04 July 2006

University Education for Singaporeans

Here's a fairly common scenario in Singapore. The young Singaporean goes to junior college, takes his A-levels but doesn't do as well as he had hoped. He's not able to secure a place in a local university (or a place in the faculty of his choice). So Daddy and Mummy have to fork out a small fortune so that he can go overseas to study in the UK, the US or Australia. $200,000 wiped out from their retirement savings. Gaaaah.

Well, there might be some cheaper (and smarter) alternatives that Singaporeans are not yet accustomed to considering. Why not do what this young American, Christopher Liu, did?
ST July 4, 2006
China gets a flood of foreign students
By China Correspondent, Tracy Quek

BEIJING - MR CHRISTOPHER Liu was into his first month of studies at Columbia University in New York, when the pull of China became too strong to resist.

So he dropped out and headed East.

The American-born Chinese enrolled in the prestigious Beijing University for a four-year degree course in international relations.

Now in his third year, Mr Liu, 21, told The Straits Times he did not want to miss out on the action in fast-changing China.

'I'm seeing a country transform before my very eyes,' he said.

Drawn by the country's meteoric economic rise and growing political clout on the world stage, more international students are heading to China for higher studies and a close-up view of its transformation from third-world nation to world power.

Many hope to work in China or in jobs that involve dealing with the world's fourth-largest economy. Getting a foot in the door early, they say, will give them an edge.

For its part, China - traditionally a major source of international students - is going all out to woo foreign students, with ambitious plans to become a top destination for higher education.

To attract the world's best and brightest, Beijing will give out more scholarships.

This year, the China Scholarship Council will raise the number of sponsored overseas students from 6,700 to 10,000, and more university fairs will be held overseas to recruit students.

Beijing has ambitions for its top universities to become world-class institutions that rival Britain's Oxbridge and the United States' Ivy League colleges.

In the global race for international students, experts see China as a formidable force to be reckoned with.

One strong advantage is its relatively low costs.

Fees and the cost of living, even in its most prosperous cities, are still lower compared to those in most developed countries.

Take Mr Liu, who moved here from the US.

His US$3,000 (S$4,776) yearly tuition is considerably more than the 5,000 yuan (S$1,000) local students pay, but is a tenth of the US$30,000 he would have paid in the US.
S$4,776 is also a lot cheaper than what Singaporeans pay to study in Singapore. According to this Singapore government website, university fees in Singapore range from about S$6,220 per academic year for non-lab based courses to $17,820 per academic year for medical / dental courses.

It's pertinent to note that Chinese universities are quite comparable to Singapore universities as well. Here - check it out. In this ranking, five universities in China are ranked equally with NTU, and two are ranked above.
The director of the Centre for Research in International Education at Australia's Monash University, Dr Simon Marginson, calls the growth of higher education capacity in China in the last 10 years phenomenal.

He means the hefty investments in university construction and staff recruitment to raise quality, as well as the number of places available.

'Living and studying in China provides the opportunity to acquire or improve skills in the Chinese language and way of life,' he said.

Viewed against the country's economic growth and the business opportunities, he said, it all adds up to making China increasingly attractive for foreign students.

From only a trickle of foreign students in the 1950s, there is now a flood.
Last year a record 141,087 arrived, up about 27 per cent from 2004, according to Education Ministry statistics, and most are full fee-paying students.

South Koreans, numbering around 40,000, make up the bulk, followed by Japanese (14,000) and Americans (8,000).

About 30 per cent of the total are degree students, and this number has grown from about 20 per cent five years ago.

While most foreigners come to learn the Chinese language, there are signs that more are opting for other fields such as economics, law, and medicine.

These specialisations became more popular after China's entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001, education officials said.

'Higher education in China has gone through tremendous change, from a system under a centrally planned economy to operating according to market forces,' said Professor Yu Fuzeng, a former president of the Chinese Association of Universities and Colleges for Foreign Student Affairs.

'Now, universities can recruit foreign students freely. This means competition and this promotes upgrading. The better your quality, the more students you will attract.'
If you are a young Singaporean, even if you could enter NUS, NTU or SMU, I think it is viable to consider studying in a China university anyway. China is so rapidly becoming a global economic powerhouse. Just living there for three or four years, getting yourself exposed to its culture and lifestyle, is going to be a valuable learning experience.

And you could still have a bit of the US or American or (gasp!) Singapore university experience too, while you're there.
The arrival of foreign-run programmes is creating a more varied higher-education landscape too.

There are already more than 700 foreign academic programmes available in China, reports say.

American colleges lead with more than 150 programmes.

Universities from Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan and Singapore have also come.

In 2004, Britain's Nottingham University became the first foreign university with its own campus, in the south-eastern city of Ningbo.

Another British institution, the University of Liverpool, will open its campus at Suzhou, in southern China, in September.

The chief executive vice-president of Nottingham at Ningbo, Professor Ian Gow, predicts: 'In future, each province in China could attract at least one level-one, top-class university, and maybe a level two or three university, from an English-speaking country.

'The attraction for us is the same as with multinationals. You can't afford not dealing with China, whether you want to compete or collaborate.'
So, Singaporeans, don't despair if you've lost a place in NUS or NTU to a foreign student. There's hope. The world is big. Look beyond the little red dot. It could even lead to a brighter future.

