABs need apply?

I cannot fathom how u will say that education is not a RIGHT. If the gov. were to say, deny you education because you are female, would that be a cause to require education as a right? Having the Rights to education does not entail the forcing of a uni education on an individual, neither does it dictate whether or not the individual goes for arts or science. If at the end of the day the individual prefers arts over science inspite of singapore's industry, than so be it.

Mostly because I don't believe in such things as 'positive rights'--the possession of which actually oblidges others to do certain things--as opposed to negative ones what specify what others are not allowed to do to you. But let's leave the intricacies of moral and political theory aside. In any case, it doesn't matter for present purposes because I am willing to grant for the sake of the argument that education is some sort of right or entitlement. But as I said earlier, you surely don't mean it as a unconditional right/entitlement--especially at the tertiary level--but one that is conditional upon the person possessing the relevant desert-basis or merit for him or her to enjoy that education. That is, surely you don't mean that anyone and everyone has a right--no questions asked, whatever his grades, however he did on the qualifying tests, whatever his aptitudes, etc., etc.--to a place in the university, or for that matter, to a place in a particular course in the university? That's all I was saying. Sure you have a right to study engineering--just make sure, like everyone else who applied and got in, you meet the requirements. If not, sorry.

What Mr Wang is trying to push in this topic, is that foreign students enjoy an easier entry because they are excused from the "torture" of GP. All i'm trying to say, is that inspite of the difficulties of students when it comes to GP, it is still an important subject to have because it boosts english competency by pushing students to articulate themselves and express their views/findings/studies in a way that allows knowledge to be shared. and we should all be subject to the same standard of english as a criterion as well! What's the point of having international diversity, having international talent, if people cannot communicate effectively with each other?

I'm not sure at all if that was the point that Mr Wang was trying to 'push'--but as I keep stressing (a) it is not obvious at all that the foreign students have an easier time just because he or she doesn't have to do GP. Everyone has hoops to jump, just different ones. (b) In any case, you don't even have to pass GP, just to take the exam, so it can't be that GP is somehow making it extra hard for the locals. (c) I absolutely agree that GP is important for exactly the sorts of reasons you cited, and also that a standard of English is cfrucial. BUT (d) all this merely points to the fact that NUS (or to be precise, the specific departments) ought to enforce English competency as an entry requirement in a more stringent fashion--across the board, for all students local and international.

The only kind of reputation we're gonna have is
1 - we hardly interact with the lecturers
2 - TAs are incompetent with lessons
3 - go to singapore to study..got subsidy and u dun owe them anything.
4 - i studied and worked in singapore for close to ten years, but i still returned home or pursued a career in the states because jobs are hard to come by in singapore...


For the larger goals of having an increased international enrollment and how it is not about local manpower concerns per se, see above (quoting PM Goh in 1997).

1. As an undergrad. you hardly interact with the lecturers, i.e., profs, in Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, Toronto, you name it. In fact, in the US, if you are an undergrad, you are guaranteed to be able to interact with the profs for the most part only if you are a rich kid in an exclusive private liberal arts college, or if the prof is especially on the ball. Otherwise, it's the TA, who, by the way, could well be from China if you are in a math or engineering department... Nothing to write home about.
2. Valid point that ought to be taken up with the individual departments at fault! I'll say up front that all the TA's I've ever had in NUS philo were excellent instructors, and in our own time as TAs, we take special pride in our work. (I won't bore you with the student reviews from the engine students whom I TA'ed.)
3/4. Who says all of you are supposed to come here and stay after graduating? Wait a minute, don't 40% of you leave upon graduattion anyway? (Again, see above quote of PM Goh '97)

I said: "But Singaporeans refuse to come home for all sorts of reasons. To begin with, some places in the world are just more beautiful, life is easier, there are more opportunies, they met their spouse, they prefer wide open spaces, tall mountains, running rivers, or just snow. (Not only do I not have anything against them, I always wish them well wherever they go.) So likewise the reason why many foreigners who studied here might conceivably want to go elsewhere. I'm not sure if there is anything to write home about in these observations."

You said: and hence, singaporeans are leaving. foreigners are living. so there's something wrong with the system isnt it?

I see, there's something wrong about "the system" because Singapore is not as beautiful as some places in the world, that it has not as many opportunities as some places in the world, that there are wide open spaces, tall mountains, running rivers, snow elsewhere but not in Singapore...

- although MT score is not included in uni entry, are even aware of what kinda scoring system there is? there is no definate "if u score 15 u're in!", suggesting that the score shifts based on the unmber and quality of applications.

The fact that you can usually predict whether a person will get into a particular course by looking at his or her A-level results tells me that you are being overly suspicious. Obviously, there will always be borderline cases that are hard to say, but that's why they are called "borderline cases". Once we get to such cases, it really depends on all sorts of hard to predict factors--which would have been the same with or without the international students.

