07 July 2005


Mr Wang Zhen is actually quite busy at work today. But he knows that his faithful fans are waiting eagerly for Part III of his essay on the scholarship system. And he also knows that the Public Service Commission, which is led by government scholars who lack imagination and creativity, badly needs Mr Wang's brilliant ideas. So for the nation's sake, Mr Wang will now share his thoughts on how to improve the Singapore government scholarship system.

Mr Wang's 1st Brilliant Idea

Cut down on the number of undergrad scholarships. Take the money, and instead offer graduate scholarships to outstanding young civil servants who have already worked at least one or two years in the civil service. These Singaporeans use the scholarship to do their Masters. They can then be bonded.

What are the merits of this system? Firstly, you can assess your candidates not primarily on their A-level grades or CCA records, but on their actual performance in their real-life workplace. This is a much more reliable method and you can better decide whether the candidate is someone worth funding.

Secondly, the candidates themselves would by then have had a taste of public service. Compared to an 18-year-old student who has just finished his A-levels, these young civil servants would be much better able to decide whether they are really interested in public service. If they are, they would not mind accepting the bond that comes with their graduate scholarship. If they are not, then they can decline the scholarship and thereby choose not to be bonded.

Thirdly, these young civil servants, having already worked for a few years in the civil service, would be in a much better position to select a Masters course relevant to their actual work in the civil service.

Mr Wang's 2nd Brilliant Idea

Create a new category of PSC scholarships that focuses on the applicant's combined household income. Applicants who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are favoured. If two candidates are equal in all other respects, then preference is given to the financially poorer candidate. A maximum household income level can also be set. For example, if the applicant's aggregate annual household income exceeds [ ], then he cannot apply for the scholarship.

What are the benefits? Poor but bright students get their chance for a scholarship. Rich students who don't need such a scholarship are excluded from the competition. Since rich students are likelier to subsequently break their bonds anyway, the civil service will be more likely to retain its scholars. Being the relatively poorer students, these students are also likelier to feel grateful for the scholarship, and likelier to think of their obligation to serve their bond as a moral obligation.

Also, I think that the ordinary Singaporean's morale will be boosted. We revert somewhat to the original meritocratic dream that the Singapore system used to offer to its people.

Mr Wang's 3rd Brilliant Idea

Offer a new category of PSC scholarships - partial scholarships with shorter bonds. For example, instead of a full scholarship with a six-year bond, the PSC can offer a scholarship that pays only 50% of the expenses. The bond is accordingly reduced to three years. The scholar, or his parents, can pay the other 50% of the expenses.

What are the merits? Some Singaporeans are very bright but their families cannot afford to send them to study at the world's top universities overseas. However, if the government foots half the expenses, then their families may well be able to afford the rest. Thus Singapore benefits from having a larger pool of Singaporeans who have received a high-quality education at the world's finest institutions.

At the same time, the bond is shorter. All the disadvantages of a long bond (which Mr Wang had already discussed earlier) are therefore reduced by 50%. If it turns out that a scholar is not performing or that he does not like public service, then he can finish his bond much sooner and leave without causing too much grief to himself or to the civil service.

Mr Wang's 4th Brilliant Idea

As Mr Wang has pointed out, scholarship providers in Singapore are primarily the Singapore government, and the Government-Linked Companies. They should all get together and work out a scheme whereby they can exchange scholars and post scholars to each other, based on the scholars' indicated preferences. If a GLC "takes" a scholar from the PSC or from another GLC, then the GLC which is taking the scholar can pay the GLC the costs of the scholarship.

What are the merits of the scheme? If the PSC and the GLCs get together, they are able to offer a wider range of career choices and options to the scholars. It becomes likelier that the scholar will be able to find a position that he is genuinely interested in. In turn, he will be more motivated to do a good job and to complete his bond.

To give you a simple example, an 18-year-old gets a PSC scholarship and studies Law at Oxford. During his final two years in law school, he finds that his true interest is in aviation law. In fact, it is his passion. Upon graduation, the scholar is posted to the Ministry of Law, but there the work that he is assigned does not appeal to him at all. In fact, he hates it so much that he is thinking of breaking his bond.

Thanks to the scheme I mentioned, our unhappy scholar is able to apply for a transfer to Singapore Airlines, where he can pursue his interest in aviation law. If Singapore Airlines finds him to be a worthy candidate, Singapore Airlines can pay the PSC the expenses (on a pro-rated basis, depending on how much of his bond the scholar had already served at the Ministry of Law) of the scholarship, and "take over" the scholar.


There are simple yet effective ways to improve the Singapore scholarship system. However, since the system itself is run by a bunch of idiotic scholars, those people will never think of those ways by themselves.

The ever-helpful and ever-wise Mr Wang Zhen thus will step forward to offer those ideas, which some high-ranking civil servant somewhere will read, mull over, and eventually seek to implement. Of course, the ideas will work very well, and the civil servant will take the credit, but Mr Wang does not mind. All this is for the good of Singapore, you see.

By the way, Mr Wang is an INTJ. Also known as a Systems Builder. INTJs are a very rare species of human beings - their brains are innately hardwired to analyse complex systems, detect weaknesses and generate solutions. Hence all my brilliant analysis comes effortlessly to me.

(Unfortunately, INTJs are also known to resemble psychopaths. Read what a psychiatrist wrote about INTJs and psychopaths. Sigh. This is a major impediment to Mr Wang's public image and future career success.)

