Aug 14, 2009

A Simple Illustration of Question 9

While commenting on my latest posts on education, a few readers veered into rather theoretical realms. This is unnecessary. After all, it is easy to offer actual, real-life examples.

Here - I'll offer one example.

I have a strong interest in Asian legal systems. A few years ago, I even considered taking a year off from work, to do a Masters in Law at NUS. I checked out the available graduate scholarships at the NUS Law Faculty. Alas, almost all the scholarships were reserved for non-Singaporeans.

That's still the way it is today. See the current list of graduate scholarships here:

(1) Research Scholarship
(2) Graduate Scholarship for ASEAN Nationals (NUS GSA)
(3) Faculty Graduate Scholarship (FGS)
(4) Scholarship for Young Asian Academics
(5) Microsoft Scholarship

The 1st scholarship is open to both Singaporean and foreign applicants.
The 2nd scholarship is open to students from all ASEAN countries, except Singaporeans.
The 3rd scholarship is open to students from anywhere in the world, except Singaporeans.
The 4th scholarship is open to all Asian students, except Singaporeans.
The 5th scholarship is open to students from anywhere in the world, except Singaporeans.

Is it strange that so many Singaporeans feel marginalised in their own country? No, it is not strange at all. It is clear that in our country today, citizenship often turns out to be a liability.


Terence Goh said...

I wonder if age is also a criterion for awarding graduate scholarship?

Let's say a foreigner 28 years old versus Singaporean 31 years old. As the Singaporean started off late due to NS, both have the same years of experience. I guess that the 28 year old will get it all things being equal. Another way that citizenship turns out to be a liability.

jx said...

I must confess I don't have much first-hand knowledge of the local university environment as I am an overseas student.

However, I think I need to point out that most post-graduate students are from aboard. This trend is evident both in the US, UK and of course Singapore. We are a direct victim of our own success as our education system becomes increasingly refined.

Since scholarships are supplied for students, they would definitely geared towards the population already present in the post-graduate cohort. Unless the scholarship provider wishes to change the demographics of the local postgraduate student population, this trend is most likely to continue.

Having said that though, I feel strongly for local universities supporting our own homebred talent. Singaporeans cannot be short-changed and disadvantaged in our own backyard. Otherwise, like you said, our citizenship would be a liability.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

What percentage of graduate students are foreign?

That is quite a different question from whether citizens are disadvantaged or not.

In my Singapore example, citizens are automatically disqualified from most scholarships, just because they are citizens.

Let's do a simple comparison. I just googled for Cambridge University's law faculty. Here's the web page that talks about scholarships for law students.

Eight types of scholarships are listed there.

None of them say "UK citizens are not eligible to apply". For almost all of them, nationality is simply irrelevant. One of them (the Squire Fund) does say that the applicant needs to be a British citizen or citizen of a Commonwealth country.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I can relate fully to your article.

It is tough for Singaporean to get a place at our local university. However, a foreigner with equal education level, shorter working experience and poor English can get a place in our local university.

On housing, I am single but I am not qualified to buy a house with my sister under the HDB rulings. However, a PR of 2 months can buy a resale HDB flat with his spouse. 2 PR siblings are also qualified to purchase a flat buy not 2 Singaporean siblings.

While Singapore wants to open the floodgate to attract the foreign talents, Singaporeans should never be treated as a second class citizen.

Unknown said...


I chose to differ. I am an educator in a US university. Most Post graduate scholarships here were given based on merit not foreign status.

Heng-Cheong Leong said...

Your argument will be more convincing if you are comparing the number of scholarships being awarded, rather the number of type of scholarships.

Unknown said...

At the university were I teach, we award scholarships mainly on how well the candidate would fit into our program, GPA and other outstanding achievements. Citizenship, age, race and gender do not have weight in it.

Onlooker said...

But there are grants that are awarded to minority race and certain group/discipline that the Uni want to nurture, no?
For Eg librarian studies, politico, etc etc.Depending on what the Uni is specializing in.
Correct me if I'm wrong :)

Anonymous said...