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Anonymous said...

if someone cannot make it into one of the local Us, how likely is it for him to be accepted by Qinghua, Jiaotong and beijing university?

Many of the PRCs in our universities are rejects from these top university.

Anonymous said...

{{{Many of the PRCs in our universities are rejects from these top university.}}}

That is half-true. They also wouldn't be here if the powers that be in Singapore didn't allow them to come en masse. With generous sponsorships etc. Basically, Singapore the country spreaded its legs for the PRC folks.

The huge number of peidu mamas working as masseurs all over the heartlands is eloquent proof of this.

Sleaze or not, that's the story for another day.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hey, don't laugh at our local university rejects.

I know some who didn't make it to NUS Law Faculty but went on to get 1st Class or 2nd Uppers from Cambridge.

Also, read the story of this local MBA reject and see where he landed up instead.

Anonymous said...

Besides, if China's living costs and fees are so much lower than Singapore's, then Singaporeans from poor families should go to China to study anyway (even if they have good A-level grades) ....

Cannot afford NUS, NTU etc lah!

Anonymous said...

i dun have laugh lah...
just pointing out that although they are chinese universities, also very hard to get in one.
Indian Us even more difficult; Undergrads from IIT almost guaranteed a place in top US grad schools.
cost of living in Shanghai and bangalore also catching up with singapore.

if not rich, better study hard.
dun regret later.

singaporean said...

Ask Singaporeans to study in China? Read this and cringe.
Culture shock In Xian
An interesting experience by Singaporean girl studying in China. Blogger Tianya.
May 24, 2006

dsea said...

Hi Mr Wang,

Generally, EMBAs are bottom line driven.

Infact, INSEAD price discriminate by giving coy sponsored student a cheaper tuition than "pay their own way" students.

Note that I am not comparing admission procedures, and not even ranking, but just to comment that EMBAs are generally just profit driven.

The Tarot Apprentice said...

Just wondering what's the objective of obtaining a degree? To enhance our knowledge in a certain skill that we hope to pick up? To be increase our value and asset in terms of job seeking? Or to realise one's dream and passion?

En and Hou said...

soulburnz : To survive. Remember, this is a paper-chasing society. Unfortunately, it's not for the knowledge or true wisdom anymore.


Anonymous said...

haha, but now some chinese want to go to hk universities. today's zaobao (mandarin practice for mr wang?) reported that this yr's top students are turning up at the interviews at some hk unis. apparently last yr's top students did the same thing too. read the reasons in the report..(lazy)

The Tarot Apprentice said...


I was told that HK's standard is good too. I've a friend who's studying there now.

But the accomodation is steep.

I did consider of applying a degree over there but the expenses halted me.

Anonymous said...

Having an overseas education isn't just about the degree itself. It is also about experiencing different cultures, and enriching yourself.

Unfortunately, I do not think that you can have that sort of experience in China. Do I really want to spend some of the best years in my life in a country which, for all intents and purposes (size aside) is the same as Singapore? No thanks.

Anonymous said...

hmm.. where are u studying now? compared to aussie, etc?

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Mr. Wang
Thanks for thought-provoking post.
Like your 1st commenter said, it is very unlikely that we can get into the top 5 U's Beijing/Fudan etc.
But I suppose nothing is impossible until we have tried.
I will definitely get my kids to try ( at least an exchange program )some semesters there.
My oldest is in a good mid-western US University.
Dr. Huang

The Tarot Apprentice said...


I'm working now so as to pay my poly loan first.

My application to NUS, NTU and MOE had all failed. I believe it's because I'd retain one year during my poly days.

少壮不努力 老大徒伤悲??


Anonymous said...

There's more to PRC than the top universities: u can study dance, music etc and the cost of living even in Shanghai is less than half of S'pore's if u live more like locals than lau wai...

moomooman said...

Pardon my ignorance.

For foreign students to get into Top Chinese Universities, shouldn't a grasp of Chinese Language be a pre-requisite? Or do they now teach in English as well.

Anonymous said...

think they still teach in chinese...
what is discrete fourier transform in chinese?

Anonymous said...

I am one of those who didn't have the oppurtunity to go to a Singapore university. Does that mean I am less capable than smarter students to own a degree? No. It's just that Singapore tertiary educational policies makes it impossible for me to own a degree, so I need to look at other opportunities elswhere, and now I've got a Masters Degree from the UK.

Education is getting more and more expensive. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where or how you choose your educational path. What's paramount is what exactly you want to learn and achieve, and how does having a university degree change you as a person in life?

le radical galoisien said...

Bet one often gets a daily dose of propaganda too. Or something.

"Culture there"? The current culture in the PRC is even worse than Singapore, more kiasu, of the bad kind, more hostile, more cold.

Singapore is going down the drain because we're turning into a little PRC. Living in other parts of the PRC is fine, but as far as the northern parts like Beijing go, I think I will rule that out.

As for "improve skills in the Chinese language and way of life", I bet that only applies for Putonghua right? While both Singapore and the PRC seeks to eliminate the dialects.

Even our fledgling biomedical industry here (which the PAP desires to call a "hub") seems to be stronger than theirs.

Republic of China is where it's at. 1912, not 1949.

Anonymous said...

Having an overseas education isn't just about the degree itself. It is also about investing in a back-door exit. Why would one want a back-door exit into China? It's akin to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.