- 20% added onto the student population? 20% of a 100 is 20. as such the entire school poplation would be 120? as if uni isnt crowded enough. all these statistics as to how many foreign students are actually enrolled in nus are all held in great secrecy. and where do these addtional 20% mostly enroll? why is it in some tutorials and labs the local is in a "foreign land" ?

NUS is getting crowded? I'll second you on that. Though I'll have to say that from personal experience, probably no more crowded than, say, UC Berkeley or the University of Toronto. (The latter is possibly more crowded on a per square meter basis.) And I suppose it would just be as crowded if, rather than take in those extra 20% international students, NUS/NTU take in another 20% local students...

I too would loved to look at some direct statistics; but actually, the MOE site already contains a lot that are highly suggestive. See my discussion above. Again, as I keep saying, individual departments that don't do a proper job ensuring that their TAs meet requirements should be tarred and feathered--if such is the case.

- those foreign students that DO stay have been in sigapore since they were in secondary school. they have spent enough time here to have lost their friendships with pple back home, and find returning home a depressing and daunting prospect. We obviously cannot buy a citizen, nor can we buy a GOOD reputation.

Not sure if this is relevant at all. No one is talking about buying citizens. Even the reputation thing is more subtle than you put it--see above quoting PM Goh. (Incidentally, good money can entice world class researchers to set up shop--and it's not like we are the only ones doing it. It is merely standard practice in the advanced countries. Nothing to write home about. To speak on something I have more knowledge of: how else do you think the philosophy department at NYU went from nothing to 1st on the Leiter Ranking in a matter of a few years?)

I cannot understand why we bend ourselves over backwards like hell just to attract foreign talent, but in the end, hold on to a mt criteria and subject the locals to discrimination. policies can be changed, or else what is the government for? again, removing the need to include mt into the entry score doesnt mean anything, if the scoring methods are not made known.

But the point is precisely that the MT requirements has very little to do with the international students. Even if there aren't any international students, they will still be there as long as the language policies of the country remain unchange. If NUS/NTU were left to their own devices, they would very likely have just dropped the whole thing in a heartbeat (my speculation). In fact, I might even say that it is precisely the new emphasis on a more global orientation that caused MOE to relent and allow NUS/NTU to not count MT in the scoring, even while, at the same time, still insisting on the D7 pass. One might almost say that there's something to thank the international students for in this case!

* * * * *

coda and farewell: This will be the last time I will respond on this thread. As it is, I already feel as if I'm taking up a lot of Mr. Wang's space. I'm in the process of sourcing for and sorting through what information there is in the public domain concerning the issues raised--especially on the objective impact of the increased international enrollment in NUS/NTU on the local students, in particular, whether that increased enrollment has been detrimental to the locals, and if so, in what ways. I'm not sure how much time it will take (it will have to be when I take breaks from my real work), but you are welcome to continue the discussion on my own site if you so wish. Otherwise, adieu and all the best.

singaporean said...

Huichieh,

I am not expecting a reply, here are just some questions in my head regarding your analysis:

1) Whether the foreign student intake runs in parallel is really a matter of your point of view. If the local universities desire growth at present rates, it will have to re-examine the present admission policies, if it werent for generous government funding of PRC scholarships. The universities would be forced to explore the suitability, for eg, of admitting more polytechnic graduates instead of hardcapping it at 2-6%. In many ways, poly grads are just like PRC scholars, weaker in English, but well advanced in their studies compared to the A level holders.

I assure you that the top 20% of most polytechnics are more than capable of competing with local A level holders, even PRC scholars, and most of them do receive a degree overseas, at their own expense. If there is any complaint against poly grads, it is the same one as that against PRC scholars: they specialised early and lack a breadth of view.

2) If 100 million is a drop in the ocean, why deny it to Singaporeans? While not all Singaporeans can study in NUS/NTU/SMU, do I hear anybody protesting the government excessively subsidising university education? Why does the country tolerate policies that pay foreigners first, and then Singaporeans get the scraps?


3) The Singaporeans permitted to stay in PGP comes under the University Scholars Programme. Singaporeans have to score straight As and make dean's list to rub shoulders with foreigners. Of course you are free to claim that you dont care for the privilege. I suppose you dont think that Rosa Parks was right to create a ruckus over a bus seat, or do you?

Huichieh said...

(sigh...this is very habit forming):

1. I'm not sure what you mean by "point of view"--as far as I know, it's both the official policy -and- what statistical data there are is consistent with it.

The present rate of growth has two components--the local and the international. Without the latter, there will still be the former, but the overall rate will be smaller.

If NUS/NUT had tried to grow at the *present* rate from the local pool alone, it would either have to drastically lower the admissions criteria for the JC output OR admit more poly grads outright. On the other hand, even if the present criteria are left unchanged, the numbers getting in will naturally rise (probably around +1-3% per year) as more Singaporeans get the requisite results (something that's been happening for 2 decades). But unless our JC/PU cohorts experience substantial growth, the rates will not be very high.

