Perspective Unlimited

Monday, June 11, 2007

Protection for Singaporeans?

A letter to the ST Forum over the weekend called for university places to be reserved for Singaporeans. I suspect by Singaporeans, the writer Mr Ong meant Singapore citizens only (not including permanent residents).

Globalisation has created winners as well as losers, relatively if not absolutely speaking. Being a small country market, Singapore has much to gain being part of the global economy. There is no denying of the benefits economic openness has brought to Singapore. Where there is disagreement, it is about how we can as a society manage the effects of being open.

Faced with competition, there is always a danger that political pressure for protectionism will mount. First, it begins with some price discrimination for public service, charging non-citizens more for education and healthcare like what we are already doing. The next natural step will be absolute quantity controls, such as reserving education places (or jobs) for Singaporean citizens like Mr Ong suggested.

Very soon, even that will not be enough - 'Old' citizens will not be too happy with the 'New' citizens in their midst. Surely the newly naturalised citizens do not deserve same privileges generations of Singaporeans have worked hard for? What's next then? Ah, one has to be a twenty-fifth generation son-of-the-soil before special privileges are conferred.

Though I had previously disagreed with Aaron Ng on more than one occasion, I have to compliment him this time for writing something as sensible as his latest post. He has clearly spotted the danger in Mr Ong's arguments. While the instinct to protect Singaporeans from competition is highly understandable, it is plainly silly to imagine that Singaporeans will be well-served with a dose of such protectionism no matter how well-meaning it sounds.

Endnote: There is also a discussion on this topic over at Mr Wang, which I have posted some further comments. I have also reproduced my last comment on Mr Wang's blog below.


Mr Wang and All,

Can't possibly respond to every comment. I would just reiterate my point. First, let's separate the issue of scholarships for foreign students and reserving university places for Singaporeans. The former is about whether it is beneficial for us or simply wasteful of taxpayers money. The latter is about whether we should institutionalise positive discrimination (for want of a better term) for Singaporeans (however defined).

Like I said, university access has already expanded greatly for Singaporeans over the past 2 decades. We have a high proportion of graduates (around 25 per cent of each cohort if I am not wrong). I can hardly imagine a situation where further expansion of university access will not diminish the average quality of intake. Sure, some As students may not get the course of their choice, but remember, A level grades have been inflated a lot over the past decade.

If the current level of access is still not good enough, and we choose to impose further quantity controls by reserving places for Singaporeans, it is the beginning of the slippery slope towards protectionism for Singaporeans. Where does one stop?

The end result is that the market will begin to discount the degrees of local university graduates, inferencing (probably correctly) that a significant proportion of them earned their degrees only because of the institutionalised protectionism. What happens next? Eager parents will fork out even more money to send their kids overseas, even if they have local access. Why? Because they will need to separate themselves from the local graduates, whose degrees will be under a cloud of suspicion that they are not nearly good enough. Who lose? Singaporeans in the end.

I understand that this is an emotional issue, but I hope at least some of you can see my point.


Regards


On a personal note, over at Mr Wang's site, some bloggers are beginning to suggest that I come from a selfish perspective, trying to argue against greater university access for my country men. Some are even suggesting that I am not thinking straight. But consider this. If I were selfish, wouldn't I argue for greater protectionism for Singaporeans for local university entry, knowing full well and safe in the knowledge that I already have an overseas degree? Wouldn't I want to restrict the number of bright kids from overseas coming to Singapore? Go figure.

I am not arguing against greater university access. I am making a simple point that however appealing protectionism initially looks, it has a strange way of turning around and hurting the people it is supposed to protect.

83 Comments:

  • An overly protected and well fed tiger cannot hunt when release into the "wild"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:39 am  

  • I think the issue is not with being protectionist, but rather, being OVER protectionist. I think that citizens should be given some entitlements, but the way things are being argued, it's almost like a witch hunt against foreigners, and that is scary.

    And, I can't help but agree with the previous commenter. The average Singaporean is unlikely to survive out of Singapore if the first response is to close doors to other people instead of rising to the competition.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 6:54 am  

  • On short term view, it is difficult to find a reason to justify the admission of foreign scholars and also give them scholarships. On a long term view ,from where I am working now (west africa) nobody here heard much of Singapore other then that it is clean,efficient and have many rules & regulations.Malaysia is well promoted here as west african nationals were given scholarship to study in Petronas University.This will lead to a host of benefits such as contracts, joint venture business etc. If we are looking at very short term view then we are unlikely to do well joining so call 'globalisation'.Do we have enough jobs in Singapore to sustain the next 5-7years growth without going overseas to look for jobs for Singaporean? Do we cut off foreign scholarships entirely so that more Singaporeans can be admitted into the university as every place taken by foreigner is one less Singaporean admitted.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:41 am  

  • Bart & Aaron

    You will not be able to come to a compromise with your comments at Mr Wang Say So blog for the same reason as stated that in Aaron's article as you come from different perspectives,perspective A, university education as a priveleged right and the other view that it is just a natural progression.

    How the Aussie universities do it is simple, fail more in the 1st ytr and the 2nd yr if the cohort size is to be increased so as to retain the academic standards, this will cause problems but less than the right of entry.

    Regards

    By Anonymous WANG, at 10:28 am  

  • Protectionism? I don't think Mr Wang is arguing that NUS should be protectionist.

    But his point is that NUS is actually making it easier for foreign students to gain entry into Singapore universities. NUS actually wants the foreign students here and is going out of its way to attract them.

    That's a whole lot different from just not being protectionist.

    By Blogger Dr Oz bloke, at 1:25 pm  

  • Hi Dr Oz,

    No, the original letter by Mr Ong to ST Forum did suggest that a percentage of places be reserved for Singaporeans. That is my reference point, as seen from the opening of my post.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 1:27 pm  

  • Your argument follows the assumption that there are many brilliant, or at least, competent foreigners out there to fill up and over-subscribe to the 20% quota.

    Sadly, from my exp in SMU, it is not so. Coming from the business fac, virtually all of the top scorers in the school are locals. On the contrary, it can be very frustrating to work with many of the foreigners we have because they are totally inept, and have very very lousy attitude. It's often to see them not turning up for project meetings and they go partying instead, free-riding their group mates.

    So contrary to what u argue, the 20% becomes a quota not to 'limit' the foreigners, but to aid them in gaining an unfair advantage over our local students.

    Regards.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:16 pm  

  • I see. But can you kindly draw the link - how is it got to do with my argument that we should not create reserved places for Singaporeans? Thanks.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 2:18 pm  

  • I see. But can you kindly draw the link - how is it got to do with my argument that we should not create reserved places for Singaporeans? Thanks.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 2:19 pm  

  • The institution of quotas to limit the number of non-Singaporean students in universities would be a result of the government/MOE acting to enable every Singaporeans to have a university education, if they so wish.

    Ensuring the "quality of intake" is largely a concern of the university, rather than the government. I don't see how that comes into play when trying to ensure that Singaporeans have access to a university education.

    By Blogger Heyting, at 2:27 pm  

  • Why don't you just say sorry for being stupid?

    By Blogger mr.udders, at 2:27 pm  

  • Hi Bart,

    But it does seem like the local universities ARE reserving places for foreigners.

    So what's that? Protectionism for foreigners then?

    Strange.

    By Blogger Dr Oz bloke, at 2:50 pm  

  • "I see. But can you kindly draw the link - how is it got to do with my argument that we should not create reserved places for Singaporeans? Thanks."

    My point, if u haven't seen it, is that over here, technically, there aren't reserved places for Singaporeans to begin with. But on the contrary, it has resulted in reserved places for foreign students to deny more Singapore students of higher quality of the vacancies they deserve. Now, is this right?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:52 pm  

  • Dr Oz and Anon,

    I don't think I agree to creating quotas for foreigners either, unless someone has some argument to justify it. For example, it may be due to creating campus diversity. Many MBA schools for example make sure that their intake is geographically and occupationally diversified, to have better mix of viewpoints.

    Ceteris paribus, all things equal, I do think we should favour citizens. If the citizen applicant is as good as the foreign counterpart, why not favour the citizen? I can agree with that.

    I am against specific quotas or reserved places for citizens. I feel it will do more harm than good to Singaporeans in the long term. As you can see, I am probably in minority view. Not surprising.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 2:58 pm  

  • Bart,

    Respectfully, you might not have gotten all the facts quite right, but the KTM agrees with you that neither does Mr Wang have any clue about what's really going on either. :-)

    My response to this brouhaha is here. :-P

    Warmest Regards.

    WANG,

    Agree with you. Should relax entry requirements to give people a chance given the well-known fact that the A-Levels is not exactly a foolproof way of determining the deserving candidates.

    By Blogger kwayteowman, at 3:10 pm  

  • Hi Bart.

    If I were you I wouldn't waste my time arguing with Mr Wang or the people on his blog. He has a tendency to attract the loons out of the woodwork.

    By Anonymous Han, at 3:13 pm  

  • Thanks for the clarification.

