Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Singapore appreciates a PRC talent who tried to integrate

All the talk about PRC scholars remind me of my classmate in NUS. He was born and bred in China. He had arrived earlier with his parents and attended JC and did well. Unlike the PRC scholars, he spoke decent English and he had no problem mingling with Singaporeans. In fact, he prefers to hangout with us than those fresh from China, even though he is very brilliant and very driven, and that made him more like the PRC scholars than the Singaporean slackers (like me). In fact, he was so brilliant he was the "go to" guy for PRC scholars who needed help with school work.

And, even though he is strictly speaking a first generation PR, he served National Service.

An exemplary foreign talent, don't you think? A model new citizen? And for all the hard work he put in, what did Singapore offer him? Well, Singapore offered to screw him.

Since he was not recruited via "rigorous interviews" held in China, he was not entitled to apply for the PRC scholarship, even though he proved himself worthy by aceing the "A" levels. This is not the case, for example, for ASEAN scholarships. Irregardless of the route you took to enter NUS, as long as you are a non-Singaporean citizen of ASEAN, you can apply for the ASEAN scholarship.

And either because his Singapore citizenship did not arrive fast enough, or because some scholarship boards referred him to the PRC scholarships, he did not manage to get any scholarship at all. I had trouble knowing the details because he was always eye-bulging mad when he talked about it.

This is the stark reality of Singapore. Be a non-committal tourist like Zhang Yuan Yuan and enjoy the best of both worlds, or embrace Singapore and get screwed, like my friend.

He was incredibly bitter about his situation throughout his four years in NUS, and immediately upon graduation, found a great job in US and never returned since.

So, what is the lesson learnt here? Don't be stupid and serve NS, since Singapore will not appreciate it? The biggest benefit of the Singapore citizenship, ironically, is that it allows you to find a job and migrate to developed countries easily?

Honestly, I cannot help but feel that our whole foreign talent policies are being run by people who are not thinking very far.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Zaobao: Most PRC scholars are still here. Really?

The Chinese arm of the Good News Times had a big multi-page coverage of the third batch of SM2 PRC scholars - the batch that joined NUS/NTU in 1999, celebrating their 10 glorious and infinitely happy years in Singapore. The key message seem to be "Of the 123 scholars, most of them are still here." This line is so important it was mentioned at least three times, including plastered at the front page, next to the headlines. The article went on to say that most of them are married here and most of them are either PRs or Citizens. (The monumental struggle to get the PR is just finding a job upon graduation.)

The interesting part is that although the article is full of precise numbers, and the scholars even created a commemorative booklet tracking the whereabouts of all 123, after 10 years of joyful and happy and fruitful living in Singapore, the Zaobao "journalist" did not seem the least bit interested to do some counting. What exactly do you mean when you say "most of them are still here"? 51%? 95%? I cannot find any number regarding that anywhere. Just sweeping comments like most, majority etc. To be fair, they did mention one person accepting a job overseas. I'm sure he is the only one, and he does that only after excellent contributions to the Singapore economy that went beyond the value of his scholarship and only worked in jobs that Singaporeans are too stupid to qualify.

For Singaporeans my age, we can still recall the government officials drilling into us that Singapore is a small island with limited resources, so we cannot afford to expand the universities to take in more Singaporeans, and the job market will never be able to absorb all the graduates. I'm not sure what changed, but suddenly Singapore does not have limited means as far as foreigners are concerned, and our job market is now infinitely elastic and can absorb as many foreign scholars as we throw at it, and the reason why Singaporeans cannot make it into university is because we are stupid as shown by our grades and will lower the standard. Well, why don't we subject the brilliant scholars to the same university entrance exams, instead of subjective "rigorous" interviews?

This small island with limited resources that has no money to award scholarship or even university places to local and have to hike fees regularly because local undergrads are consuming a disproportionate portion of the education budget, seems to have a different set of accounts when it comes to foreign students. At the cost of $120k each scholar, full fees covered, $6000 per year spending money, free medical insurance etc, the "journalist" did not think it was necessary to account to the taxpayers how many of those hundred thousands did not deliver on their promise of 3 years of work with a Singapore registered company. Even if this spending is a "proportionate" one, why not raise the length of their obligations every year, like how undergraduate fees must always go up?

Then again, if such scholarships are offered to Singaporeans, who would still take up the PSC scholarships that comes with far more constraints. From the article and from my anecdotal experience, many of the scholars have trouble staying employed. They are magnanimously allowed to take another undergraduate programme (another scholarship?!) or start a company or even suspend their obligations and work overseas. Not the kind of flexibility that local scholars can hope for.

And when it comes to calculating the length of contracts, the article conveniently added in the years of undergraduate study, which is unusual, for when scholarships are mentioned for locals, the study years are never counted. If counted this way, I think the A*STAR scholars would have contracts nearly two decades long.

On another page, PRC secondary school girls point out that they did not get into local schools through the "backdoor", and that they did not need to satisfy local exam requirements because they have passed many rounds of "rigorous" interviews before being granted the scholarship. Well, you tell that to the generations of Singaporeans who were mercilessly denied education opportunities because they failed their English or Mother Tongue exams, but were no less brilliant than the PRC scholars otherwise.

