21 November 2006

Who Are We Helping?

The GST hike is a hot topic. However, so far I have said little. The reason is that I am ambivalent about it.

According to PM Lee, the GST hike will enable the the government to do more to help poor Singaporeans. This implies that without the GST hike, the government is unable to help poor Singaporeans. I don't believe this.

But anyway, if the government does really fulfil its promise to help poor Singaporeans, then I think that the GST hike is a good thing. The real question, as I see it, is whether the government will do as promised.

Am I too cynical? You'll have to pardon me. As an example of the establishment's mindset, take a look at this:
    ST Nov 21, 2006
    Foreigners get 4 in 10 bursaries given by NUS this year
    But S'pore students come first, it says in response to some rumblings

    By Education Correspondent, Sandra Davie

    FOUR in 10 bursaries awarded by the National University of Singapore (NUS) this year went to foreigners, a move by the university to signal that it embraces talented students from anywhere.

    But Singapore students will be catered for first, before the funds go out to foreign students.

    The NUS financial aid office has offered 1,500 bursaries so far this year, with 60 per cent, or 900, going to Singaporeans. No local applicant who met the eligibility criterion of per capita monthly household income of up to $900 was turned away.

    They were awarded bursaries ranging from $1,000 to $2,000.

    Foreigners who could show proof of hardship took the rest of the bursaries, with each getting about $300 less than their local counterparts.

    The move by NUS has led to rumblings among some alumni, students and parents, who called The Straits Times to complain about what they see as an 'inappropriately large number of bursaries' going to foreigners.

    Their beef is that the bursaries are funded out of the NUS budget, which comes from taxpayers, and alumni contributions, which come mostly from Singaporeans, so why should so much of it go to foreigners, they ask.
So what do we see here? Singaporeans pay tax, and the money does go to help the poor. But 40% of the time, the money goes to help poor foreigners, not poor Singaporeans.

Yet the government tells you that to be able to help poor Singaporeans, it needs to raise your GST. How cheeky.

What does NUS have to say in its own defence?
    When asked to comment, NUS reiterated that local students are given priority for bursaries, noting that all Singapore applicants who applied received them.

    Foreign students also get less than locals, it said.

    NUS vice-provost Lily Kong said its bursary scheme is in line with the university's commitment to ensure that no student is denied a university education due to financial difficulty.
Whatever. You can bet your bottom cent that Mr Wang isn't ever going to donate a cent to his beloved alma mater NUS. Why should I? Even if I had a burning desire to help foreigners, I'd rather donate my money to Cambodian orphans, or Indonesian tsunami victims, or Afghan earthquake survivors.

Why should I instead use my money to help a foreigner get his degree in NUS?

Some foreigners who really need your help.

Technorati: ; ; .


Lesley said...

Haven't read 146th for quite a while now. Did NUS explain their selection criteria for the foreign students?

Is their minimum criteria similarly pitched at $900? If so, how do they even begin to hazzard a guess at the foreign students' household incomes??

Also this begs another question :that WTFish is a foreign student with a household income of $900 doing studying in S'pore in the first place?

Anonymous said...

"per capita monthly household income".

Mr Wang, I believe that means total household income (earned by all members) divide by the number of family members. No?

In your example, the student will still qualify because ($800 + $500)/2 = $650 which is less than $900.

Rick =)

family man said...

As usual, it is the Singaporeans' fault for not applying for the bursary in the first instance. So what is NUS to do?

"This implies that without the GST hike, the government is unable to help poor Singaporeans. I don't believe."

I also do not believe. Read this:


And I hope there will be a good parliamentary debate on this issue from the fiesty P65 soon. I am sure they are there to represent the people, not just for the Post GST Chingay Song and Dance parade.

klimmer said...

dang... mr wang sure is angry.

Anonymous said...

I'm at NUS, and I was amazed to get a letter from them asking me to contribute to their bursary fund, not long after they upped everyone's school fees. So, yes, like Mr Wang, I'm not too impressed with these people and what they claim they're doing.

Anonymous said...

When I received the begging letter, my first thought was about S$2000 chairs for the university dons.

Recruit Ong said...

per capita income lah..

so if daddy is sole bread winner with $4.5k/mth with a grandparent, a housewife, and 2 kids that wld be $900 per capita, still qualify mah for bursary..

but that would be really tough lor.. usually wife will work then lagi dun qualify liao.

shimure said...

I agree with recruit ong

I think the criteria should be based on personal income not the income of the house hold.
or per capita.

Mr Wang Says So said...

My error about the "per capita". I've revised my post.

Anonymous said...

NUS is now privatised. To equate it with the government is fallacious in the extreme. As such, citing NUS' aid policy as an example of the "establishment's mindset" is inaccurate and unfair.

Furthermore, in NUS' defense, it is true that foreigners boost the academic standards and contribute to the intellectual diversity of the university. So NUS does have a valid interest in wooing foreigners to join the campus. In fact, top universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton all provide need-based aid to international students. Their endowments similarly derive in large part from donations from alumni. Do you see Americans holding this xenophobic mindset of not donating to their alma-mater if the aid partially goes to help foreigners?

Hence, the practice of providing aid to foreigners has nothing to do with what the PAP thinks. It has everything to do with a university's goals and interests. It is a practice deemed worthy and adopted by top universities in the world, and NUS is following the same route. I do not see why it should be faulted for it.

(BTW, if foreigners come to Singapore and consume goods and services, they pay GST too. So it is not true that foreigners do not contribute to tax.)

Jimmy Mun said...

NUS may be corporatized, but it is still fully under Ministry of Education control, and therefore, take their orders from the Minister.

