On Friday and Saturday, The Straits Times published a two-part commentary penned by Mr. David Chan, professor of psychology at the Singapore Management University, exploring the dynamics of immigration and integration. The relevance and accessibility of the articles were not lost on the government; notably, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong publicised the publications on his FaceBook page, asserting that Prof. Chan “goes on to propose sensible approaches to managing the problems and getting positive outcomes for Singapore”.
It is difficult to disagree with the perspectives, because the values presented function as a non-controversial blueprint for the administration to bear in mind whilst crafting solutions to address current levels of dissatisfaction. Prof. Chan does not postulate specific policy recommendations (though implicitly, it seems apparent that if we are incapable of managing or mitigating pronounced angst, persistent immigration would only worsen ramifications). He articulates one particular point beautifully (emphasis mine):
“If we fail to acknowledge their concerns and the issues underlying their angst, then using labels such as ‘anti-foreigner’ and ‘xenophobic’ may actually contribute to producing such sentiments in more Singaporeans. We need fairer descriptions of foreigners, but also fairer descriptions of Singaporeans”.
Against this background, I thought it would be meaningful to contemplate two issues that are closer to my heart: National Service, and the issuance of university scholarships.
On National Service
It would be wonderful to reckon that all Singaporean males are idealistically committed to the concept of conscription and the corresponding sacrifices; but to a generation that has been raised to be judiciously pragmatic, the disadvantages associated with National Service (NS) have become more apparent. The pragmatism displayed is coupled by the observation that more students are now cognisant of the costs – primarily in time and financial terms – vis-à-vis their foreign counterparts in the classroom. More are also aware that there have been foreign individuals who purposefully skip NS, before returning years later to apply for citizenship; they may be in the minority, but these anecdotal instances matter.
This wishful mindset is anachronistic (it is imperative to point out that Singapore’s present predicament in relation to NS is unprecedented, since the massive influx of foreigners is a relatively new development, which means that current disparities might not have been issues in the past), and will get us nowhere. Many have also mused that the burden goes beyond the two years, since servicemen are called up for reservist duties later on.
Since it is impossible to expect foreigners to commit to NS, the other logical alternative would be to incentivise conscription (here); this could include more competitive levels of remuneration (considering the aforementioned, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify present levels of low allowance), the installation of more constructive welfare benefits, the providence of concessions et cetera. The plausibility of these strategies lies in the fact that we ease the pressures associated with NS – assuming that the mechanism is likely to stay for an extended period of time – without penalising the foreign students.
Prof. Chan’s suggestion to have more integrative community activities is healthy, but I reckon it would be beneficial for the foreign students to be exposed to introductory aspects of our armed forces, for them to achieve a comprehension of what Singaporean males go through. Training is no walk in the park, and developing an appreciation for it – albeit rudimentary – could form a key pillar of integration. Along the same tangent, would make sense to reconsider our new citizen policy: should male citizens serve some form of community service in lieu of NS liabilities; if they are of age, can they still fulfil NS requirements; if they are not suited for the armed forces, could they serve in other capacities?
On University Scholarships
A brief scan reveals that university fees in Singapore are heavily discriminated in favour of locals, and seems to in line with international college norms (I might be mistaken though). That’s not the issue. The next point of contention, on scholarships: during the 2011 National Day Rally (here), PM Lee explained how the flow of foreign students into our local universities would be regulated (Education Minister Heng Swee Keat then followed-up, explaining that the proportion of foreign students would be reduced from 18 to 15 percent). That was a move in the right direction. However, following the Sun Xu debacle (here and here), questions raised about government-linked or school-based have not been answered.
- How many foreign students are here on government scholarships funded by taxpayers?
- Based on those figures, what percentage of these awards is bonded?
- Do significant numbers of foreign students remain in Singapore for future endeavours?
- How are the scholarships distributed across the universities and corresponding faculties?
- Are foreign and local students interviewed or accepted based on the same set of criteria?
Could we consider a quota system for these specific scholarships? “Based on this distribution, could we then introduce a scholarship quota system – say, set at five to eight percent, or customised based on current figures – to empower and encourage more Singaporeans. This is a cap, so if insufficient foreign students make the mark, the remaining scholarships would then be offered to the Singaporeans”. Hence within a cohort of 1000 (with 150 foreign students), with 100 college scholarships available, the foreign students would be entitled to 5 to 8 of them, and the rest can go to Singaporeans. If only 4 are deemed worthy to be foreign scholars, then the remaining awards would go to the Singaporeans.