"That was just delicious, Mr Wang.
Did you know that I've been typed as an INTJ as well?"
- Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs


tscd said...

hear hear!

I understand that your 3rd brilliant idea is already in use - but on a very small scale (eg. people already halfway through university and applying for scholarship).

Anonymous said...

But doesn't the 2nd idea unmeritocratic as now there is discrimination base on social class?

Although it can be said to +ve discrimination but it is still discrimination...

Anonymous said...

1st idea, nothing original(to most MNCs), but original to the sg civil service. But NOTE: many folks who get sponsered grad schools (MNC example) also job-hop immediately after they finish their advanced degrees. But I guess if the headhunters are willing to buy the scholars out of their bonds, no harm, no foul. Then again, alot of scholars are getting bought out by MNCs every year already.

2nd idea - Looks more like a bursary than a scholarship. After all, a "pure" scholarship is designed to reward academic excellence and nothing else. But, all in all, the idea is very sound.

3rd idea - No close ideas currently, but something vaguely similar- there are pro-rated scholarship schemes currently available, but currently, the career paths are not as cushy as those who sign-on early.

4th idea - The Firefly scheme is sort of like what you suggested(http://www.firefly.gov.sg/ets/jsp/applicant/index.jsp), but I don't know too much about it to comment. What's said on the brochure might be far from what the reality is.

Great work, by the way.

Corporate Manwhore

Anonymous said...

Lovely ideas! May I offer my own:

Kiddyidea No 1:

Variations on a theme.
(a) Offer internships prior to awarding scholarships.
(b) Offer work experience for JC students.
Give these students, if found suitable, first right of refusal for scholarship.

Kiddyidea No 2:

Variations on 3rd Brilliant Idea.
(a) Offer interest-free loan with strings attached (eg. six-month/one-year bond).
(b) When scholar signs contract, offer him choice of sponsorship amount (eg 10%, 20% etc etc) and bond is calculated accordingly. Make it flexible during duration of study ie. student can ask for more money and increase bond or return money and decrease bond.

Anonymous said...

idea 4 sounds good but what if there are no openings in the field that the scholar (hate this word) is interested in? Then also LL mah...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

That's why I suggested a brand new category of scholarships (which take family background into consideration). The old types of scholarships can still continue to exist, although probably in smaller numbers (some funds will have to be diverted to fund the new scholarships).

It really depends on where you set the income cut-off. I think that there is a lot to said for NOT using public money to fund the university education of the very rich, for example, those kids whose parents can easily afford to send them to Harvard, Yale etc anyway.

1st Anonymous, on my 2nd idea - it's not really a bursary because my idea still requires a bond. So it still helps the government to retain talent. Whereas a bursary really comes with no strings attached.

KiddyIdea, I like your (b) variation on my 3rd brilliant idea.

Phanatiq, the idea is not to come up with something ideal (that will never happen), but to improve the system .....

2nd Anonymous - go away. Don't come back.

Anonymous said...

I was just worried that the 2nd idea would eventually become something similar to the bumiputra policy in M'sia just that now it is based on social class rather than race.

I am of the view that Scholarship program should be scrapped and change to bursary program with no bonds other than the scholar must come back to Spore after graduating and implementation your 1st idea the fullest extend.

I like your 1st idea the best lol...

Beach-yi said...

What is wrong with using scholarships based on social class, essentially you are still rewarding academic execellence except that the person receving the award have to be the case that they are disadvantaged economically to pursue a quality of education, that they would be unable to do so if left to their own.

No one is penalising the rich anyway, in Singapore they already pay little tax in terms of proportion of their income, if I am not wrong.

Anonymous said...

I have to clarify that i have nothing against giving scholarships base on social class so long it doesn't come with govt bond.

The reason is that I believe that any scheme that limits the pool of people which can be selected for govt scholarship with bond is unproductive. If the current situation is that 75% of PSC scholars are rich people, won't giving out scholarship base on social class eliminate them from the selection process? No organisation would want that because ultimately what they want is to attract the best people into the organisation, and not to provide social mobility through their scholarship schemes.

Anyway I believe I advocate implementing a bursary program with no bonds other than the scholar must come back to Spore after graduating in the 2ns part of my comments. If the govt ever decides to implement this scheme, I would certainly support scholarship based on social class.

Beach-yi said...

The reason why 75% of the scholarship recipents are from rich family are precisely because of their background that gives them cummulative adavantage over the average Meng/Ling from the AMK or Tiong Bahrus.

Anonymous said...

To Dear beach-yi

Ehhh... I am not sure what are u getting at...

I agree that being rich give you advantages but I don't believe govt organisations should be in the biz of providing social mobility by giving scholarships that come wif jobs based on social class...

Elia Diodati said...

Regrettably, your brilliant ideas tell a tale of "been there, done that" policies.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Where I do not quite agree with you is here:

"No organisation would want that because ultimately what they want is to attract the best people into the organisation ..."

In my view, the current selection process favours the rich, but does not necessarily help the PSC to find the "best" people -

simply because the selection criteria do not necessarily point accurately to the "best" people for public service -

but rather to people who are academically outstanding; possess a strong CCA record; and know how to present themselves well in an interview.

Anonymous said...

To Mr Wang

yeah. I agree with u. Perhaps I shd add "however they define it" into the sentence, to make myself clearer. ;)