Take a look at this website at MOE, which clearly defines NUS/NTU/SMU as autonomous entities, different from the private universities like SIM. That means NUS enjoys certain freedom in charting it's course, but must still toe official guidelines, like the Ministry mandated target of 20% foreign undergrad population.

Not that it doesnt help the university, as a spectacularly large foreign student population helps NUS score in the university rankings, just by being matriculated. As to boosting academic standards, well that is just wishful thinking. Let's be honest with ourselves: none of the 20% foreign students rejected an American university to study in NUS. None of them will pause for a heartbeat if they are ever offered a chance to transfer to an American university. We are basically collecting leftovers to pad the numbers. Oh, and very few of them, especially those from PRC, will even consider studying NUS if they are not offered the :

1) Full tuition fee
2) Monthly living expenses of about $500 (which is far higher than what most NSFs will collect while risking their life and youth for the country)
3) Airfare

In exchange, they are suppose to be bonded to work in Singapore for 3 years, an obligation some 40% of the PRC graduates do not honour, according to Tharman.

After all that, instead of casting a wider net to help the lower income Singaporeans, they instead exploit the $900 per capita limit to route Singaporean taxpayer's money to the foreign students.

Not only am I not going to donate a cent to NUS, if I discover anybody is doing so, that person is going to get an earful from me.

And, believe me this, the living expenses award for the PRC students will be adjusted faster than NS allowance would be when the GST goes up. Little wonder the fees paid by Singaporeans keep going up.

Singaporeans dont matter as much as the PRC students.

And please dont cite US universities unless you can find one with near 20% free loading foreign student population.

kungfuzi said...

ruen3, just a small factual clarification, which in fact strengthens your argument. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all provide need-blind financial aid to international students (I know MIT does as well; there may be more US universities with a similar policy). If you're an international student applying to these schools, your ability to pay will not affect your chances of getting in. By contrast, at other top colleges like Columbia, Stanford, and Dartmouth, the more financial aid a foreign applicant needs, the less likely his chances of being admitted.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy: "Ministry mandated target of 20% foreign undergrad population"? Where did you pull that information from? You are grossly misrepresenting facts, because from what I understand, the 20% is not a "target", but a cap.

And with regards to the calibre of PRC students, let me assure you, they may not be Ivy League standards (though that could be due to their relatively poor English standards), but they certainly surpass Singaporeans greatly, especially in the sciences. If NUS is to practice meritocracy, then it would be unconscionable to reject foreigners of higher calibre just because of their nationality.

I wonder whether you have read that blog post where a Singaporean NUS student lamented about how foreigners were so much more smarter and hardworking than him. Instead of striving to work harder and catch up, he blamed the university for admitting so many foreigners and advocated a reduction of their admission. Now I'm not going to turn this into a debate of how much foreigners should be admitted, because the issue is more of financial aid than of admissions, but this point was brought up to demonstrate that foreigners do indeed increase the standard of the university, and are not "leftovers to pad the numbers".

I'm also not sure where you pulled the information about PRCs receiving all those financial aid from. I suppose you pulled it from the same place where you pulled your "20% target". Other than the highly limited amount of scholarships for foreign students that NUS hands out, the rest of the students have to pay their own way, or apply for loans and bursaries. What you have said is partially correct in the sense that foreigners are eligible to take up the MOE Tuition Grant, a partial subsidy of course fees (which applies to all Singaporeans with no obligation), provided that they serve a 3-year-bond. If they decide to break it, then they should incur heavy penalties, as with all bonds.

And lastly, you have not yet addressed my point about foreigners paying taxes too. The GST hike applies to everyone who purchases goods and services in Singapore, and not Singaporeans only. With a sizeable PR and foreign population, you can be sure that a significant percentage of the revenue from GST comes from the pockets of foreigners.

kungfuzi: Yes, I know that. Enlightened US universities like HYP believe in equal opportunity in academia, regardless of race, family background or nationality, and hence do not discriminate based upon those factors. Unfortunately, many Singaporeans still think that people of their own nationality are somehow more deserving and should be accorded even more special treatment than they already are.

Merv said...

"Unfortunately, many Singaporeans still think that people of their own nationality are somehow more deserving and should be accorded even more special treatment than they already are."

Big difference between NUS and US universities like Harvard.

Harvard = funding mostly generated by uni's own investments + private donations

NUS = funding generated mostly from govt (our taxpayer's money)

Why can Singaporeans cannot kao peh is they do not benefit from their tax $.

Eeps said...

Add to that, what's the relevance in equating GST/tax paid to Uni subsidies?
Local boys gave up a good 2 yrs of their lives for national service and is it fair for them to expect something from the Govt in return?
I do however agree the mindset has to be changed, in terms of lamenting about the intense competition brought about by the foreign students.

takchek said...

Have a read at e pur si muove's forum on this issue as well:


We should first and foremost note that NUS (and NTU) are public universities; hence the comparison with the big name American private colleges like HYP is moot.

Secondly, what makes a university highly ranked internationally, is its research (other than % of internationals). Otherwise, many top-ranked US state universities would be poorly ranked given that internationals typically make up <5% of their undergraduates.

Whispers from the heart said...

As long as I am a Singaporean citizen, pay my taxes and my son serves his NS liability, I have every right to believe Singaporeans should be treated better.

Don't give me those crap about being American. How many times are they bigger than us?

If one is so enlightened, why don't you sponsor one foreign student yourself to make you more competitive. Eat with you, sleep with you and date with your girlfriend. That should sure make you very competitive.

The $900 dollar thingy is so damn backward, manipulated to give foreigners an edge over us.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Perhaps it will be useful for me to separate two threads here:

(1) The mission of NUS to improve itself (which is linked to the provision of financial aid to students).

(2) The need to help the needy (including poor university students).