I read through the comments in your previous blog posts. It appears that someone deliberately flooded the pages.

cannotsleep said...

Hi Mr Wang,

How about doing a piece on the career skill sets which will most likely offer the highest degree of international mobility in the foreseeable future?

I'm sure a lot of people will be interested in this, seeing that options are somewhat limited over here.

tiredman said...

Everyone knows. People who work there will know. This is already not a secret.

Ape said...

What is the rational for excluding Singaporeans? Anyone knows?

If it's up to ape's guess, the purpose is to attract graduates from other countries to work here, stay here and eventually become citizens... but at the cost of openly denying our own graduates from taking up these scholarships... sigh

Anonymous said...

The scholarships are awarded that way because of the way universities are ranked. NUS plays the system that way to gain a higher ranking on those university ranking lists. Amongst other tactics such as hiring a lot of foreign teaching staff to achieve a higher foreign to local staff ratio, one of the considerations in the university rankings, awarding most of its scholarships to foreign applicants to increase the number of foreigners on scholarship in NUS boosts its ranking.

I understand that NUS was ranked 16th in the times higher education supplement global rankings in 2007 and 30th in 2008. Ask any NUS student who have been on an exchange programme to compare NUS with his/her exchange university; how is it possible that NUS can even be 30th with its facilities, teaching staff, course offerings, its entire educational experience? Any NUS student, like yours truly, with the least bit of common sense will tell you its a farce.

Blind pursuit of rankings has unfortunately mislead many to think that an education at NUS is a "global" and "enriching" one. Really, the difference between them, "N'US" is that one is a frisky little masquerade.

That said, I was from NUS. After four years there, I've come to realize what rubbish this institution really is.

Anonymous said...

omg, the rot has set in deeper than i thot!

Fox said...

@Heng-Cheong Leong:

"Your argument will be more convincing if you are comparing the number of scholarships being awarded, rather the number of type of scholarships."

According to MOE, for every single local undergraduate on a scholarship in NUS/NTU, we have TWO foreign undergraduate on scholarships.

Does that answer your question?

Unknown said...

onlooker: Yes true. However the post was on scholarships awarded on the basis of citizenship.

Overall, scholarships here in the US are primarily merit-based, regardless of citizenship. Whereas, as Mr. Wang has pointed out, in Singapore, it appears to be the opposite.

The only US scholarship that factors citizenship I know of, is the fulbright fellowship program. There may be others, but I'm not familiar with them.

Anonymous said...

I suspect and think that the way scholarships are funded plays a part in excluding locals. In the case of ASEAN scholarship, it could be formed as a result of transnational / bilateral agreements by the foreign affairs and other neighbouring countries to offer funding conditional to access to their market.

I as a Singaporean, experienced being treated as a second class citizen too in my own country, as I remembered clearly one occasion when I planned to applied to a MSC at NUS. Despite taking a day off, and making my way to the school, to be interviewed, the interviewer show little interest at all to hold up a conversation. Utterly disappointed, I dropped the idea after that.

Anonymous said...

I pay taxes in the six figures every year, and they spend our money on scholarship for foreigners?? And at our childrens' expense at that? Now I know why some people can commit murder without regret.

Anonymous said...

Luckily, School of Computing doesn't seem to discriminate against Singaporeans as much:
In fact, in some cases Singaporeans get more than international students.

However, there are very few Singaporeans doing graduate studies in the School of Computing. The graduate student population in the School of Computing is overwhelmingly foreign, the majority from China. During one of the matriculation sessions, I counted less than five Singaporeans joining the graduate population in the School of Computing.

Where Got Fair said...

It is hopeless man. After the sacrifices we make, serving NS, and then reservist, yet to see ourselves being discriminated against on our very own soil!

Don't come and tell us our birth rates are falling, or the young and talented are going overseas to study and never coming back.

