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.


  1. Was it on zaobao.com? I can't seem to find the article in today's paper.

  2. Jimmy,

    In principle, 100 percent of them should be here. After all, they have a 6-year bond to stay in Singapore. Adding that to the 4 years in university, 2009 should be the year they would be released from the bond obligation.

  3. Nope..Fox, it's not a 6 year bond. I know because I met many of them during my 2001-2004 days in NTU. They told me, in exchange for their scholarship and monthly pocket monies...they just have to work in Spore for 3yrs after graduation. The real shock though, is that as long as they can provide documentary proof of them having applied to 30 (if I recall correctly) companies here and hasn't secured a job, their entire bond will be dismissed and nullified. They told me that even if the bond was legally or contractually stronger, they could just as easily simply leave this little red dot and never return...after all, the world's job market is way larger for them to miss this little dot.

    123 is definitely not the "majority" of them!
    That's more like the majority of them found in just 1 Lecture Theatre on any given day. Go to NTU and NUS to see for yourself.

  4. Fieval, you must be mistaken. It's a 6-year bond - 3 for the tuition grant and 3 for the MOE scholarship. That's how the SM2,3 scholarships work.

  5. Thanks Fox,

    I always found zaobao.com unwieldy, but since you asked, I managed to find it here:

    It's missing a few tables though. And, from the article, my impression is that their obligation is just 3 years too. Anyway, the requirement is way too easy to workaround, given the number of MNCs we have here.

  6. Jimmy, thanks for the link. So it was in a section of zaobao.com that I don't usually read. I usually only read the news and opinion sections.

    Where does it say that it is 3 years for the bond in the zaobao.com article?

  7. Fieval and Jimmy,

    I'm quite sure that the bond is 6 years. I was an instructor for the SM2 bridging course at NUS and was told that their SM2 scholarship bond is 3 years *in addition* to the 3-year tuition grant bond.

  8. this is 133th level of competency.

    skimp on the details, just paint with broad strokes what their masters command.