    Personally, I believe that the state should provide tertiary education to those who have made the mark. It does not mean lowering of standards. On the contrary, it's about maintaining consistency in admission standards in general, and also to maintain confidence amongst students and citizens alike.

    Of course, no one has the right to entry to an institution solely because of citizenship. But, from what we can see from the dragon batch, it is a case of sudden surge of demand that the institutions are unable to cope with. In fact, the institutions now are receiving better students on average largely as a result of the presence of a larger cohort, and incapability of them to accomodate such a sudden increase in intake. Furthermore, Singapore, in being a small country with only 3 universities, and thus with little buffer, further complicate matters.

    In other words, I think the parents have some validity in their concern due to the fact that their children are deprived of a place not because of their inabilities (compared to past years), but the year which they are born in.

    Furthermore, ceteris paribus, if a student is shown worthy of a university education, does it make sense that we deny him a place simply just because the state is unable to accomodate the increase in cohort size, and also the fact that his/her family is simply not rich enough to send him/her for an oversea's education?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:23 pm  

  • Bart,

    I do not think it the next apocalypse should there be foreigners studying in Singapore. In fact such a situation could be similar to that in US universities and UK universities? However I am against giving the advantage to foreigners in any way.

    By Blogger Ned Stark, at 3:29 pm  

  • That said, is there anyway to ensure more fairness without the use of quotas? (not that it would be fair but...)

    By Blogger Ned Stark, at 3:31 pm  

  • to add further,

    I believe that Singapore is now doing itself a double disservice by depriving worthy students places they deserve (and skills which they can help Singapore in the future), and yet accept foreigners whose standards are not even comparable to the local students whose places they are denying.

    Regards.
    SMU Student.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:32 pm  

  • Hi guys,

    Someone told me that when the A levels results were released this year, some of the top JCs have more than half the cohort getting straight As.

    As to Ned's question - how to ensure fairness - perhaps we can never be totally "fair". Dragon year or not, there are always going to be sudents, many who no doubt believe themselves to be deserving, who will be disappointed. I agree that being a small country with only 3 universities complicate matters.

    But what I hope to achieve by posting this comment is to convince you that a quota system for Singaporeans is not the best way forward.

    The difficult work lies in primary and secondary education, to ensure that by the time Singaporeans have to compete for university places anywhere in the world, never mind Singapore, we can hold our own.

    I would like to bring you back to the first comment of the post. A protected tiger will never be able to hunt when released into the wild. The last thing we want is a quota system to create many Singaporean degree holders, who become paper tigers.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 4:28 pm  

  • Of course, I hasten to add that I don't agree to having low quality foreign students just to make up numbers.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 4:34 pm  

  • Then it appears both "camps" do have a point. Unfortunately since this deals with issues close to people's hearts, than it is natural for there to be such heated debate.

    By Blogger Ned Stark, at 4:57 pm  

  • Concerns about low quality foreign students coming into Singapore and be subsidised are valid. While we cannot avoid this altogether, calls for better measures (if there can be better measures) should be listened to. However, banning foreign students altogether is extreme. I do hope that the anti-foreigner camp can see this point.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 5:08 pm  

  • Actually, the issue is really simple. Mr Wang don't want the money he pay for the taxes to subsidize the foreigners' scholarships but the Singaporeans.

    What's wrong with that? He's doing it to help the Singaporeans who can't help themselves. At least, he makes a point to tell those Aaron and Bart that he is not happy how the money is spent and also the places that the local unis are giving to the 2nd class FTs from China and India. The best ones are in the US.

    How about Aaron and Bart? They don't even pay a single cent of taxes and expect the taxpayers to pay for those foreigners, who have their own children (Singaporeans) to feed and look after. These two morons don't understand what the taxpayers want to do with their money.

    Before Bart opens his mouth and talks about economics, he better remembers that his PhD is paid by the Singaporean taxpayers' money.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:29 pm  

  • Just make myself clear. I'm not against foreigners per se. In fact, I was kinda looking forward to working and competing with bright foreign students over here. But i was honestly pretty disappointed (or even disenchanted) by some of the standards I see.

    I hope my sharing have actually revealed that both camps do have some common ground. And I believe some of the heated arguments (esp those getting personal) are prob due to misunderstandings and imperfect knowledge and information.

    Regards
    SMU student

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:34 pm  

  • Han,

    I guess that is because people generally hear what they want to hear rather than think through the issues. It is kind of normal.

    To Whom it May Concern,

    Before people start to call for aaron and bart to be crucified, it will be prudent to read their comments to questions. In fact their points are valid. But of course if your just here to ventilate then no one can stop you.

    By Blogger Ned Stark, at 5:36 pm  

  • the other camp is not anti-foreigner. they're just anti-subsidized-education-for-foreigners.

    By Anonymous zhixiang8787, at 5:45 pm  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Just Wondering around, at 7:08 pm  

  • Just base on the traffic flow on your blog (can be one of the factors used to decide), would decide if the people believe in you or Mr Wong.
    People go online to read blogs which are being mass believe by the public. Thus, to find out the actual truth on what is happening around us.
    Explaining more on what we can be easily read on the newspapers is actually redundant.
    Only victim sees clearly what are the areas of concern. An only person in the confort zone believes none to what is felt by the mass public.
    I still see strongly that Singaporeans as first priority. Singaporeans are children’s of Singapore. What is happening now is Singaporeans are stopped by their parent from being educated. So, what's next?

    A scenario which drives 20 years of national education away from the heart of a Singaporean:
    Local Universities: I am sorry you not have a place in our Universities
    Oversea university: No worries your education will be taken care of by us. We will give you a chance to study.
    After years of hardwork, this Singaporean decide to migrate. Singapore cries traitor, quitters, not loyal.
    Victim: Who is in fault? Why should I stay in Singapore when I am being discriminated from primary school EM2/EM3, secondary school- normal academic/ normal technical, poly/ITE then, you are told me that, no more place for you in the universities. This implies, you are too stupid to study, if I take you in, you are a disgrace to us.
    Singapore: How about the partly subsidized education fee from primary to poly/ ITE education?
    Victim: Paid back during National Service.

    Lastly, parent only share their love to their children. Singapore is different, Singapore shares her love to foreigners to and they had no obligation to fight for Singapore during war times. The love which is considered mine is now shared by people who don’t need to carry rifles, serve ICT, IPPT.
    I am now going to have 3 months break, ICT, the middle of my holiday. This means I cannot work. So, MOD compensates me time for money? Hey let me remind you, Singapore don’t owe you a live. Please work till 80 years old, hmmm, as long as you live. Base on this can I don’t work? Tell me, Singapore wants this want that from us. Singaporeans only just want a place to live, work and received high education. Is that too much to ask?
    20 years ago I am proud to be a Singaporean, now; I am just merely a cheap labour as compared to the foreigner. I suppose I do not need to elaborate on why being cheap. Don’t tell me to blame myself for feeling this way because it is not my fault. When I found my path myself, please don’t call me quitter. There is no value of being a Singaporean when love is being a one sided affair.

    Education is on of the issues which disgust people. If you lump all issues up, I am not surprise that 50% - 60% of Singaporeans wanted to migrate.
    Imagine fighting a war with soldiers who already demoralize by 50% when 50% wanting to leave the county. So, is Singaporeans important or the FTs important? When such a large portion of Singaporeans wanting to leave the country, do you think, education as one of the government policies, or the whole system is still right?

    By Blogger Just Wondering around, at 7:15 pm  

  • How does denying a place to a citizen who has accrued the necessary grades be equal to the a maintenance of standards?

    If more people are now able to get the necessary grades to enter university, let them enter I say.

    That would mean that we would have more qualified people in the country. We would have a greater pool of people to choose from in positions for PhD studies etc.

    The first poster claimed that the "tiger" would not be well equipped if it is too protected. Well, we are not even giving the "tiger" the opportunity to be trained in the first place. It would definitely not be able to survive now, would it?

    By Blogger John, at 2:32 am  

  • And oh, I would like to add that I am not against foreigners studying here.

    I am just not keen on the idea that
    1) They are subsidized by Singaporeans.

    AND, to make it worse,

    2) They have a quota reserved for them.

    While our own citizens have to pay for our own fees. Ask the poly graduates who work for several years to save up money for their own uni education how they feel. They, surely, are not protected tigers in reserves?

    By Blogger John, at 3:03 am  

  • Bart never studied in NUS or NTU and it shows.

    The bulk of the foreigners in NUS/NTU are admitted under a separate criteria. Notice many of the Singaporean topscorers who are rejected from uni places were because of poor performance in Project Work, which is not a requirement of the foreign students.

    Not to mention, plenty of Singaporeans are rejected simply because of their poor command of English, while foreigners with a much much weaker command of English get to sneak pass.

    What we have here is not meritocratic. For the past 10 years since I left NUS, 20% was a TARGET that NUS/NTU struggled to meet, not a cap. They only managed to meet the target in the recent few years, and respin it as a cap, to fool people who werent paying attention.

    Let's not talk about the role of public education or quotas. Let's just standardised the university admission criteria. If we can compromise on our English standards for foreigners, let's make it so for Singaporeans. I know plenty of poly students will breeze through if this is the case. If we do not require foreigners to have a Project Work grade, then waive the requirement for Singaporeans.