We'll just have to accept it. The gov wants to attract foreign talent here. Thus, exchange programs starting as early as secondary schools. You ask around who's paying for the China students and teachers when they come here for visits. Ask MOE--doubt you'll get an answer. If you meet them or host one for a week or two in your home, ask them how much they pay on their own side to their government in order to come here.

Anonymous said...

What place do Singaporean have, in the grand scheme of things, when they've chosen to abdicate choice to those who have chosen themselves?

Anonymous said...

The gahmen says there are not enough talented Singaporeans what. That's why they need to get lots of foreigners. If they look for Singaporeans, only a million or 2 of them to choose from. If they look for foreigners, billions of them to choose from.

So of course must get a lot of foreigners lah. Simple logic what.

Of course they must ensure from those who are Singaporeans, those who are the opposition must provide 50% walkovers and those who are voters must give 66% mandate at every election. And enough of them are males of NS age to serve NS.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,
I agree with you this is something Singapore should really be ashamed of.

I am a Singaporean and a former "scholar". I attended an overseas institution under this bonded scholarship from the govt, but for my Masters education, I was extremely fortunate to receive a completely bond free graduate fellowship from a US university.

I found it astonishing, that a foreign university unrelated to me, willingly gave me a free education, but my own country will only seek to impose punitive bonds and contracts on her own citizen, under the pretense of developing talent.

Then compare it to the slate of scholarships on offer now to attract foreigners, rather than giving to more of your own people. One just can't help but feel like a 2nd class, unwanted citizen in your own backyard.

I am leaving for further studies under another full fellowship from the same University in a week's time. This opportunity was not made possible though by my country.


Winston said...


Apart from the Fulbright, NSF's IGERT program also restricts its applicants to US & Puerto Rico nationals. The DoD's NDSEG fellowship is similarly restricted to US nationals.

These national fellowships are, AFAIK, offering much better stipends than your run-of-the-mill TA/RA-ships in a typical research-one university. A good friend of mine who was an IGERT fellow in a pretty well-known state university had an annual stipend twice that of a foreign-born TA, despite both having Masters' degrees.

Citizenship does matter here in the U.S. - especially in applying for the "better" graduate fellowships.


Agree with your point, but those are stats for undergrad scholarships - Mr. Wang is discussing post-graduate scholarships.

The link that you provided, however, says that "25% of the scholars holding university-sponsored postgraduate scholarships are local students." OTOH, this figure does not account for local-only A*Star or FIREfly grad scholars, and Tharman did state that such non-uni funded scholarships were recently increasing in number.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr Wang. Little is being done to groom the local professional, as more effort is expedited to attract and groom Foreign Talents (FT). In the post-graduate courses nowadays, there are really more FT than locals, so much that it seems like one is studying overseas.

Kaffein said...

Because if the government awards those scholarships to local citizens, they will have to raise the GST to 10%.

Think about it, readers. Seriously, we citizens have been marginalised more often than not. Whenever they need you eg NS, they will create some policies and make them mandatory. I'm not saying that NS is bad/good, I'm saying often you are just... batteries. Once used up, it can be discarded.

Not only scholarships. The HDB rules have changed so often that it becomes ridiculous. Let me give you an example. Someone close to me brother bought a flat. He stayed for 1+year. However he was transferred to another country and has been living there eversince. Each time he wants to sell his flat, he cannot because he has to stay for TWO years. He even wanted to pay HDB for the outstanding few months. Yet he was rejected.

So... he can't sell his flat. He just have to continue his situation and pray the the rulings change. His can't give up his citizenship even if he wanted to. It's all in a jam.

Doesn't it amuses you that a citizen has to go through these? He just wants to sell his flat and use the profit to finance his current house.

So I'm not surpised at all about us getting the brunt end of the stick. Basically the government is indirectly telling you -

You ain't worth it.


Ponder Stibbons said...


A*Star publishes a list of its local postgrad scholarship recipients every year. You can see this year's list here. There are about 30 of them this year (the post-docs don't count as they already have a PhD). The NUS math department alone has more than twice that number of postgraduate students. Thus it seems clear that A*Star's awards add negligibly to the population of local postgrad scholarship holders.