Regarding the first thread, and speaking for myself, I have no particular interest in donating money to help NUS improve itself. If it becomes world-class one day, that's very nice, but I feel neither duty-bound nor inclined to donate money towards that cause. Personally, I have very little emotional affiliation to that institution. You may as well ask me to donate money to the SAF to help it improve itself - your chances of success would be about as good.

Regarding the second thread, I do personally feel that I should do something along the lines of social contribution. For example, every month I donate some money via credit card to a children's charity in Singapore (Club Rainbow). I have also volunteered my blog to generate publicity for worthy social causes (in fact, I am about to publicise an event for the deaf). Now if NUS were collecting donations to help needy Singaporean students, I may well consider donating as well. Last year, in fact, NUS claimed to be in severe need of funds to help needy students.

Now it turns out that 40% of those needy students are actually foreigners from India or China. Healthy, able-bodied, intelligent young people. Seriously, if your motivation to donate stems from a desire to benefit humanity, there are better places to give your money to. For example, instead of sponsoring a healthy, intelligent Indian student to achieve his engineering degree at NUS, why not give the money to help some poor, needy, destitute and handicapped children in India? Surely that makes more sense. Or just donate your money to a charity in Singapore.

Collector said...

The line "a significant percentage of the revenue from GST comes from the pockets of foreigners" holds water only if the foreigner brings his own funds to spend in Singapore, e.g. rich Indonesians who send their children to Singapore for education. But when the China students are paid $500 allowance out of our own taxes, then whatever GST they pay is just a conjurer's slight of hands.

simplesandra said...

ruen3 wrote: "With a sizeable PR and foreign population, you can be sure that a significant percentage of the revenue from GST comes from the pockets of foreigners."

Try answering this: who's more likely to be affected by GST hikes - a significant percentage of Singaporeans or PR/"foreign talents" who are either gainfully employed and well-paid, or are too prudent to spend (and probably have no need to, since they have no families to support)?

kunfuzi wrote: "Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all provide need-blind financial aid to international students"

They can have the luxury to do that; can a country as small as ours afford to do? A responsible government should cater to its citizens first.

Farmercee said...

ruen3 says, "If NUS is to practice meritocracy, then it would be unconscionable to reject foreigners of higher calibre just because of their nationality."

Sure, why not practise meritocracy at primary/secondary/jc level too? Invite students of all nationalities to apply for these schools? LOL.

And why do we need so many foreign students to lend their awesome aura? From what i heard, some are just plainly slightly above average... LOL

I'm so proud to say that i've never donated a single cent to NUS.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Need-blind" financial aid means financial aid that is given to students on the basis of their academic strength, and irrespective of whether they actually need the money or not. In other words, Bill Gate's children could also successfully apply for need-blind financial aid.

No, I do not think that Singapore taxpayers' money should be used to provide need-blind financial aid to foreigners.

Jimmy Mun said...

Quote Teo Chee Hean, then Minister of Education in a
1998 speech

"...the attraction of foreign talent was not seen as top priority for NUS and NTU. The inflow of foreign students stagnated at around 10% of the undergraduate intake.
NUS and NTU have to do likewise. They have set a target of filling 20% of their undergraduate places with foreigners.
I am pleased to note that NUS and NTU have marketed themselves aggressively in the past years and are on track to reach their target of 20% foreign intake. For the academic year 1998/99, preliminary figures (up to 20 Jul 98) indicate that NUS and NTU have recruited more than 1,500 foreign students which make up 16.5% of their undergraduate intake."

Teo used the word "target" at least twice in his speech. Now that the target is met, rephrasing "target" as "cap" is just PAP trying to respin an unpopular policy to those who had not been paying attention through the years.

If the 20% arose as a result of a standardised merit based admission policy, then it will indeed be unconscionable to reject the foreign students based on their nationality. But in reality, Singaporean students and PRC students are evaluated on different yardstick; most Singaporeans with an average PRC command of English need not bother apply to NUS or NTU, irregardless of their other talents. OTOH, NUS/NTU recruitment teams are sent to major Chinese cities to scour for students. While the admission standards are still stringent, it is a far more flexible regime. And remember, these recruitment teams are under pressure to fill a quota, so it is not surprising that they settle for exam muggers over "intellectual fizz".

In that same speech, Teo also talks about CUTTING the Tuition fees for the foreign students, while for Singaporeans, the best we ever got in the deepest throes of recession, was a freeze in fees.

I am pretty sure I have the scholarship numbers right for I actually know a few PRC students, including one who was my hostel roommate for a while. (Oh, there was a mistake: I left out free hostel lodging.) If you are even in Singapore, find yourself a PRC student and check if I am talking rubbish. The link you offered points out another clear fact: the generous scholarships offered to the PRC students are not open to the rest of the student population. Again, that's meritocracy for you. In fact, think about it: why is the government so aggressive about PRC students, but barely even warm about Indonesian students, most of whom have to pay full fees?

Lastly, I recall once during my undergrad days, one of my PRC friends asked me to recommend a good fancy restaurant to bring his date to. Which was a tough question for me, since all I knew then about fine dining was hawker centres and coffee shops. The PRC students never need to bring a single cent to Singapore. If they are frugal, they can even send money back to China. Now that is GST contribution for you.

For the record, I am against the government's foreign talent policy, not anti-foreigners. If NUS is as attractive to foreign students as Harvard or Yale, and as a result of a standardised merit based admission criteria, no Singaporean can make it to NUS, then so be it. But the truth is that NUS is bending admission rules and allocating disproportionate amount of funds to satisfy a "20% target", which primary aim is to plug the low birthrate of Singaporean Chinese. An aim that doesnt seem to work very well given the cost, since nearly 40% of the PRC students dont stay on graduation anyway.

Jimmy Mun said...