    I suspect at least 3/4 of the foreign students will fail to local unis if they are judged like foreign students.

    And then there are the scholarships that Singaporeans need not apply that covers not just 100% fees, lodging and lifestyle costs.

    Who are we protecting here?

    I look forward to the day when Singaporeans get the same privileges as foreigners.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 4:24 am  

  • "I suspect at least 3/4 of the foreign students will fail to local unis if they are judged like foreign students."

    Correction, should read as:

    I suspect at least 3/4 of the foreign students currently admitted to local unis will fail to make the grade if they are judged like Singaporeans.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 4:26 am  

  • "

    Like I said, university access has already expanded greatly for Singaporeans over the past 2 decades. We have a high proportion of graduates (around 25 per cent of each cohort if I am not wrong). I can hardly imagine a situation where further expansion of university access will not diminish the average quality of intake. Sure, some As students may not get the course of their choice, but remember, A level grades have been inflated a lot over the past decade.

    If the current level of access is still not good enough, and we choose to impose further quantity controls by reserving places for Singaporeans, it is the beginning of the slippery slope towards protectionism for Singaporeans. Where does one stop?

    The end result is that the market will begin to discount the degrees of local university graduates, inferencing (probably correctly) that a significant proportion of them earned their degrees only because of the institutionalised protectionism. What happens next? Eager parents will fork out even more money to send their kids overseas, even if they have local access. Why? Because they will need to separate themselves from the local graduates, whose degrees will be under a cloud of suspicion that they are not nearly good enough. Who lose? Singaporeans in the end.

    "

    I find your flow of thoughts difficult to follow and justify, sorry.

    How can increasing the intake of students, if they have good grades, be diluting standards. That would only happen if we take in students that do NOT have good grades.

    Having a higher proportion of the population having tertiary education can only be a good thing, as long as the academic standards are maintained. Your logic is that only the top portion of the population should have access to tertiary education, and that somehow, only the top portion should be allowed tertiary education to maintain "standards". Why cannot more people have university education, as long as they proved that could hack it at A-levels (whether A-levels is a good entry exam is another issue)? The only way I could understand that is that you subscribe to the theory that only the top X% of the population has the necessary IQ to be considered tertiary students.

    I beg to differ.

    If the academic standards are kept up in the universities, i.e., only those who actually deserve to pass can get their degrees, as opposed to have a certain portion passing every year, I don't see how employers would believe that standards are dropping.

    At the moment, there is no "institutional protection" (not for the Singaporeans anyway, only for the foreigners, ironic innit?) being called for by some of the more vociferous forumers, but that people should be admitted as long as they have the requisite grades, and the universities should be expanded if necessary to cater for that.

    Instead, people with grades good enough for previous admissions cannot get admissions now, and foreigners are being admitted, with possible lower standards. And, with our own citizens paying for their fees, accomodation and food. That cannot be right.

    By Blogger John, at 5:01 am  

  • John,

    I can agree that we should not be admitting foreigners with lower standards (and Singaporeans should be subjected to the same treatment too). However, basing entry on previous admission standard is not a good idea. The moment this is done, people will always want it to be done for future years, regardless of whether the overall results of that year is good or bad. Therefore, I still advocate that entry be based on the merits of all the applicants of that year.

    Having said that, it doesn't mean that the number of places shouldn't be increased. However, how much should the increase be? I have been asking around, but I have not got an answer as to what is the magic number to satisfy everyone. As it stands now, the number of places are gradually rising compared to say 10 years ago. I don't have a clue as to how much is enough such that Singaporeans are happy. Perhaps you can enlighten me on that.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 6:02 am  

  • Aaron said
    "However, basing entry on previous admission standard is not a good idea. The moment this is done, people will always want it to be done for future years, regardless of whether the overall results of that year is good or bad. Therefore, I still advocate that entry be based on the merits of all the applicants of that year."

    Have to disagree with you, partially.

    There is nothing wrong with basing admission criteria on a fixed standard, rather than on 'merits of all the applicants', which in practice means that a fixed percentage, or worse, number, of applicants can get admitted. Or I think that is what you really mean, pardon me if I am wrong.

    No, if a person is good enough, he is good enough, period. If he got good grades in a test, in an assessment or an exam and is still unable to enter university, then the criteria for admission should be called into question.

    What you are advocating, i think, is that only a fixed percentage can enter universities in Singapore, even with the increases in the number of places available that you agree should take place.

    At the end of the day, there would be a compromise between the 2 points of view:

    1) One is only good enough if that person is in the top percentage of his/her cohort.

    2) One is good enough as long as that person crosses a point threshold, be it 50%, 60% or 70% of that exam.

    I feel with the increasing number of graduates from China and India that our own people would have to compete with, the 2nd point of view should be give more weightage. So what if we have a larger number of graduates? As long as they are properly trained and educated, and they attained the requiste standard, there can only be good and not bad consequences. Least of all, would there be a drop in standards. We should be pulling up anyone who could, not restricting their chances of improvement.

    Let there be larger number of graduates to do PhDs, masters, etc.

    Based on your view, let me pose a counter-question: Since you think that the number of admissions should be based on "merits of applicants of that year", then what "merits" should that be based on?

    By Blogger John, at 6:34 am  

  • Hi John, Jimmy,

    I understand a lot of what you said. But I never said that we should lower standards for foreign students or boost foreign student numbers for the sake of it. I also mentioned that giving scholarships to foreign students is a separate issue, though many of you would like to link it.

    What I simply said was that having specific quotas reserved for Singaporeans is not a good idea.

    To John. As for what merit is. I am a teacher myself. Unfortunately, when accessing students' grades, people often have a bell curve, subconciously if not explicitly. If a question is answered badly in general, an average answer will suddenly get rather good marks. Similarly a student with Bs in a class of straight As will look like he has less merit, even though it is perfectly good score.

    Regards.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 7:01 am  

  • Aaron,

    On your first comment in here. The problem isn't about keeping foreigners out and "protecting" our own, it's what's fair for the locals. Those who (locals) have struggled for all their study years within the confines of the system have suddenly found themselves usurped by foreign students lead in by the hand through open doors.

    Point is, foreigners, come, please come, but no bonus points just because you're a foreigner. Show us what you got up there. If your grades merit a place so be it.

    By Anonymous Kevin.l, at 7:18 am  

  • I can agree to what Kevin said. But to Kevin, do you agree that there should be a reserved quota of sporeans?

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 7:32 am  

  • "

    To John. As for what merit is. I am a teacher myself. Unfortunately, when accessing students' grades, people often have a bell curve, subconciously if not explicitly. If a question is answered badly in general, an average answer will suddenly get rather good marks. Similarly a student with Bs in a class of straight As will look like he has less merit, even though it is perfectly good score.

    "

    Bart,
    I am afraid that does not face the issue here head-on. As you put in your analogy, a B is a perfectly good score, just that there are many As to outshine it. Sure, but it remains a perfectly good score. If most of a cohort can get good A-level results, good for them! Let them get their due rewards, which is a tertiary education. We are not trying to set up a MENSA society here, where the top percentage above a certain IQ, defined with a cut-off point in a cumulative frequency curve is admitted, we are talking about equipping as large a number of young people possible for increasing competition in the world.

    By Blogger John, at 7:48 am  

  • John,

    I see what you mean. But given scarce places, it probably your ideal situation cannot be achieved without very high costs. Moreover, grades have been inflating. Some top schools of half the cohort getting straight As. With this situation, there will be those with decent grades who will be disappointed.

    I do see you point, wish I could say something like everyone who wants to go university should be able to do so. But that will be meaningless given the context.

    But John - do you agree with quotas for Singaporeans, would really like to hear from you.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 7:54 am  

  • In an imaginary Singapore, where the government actually cares for Singaporeans, it would be nice if there is at least one tax payer funded university that puts the needs of Singaporeans first.

    But that's lalaland, too far away to imagine. Right now, the only quotas we have in NUS and NTU, are the ones meant for protecting foreigners, be it in uni places, scholarship or hostel lodging. Either that, or quotas to cap poly students from admitting to local unis.

    There is a bumiputra policy in place. It is just a tragic joke is that in Singapore, the foreign talents are the bumiputras.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 8:05 am  

  • Jimmy,

    If we have a quota of 20 per cent foreigners, by definition, there must be a quota of 80 per cent for Singaporeans. It has to add up to 100 per cent.

    What you are saying is actually that the quota for Singaporeans is binding, and the quota for foreigners is lax (non binding), so much so that the average quality of foreigners is lower than Singaporens.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 8:11 am  

  • If we have a true meritocratic admission criteria, there is no way NUS or NTU can meet the 20% target. Which is why both unis have to send teams all over China and India to scour for as many students they can find that meets some minimum standard, offer them fat scholarships, or they can NEVER maintain the 20%. This is an MOE requirement, practically a KPI for NUS/NTU administrators.