Anonymous said...

I am a Singaporean but I do not feel like one.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,

Isn't it sad to live in a country where its citizens are being penalised and discriminated against? To add insult to injury, male citizens have to give up 2 years of their time to serve a nation that practices that discrimination. Did S'poreans pay their ministers at least S$2Million each a year to come up with a brilliant policy like that? I can sympathise with your experience when back in the 90's I applied to NUS to become a post doctoral researcher after returning from abroad with a PhD. I did not receive any response and was told later by an insider source that those positions were reserved for foreigners as a means of attracting them to Singapore even though the positions were advertised in the local edition of the Straits Times. I had a colleague who also had a similar experience and it could not simply be a coincidence. That incident (along with other bad PAP govt policies) had strengthened my resolve to emigrate and I am now happily residing in another country which welcomes me with open arms and does not discriminate against me just because of the color of my skin nor my nationality.

Winston said...

Ponder Stibbons:

Thanks for the link - of that list, twelve are/will be studying for their Ph.Ds in NUS. Nice to see that an ex-student of mine got awarded one. :)

I would hesitate to say that these 12 "add negligibly" to the sum of local Ph.D. scholars in S'pore unis - unless we have the full stats available, any guesses we have here are idle speculation.

YG said...

While on the topic of higher education, perhaps you could also look into the number of scholarships for Masters vs PhD.

I understand government's policy of wanting more "highly educated professionals", but the seeming lack of Masters scholarship sidelines those of us who would like to pursue studies further than a bachelor degree, but not willing to commit to a 4-5 years PhD course. Are we really just "not worth (their) time"?

Anonymous said...


I can attest to what Ponder Stibbons said. My lab has ~20 people and only one other Singaporean other than myself. The lab opposite mine and the lab upstairs has no Singaporeans at all (I don't count PRCs who are required to accept Singaporean citizenship for accepting some scholarship that pays much better than my own). I always feel that I am not working in Singapore even though I am a Ph.D. candidate in NUS.

P.S. I am also the one who posted "Luckily, School of Computing doesn't seem to discriminate against Singaporeans as much".

Anonymous said...

After reading the many comments in here,I realise that that the talents who have chosen to become Singapore citizen are no talents at all.

The talents are hidden among the PRs,who refuse consistently to become Singapore citizens even though they constantly reflect their deep feelings in the media how much they love Spore,some of thses feeling are true.

It is simple,if you have a brian,why do you give up the best of both worlds and condemm yr future generations?

It is ridiculous that so many of our IVY league scholars who serve in importanrt positions refuse to recognise this problem,yes,FEAR,I agree.But then is that all,may be many of these IVY league scholars are really only good at getting distinctions and nothing else.

Does it happen?you bet,that is how the term BOOKWORM bacame classic in imperial China.

Ponder Stibbons said...


I did provide a link to the NUS math department showing the number of postgrad students. For the math department alone it was >60. You are welcome to count the postgrad students on the department webpage of every department in NUS and NTU. The figures are there for you to see. If the NUS math department accounts for 1/10 of all postgrad students in Singapore (and it certainly accounts for less than that), then even 30 A*Star scholars is only 5% of the entire postgrad population. Far from what you'd need to counter the 3:1 imbalance of foreign vs local postgrads.

Anonymous said...

To some extend, age is also a considering factor for scholarship award. I used to work in one of the govt sectors. They offer postgrad scholarship and one of the criterias is the applicant must be below 35 years old.

Anonymous said...

hais.. read already feel quite sad about it. but what to do? say already won't hear. hear already won't change. change already also to the foreigners' advantage. i very determined to vote for opposition to rise up already. we need more balance in the system.

Winston said...

Ponder Stibbons and Anonymous:

Think we have a miscommunication here. Are you saying that all graduate students = scholars, i.e. with a tuition waiver and some monthly stipend? If so, then things have changed since I left grad school at NUS.