Apologies for the mangled link to Teo Chee Hean's speech. Here it is: link.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, I got this from one of the comments section posted earlier - on Vivan Bala Many hands - article. I think a SPH article

"Yesterday, Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC) offered something more specific. He asked the Government to do more to remove the climate of fear and dispel perceptions that dealing with it is akin to being on a 'one-way street'.

He said there are these other perceptions, 'that the Government does not listen, that your feedback goes into a black hole, that the Government has already made up its mind when it consults the public or that government policies are drafted by locking three scholars in a room - without any sense of how the issues are viewed from the eyes of ordinary, humble citizens'.

I think Mr Zaqy, Mr Seah Kian Peng, Denise and the other P65 will work hard and not make the above come true. I pray they will speak with their hearts like they did in the opening of Parliament, and not be 'whipped' into shape by the cabinet come next year. These are the people with the knowledge and data that can probably make the cabinet relook their assumptions and make Singapore a better country. Let us pray.

PS - the article in ST on the IMF and how the retail sector did not grow was also quite funny to read. Yes, even our leaders can make mistake -free Million dollar fire works for the delegates, and no, they did not spend. haha.

tabula rasa said...

""Need-blind" financial aid means financial aid that is given to students on the basis of their academic strength, and irrespective of whether they actually need the money or not. In other words, Bill Gate's children could also successfully apply for need-blind financial aid."

Actually, "Need-blind" refers to admission standards. Schools that are 'need-blind' basically do not factor in your ability to pay for your school fees in their decision to accept or reject you. You stand an equal chance as a full-paying student.

For schools that are not need-blind, such as Columbia/Dartmouth, your need for finaid WILL affect your chances, but if you do get accepted, they will offer aid.

And no, Gates' kids will not qualify for financial aid in the states. US financial aid is need-based. They too have a certain certain qualifier (something like >US$45k per annum). There are of course, merit scholarships, but these are rarer, especially amongst top schools, because they believe in economic diversity of student bodies, and not rewarding already rich students ("Lousier" schools, or schools looking to improve their rankings, will offer merit aid though,to attract top-grade students who might be dissuaded to pay full fees to HYP to go to somewhere like Boston University if they get a full-ride)

Also, regarding the comparison to NUS giving aid to foreign students and HYP doing the same, as others have pointed out, HYP are PRIVATE institutions, whereas NUS/NTU/SMU are state-funded still. A better comparison would be to US state universities such as Berkeley, Uni of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Uni of Texas-Austin. As far as i know, ALL state schools in the US do not offer need-based financial aid to need foreign students. However, some might offer a limited no. of merit-based scholarships to attract top foreign students to enrol.

I'm in the midst of applying to US unis actually, so I've done my research. Hope this helps! :)

Anonymous said...

Jimmy, you seem to be nursing some grudge against PRC students. Why target them specifically? The scholarships cited on the page I linked to are by no means for PRCs only - some are for ASEAN citizens, some are for Indians, etc. Plus, there are much more scholarships which are only open to Singaporeans or PR.

I am a student and I know many PRC students as well. Most of them can afford to spend a lot in Singapore because they come from rich families in China. Their money comes from their parents, so they do bring money into Singapore. Scholarship allowance alone would not be sufficient for them to indulge in high-end restaurants.

You claim that "Singaporean students and PRC students are evaluated on different yardstick [sic]". I think this is an absurd claim. I study in a top JC in Singapore, and let me assure you, the PRC scholars here are definitely perform much better than Singaporeans. In most classes, PRCs dominate the top positions. Just because their spoken English is relatively less fluent doesn't make them any less valuable, especially in the area of the sciences where a functional grasp of English would suffice.

Lastly, on the issue of the 20% target, your link itself states that NUS and NTU set it themselves. It is all in line with NUS' plan to become a global campus, and cannot be said to be an MOE mandate. Furthermore, that speech is 8 years old, and with NUS' recent corporatisation, it may not hold anymore.

Merv, you claim that "Singaporeans... do not benefit from their tax $". This is blatantly false. Singaporeans enjoy a hefty subsidy on their university fees (called the MOE Tuition Grant) without any bond or obligation whatsoever - foreigners need to serve a 3-year-bond if they wish to take up the same grant. Plus, NUS has clarified that Singaporeans are always given higher priority (and higher amounts) than foreigners when doling out bursaries. How is that NOT benefiting Singaporeans?

It seems that your complaint is not that NUS/the government does not help Singaporeans. Your problem is that you feel foreigners should NOT be given aid at all. It all boils down to xenophobia and a sense of entitlement.

Farmercee - actually, many foreigners are courted at the secondary and JC level. Those who come in through scholarship schemes are subject to far more rigorous standards than the average Singaporean, as should be the case.

Simplesandra, you are missing the point. My point is not that foreigners are hit badly by the GST hike. It is that foreigners, by consuming goods and services in Singapore, do contribute to GST revenue as well. Thus it is inaccurate and fallacious to say that GST is totally "our" tax money and shouldn't be used to subsidise foreigners at all.

Jimmy Mun said...

I graduated from NUS Engineering in 1999 when we had about 10% PRC. I am told it is about 40% now, mostly fresh from China. The information about the PRC scholarships came straight from the PRC students themselves. But maybe they were lying to me! I am so stupid! My first hand NUS experience count for nothing, especially since I can learn so much more from JC students. They are so incredibly smart and all-knowing these days!

Mr Wang Says So said...

In one sense, the question boils down to this -

whether you think that there is, or should be, any special meaning to being Singaporean or not.

If you think that being a Singapore citizen should not confer any special rights to you in Singapore vis-a-viz foreigners (but only disadvantages vis-a-viz foreigners, eg NS), then Ruen3's viewpoints are quite logical.