    And honestly, I dont think they are serious about capping the foreigners at 20%. It is just a nice spin to fool the willing idiots. They will take in more if they can. The trouble is, they cannot. So they have to compromise and make do with Singaporeans.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 8:21 am  

  • Well, let's talk about quotas then.

    First, I am against it, simply because I feel that if one has good enough results, then one should get to study in a university. As I alluded in a previous post, that is too idealistic, and in practice, what can be achieved is to expand our intake a lot more to accomodate the larger number of people with good A-level results. If you feel that grades are being inflated in A-level exams, then you also agree that the same thing is happening in O-levels too. In fact, even more so. I personally cannot subscribe to such a view. If the person can get the grades, that person would have the knowledge pertaining to that particular subject. Whether the knowledge is obtained by active learning or mere memorisation is another point. The really brilliant ones can then go on to post-graduate studies.

    I think the original letter to the forum (think so, with all these outpouring of different views, I lost who actually suggested it) which proposed a quota for Singaporeans was written in reaction to the quota set for the foreigners. If our own needs are met reasonably, the question of a "quota" should not even arise.

    Your reaction against a quota for Singaporeans would be reasonable if Singaporean students have poorer A-level (or whatever exams the foreigners take for their pre-college years) results vis a vis foreigners. But it seems not so.

    "There is a bumiputra policy in place. It is just a tragic joke is that in Singapore, the foreign talents are the bumiputras." I would have laughed out loud, if I have not been a Singaporean. Sad.

    Last point, there are certain fields of study that are the "commanding heights" of education, like medicine and law, i.e., the graduates are essential to the country, and it would be important that they are our own citizens. E.g., male doctors are needed for our armed forces. In these fields, a quota, or a minimum number of undergraduates who are Singaporeans would be a must.

    By Blogger John, at 8:43 am  

  • Jimmy,

    You have said a lot of nasty things about the foreign students. Can you provide us with more details on your claims? Which Department/Faculty did graduate from? Were you the top student in your faculty?

    Dunno lah, but what seems to be true is that most of the top students in recent years for NUS/NTU Science and Engineering have been foreign students. Or is the KTM mistaken?

    The KTM would like to believe your claims that you are so good so good and the foreign students are all trash. Help us out? :-P

    By Blogger kwayteowman, at 3:43 pm  

  • KTM,

    at which point did I claim that:
    1) I and/or Singaporeans in general are good?

    2) Foreigners are no good? In fact, what nasty things did I say about foreign students? Can you quote?

    All I said is that I have complete faith Singaporeans can compete against foreigners, if we only use one standardised set of admission criteria. If we require Singaporeans to pass GP, L2, Project Work, CCA, we should require the foreigners to do the same.

    Many students who would have excelled in NUS or NTU are forced into polytechnics because they couldnt manage to clear all the hoops in Singapore's education system.

    What I hope to see, at the very least, is an end to discrimination against Singaporeans, based on our birthplace.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 2:43 am  

  • Jimmy,

    In fact, what nasty things did I say about foreign students? Can you quote?

    Okay. Perhaps the KTM can remind you about some of things you have said in the past:

    "Let's be honest with ourselves: none of the 20% foreign students rejected an American university to study in NUS. None of them will pause for a heartbeat if they are ever offered a chance to transfer to an American university. We are basically collecting leftovers to pad the numbers."

    "And one has to ask, what kind of internationally mobile talent can $2500 buy you? How many of you will leave your comfy home to take up a job that pays you $2500, with no possibility of bonus or increments? Where is the talent in the "foreign talents"?

    "I have no statistics, but from my experience, foreign students seldom get 1st class: this category is usually dominated by Singaporeans. Most foreign students are good, but very very few are great genuises because they would have made it to US universities. As far as our FT policy is concerned, we definitely scrapping the bottom of the barrel".

    "It is obvious KTM knows very very little about what is going on in Science and Engineering, because he thinks that a strong command of English is an advantage Singaporeans have over the foreigners. In both faculties, neither the students nor the lecturers have a very good command of English. Often a good command of Mandarin helps because you can finally communicate with your lecturer or tutor in a language both party understands".

    To respond to your latest post:

    All I said is that I have complete faith Singaporeans can compete against foreigners, if we only use one standardised set of admission criteria. If we require Singaporeans to pass GP, L2, Project Work, CCA, we should require the foreigners to do the same.

    Uncle ah, these foreign students don't have to take GP, L2 and Project Work in their high schools. You want the Singapore Government to impose this requirement on the foreign high schools?

    A more important question is whether these foreign students do well (or better than locals on average) in the university. Is the answer yes or no?

    Which is more important? Admission standards or actual performance in university? If we have an oracle that can tell us how well a student will do in university, will we not use that as the admission criteria instead of the dunno what UAS?

    If you want to argue that the current admission criteria for university is wrong or ought to be changed, that is different from saying that the foreign students are not deserving, or worse than the locals.

    Again, we're not saying that there are no lousy foreign students. Surely got a few no matter what we do. The question is whether all the foreign students are lousy and undeserving like what you seem to be implying.

    Your insistence at comparing the foreign students to the locals at point of entry is seriously myopic. Bear in mind that getting in is only the beginning.

    By Blogger kwayteowman, at 9:13 am  

  • KTM,

    very sneaky of you to quote me out of context, and even then, where is the part about me calling foreigners trash?

    The second quote was regarding foreigners on EP, not those who graduated from NUS. Most foreigners who graduate from NUS don't hang around in Singapore after graduation anyway. Part of the reason they leave, is because, surprise surprise, they are uncompetitive in the local job market, despite above average grades. Singapore is still a place that ranks communication skills far above technical skills. In fact, one of my classmate, who was a hardcore flunky in uni, was snapped by an investment bank before graduation. Which begs the question: which is more important? Good grades in uni or employability?

    Regarding the UAS, there is always two solutions. If we cannot make the foreigners do project work, then we don't make Singaporeans do project work. How difficult is that? You think NUS trust the high school scores of China and India? You don't think they concoct up some special entrance exams to test the foreign candidates first? Why can't we use that for Singaporeans?

    If we clear away the GP, L2, CCA, Project Work obstacles for Singaporeans, I know a lot of poly students can rise up to the challenge. Certainly, the far-sighted KTM don't think the only pool of potential undergrads are weaker JC students, right?

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 9:50 am  

  • Bart JP,

    Quota for Singaporeans? No, not at all. There shouldn't be a cap per se. More so the institutes of higher learning should do their darnest to admit all those proven capable and those who willing at giving tertiary education here a shot.

    In fact, if you asked me, something must be really wrong with the system if say NUS rejects a triple-A student just because "we ran out of room". That, doesn't go down very well.

    As the Dean of university or even MOE themselves, did they not forsee the possibility of spike in applicants?

    By Anonymous Kevin.l, at 9:56 am  

  • You cannot say that it is FAIR that a foreigner enter university based on their country's tests,

    and also say that it is FAIR that a Singaporean does not enter university because they did not do well in our country's test (A levels)

    How can you decide that a Singaporean is worse than a student from China based on two different tests?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:25 am  

  • Jimmy,

    very sneaky of you to quote me out of context, and even then, where is the part about me calling foreigners trash?

    Apologies. No intention of quoting you out of context. KTM just did a Google search lah. "Trash" was my interpretation from what I had read on what you wrote in the past.

    It is no secret that you have a very dim view of the foreign students and you think yourself superior is it not? :-)

    The second quote was regarding foreigners on EP, not those who graduated from NUS. Most foreigners who graduate from NUS don't hang around in Singapore after graduation anyway. Part of the reason they leave, is because, surprise surprise, they are uncompetitive in the local job market, despite above average grades.

    There you go again claiming how lau pok and uncompetitive the foreigners are. :-P And you say are saying this as an employer of hundreds?

    The thing that eludes the KTM is why you are clamouring for protectism and yet claiming that the foreigners are no good in the same breath. If the foreigners are no good, then they won't get hired, so just let market decide loh.

    Seriously, if you think there's a problem with the UAS system and that Project Work should be scrapped, shouldn't you just have SAID SO? Instead of going on and on about the foreign students?

    Kevin.l,

    In fact, if you asked me, something must be really wrong with the system if say NUS rejects a triple-A student just because "we ran out of room". That, doesn't go down very well.

    Fella got rejected from Pharmacy. He definitely got a place in some other course. Note that there are probably more than a thousand students out there with 3 A's or better.

    By Blogger kwayteowman, at 10:26 am  

  • KTM,

    I have no delusions about Singaporeans being "superior" to foreigners. There is no question they are "smart" and hardworking. But it is also the truth that most of them are not the complete package, or they will find their way to some US/UK/Aussie university already.

    I do not need to be a employer of hundreds to know the difficulties a PRC scholar face in the local job market. I just need to talk to one. When was the last time you spoke to a NUS/NTU PRC scholar? And having under-appreciated talents is not the same as lau-pok, or whatever derogatory terms you want to stuff in my mouth.

    The UAS embodies the values we feel is important in an undergraduate. If we feel the undergrad must be bilingual, then it should apply to both Singaporeans and foreigners. All I ask for, is standardisation. It doesnt matter how it is done, to me anyway. I would like you to show where on earth you got the idea that I want "protectionist" policies.

