166 comments on (as of March 4, 2012), and the debate on The Thinking Fish Tank continues (here); however, it is hardly surprising that the issue of scholarships awarded to foreign students has struck a nerve with a plethora of Singaporeans – especially young local undergraduates – who are annoyed by the lack of clarify and information (here).
The commentary itself was written in a poignant and impassioned manner, and for good reason (many of the perspectives highlighted resonated with many of the readers); however, the article was guilty of a number of fallacies. I wanted to just take the opportunity to point out some of the contentions, follow-up on the opinions that I had posted a week ago, as well as to raise additional questions that should be addressed.
Contemplating The Presentation Of Statistics
“[The writer] realised that for [her] course’s cohort of around 60 pupils, 2 Singaporeans are on the NUS scholarship, 1 Malaysian is on the ASEAN scholarship and 17 Chinese Nationals are on the [u]ndergraduate [s]cholarship for PRC students.”
The figures provided by the writer are certainly not representative (an example of hasty generalisation), but the writer is hardly at fault: information provided by the government and the institutions is wholly inadequate, and does not paint a complete picture. There are a number of questions that should be asked of the administration:
– 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?
“Are we not as bright as the foreign talent we import? Well, I can tell you confidently that many of my Singaporean peers are as good if not better than these foreign scholars.”
This is an anecdotal observation, but only Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Education (MOE), Miss Sim Ann, has provided the indicator that “around 45 per cent complete their undergraduate studies with a second-upper class honours or better; only 32 per cent of Singaporeans do as well”. As many individuals have already established, Miss Sim Ann’s comparison is premised upon dissimilar benchmarks: we should be look at scholars against scholars, not foreign scholars against the community in general.
The Woes Of Generalisation
“This touched the heart of the principal from Raffles Junior College. Yet, not even an appeal by the principal of Raffles Junior College could persuade NUS to review the application or at least grant him an interview … Yet, he was awarded the prestigious bond-free Singapore Australian National University Alumni Scholarship … He is now studying at ANU, which values him more.”
I do question the writer’s decision to position such an example in the commentary; she might either be trying to imply that her friend’s rejection could be the result of the Singapore government’s willingness to “give scholarships to others than their own” (in the broader picture of the article, that the failure could be attributed to unjustified favouritism, or a predilection for foreign students), or that the NUS scholarship selection process might be somewhat flawed (again, a hasty generalisation, and post hoc ergo propter hoc, the fallacy of false cause).
There could be a number of reasons for his failure to qualify for the interview (cognisant that NUS and ANU might have employed different yardsticks for their scholarships), but these permutations are based largely on my personal postulations: his essay might have been poorly written, or he might have gone off-tangent; he might have had less-than-satisfactory co-curricular or community service involvement (which are gaining prominence as differentiating factors because of academic inflation, I feel); or he might have been simply out-matched and out-classed by his Singaporean counterparts.
“We’re not asking for an allowance for food and accommodation like the kind of scholarship that is dished out to foreign scholars. We’re just asking for free tertiary education for Singapore (sic) students with potential.”
At this juncture, it would be meaningful to also pose the question – in addition to the aforementioned queries – on the number of scholarships awarded to Singaporeans.
I had previously proposed the idea of a quota system.
With that, could we then introduce a quota system on these scholarships to ensure that Singaporeans are given priority? Presently in our tertiary institutions, about eighteen percent of the places are filled by foreign students (based on figures provided by the Prime Minister during last year’s National Day Rally speech). 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 (here).
I agree that we should give qualified Singaporeans to further their education in a sustainable manner (that tuition fees in local colleges are heavily subsidised is a good start, though its persistent increase is a cause for concern), so raising the number of scholarships and financial aid makes good sense. It’s just that my current worry with convenient generalisations is the possibility that some might begin to – unfairly – express their frustrations against the foreign student population as a whole.