The natural corollary of Ruen3's view is that since being Singaporean carries no special meaning, Singaporeans should not feel any special attachment to this little nation and therefore may validly see this nation as just another "hotel" or "corporation" - to employ some commonly-used metaphors. And thus if Singaporeans think that there are greener pastures elsewhere, they should just pack up and leave, without fretting over any silly notions like "loyalty" or "roots".

Ruen3's views may not actually be uncommon. Consider for example the ever-increasing numbers of Singaporeans who emigrate. Quite possibly, many of them have simply ceased to care. Singapore can do what it likes, with citizens or non-citizens on it, but they are just going to pack their bags and leave. Thus it is not so much dissatisfaction, but an absence of rootedness, that causes them to emigrate.

Of course, even those kinds of Singaporeans are still at the losing end. Few, perhaps no, other countries will be as welcoming in their policies, to foreigners, as Singapore is. Thus when those Singaporeans emigrate, it's very likely that once again they will face disadvantages, which foreigners coming to Singapore DON'T face.

Then again, no one ever said that life is fair.

Ruen3 is too young to know it, but the 3-year-bond (to work in Singapore) has existed for eons. What it meant long ago that if a foreign student studies at NUS and wants to pay the same fees as local students, he has to agree to work in Singapore for at least 3 years after graduation (for any employer of his choice - therefore this is not a real "bond" in the usual PSC scholarship sense).

Of course, things are different now. By agreeing to work three short years, these foreign students no longer even need to pay the same fees as local students. They simply pay no fees. The fees will be totally covered by the NUS grants. Basically it's just free education.

Oh, things just get better and better, don't they. For foreigners, I mean.

Another irony is this - suppose the foreigner studies in a JC with some Singaporeans. After JC, the Singaporeans go to do NS for 2.5 years; while the foreigner goes straight to NUS to do, say, a three-year course in Science.

By the time the Singaporean finishes NS and enters NUS to do the same course, the foreigner is almost graduating.

By the time the Singaporean graduates, the foreigner has almost finished his 3-year bond to work in Singapore.

As you can see, the real differences are here:

The Singaporean is trapped in NS for 2.5 years, with no control over his choice of vocation nor the severity of hardship he is exposed to;

while the foreigner is "trapped" in Singapore for 3 years, free to work for any Singapore employer he wishes and gain experience for his next hop (to the US, usually).

The Singaporean is paid $300 as a recruit in the SAF, while the foreigner is paid $3000 as a fresh science graduate;

The Singaporean pays $5,000 a year for his university education;
while the foreigner pays nothing (since his tuition fees are fully covered by the tax paid by the Singaporean's working parents).

My goodness, I'm starting to feel like Ruen3. After typing out the above, I too start to experience a tremendous absence of rootedness.

冬香 said...

Allow me to add my two cents worth. I am an ex-teacher from a top school in Singapore which goes to China every year to recruit their top students.

I think we are talking about different groups of PRC scholars here. I can't comment on the calibre of those scholars who are admitted to NUS or NTU direct from China, but I sure know more about those whom we recruit ourselves.

MOE has divided up the map of China for different secondary schools--meaning different schools can go only to certain parts of China to recruit students.

These scholars, once recruited, have all their expenses paid for: school fees (mostly independent school fees), boarding school expenses (amounting to more than $800 per month) and a yearly allowance. This yearly allowance is not enough to cover all expenses incurred during the academic year (paying of miscellaneous fees like camps, costumes for their CCAs, class fund, etc.) and my students told me their parents had to send money to them to help them cope.

Although not all scholars meet the mark, but most are really good. In less than 2 years' time, their English can improve by leaps and bounds and many go on to score 10 A1s in the O Levels. These students then go on to top JCs if they meet the mark. MOE has a different system for them and they have to perform better than their Singaporean peers if they want to go to certain top JCs. However, most PRC students whould get 6 or 7 points (raw score) and get into the JC they want. I had a few Malaysian scholars who couldn't do well and they could only go to neighbourhood JCs.

From what my ex-students (PRC, Malaysian) told me, if they choose a Science-related discipline in the uni eg. hard sciences or enginerring, MOE will still pay for all their fees. One ex-student of mine, however, chose to do Business, so she has to pay her own.

Collector said...

"This yearly allowance ... (paying of miscellaneous fees like camps, costumes for their CCAs, class fund, etc.)"
Well, at my son's school in Dover Road, the $500 per months allowance is certainly more than sufficient. Plus, should the class go on an "enrichment trip" to say, ChiangMai, the PRC student does not have to cough up a cent. As for CCA costumes, the jacket for the choir costs $100, but NCC, etc do not charge for uniforms or boots. From personal experience, I wouldn't swallow everything the PRC student tells me.

冬香 said...

Hi collector, school in Dover, ACSI, I suppose? Maybe you are talking about school-based PRC scholars? There's a complex system of scholars recruitment and the school which I used to serve only has MOE PRC scholars whom the school recruits itself and I KNOW that they only get a yearly allowance. Well, if it's $500, I can also surivive on that.

As most PRC students are recruited to join the school in secondary 3, they can't join most uniform groups in my school (I know ACSI makes all his boys join a uniform group, this can't be done in a girls' school) and hence most of them will join performing arts group. I was speaking from experience as the teacher-in-charge of such a group and I know the students paid from their own pockets for the coastumes. Had they applied for any grants, the forms would have to get at least 3 signatures, of which one of them would be mine.

I had been in education long enough and I got information from the school and management, not from my students alone. And please note that we not only have PRC scholars, schools in Singapore have as many or more Malaysians and Indonesian scholars too.

I thought we were discussing foreigners as a whole but this whole thing seems to become a PRC-bashing affair. Like it or not, the "PRC phenomenon" is everywhere. I'm in Sydney now and the whole of Sydney can be said to be a Chinatown. But the ang mohs here don't seem to have any problems with them.