Do you know of any database with that, instead of a list of students? That was what I was referring to in my previous post.


Interesting point about PRCs having to swear citizenship before getting a local scholarship. Is it an A* award, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

I notice that Mr Wang's post brought out the scholarship aspect in order to show how Singaporeans are increasingly marginalised in our own country. I wish to highlight another example.

I used to be in the IP (intellectual property) field, essentially a trainee to be a registered patent agent. Just a bit of background of what it means to be registered: it basically means you need to pass a series of qualifying exams (technical in nature) and fulfill some criteria.

One unique criteria in Singapore is, you do not need to be a Singaporean citizen to be registered. contrast this to countries like the US, Australia, China, Japan and Europe etc.

Another unique criteria is, any one with foreign registration can get registered in Singapore by sitting and passing just one (paper D) out of four papers. That is, they are exempted from the other three technical papers. Please note that the "exam" to get qualified in the US as a patent agent is a multiple choice test as compared to a four-hour essay type analysis paper for each of the Papers A to D in Singapore. Also, note that the paper D is somewhat easier than the other three (many including me passed on first sitting)

The generous ones would say the above two criteria serve to bring in more talent while we can train up locals. That might be the overall plan. The government body (refer has set up a program to explicitly fund a foreign agent up to 150k per year in salary to "mentor local trainees. The patent agent must not have been based in Singapore for the past one year prior to this appointment." Each mentor takes up to 2 locals.

What has happened however is, the 2 criteria above slants towards foreign talent. The funding scheme too allows increased employment of foreign talent (due to the 50% salary funding). Has the number of locals getting registered increased?? The answer so far is no. These "mentors" are basically here also to work/earn a living. Incidentally, for a flavour of who makes up the examination body for passing candidates for the qualifying exams, refer to

So the scene in this particular industry is, lots of foreign talent are here and are the top dogs. In a recent agm, the new committee for the Association Of Singapore Patent Agents has been voted in. Refer to for the committee. Anyone can see what's the mix of foreign talent to locals ratio.

The biggest sad thing is, getting a local registered is hard but the rewards are not commensurate with the registration. In other words, locals are paid peanuts. Foreign talent that arrive are usually paid about three times that of a local registered guy (Singapore is a hardship placement it seems).

Thus, having slogged at it for a number of years, I and many others have given up and returned to engineering (itself not really a locals-centred field any more).

JUst some food for thought...

Anonymous said...


1. I don't know whether this applies in every case, but most present day NUS Ph.D. candidates should automatically get the NUS Research Scholarship ( They can then try to get another scholarship that pays more, such as those listed at However, NUS doesn't seem to award scholarships for Masters by coursework, although Masters by coursework is a very popular route to obtain higher degrees for Singaporeans.

2. Most local scholarships do not require swearing of citizenship. But some A* awards are limited to Singapore citizens, or those who agree to become Singapore citizens upon accepting it. So yes, you are right. By the way, I think those foreigners who accept Singapore citizenship this way do not need to serve NS.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang

I think you are mistaken.

According to your links, the Faculty Graduate Scholarship is open to "Outstanding applicants of any nationality (including Singapore citizens and permanent residents)".

The Microsoft scholarship is open to "outstanding international applicants of any nationality".

So they are both open to Singaporeans.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi William:

They amended the website (there was an error) after the TNP interviewed them. See TNP article for detail.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi William:

They amended the website (there was an error) after the TNP interviewed them. See TNP article for detail.

Anonymous said...

Apologies, Mr Wang.

I didn't see the TNP article (still can't find it, in fact).


SMS said...

$$$$$ we (the country) needs lots of it and it must come from outside the country 'coz they do not grow on trees nor from the grounds of this island.

We have limited resources,
We have a small closed population,
We have medical problems that we do not understand,

While we are serving our NS liability. The foreigners are "sweating" it out in the pubs. They should serve in the civil defence and community services.