    (BTW, did you know that PRC students who study in Singapore sec schs and JCs struggle with our Chinese exams because we emphasize much more on rote learning than China?)

    For the purpose of diversity, it is definitely a good idea to take in some talents who may not have meet the myriad entrance requirements. But how well can the NUS/NTU admin practice discretionary judgement when you are talking about 20% of each intake, which comes up to thousands, when they are under pressure from MOE to meet the target every year?

    Remember many of these foreigners didnt apply to study in NUS/NTU; the NUS/NTU recruitment teams went from city to city, school to school to hunt for them.

    Anyway, why dont the KTM tell us which faculty he or she graduated from? Do you even know any PRC scholar from either university?

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 2:02 pm  

  • Jimmy,

    Anyway, why dont the KTM tell us which faculty he or she graduated from? Do you even know any PRC scholar from either university?

    First of all, the KTM isn't claiming to be an authority on the PRC scholars and has no need to present credentials to prove that he is. The KTM has only made two general statements about the foreign students:

    (1) They are better on average (at least as far as grades are concerned) than the local students, though there are also a small number of lousy foreign students; and

    (2) Most (though not all) of the top students of the Science and Engineer faculties at NUS/NTU over the past X years have typically been foreign students.

    Both these pieces of information seem to be pretty common knowledge and the KTM isn't claiming to be authoritative. If the KTM is wrong, then some kind soul would have probably have corrected him by now.

    Sanity check: do you agree with these two statements? If so, then really no need for KTM to present credentials 'cos he has no intention of make any more claims about the foreign students.

    What the KTM is interested to understand is: exactly what your view is. Your latest post has gotten the KTM utterly confused 'cos you seem to be saying the the foreign students are not bad after all.

    Won't go an anyhow quote you again lest you say the KTM purposely quote you out of context, but the KTM's impression is that you have in the past claimed that these foreign talents are stealing our jobs even though they are no good. Now, you say that "they face difficulties in the job market" and "their talents are under-appreciated"? Isn't that good news for Singaporeans? Have the tables turned on the FTs??

    The UAS embodies the values we feel is important in an undergraduate. If we feel the undergrad must be bilingual, then it should apply to both Singaporeans and foreigners. All I ask for, is standardisation. It doesnt matter how it is done, to me anyway.

    So you really don't care if there's Project Work or no Project Work, but you insist on standardization even though there's no reasonable way to make these foreign students comply with the local admission criteria? As you say, there's actually some selection test for them and you don't think it's good enough?

    Now let me ask you again: AFTER they get in and the locals get in, who does better on average?

    Based on what you see, isn't it OBVIOUS that the bar at entry is already HIGHER for the foreign students notwithstanding that they didn't have the so-called same entry requirements?? What fairness you want?

    Would you like to pause to reconsider if your statement that "it really doesn't matter what standardization is done at admission"?

    I would like you to show where on earth you got the idea that I want "protectionist" policies.

    When the KTM says "protectionist", it is with respect to jobs in general, not w.r.t. university admission. Wouldn't want risk quoting you again 'cos it's not very relevant to the current discussion.

    But it is also the truth that most of them are not the complete package, or they will find their way to some US/UK/Aussie university already.

    And Singaporean students are all "complete packages". Well-rounded, well-spoken and ready to conquer the world?

    You forget that US/UK/Aussie are not as generous in dishing out scholarships and grants as we are, so even if they are complete packages, would they have been able to afford it? China is booming, but they are on average not quite as affluent as we are.

    Wasn't someone claiming that Singaporeans cannot afford to send their kids overseas? If these Singaporeans are better than these foreign students who are coming in, can't our Singaporeans that go to US/UK/Aussie instead since they are "more complete packages"?

    If you are not claiming that locals are more "complete packages" and that they are as incomplete as the foreign students, then what's your point in saying that the foreign students are "incomplete packages" since it's not what sets them apart from the locals to begin with?

    You have succeeded in making the KTM completely confused. :-(

    By Blogger kwayteowman, at 3:22 pm  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 5:11 pm  

  • KTM,

    if you choose to google everything I wrote and skim a little here and there, of course you be confused.

    There are two type of foreign talent problem in Singapore:

    1) Foreign talent offered fat scholarships to study in NUS/NTU

    2) EP holders

    Foreign students do not make a significant dent in the job market, because they number by the low thousands.

    EP holders, OTOH, come flooding in by the high tens of thousands every year. These are the ones depressing wages.

    Unlike EP holders who are bonded slaves to their sponsor companies, foreigners graduating with local degrees are offered PR immediately on finding a job. They can quit anytime without getting deported and so, harder to exploit. But their weak command of English is there Achilles' Heel.

    As to admission criteria, it may be hard to do a Project Work equivalent test, but it is not difficult to test their command of English - in fact, I believe this th biggest part of what is missing from the package. From what I have observed, most PRC students who get into US universities have an outstanding command of English compared to those in NUS.

    As for exam grades, it is not true that foreign scholars top Engineering. Most First Class Honours are taken by Singaporeans or Malaysians. PRC scholars mostly occupy the Second Upper. If you use exam grades as the only yardstick, then these PRCs are surely above average.

    They have to be. They cost nearly $200k per person, compared to a meagre $60k or so spent on Singaporeans. They better be at least a little better. But besides scoring good grades, what good do they bring to Singapore? Are they hotshots in the job market? No. (I am reminded of a Singaporean classmate with Third Class Honours who received seven job offers on graduation, many of them MNCs). Are they outstanding researchers in academia? None that I am aware of.
    Honestly, I don't think they make any significant impact other than boosting NUS' ranking, by increasing the foreign student proportion to the targeted 20%, probably the highest in any university in the world.

    In other years, my main lament is really that so much taxpayer's money is spent with so little results to show, even while poor Singaporeans like me have to go scrounging for loans and $1k bursaries and part-time work to make ends meet. While the PRC scholars get free air ticket to Singapore, 100% free tuition fee, free lodging, and more lifestyle allowance every month than an average NSF. Believe me, PRC scholars in NUS are big spenders. And even though they are supposed to hang around in Singapore for a few years, nearly 40% quit upon graduation. Recently, the new paper reported a case of a Singaporean bond guarantor who was nearly made bankrupt paying for the damages because the PRC scholar he guaranteed disappeared. I was a bond guarantor for a PRC scholar too, one of his many many bonds anyway. Fortunately for me, he was worthy of my trust.

    For this Dragon Year batch, I am beginning to wonder if the huge foreigner population is the reason why NUS and NTU is running out of capacity to cater to this bumper crop of Singaporeans.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 5:14 pm  

  • Have a distant relative who was a poly graduate. Very street-smart, an officer in NSF. ORD liao, both his wife and him worked 2-3 jobs at one go to save up enough money for a degree in US. As Chinese would put it, eat a lot of bitterness.

    Went to China to work and became successful, spectacularly so. Told me he witnessed and heard from the Chinese how our gahmen people are trying to get scholars from China. Can you guess how he feels?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:47 am  

  • On one hand, we have a community who wants to be politically correct, who values the benefits that globalization brings, and as such takes it upon themselves to say that "protectionism is bad!", or "we're killing ourselves for thinking that way!"

    On the other hand, we have people who are living on the other side of globalization, who've seen, heard, felt the impact, and are thinking "why are we putting up with this?", or "it's time we take back what we deserve!"

    Both sides are neither right nor wrong, but simply too extreme.

    It is not wrong for NUS, on a business mentality, to open up and give equal priority to all. Some might question the "equalness" of their criteria, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

    You're strong, you live. You're weak, you die.

    This is something drummed into us ever since the dawn of time, and no one can doubt that it is true. If a quota-based setup was made, for certain years (like the Dragon year) there could be a fulfillment of the quota, but what about "drought" years, like Tiger years? Then would the universtities have to start putting less-competant people in to fit the mark?

    It becomes who is less bad than the other. Which shouldn't be how things go.

    However, on the flip side, if even our last bastion of survival, of competition, of equal platform to break out of the poverty cycle is sacrificed to ensure that progress remains progress, then something is wrong.

    We were taught from young that studies could allow a pauper a future he so desires. Singapore has emphasized this ever since we became independent, that education is the way to go.

    So when people whom have made the mark are told that they haven't, their entire foundation - their inducted presumption of what will make them succeed - becomes shambles.

    God bless whoever that think that there won't be repurcussions from that.

    I pose a question to Aaron and Bart - do you really think Singapore would be better off if free competition ran wild in our education system? Bart you say you're a teacher - if harsh meritocracy is your supposed way to go, will you bring back streaming, GEP, and all the other now-removed programmes back in the past that promoted harsh meritocracy?

    For the others, I ask you this - will life be easier if Singapore closed its doors from foreigners? Eventually someone's going to end up at the bottom of the bell curve. Even if you made it into university, no one can guarantee that you won't be the one holding the last in line ticket.

    I offer no solutions, merely things to think about.

    -michael-

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:04 am  

  • Hi Michael,

    You summarised the debate well, and raised many interesting points.