Mr Wang Says So said...

In this kind of discussion, people should be clear about the relevance of the "quality" of the foreigners.

I have no doubt that many of the foreign students in Singapore are "good". The world is after all a big place. Whether you are talking about Singaporean doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, chefs, truck drivers, construction foremen, chemists, teachers, waitresses, nurses, ornithologists, students or prostitutes, film directors, farmers, bankers, IT programmers, supply chain managers, table tennis players -

somewhere elsein the world, there are surely better and/or cheaper doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, chefs, truck drivers, construction foremen, chemists, teachers, waitresses, nurses, ornithologists, students or prostitutes, film directors, farmers, bankers, IT programmers, supply chain managers or table tennis players.

The point is - just because they are better or cheaper, should we therefore import them in large numbers, generously allocate our public resources to them etc, at the expense of Singaporeans?

Isn't Singapore supposed to take care of Singaporeans?

In the end, it may be a question of balance - weighing the pros and cons - but if so, then surely we must ask if we are now getting the balance right.

It doesn't feel right to me.

For example, on one hand the government tells you it can't help poor Singaporeans unless it raises GST,

but on the other, it splurges public resources on foreigners, from primary school all the way up to university levels.

Why couldn't some of those public resources be used to help poor Singaporeans instead? To help those of them who need help, from primary school all the way up to university levels?

Recruit Ong said...

< Like it or not, the "PRC phenomenon" is everywhere. I'm in Sydney now and the whole of Sydney can be said to be a Chinatown. But the ang mohs here don't seem to have any problems with them. >

冬香, I also wouldn't have a problem like the Aussies in sydney if i don't have to do NS, knows that Sg gahmen does not pile grants and subsidies on them at Sgian's expense. In fact if the gahmen imposes very strict requirements on these foreigners in the first place so that those who are here are really the top top ones, chances are ppl will actually embrace the FT policy unlike now. But sadly all we r getting at best is the li jiawei types, the almost-can-make-it but ultimately still cannot-make-it kind. And now that ppl realise that these talents aren't dat talented after all, they have come up with a new defense for the FT policy --> As long as their presence provides competition to Sgians, then can liao. No results nevermind.

Hahahaha!!! We are really prostituting ourselves and the foreigners are laffing at us behind our backs!

Anonymous said...

I really cannot stand it when all the MPs say they will not comment further until they see the 'package'. Is that not too late already? Should they not be actively exploring other options which are viable other than GST increase? I believe everybody knows that with GST increase, the income gap (GINI index) will only increase further. But with Groupthink operating within the 82 PAP MPs, everybody keeping quiet, how can the nation progress? And if we add in the surplus from stat boards, is there really still a deficit? I wonder.

Anonymous said...

Like an earlier blogger, I like to emphasize the difference between "need-blind admission" versus "need-based financial aid".

I also want to illustrate the practice of one U.S. university. Note that the practice of financial aid at NUS is inconsistent with the following case.


"Yale College admits all students without regard to their financial circumstances, a policy called “need–blind” admissions, and meets the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students. Yale adopted its need–blind principles more than 30 years ago. More than 40% of Yale undergraduates qualify for need–based scholarship grants from Yale."


though I must admit that Yale is pretty generous, even with international students who are admitted.


"Families with incomes below $45,000 will no longer be required to pay any portion of the cost of their children’s education."


(Source: http://www.yale.edu/opa/campus/news/2005/20050303_aid.html)


I believe most top schools in U.S. have similar practices.

takchek said...

PS - I think you should compare apples to apples. Go check out US public universities' financial aid policies. And how they protect their in-state residents vs out-of-staters/internationals.

Anonymous said...

Yes, many U.S. schools offer a need-based (NOT need-blind) financial aid policy.

See: http://www.yale.edu/opa/v29.n34/story2.html

"Yale signs agreement to preserve
need-based financial aid.

Yale is among 28 leading private colleges and universities -- including Columbia, Cornell and Stanford -- that have agreed to use a common set of standards when determining students' financial aid needs."

Anonymous said...

takchek said...
PS - I think you should compare apples to apples. Go check out US public universities' financial aid policies. And how they protect their in-state residents vs out-of-staters/internationals.


That partly depends on the aim of NUS, whether NUS is aiming to be a HYP or something else.. (though I am not advocating that NUS should be one or the other. Both have its advantages..)

Whispers from the heart said...

Suddenly, everyone wants to compare Singapore with US and Australia.

Singaporeans do have mouths bigger than their heads.

Do australians mind the foreigners? Are you Aussie enough to know?

Or do we realise that Australia has an Aussie first policy and that their country's resources are a hundred times ours? We can't even feed our own poor, according to PM lately.

Do insult others by comparing Singapore with them. Australia had no qualms telling the Muslims off when they wanted their religious laws to be applied in Australia. Will our government have the guts to do so?!

PAP only knows how to put potted plants everywhere to please the angmohs. Please!

冬香 said...

This shall be my last post.

I posted my 1st comment because I thought certain misconceptions i.e. about the calibre of our scholars have to be put right.

As a self-paying postgraduate student studying in Sydney, I had also done my fair bit of research. Aussie universities only offer financial aid to students from "developing countries" and hence I do not qualify. However, many poly students doing the hard sciences and engineering can get direct entry to the universities here on scholarships. But as an Arts student, I can't even dream of it. Yes, I'm not Aussie enough to comment but I know that the Aussies are racist by nature but they also can't help it--they have an acute shortage of labour in some sectors and some employers are also going to China to recruit people because the Aussies don't turn up for work.

I am after all Singaporean. I am also angry at the increase of the GST and I'm not afraid to say that I voted for the opposition in this year's election. But I don't believe that things will change by shouting expletives on the net.