To top it off, some Vice President of the NTUSU with a PRC sounding name "Li Bo" repeated the lie that "at least 80% of the undergraduate places are reserved for Singaporeans". He is calling Minister Gan Kim Yong a liar, since he testified in parliament that there were 4218 foreign undergrads, out of a total population of 14,685 in 2007. That look way more than 20% or perhaps my maths is not so good. Did NUS/NTU drastically cut down the number of foreigners or drastically increased the local intake in two years? I doubt so. Then again, even Minister Gan Kim Yong needed two tries to get the number right.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Goal 2010: I'm sure slow to realising how dead it is

News that New Zealand has gone batshit crazy because they have qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 27 years made me look up how Singapore was doing with our very own Goal 2010. You know, that target set by Goh Chok Tong, who was inspired by then World Cup champions France, fielding a team full of players who, in his own words, "dont look like Frenchmen". He must have went, "Eureka! Flood the Singapore team with foreigners and we will qualify for sure!" Can't say it is not a brilliant strategy. He already wanted to flood Singapore with foreigners then, and he wants some tangible results to shut the mouths of critics.

Besides, foreign players then like Abas Saad had a good reputation, at least with the fans. Despite getting into legal troubles, he is still here after all these years. This is something I wont expect from the likes of Li Jiawei, who is yearning to run even while the money is still flowing.

Apparently Singapore even fielded an ineligible foreigner from PRC. At least he did not run off like the other foreigners. Not that it mattered, since we lost the matches that went on to be forfeited and Singapore failed in the qualification bid a long time ago.

Before someone jump in and use the usual excuse "Singapore has a small population", do realise that Singapore's population has hit 5 million, while New Zealand is just around 4.3 million. At this point, the sycophants will point out that Singaporeans lack the football culture, which is sort of true. While football is without doubt the number one sport in terms of followers, we are a nation of passive football spectators. TV spectators for that matter, as tragic ticket sales at S-League matches does not get as much parliamentary debate as the TV rights to the English football league.

Instead of wasting money on foreigners, can we just put the money to help Singaporeans play football? Like, for example, absorbing the costs to open up football pitches of schools and polytechnics to the public? If Singaporeans have no space to play football, where are the football players going to come from?

And instead of funding S-league teams with barely any identity, S-league should be completely torn down and re-aligned along secondary schools, or clusters of secondary schools. Old secondary school rivalries will keep the interest alive. Just a few weeks back at a company function, I realised that of the very few Singaporeans working in my company, almost everybody were from brand name secondary schools. SJI, RI, ACS. And the old rivalries of these middle aged folks are very much alive. I am sure they would pay good money to see the best alumni players of these secondary schools pit against each other.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Counting the costs of male citizenship posted an article entitled "Your Citizenship is Worth $4,511 More Than a PR Per Year". I'm not sure how $4511 was derived, but a glance shows the calculation is full of errors. For example, almost every single grant mentioned is for children. Depending on how you see it, almost all sums should be divided by two, or even three if you take the child into account. Not to mention, at the "average" of one child per woman, how does one simultaneously enjoy child care subsidy (for preschoolers) and subsidized school fees (for school going kids)?

Even the $30-40k HDB grant does not go to a single citizen. It is the combined grant of two citizens. If you marry a PR or foreigner, or a citizen who is disqualified due to pay or owning private property, you get half of that.

That sum of $4511 is a gross exaggeration. Then again, it does not take into account measures that only the low income citizens enjoy, like Workfare, and one off grants like GST credits, Jobs Credit and HDB Upgrading subsidy.

Don't count the Utilities Save. Foreigners get that too.

But how about the costs of a citizenship vs PR?

How much does it cost a Singaporean man to serve NS?

Can we account just by the loss of salary over two years(or two and half years for old timers like me)?

How about families that are plunged into financial crisis because their sole breadwinner was called up for NS? It is not as rare as most people who had not served NS think. Better yet, administrative screwups resulting into two breadwinners of a poor family being called up at the same time. I know it has happened because I have seen it myself.

I was paid around $200 per month for my 30 months of NS. No 13th month bonus. No CPF. No OT pay. The pay is much more now, but hardly market competitive.

Because it neither tracked inflation nor market rates, those who served NS in the 70s and early 80s were paid much more, relatively.

Why does a country that boasts of first world status and out of this world ministerial salaries persist in paying our national servicemen poorly? If the country has no money to pay our national servicemen, the ministers should consider a pay cut. But no, they believe in paying themselves first. And they sure track market rates closely.

How about care for servicemen who are disabled due to service injuries? Singapore seems to have no system to care for disabled servicemen. MINDEF's attitude seems to be pay a lump sum up front, discharge the servicemen and run away as quickly as they possibly can.

How do you account for the intangibles? The opportunity costs of our two years in our prime? The inconveniences erected when we turn 11 to prevent us from escaping NS? The continued inconveniences as we have to plan our lives around our reservists obligations?

And how do we account for the letter that threatens to suspend our travel "privileges", when we forget to inform to MINDEF before we go overseas? Priceless?

What price, to account for the hostile work environment? My superior officer once threatened to kill me, wanted to slam my head against the wall. That, after yelling at me for half an hour. This is a job I cannot resign from. I cannot even apply for a transfer.

I am sure, knowing that my citizenship is worth $4511 over a PR makes me feel better. Right.

Despite the costs, serving NS is worth it, right? It's all about defending Singapore from an invasion of foreigners, right?