    On meritocracy. I am a teacher. Like it or not, we mark students according to the bell. It is completely absurd in my view to pretend it is not so. However, the trouble with the past was that streaming was carried out at primary 3! Just 3 years into formal education. It is certainly way too young. Where should the age be then? My opinion is that you have to begin streaming students at secondary schools.

    One of the reader Jimmy Mun calls for polytechnics to be turned into universities. Does the problem go away? The UK did exactly that many years under the previous labour govt. Something like Southwark polytechnic became Southwark university. Did the bell go away? No. Oxbridge is still Oxbridge and Southwark is still Southwark. Graduates become receptionists even.

    Because of globalisation, the world is collapsing into one big bell, not individual bells that exist at nation-state levels. We are all, in one way or another, whether it is the job we hold or the degree we take, are marked according to the global bell. Holding back foreigners in our unversities might not be the best way forward, unless of course if we do not mind our university standings slipping a few pegs. I don't think anyone honest can say there is a perfect way around the situation.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 8:29 am  

  • Hi Bart,

    Thanks for your prompt reply. :)

    To be honest, I don't entirely agree with your idea of streaming. In my opinion, even though personally I came out of the system on top, the streaming system is not a good thing at all.

    It breeds competition, yes, and it allows for some degree of evaluation of how good people are, yes.

    But we know - and I do believe you acknowledge too - that it is a flawed system that just borders social engineering. For all the good it does it doesn't do them very well, and it brings along a whole container truck-ful of worms.

    I read Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat and what struck me is that one of his solutions to surviving in the world of globalization is to think outside the bell. To find your own niche, to succeed in it, and to become so unique and so needed that people cannot replace you.

    This, I believe, is the government's thinking when they scrapped streaming. Because in a factory for little robots, there cannot be a place for rewarding someone who thinks outside the bell curve, for someone who adds value to what he gives even though it may not be near perfection.

    Let me put it in another way. Imagine you've just taken a roll of film, for your family outing. You are now faced with two shops for developing photos. One is a maestro - he uses the best colours, and best quality paper, such that all photos developed become near works of art.

    The other cannot reach his level, but adds value to his service by tossing in free CDs (digitized photos), photos in multiple sizes free of charge, etc.

    Apply this analogy to the Singaporean education system context in the past, one should go to the maestro, given that he can give products of near perfection. Yet I think if just for a family trip, to preserve some happy moments, you'd rather go for the second person.

    This maybe a loaded example (I mean, I re-read it and I felt that it was loaded) so it may not convey what I mean very well. But the idea is there.

    Anyway this is deviating from the topic at hand, and I'm knocking off work, so I'll try to think of something to contribute when I get home.

    Cheers!

    -michael-

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:19 am  

  • Friedman is generally right, although too simplified. I always tell students that those who eventually succeed in life are not necessarily the ones with tbe best grades. Porter has long mentioned differentiation as the key. But education provided by the state can never tailor make a programme for everyone. Streaming is actually a form of differentiation, if system can be designed such that streaming creates horizontal differentiation (ie, group students according to their types of abilities) rather vertical differentiation (results of standardised exams).

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 9:34 am  

  • michael,

    if you know the Chinese zodiac and Singapore, you do realise this cohort is a Tiger male and Dragon female? As far as Singaporeans are concerned anyway. We will probably have a round 2 of chest-beating in two years for the men.

    And as far as I am concerned, I never called for the doors to foreigners to be closed. All I call for is equal access as far as admission and scholarship access is concerned. Singapore employers have long complained the bar of English standard for PRC scholars, is set far too low, almost to the point of unemployable. And yet they are given over 3 times the funding of a Singaporean to study here. Remember, we didnt get to 20% foreigners by waiting for foreigners to apply for NUS/NTU. The unis, at great costs, sent teams all over China and India to scour for candidates.

    I for one, would not mind giving a uni place and a fat scholarship to a foreigner that can demonstrably outperform significantly an average Singaporean undergrad in GP, L2, Project Work, CCA and whatever nation building torture MOE can dream up.

    But you made a good point: it is drilled into every Singaporean that education is the way out of poverty. To deny a worthy candidate of a place in the university violates the very meaning of being Singaporean. To me anyway.

    Bart,

    are you saying that the needs of a poly grad is better served by keeping his qualifications artificially capped at diploma level? Remember, nearly half of all poly grads take up degree courses via overseas schooling or distance learning. All I am doing is to offer a more affordable way out for fellow Singaporeans, many of whom were consigned to the poly for little reason other than a weak command of English.

    If you are a real believer of open competition, let the job market decide. Like I said elsewhere, I am not the least concerned the poly turned degree grads will end up receptionists.

    Besides, for Singapore to hit the 6.5 million population target, we will bring in nearly 100,000 foreigners every year, most of them degree holders.

    Hey! Does it make sense now , who we are trying to protect from competition?

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 1:38 pm  

  • Hi Jimmy,

    I have something on right now, I will reply asap. Watch this space. Thanks.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 1:58 pm  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 6:56 pm  

  • Bart, an economics phd student, appears to view education as merely a "signaling mechanism".

    He must have read and misunderstood academic papers by Stiglitz, Akerlorf and etc. In those landmark papers, the key message is that even if we assume that a student does not learn anything useful from the years of education, the process of education is still useful as it serves as a signaling/screening device for potential employers.

    On the contrary, I believe Mr Wang's more enlightened viewpoint (and that of most of his readers) is that we do learn something useful from the years of schooling. And that depriving our local citizens an opportunity to learn solely to boost the signaling purpose of education is simply stupid.

    To Bart/Aaron and all others who thinks that education plays mainly a signaling role: I suggest that you apply to our universities, but should not accept the offer of a place, since you believe that the offer letter in itself will indicate to future employers that you are a smart chap.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:03 pm  

  • Jimmy,

    Lets come back to your question. These are just my opinions, and I say them respectfully.

    I will tell a simple real story first. When I was in OCS many years ago, there was a batch of NCOs there, all non degree holders, doing conversion to become officers. Some were almost staff sergeants already. Some years later, I met one of them. He was a captain. He told me he regretted the conversion. Had he stayed on as an NCO, he would have been a good NCO and probably made RSM. As he became an officer, he ended up competing in another segment that did not play to his natural advantage. Though he probably had more pay, his career satisfaction was much less. He said he should have stayed NCO to maximise his advantage there. After his conversion, he was graded according to the officers bell curve, rather than the NCO bell curve, leaving him frustrated.

    I am pro-competition. But students must understand how to compete, and you can help advise them here. Michael Porter wrote that firms trapped themselves into competition by using wrong strategy. His solution is differentiation, specifically horizontal differentiation.

    Not all students are academically inclined, this is a fact of life. If you turn polys into university and apply the same menu of academic courses, you might end up harming your students. Why? Because they end up engaging in vertical competition with established universities like NUS. They will be assessed using the same bell curve as the NUS grads.

    To tell you a little more, I am an economics external examiner for long distance students. This year, I marked 250 econs scripts from Singapore/Malaysia. The standard is generally poor. And the English, or rather the use of Singlish, is atrocious. Many of these external students have unwisely engaged in vertical competition with students at the London unversity campus by sitting the same course. It is a competition not many can win. They end up wasting time, resources, and getting frustrated at the low scores.

    That is exactly Michael Porter's point, engage in horizontal differentiation instead, ie compete by being different. The way for Poly and Poly students to do well is precisely that, do not mimic the universities or university grads. Otherwise, you end up engaging in vertical competition all over again. Instead, polys should offer a menu of courses that play to the strength of the less academically inclined students, who have other strengths. By less academically inclined, I don't mean it in a bad way at all. Arts and design at LaSalle for example can set students apart. No matter how smart a graduate is, he/she may not know art or have any fashion sense. This is just an ad hoc example but I hope I got the point across.

    Regards.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 7:06 pm  

  • Anon,

    You are wrong about the signalling model, what you mentioned betrayed you.

    In order for the signal to work, the cost of signal must be higher for the low-quality guy and lower for the high-quality guy. The letter of acceptance will not suffice as a signal since the cost of pain of going through the whole course is not paid.

    People go to university no doubt to learn things. But to say that signalling is not important is like saying there is no paper chase in Singapore.

    Mine is a larger point about horizontal differentiation, to question whether pushing more Singaporeans through university system is good for them.

    Those who are still interested in this issue, I suggest you read "The Weakening of Position of University Graduates in Singapores Labour Market" by Stephen J Appold. A simple google should retrieve it. I do not agree with every thing he said, but he did make a point to say that Singapore has too many graduates.

    Regards.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 7:39 pm  

  • "In order for the signal to work, the cost of signal must be higher for the low-quality guy and lower for the high-quality guy."

    ok.. I agree I exaggerated on this point.

    But in those models, you do not actually need to complete your studies. A short stint in the university, say a year, is sufficient. Also, if you are just a week away from getting your degree, you should be indifferent to quitting school (without getting your degree).