Enough said, I shall not post anymore.

Whispers from the heart said...

Not expletives, dearie. Brutal truth that Singapore hasn't that much wealth to splurge on initiatives that are defeating its own survival.

So much money to throw, then help our SMEs to grow. They need more help than the PRC who are here to look for jobs, as they have a harder time looking for jobs back in Shanghai and Beijing.

Get real. Provide competition? they are here to avoid competition back home.

The Human Battery said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Human Battery said...

Let's get 3 facts right:

1. Yale etc are PRIVATE universities funded by private individuals and whatever these universities want to do with international students, they do *not* need to be accoutable to American tax payers. But even then, they do not take in 20% foreign students. Some for eg capped undergrad foreign students at 10%. And then only a few (single digit) of these are given free money.

2. University of California Berkeley etc are PUBLIC universities funded by tax-payers. They charge 8-10 times higher for international students, and do not offer to them any financial aid derived from tax-payer's money. (Some overseas alumni, eg, from say, HK, may fund 1-2 scholarships specially for incoming foreign students from HK, but note the distinction: it is *not* tax-payers' money).

3. NUS is a public university funded 75% from tax-payer's money. In fact, during Mr. Wang's time , NUS charged foreigners at least 6-8 times higher than undergrads. And at the same time, local undergrads paid only $1000++ per year. They now pay $6000++ per year! Now clearly, educational cost, even after taking into account inflation etc should not have increased by 6 times within 10+ years. The raise is simply to (a) subsidise more foreign students at both the undergrad and grad level, and (b) enable MOE to reduce its share of subsidy from x% to the current 75%. But still if 75% of the budget comes from tax-payer, then NUS is 75% public-owned and is obliged to treat locals much better than foreigners both in fees and in admission.

Two trend to note:
A. Corporatisatin of NUS and NTU means singaporeans hae been deprived of public universities. This means that you pay more tax, but you are getting back less benefit compared to other countries, all of which have public universities.

B. The targetting of PRC students is clearly meant to replace our low birth rate and high migration rate. We are being screwed by the stop-at-2 policy which our grandparents and parents voted whole-heartedly for. Some of us - 66.6% to be exact - are now screwing the future of our children and grandchildrens...

schizophrenic said...

to humanbattery:

the reason why people are harping on harvard, princeton, yale and the likes is becos nus/ntu dunno where they stand. on the one hand, these 2 local tertiary institutions are public entities (and thus, should be prudent in spendings as the monies come from taxpayers); on the other hand, they bloody behave like macam they are top-tiered private univ./colleges from the u.s.a. - giving out bursaries/scholarships to foreigners like nobody's business. so hor, people will proceed to dig up the facts from hyp - e.g. the financial aid schemes available etc. - and thus, the argument proceeds as follows:

that since hyp are privately funded institutions, the donors to these schools oredi know where the monies are going to - i.e. to assist students regardless of nationality, blah blah blah; whereas nus/ntu are still relying on taxpayers' monies (despite their corporatisation - which in the first place does not mean that they've become private institutions like hyp overnight due to some bloody announcement from the govt) - and therefore, nus/ntu must have a locals first policy - and even if they have leftovers after that, they should never take taxpayers and anyhow give to foreigners.

consider this lah, if the u.s.a. govt allows all the public univ. to provide super big free lunch for international students while charging the american citizens normal fees - you think the yankees won't go on riot ah?

this type of thing can only happen in sinkland lah - people like to get their backsides fucked for nothing. and our leaders are erm... leading by example.

Whispers from the heart said...

And I'm sure some will brand us anti-foreigner and anti-social etc.

Fact is, countries do need immigrants even as flimsy as to provide diversity. No choice does not mean natives don't mind. Big difference.

And we don't have to put them on the pedestal or treat them like your great-great grandfather reincarnated to save you from hell. It should be a fair exchange of services rendered.

I beat any PRC on a scholarship flat for the mere fact that I don't need to leech on another country's welfare to finish my U studies.

So what if they score many As. Look at the ruling elites with those As. I wish they had more Fs. They might have been more realistic about life and get conned less.

Farmercee said...

I totally agree with Mr Wang's perspective on the issue of "calibre". Let me just sum up my opinion that our gahmen is splurging money freely on these foreign students at all levels. NUS targets at 20%, and we do see an increasing number of students at pri/sec schools.

For the record, my brother just graduated from Catholic. I was told there were about 10 foreign boys in his class - all on full scholarships. Only five were somewhere top of the class, the rest were just average.

You see, if i love conspiracy theories, i would say that some of these "scholarships" were given to foreign children from rich families who probably had some "guanxi" with our dear
Aunty Ho's companies. Haha, this would corroborated with our dear ruen3's observation, wouldn't it?

The Human Battery said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Human Battery said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
takchek said...

NUS' reply in the Straits Times. Like the Mindef article, it doesn't tell us much about how fair and equitable the system is to the locals.


Nov 25, 2006
Assessment of eligibility for aid goes beyond income

I REFER to Dr Lim Boon Hee's letter, 'Income eligibility for bursary pegged too low' (ST, Nov 24).

Dr Lim mentioned that at the National University of Singapore (NUS) 'no Singaporean applicant with a household per-capita income of $900 was rejected' and expressed concern that using a per-capita income of $900 is 'far too low, in view of today's living costs'.

NUS will regularly review the eligibility criteria to keep up with changing circumstances.

We wish to highlight that NUS' assessment of eligibility for aid goes beyond income. Of importance are factors such as household expenditure, housing, number of dependants and mitigating circumstances, e.g., having to support family members who have disability or long-term illnesses.

The use of these indicators to assess eligibility and level of neediness necessitates the careful checking of supporting documents such as tax returns, utilities bills and medical reports. Each case is assessed on its own merit.