Incidentally, I don't pretend either to understand or even agree with the policy of capping the Poly intake at the present 2%; though increasing to 6% is certainly a move in the right direction. My own conjecture is that as long as the govt is willing to let NUS/NTU set their own standards--and after their corporatisation in April this year, there will be a lot more scope for this--the most likely thing to happen is that admissions criteria in each Uni will become more uniform over time. That's probably going to help the Poly grads.

Don't forget the other development of the increasing number of foreign uni's setting up shop in Singapore. In 5-10 years, the options are going to be just so much more comprehensive than at present--and that has to be a good thing for the Poly grads and everyone else. I would not be completely surprised if within 10-15 years, the top 20% of the poly grads do get a uni degree locally--even if not at NUS/NTU/SMU. (As for funding, see below.)

Anyway, I agree that more should and probably could be done with respect to the poly grads. Exactly what, is the part I am uncertain of.

2. Again, I am not disagreeing with you. Only that rather than protest that the money is spent on the international students for the goals stated by PM Goh in 97, you point is better taken as a proposal that more be spent on the locals--which is certainly a point that is worth considering, and one with which I am actually in sympathy. Apart from direct subsidies, bursaries and loans, there could also be other instruments such as education savings accounts that can be used in a variety of ways--even overseas or in international institutions that setp up shop locally, etc.

But I do believe that spending on the foreigners will pay dividends for the local economy in the longer term, dividends that will rebound to Singapore as a whole, so the 100m is worth spending.

3. It's hardly Rosa Parks--the existence of special privileges within restricted spheres is compatible with equality. If every or most residential halls operate like PGP, then whether I care to stay in a residential or not, I would have a reason to feel unhappy. But that's hardly the case.

(Incidentally, such elite residential halls exist elsewhere too, and I have some personal knowledge in this regard--I never stayed in one, but was once offered the possibility to do so, and this is somewhere in North America...)

By the way, this is not to say that there is nothing to your complaint; rather it is only that your complaint is probably not best taken as one about any "foreigners first" issue, but about the exclusivity and privileges of, say, the University Scholars Program, about whether NUS is right to set aside special facilities for a select group, the alleged elitism thereof, etc.

The moral: as I said before, it's not as if I disagree completely with you (or Karp). Rather, I wonder if the issues raised--serious as they are--have been skewed by an exclusive focusing on the international enrollment and the sentiment that there's been a "foreigners first singaporean second" thing at work. It's as if we have found the perfect scapegoat for the problems we face, but it is just not clear that the international students or the policies that got them here have anything more than a tangential connection with our problems--that's my worry. Those problems should be tackled much more directly.

Huichieh said...

Off to catch the first Toronto-Singapore film fest soon. All the best.

yh said...

singaporean,

if singaporean universities are all crap, increasing the size of local cohort is hardly going to help is it?

you must agree that with 20% of each pri 1 cohort entering our universities, they are already a lot less exclusive compared to the truly great universities.

How do you suggest we increase the size of local cohort and fulfill our aspiration of building great universities at the same time?

It is naive to think that our second best 20% can even come close to the foreigners academically.

As someone has mentioned, the lack of alternatives a la community colleges in the states is the problem, not our unis' recruitment policy. Then again, are our polytechniques not the equivalent?

singaporean said...

I didnt say NUS is crap. I said it is mediocre. Like most things in Singapore, it is good enough, but nothing to shout about.

Like Tharman said, Singapore is an exam-based meritocracy. The top 20% who are in NUS/NTU/SMU are sorted out based on first their O level exam results, then their A level results. There are plenty of talented Singaporeans dumped in the polytechnics because of poor english or humanities exam results (the two are really the same:a weak command of english). If you take a closer look, these are also the poorer Singaporeans, the same ones who had to wake up early to distribute newspapers before school, the ones who have to help out at daddy's hawker stall after school, the same ones who are least capable of self funding overseas education.

The polytechnics had been restricted from expanding their academic programme upwards, so as to avoid causing excessive competition to NUS/NTU/SMU I guess, which is really pathetic. Here are some universities that claim to be the top in the world but yet cant handle competition from local polytechnics.

If the local universities actually add some real value to their students, exclusivity shouldnt be a factor. If the curriculum is really rigorous, the weak students wouldnt be able to graduate, or would they?

I am familiar enough with polytechnic education to say that there is substantial overlap with university curriculum to say that the best poly students can cope well in universities.

Wouldnt it be a surprise to you that, such "next 20%" students can spend 9 months in, say QUT, and return with a degree, and be equally competitive and well-paid in the local job market as an NUS/NTU grad?

ted said...

Hey erm, Singaporean, maybe you should go over to Huicheieh's blog to continue the discussion as well? Give a comment or two on the hard work he put in?

And I am curious as to your polytechnic comments. What do you mean they are prevented from expanding their program upwards? In what sense, fields of studies etc etc?