    All you need to demonstrate is that by virtue of your intrinsic IQ, you are able to endure the drudgery of education better than others (since those superior IQ suffers a lower cost of attending school).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:29 pm  

  • Hi Anon,

    Oh well, it all depends at which point the employer or market accepts that the signal is credible enough. I think a completed degree, rather than a partial one, serves as a credible signal. In fact, an uncompleted degree serves as a very poor signal, it suggests that the individual initially thought himself as high-quality, only to suffer too much pain and drop out!

    But my larger point is again one of differentiation. I see that you are exposed to economic theories. Do read the Stephen Appold paper. It goes against what Mr Wang said. The paper actually suggested Singapore is producing too many graduates.

    Once again, regards.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 8:46 pm  

  • I don't want to nitpick over your modifications to those models..

    My main point is that the signaling role/value of education should not be emphasized to the extent that local citizens loses the opportunity to learn in their own local university.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:02 pm  

  • Jimmy,

    Firstly, I'd like to say that I'm not as old as you think I am, it seems. This year's cohort quite intimately affects me as an individual. ;)

    Secondly, I hope you realise that my first post wasn't directly dealing with your points, more of a summary of the thoughts and ideas linked to the two main sides of this debate. Of course, with all human interaction, no "side" perfectly defines each individual, so naturally each person has their own thoughts and ideas that may or may not be covered by my generalization. I apologize if I've offended in any way.

    However, on the issue of teams going to China and India to scour for scholars. One can link such a desire to Singapore's (misguided?) belief that having a few "elite" indebted to their education system would help get our grubby fingers into their economies easier. I know, it sounds like b*lls**t, but why else would the government only target the two countries currently on the rise? Why not other countries, such as the African states, or even Central America? Oxbridge targets countries from all over the world, and doesn't discriminate only to the two waking giants.

    I may be young, but I've grown to learn that no policy in Singapore is based solely on that particular facet of Singaporean life. Education can easily be linked to economic survival, in more strange ways than one might be able to see.

    Nonetheless, I do agree that standards for overseas students should be set higher. Instead of simply tagging on to the tests already available, Singapore could probably create a standardized English test for all overseas students. Each university already has a English Proficiency Test catered to their overseas to-be students. Why not come together to create their own version of the SAT?

    To take up your point about letting the job market decide, and university graduates being receptionists, I disagree with this point. University is not a guaranteed education. Tertiary education never was. If it were, the Singapore government would've already subsidize free education all the way up to that level.

    Tertiary education is meant to be the level To Cross, the deciding factor between a so-called blue collar worker and a white collar worker. Back in our parents's days, a university cert could guarantee so many things that dreams could come true. That is, and should still be, the level of education university should be.

    Lowering the standards of the university to letting their graduates end up doing any odd job out there defeats the purpose of a tertiary education, as elitist as that may sound. Look at recent news reports of Chinese graduates, or even US graduates, and how they graduate with a debt they cannot repay within their lifetime and yet cannot find a job. The social ramifications will be huge.

    To put it in perspective, now we have people writing in complaining about how many spaces universities have for their children. Next time we have people writing in complaining about how worthless the NUS/NTU/SMU cert is. Not like they aren't already complaining, but ah well...

    It is not wise for tertiary education to be used so frivolously. Yes, it is the Singapore Dream, but it cannot be changed to the Singapore Bottom Line.

    And Jimmy - don't mind me for saying, but if your main gripe for foreigners is their command of the English Language, then the same hat should be worn for locals. Especially if you do commit to the idea of free competition...

    I need to leave for my driving test now (wish me luck!) so I'll continue with Bart's comments later.

    Cheers!

    -michael-

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:41 pm  

  • Michael,

    Good luck for driving test, remember to signal !

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 11:19 pm  

  • '

    To take up your point about letting the job market decide, and university graduates being receptionists, I disagree with this point. University is not a guaranteed education. Tertiary education never was. If it were, the Singapore government would've already subsidize free education all the way up to that level.

    Tertiary education is meant to be the level To Cross, the deciding factor between a so-called blue collar worker and a white collar worker. Back in our parents's days, a university cert could guarantee so many things that dreams could come true. That is, and should still be, the level of education university should be.

    Lowering the standards of the university to letting their graduates end up doing any odd job out there defeats the purpose of a tertiary education, as elitist as that may sound. Look at recent news reports of Chinese graduates, or even US graduates, and how they graduate with a debt they cannot repay within their lifetime and yet cannot find a job. The social ramifications will be huge.

    To put it in perspective, now we have people writing in complaining about how many spaces universities have for their children. Next time we have people writing in complaining about how worthless the NUS/NTU/SMU cert is. Not like they aren't already complaining, but ah well...

    '


    And most would disagree, very strongly, with you on that.

    Tertiary education is not about creating an elite brotherhood or sisterhood, it is about equipping as large a pool of people possible for future employment. As long as the academic standards in the tertiary institutions are kept up to scratch, and only those who meet the standards can get the degree, why should there be any problem letting more people get hold of the degree?

    Don't think you are suggesting that we should call NUS, NTU or SMU MENSA of NUS, of NTU and of SMU, do you?

    Let the increased number of people go on then to further improve themselves by taking a masters, a PhD, and so on.

    And no, I am not privy to the thoughts of the administrator who decided that tertiary education would not be subsidized (for Singaporeans I would like to add), but it is definitely not to make it the "level To Cross".

    And you think that tertiary education would decide the division between blue and white collared workers........Gee.....

    Properly qualified tertiary graduates who cannot find jobs is very different from poorly trained ones who are unemployed. And the examples that you raise of unemployed graduates of other countries are not valid. If so, should we stop training polytechnic graduates since some countries have unemployed poly grads?

    Times change, in your great-grandfather's time, going to school would already be something. So should we regress to restricting people from going to school? A degree is not as prestigious as say, twenty years ago, but that's because everyone is more well-educated than ever, which can only be a good thing. Since there is a larger pool of people who have tertiary training, it is up to the brighter ones within to go even higher.

    We should pull people who could, up. Not dumb things down.

    Hope you driving skills are better, dude.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:38 am  

  • Bart,

    on the one hand, you argue that Singapore should open itself up for competition, on the other, you want to protect graduates from competition.

    The key point you don't get is that Singapore will always have excessive graduates because Singapore brings in a lot of foreign graduates. The pool of graduates is not fixed by NUS/NTU/SMU. The number of foreign grads that arrive every year is at least as large as the graduating cohort from the local universities.

    With so many Captains running around, who needs to use a Sergeant for Sergeant tasks?

    And remember, Singapore is not a place that requires deep professional skills. Most jobs only require a general education, and the candidates are differentiated only by their qualifications, not what they learnt at tertiary level With an easy supply of foreign grads, local non-grads do not even get a long shot at many good job opportunities.

    (Yes, I also see education as a signalling mechanism. Just think about the massive Arts faculty. With all due respect, I doubt most Arts grads found what they learnt in school to be of much use at work, and I never heard of anybody dropping out from Arts due to poor grades. But the degree itself creates sufficient opportunities.)

    To me, it is more important to affordably offer the maximum education to every Singaporean who can handle it, so he or she can have compete with the flood of foreign grads.

    As for English standard, as I said, let's equalise the bar. Let no poly student say local unis rejected him because he is a Singaporean and accepted a foreigner with the same standard because he is not Singaporean. I am all for fair and open competition. Bart is arguing for special protection for foreigners.

    BTW, the number of poly grads local unis can admit is HARD CAPPED by MOE. Left to their own devices, local unis are more than willing to take in more poly grads, even if it comes at the expense of weaker A level holders.

    Did you know that the NUS President is a poly grad? If he was constraint by family finances and got stuck in Singapore, what do you think he may be doing now?

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 1:37 am  

  • -michael-,

    in a world where uni grads end up doing odd jobs, what would poly grads do? Are you arguing like Bart, the nonsensical notion that poly grads have better job prospects staying poly grads?

    USA has a quota size of about 65,000 for H1-B visa workers, to be shared by the whole country. Singapore brings in about twice that number of foreigners every year, many of those graduates, into this tiny island. The numbers are mind-boggling disproportionate.

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 1:56 am  

  • Hi all,

    I passed! :) Anyway -

    Anonymous: You say that as long as they meet the criteria, they should be allowed into university. Which statement did I make that refuted this point?

    The point I was trying to make with my post earlier was that university is not the Bottom Line. It is not the Lowest Common Denominator. As such, it cannot and should not be catered to as though it was.

    The line was drawn, is drawn and will always be drawn by the admissions criteria. If you had the determination, the grit, and the capability to make that mark, then power to you, you've made it. If you didn't make the mark, then why whine?

    The Dragon year has always been known to be a highly competitive year. People predicted that there will be massive grade inflation. But is it the fault of those who made it - who cracked their heads, sacrificed their resources - that the others did not, even if the differential is only one single point?

    It has nothing to do with morality, charity, or all things supposedly kind and good. It has everything to do with making the mark, as you've so put it yourself.

    If you fail to make the mark, do not ask the world to bend for you, because people will just look at you and go "why?"

    Think about those who fought their way up, and actually made it by their own merit. Will you cheapen their achievement by allowing someone who may not have put in as much effort, but got in because their grades were "borderline"?