NUS has accorded financial aid which includes a bursary of not less than $1,200 to each of the Singaporean applicants who were assessed to be eligible. No Singaporean applicant who has been assessed to be eligible was rejected.

We assure Dr Lim that NUS is mindful of and takes into account income differentials as well as the difference in the costs of living in other countries as compared to Singapore when assessing foreign students' eligibility for aid. Each application is then carefully studied and the merits of each case assessed.

We thank Dr Lim for his interest and concern.

Professor Lily Kong
Vice-Provost (Education)
National University of Singapore

Fox said...

I think we have to clarify things here a little. The scholarships given to foreign students are funded mainly by MOE and not by NUS/NTU.

Fox said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I wrote a letter to the newspaper, seeking the Prime Minister to list down the exact costs of his proposed relief for the poor.

This will show us if the GST increase is fully utilized on assistance programmes, or if it is excessive. But of course, it was not used.


Anonymous said...

Seeing that this post has from the GST increase become now a debate on Varsity funding issue, let me go a little into what limited I know.

1) US has extremely high estate duties. This has resulted in rich Americans donating their wealth into "Trusts". What the "Trusts" do are to generate profits, which will be paid out to Directors, who are descendents of the wealthy Americans (who started/donated to the Trusts).

These Trusts have been donating/incoperating charities/Varsities/research programmes into their beneficiaries to gain tax exemptions/savings. This is where most of the Varsities/researches gain their funding.

Unfortunately/fortunately Singapore has no such "trusts".

2) The Tuition Grant has assisted NUS/NTU to become among the world's best (or at least well recognised) varisties. I guessed it's origins and it's functions here: http://lemondroplets.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!26F399664A850E81!134.entry

and asked for it to be revised.

What we are discussing here involves many big picture items. Singapore's policies are too interlinked, hence our dragging of our feet over many old and outdated policies.

On PRs and NS, I will write a separate comment on my blog sometime, if I get the time...

Anonymous said...

I would like to specially point out to all foreign student-philes that there is no point of contention if these foreigners who are educated by us, exceed us in future and bring us forward.

What we probably lament about is how they suck us dry, from finances, chances of education to how they leave when they have wiped clean their mouths and leave us with scraps.

I think it is not fair to give them special consideration like a 20% target nor a cap for university entry. Simply to say, we opt for an achievement scheme. If they are better than us, then pay up the fees and take our places. If they qualify the scholarship then take them all.

If our places are filled up, then it simply means the government has to rethink the amount of people pursuing a tertiary degree in this country.

But bear in mind that these people look down on us, whether in lack of culture, history or primarily brains. It is an inconsolable fact that there is truth in their statement, but lacks compassion of their fund giver.

So I would like to suggest that fees are paid equally amongst all races and nationalities, and that the scholarships are separated by nationalities. A 70% compulsory "Singaporean" nationality to be awarded, and 30% to be awarded to most qualified, regardless of nationality. All scholarships to be based on household income as per normal.

I think we do not have to look far to see the impact of not having a cap on foreigners and not protecting the locals. Simply look at the weekly EPL shown at all leading kopitiams and you will understand the simplicity of how having too little locals in a club deteoriates the national level.

P said...

What I really wish NUS would explain is:

(1) How is the "need" of foreign students measured? How is "proof of hardship" shown? Is it the "proof of hardship" of the foreign student alone? Or "proof of hardship" of the foreign student's family too. If it is the latter, has the difference in cost of living been rightly factored in?

(2) Isn't a $1200/year bursary very little for a student whose per capita household income is $900? Remember university fees are $6000/year and school books/notes don't come cheap either.

(3) In NUS reply to Dr Lím's letter, it said "We wish to highlight that NUS' assessment of eligibility for aid goes beyond income. Of importance are factors such as household expenditure, housing, number of dependants and mitigating circumstances......" But are NUS students aware of this? The feeling I get is that NUS students think of the $900/capita as a strict cap. If you earn $950/capita, too bad for you, please don't waste your time applying for a bursary. Maybe that's why its so easy for NUS to boast that all of its applicants were given a scholarship. Did NUS communicate the idea that even if your household earns more than $900/capita you may still be eligible? I would think they are many students who have applied previous and were rejected and decided not to waste their time this year (I'm not sure about NUS, but NTU's bursaries all require them to attend at least one interview).

P said...

Frankly, I'm fine with giving 40% of the bursaries to foreigners if these are really talents that Singapore needs, and I'm even willing to ignore the fact that 40% of foreigners don't stay on to complete their bond (hey, everything is a game of chance after all).

But what I'm really pissed off is the fact that this is NOT an ability-based bursary. Meaning that a poor C-average foreigner can get bursaries too as long as he is able to show "proof of hardship". That robs the A-average Singaporean student of getting $900 (considering the lowest bursary given to a Singaporean is $1200, according to the letter from NUS, and the original article which said foreigners get $300 less) which went to the less-deserving foreign student. The fact is that the A-average Singaporean student could definitely do with $900 more. That $900 more would mean that he doesn't have to take on a part-time job and spend more time on his studies, CCA or other activities.

And to anyone who thinks that there are nothing as a C-average foreign student, you are wrong. Of course there are those foreign students who consistently top the dean's list, win competitions etc etc, I've got no qualms with them getting bursaries. But what about the other average, below-average foreign students? Why should Singapore owe them a living?

En & Hou said...

The newspaper is now doing the canvassing for them! One whole page for this editorial. Deja-vu?


"...how the foundation ran dry in 1986 and had to choose among its 32 who should continue, and who would have to be sent home with morphine to die. It hit home then. It was important to have 'healthy reserves that can withstand even the most dire economic times'..."

100Student said...


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