    Not to make the cheapshot, but by your statements, it seems like you would.

    This is the "level To Cross". This is the Rubicon. This is the point where people undergo their first trial by fire, and either make it or not. If you feel that you shouldn't be condemned for making mistakes in life, well.

    Real life is harsher.

    In real life, being just late for 1min can have you lose your job.

    In real life, not reaching the target mark can see you living without income.

    In real life, your investments can go bust because of reasons out of your control.

    In real life, your achievements and failures are not determined by yourself.

    In real life, the margin for error is far less, maybe even non-existent.

    Still want to talk about "real life"?

    At least for university entry, you can retake your A's, you can reapply. Half the time in life, you can't once you fail. Think about that.

    My point is this - opening up universities to take in every person who deems themselves "made it" even though they didn't, who demands charity, who want rules to be bent or broken for them is a slippery slope. A line needs to be drawn, and a line was drawn. You want to talk about fairness? Who'd give fairness to those who made it by their own right?

    Now that I've dealt with it on a moralistic standpoint, let's deal with it from a economic standpoint.

    The school you graduate from is very important. This is not b*lls**t. Think about some examples.

    There is a university in France (forgot which one) where you can trace all previous French presidents to.

    Oxbridge gathers elite from all across the globe for reasons beyond just giving them an education. The person you are having lunch with could be the next Finance Minister of some random country, or is the Prince of Thailand.

    In Japan, medical directors sometimes give more opportunities for career promotion to those who come from the same alma mater.

    In Singapore, if you want to take a rather lower level approach, Chinese High alumni are mostly businessmen, while politicians come from RI and SJI. Take a quick peek into our records and you'll see that it's true.

    The name of the school, the people you study and interact with can easily make or break someone's career in the future. It may not matter if you're content with being the Everyman, but it does matter if you want to break the glass ceiling.

    Think about this point, and the idea of opening up our university entries to those who couldn't make the mark. Think about this point, and the idea of university being the Singapore Bottom Line. And then think about it from the big picture of making the Singapore graduate competitive.

    ~X~

    Jimmy: If you think a name change is going to make the entire difference in a person's working life, then I have nothing to say. The current situation where the university graduate is doing odd jobs can mean two things - a) there aren't enough "jobs of adequate level" around, or b) our graduate competency level is dropping. I'm not implying either, but think about it - when supply overwhelms demand, only those who can't make the cut get left behind.

    Polytechnics teach an entirely different set of skills, an entirely different method of working, and it is inconsistent to compare it with university. Each has their pros and their cons. Ultimately it depends on the individual - how hard he wants to work, how far he wants to go, how much research he puts into his future life - that puts that person above all others.

    I'll put it in a way that sounds like I'm shooting myself in the foot - university is not the Holy Grail. Michael Dell, Bill Gates, in fact 9 out of 10 of the top billionaires right now, with the sole exception being Warren Buffet, who's degree is completely irrelevant to what he does for a living anyway. These people took their passion, put in a lot of hard work, put a lot of foresight into things, and made it work. They don't subscribe to the common path, where the fight begins when you're born and works up to a Holy Grail that isn't really The End (nor Happily Ever After).

    University is all good and important, yes. It is pretty crucial and vital to get in. I would not give up my university place for any random opportunity that pass me by now. However if I didn't get into university, will I be sitting there crying about it? Maybe for the first day or so, but after that? There is success to be found everywhere, some harder to achieve than others, but it does not detract it from being Success.

    At any rate this is getting too foamy for my liking. I'll just summarize my points below.

    A) University cannot be the Lowest Common Denominator. The Bachelor's Degree cannot be the Bottom Line. Once it is, you'll have a maelstrom of problems coming after your behind, and I'm sorry if you cannot see it, but it's there. Just think about what happens if everyone was a millionaire (think: Inflation).

    B) The line is drawn, and the Rubicon set. If you fail to cross that line, you have no right to whine for the help of others. At the very least education is a one-man fight against himself. If you fail because of another's sabotage, maybe things can be looked into. If you fail because of your shortcomings, then who is there to blame?

    C) As important university is, it is not The End. Life does not stop at university, where graduates will merrily prance to Happily Ever After. A Poly grad can easily outshine and outstrip a uni grad. We've all seen it, and we've all heard of it. So stop denying it.

    And just for the record: I was going to answer Bart's points about competition, and how Singapore's universities should've actually come up with something to deal with the current situation (much like how they're offering to help UNSW's stranded kids) but I can't really deal with it right now.

    Signing off now, Cheers.

    -michael-

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:17 am  

  • Congratulations Michael.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 4:47 am  

  • Jimmy,

    Indeed. I don't know about the Arts faculty, maybe you are right that many of them go through Arts faculty without learning anything useful. If you are right about this, it will fit into the overall idea that many go into university just to get a degree as a signal. Based on what I hear from family members, there might be other faculties that are also like that.

    By Blogger Bart JP, at 4:55 am  

  • -michael-,

    1) What you say may be true, if Singapore does not bring in truckloads of foreigners with foreign degrees. By allowing more Singaporeans to have an access to college education, I am merely seeking EQUAL footing for fellow Singaporeans to compete.

    Like you said, real life is harsh. A resume without a degree will not even make it pass the sorting machines. A poly dip holder will forever be unable to compete even against less competent foreign degree holders.

    And at worst, someone with a degree stands a much much better chance of migrating out of Singapore than someone without.

    2) Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell all attended college, but didnt graduate. But if you are familiar with their individual stories, you will know that none of them will be where they are today without who they met or what they did outside of classes, in college.

    About 50% of all Americans get to attend college, although only half of them graduate with a bachelor's degree.

    (In fact, the very presence of the huge number of foreigners in local unis, most of them with little interest outside scoring "A"s, forces local grads to put more focus on grades than they otherwise need to.)

    3) I was a lecturer in a local polytechnic. Polytechnics these day operate more like a Pre-U prep course for Australian universities than the polys of old, having worked very closely with Aussie unis for advanced standing/credit exemptions. The more capable poly students will not sit around and cry if they are rejected by local unis. But they will either need to tap their rich parents or be laden with a big debt to study overseas. The only ones to be left behind will be the poly grads with stinking poor parents. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

    By asking for more Singaporeans with poly dips in NUS/NTU/SMU or allowing some polys to upgrade to become a uni, I am seeking for an affordable way out of poverty for the poorest Singaporeans, and perhaps lessen the debtload of others.

    Besides, if polys teaches such radically unacademic stuff, how did an old school poly grad end up heading NUS?

    By Blogger Jimmy Mun, at 6:09 am  

  • Congrats on passing the driving test, mike.

    I think you have turned my reasons for admitting more qualified people into a tertiary institution into a discussion into how we should not help people who are not up to the mark.

    Simply put, if more people proved that they can acquire the knowledge, then let them acquire it. Let them go as far as they can. So, we have more graduates? Fine, as long as the standards did not drop in the tertiary institution itself. As long as they met the necessary academic standards. Let the bar be raised at the post-graduate level. You want to stand out? Do a PhD. Get your Masters or MBA. Let THAT be the Rubicon (bad analogy actually, don't think we are talking about a coup or something drastic).

    You are right in one sense, that there would always be a standard which differentiate the truly brilliant from the common.

    What you seem to be thinking is that it would be wrong to let more people into tertiary institutions if they do badly in the qualifying exams. Now THAT would be wrong.

    Having more people with degrees properly acquired is not a regressive step. It means that society is now more well-educated.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:11 am  

  • Hi all,

    I suppose I owe everyone an apology, with my outburst in my last comment. It's just that the issue of university entry strikes a very raw nerve in me, based on my own personal experiences. To not get into emo details, university entry to me is an accomplishment worthy of great praise, and it bites me to be even hinted that an undeserving individual might get in.

    But it appears that in the end, Anonymous, that our ideas aren't different from the root, but just the degree, if you will. Both of us agree with the fact that if you're deserving, you should be granted a university education. It's just that for me, university should not and cannot be opened up for literally everybody, unless everybody proves themselves to be at the mark. And by admissions criteria and percentages alone that is impossible.

    I'm not entirely sure if it is wise for a continuous upward differentiation to promote competitivity. With all things in life there can only be a few at the top of the food chain, and a lot of people will be facing the problem of not being able to make the cut to go up the chain. The symptoms are already happening - in the job market now a Bachelor's Degree is not worth much, and people are already looking at Master's and PhDs. A logical continuation of the current trend would lead to the problem of US and China, where a large group of university graduates are unable to find jobs, are laden with debt and as such can't differentiate upwards anymore.

    This was my point that the University cannot be the Bottom Line, that the value of the degree will eventually be cheapened and lowered, and with the rising costs, more and more people will be stuck inside limbo, ladened with debt but unable to earn any form of income to get themselves higher up. Think of it as the Educated Man's Poverty.

    At any rate, I think I'll bow out of this discussion. The issue is already cast in stone, and each of us have already given our viewpoint. Further discussion is rather moot. :) But I must say it's been a pleasure.

    Cheers!

    -michael-

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