Jul 31, 2007

Scholarships For The New Singapore

Singapore Angle has a post about bonded scholarships. It discusses the factors that one should consider, before accepting such a scholarship. I have one point to add.

In the past, one good reason to accept a scholarship was that it would add strong value to your resume. In other words, the "ex-PSC scholar" stamp would help to open doors in future. However, in my opinion, the value of the "ex-PSC scholar" stamp has somewhat eroded. I believe that it will continue to erode steadily over the years.

The reason is simply Singapore's foreign talent policy.

Fifteen years ago, most job candidates in Singapore came from a well-standardised and easily recognisable system. They were Singaporeans; went through the same education system; studied the same textbooks; sat for the same exams; and were graded and streamed according to the same rules administered by the same government.

Accordingly, comparing the relative "quality" of job candidates was a straightforward process. Within this system, PSC scholars represented the highest achievers. Hence the "ex-PSC scholar" label was valuable in the skilled job market. It clearly marked you out as much superior to the average job candidate (the one who was posted to East Toa Payoh Junior College, took only three A-level subjects and didn't even qualify to pick up an application form from PSC).

Things are different now. A much higher percentage of job candidates in Singapore do not come from that same old recognisable system. Instead they come from education systems in diverse countries such as China, India, Hong Kong, the UK, the US, Malaysia, Australia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

In other words, the common ground for easy comparison has shrunk drastically. The "ex-PSC scholar" label has become much less obvious as a stamp of excellence.

In addition, nowadays many prospective employers in Singapore are not native Singaporeans themselves. They are "foreign talent" and grew up in some other country. So they are quite unfamiliar with the local education system. Even if they have settled here with their families for some time, their children are likely to be attending the international schools here.

Thus it does not necessarily mean anything to your job interviewer if you say that you were an RJC boy who scored straight A's in your Cambridge A-levels; Distinctions in your S-Papers; and were a PSC scholar. His response may simply be: "Oh ... What is RJC? What is S-Paper? What is PSC?".

He may not even know what the Cambridge A-levels are. Depending on where he came from, he would be more familiar with "Advanced Placement", "Senior High School", "International Baccalaureate", the "STPM", the "HKALE", or the "National College Entrance Exam". If you show him your string of beautiful straight A's for your A-levels, he may simply form the impression that the Cambridge A-levels must be very substandard examinations, where many people easily score good grades.

Recently, I was telling a foreign colleague of mine about PSC scholarships. Halfway through our conversation, he said, "Oh, I guess these scholarships must be for poor people."

I said: "Why do you say that?"

He said: "Well, otherwise they surely wouldn't accept the bond. It's a kind of slavery, isn't it? In exchange for financial aid?"

So in time, you see, the things we traditionally associate with the "ex-PSC Scholar" label may change significantly. Some foreigners in Singapore already associate it with a financially disadvantaged family background, LOL.


utwt said...

Mr Wang, sharp as before.

It's a pity you don't spend as much time blogging on such issues as you used to.

takchek said...

Actually I would assume ex-PSC scholars would apply for their new jobs using their degrees from the top foreign universities and their work experience(s).

I mean, do you put down the JC/sec school you attended and your GCE A and O levels grades?

Which employer (discounting the Sg civil service/stat boards and TLCs) would bother?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Agree that the university matters. The point is that I think that some Singaporeans think that the scholar label matters too - and I don't think they are necessarily correct.

Eg all other things being equal, does a Singaporean PSC scholar with a Yale degree hold any edge over a Singaporean non-scholar who also has a Yale degree? I am saying - probably not much, if at all; and that edge will dwindle increasingly over time, because of the ever-increasingly heterogeneous population of employees and employers in Singapore - that is what my post argues.

As for work experience, that is where PSC scholars may find themselves disadvantaged because of the bond.

Eg X, a Singaporean non-scholar, goes to NUS, gets a basic degree and starts working in a bank in Singapore.

Y, a Singaporean PSC scholar goes to a much more reputable university in UK or US; graduates; works six bonded years in the civil service; and then decides to join the banking industry.

X and Y compete for the same job.

There are other variables, of course, but I think in many permutations, X stands a much better chance than Y. Six years of relevant experience counts for a lot.

Whereas the nature of civil service experience is that it's often pretty irrelevant to most other jobs in the private sector. I've made that point before.

Eg it's all very well to say that you helped the minister develop a policy on encouraging Singaporeans to have more babies; or on developing the national education syllabus; or on refining the BMT training programme system to reduce injuryy rates; or advise the police and prosecute drug offenders in court. These are pretty irrelevant, to most jobs in the private sector.

In the past, you might have banked on the "ex-PSC scholar" label to override that disadvantage. I'm saying that this will be more and more difficult over time.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

And in Singapore, even employers' ideas of what is a "good" university will change over time.

I know of a very senior business head in an investment bank (one of the world's big players). He is Indian and knows the Indian education system well. He has launched an initiative whereby the investment bank goes to top business schools in India, instead of the usual Ivy's and Oxbridges, to recruit fresh grads.

Some of those fresh grads are brought straight from India into Singapore. The business head certainly has shown no interest in recruiting from NUS or NTU or in any ex-PSC scholars.

takchek said...

Not just your company, but in my present company too. Indians have this tendency to look after their own kind.

Something which the Chinese lacked. Instead they go around backstabbing one another in order to get to the top. Like 散沙? (Loose sand) No solidarity, not like the Koreans and Japanese.

Jon said...

Mr Wang wrote: Eg all other things being equal, does a Singaporean PSC scholar with a Yale degree hold any edge over a Singaporean non-scholar who also has a Yale degree?

For the average Singaporean, you don't have to pay any tuition at all in most top schools. So, I am always somewhat surprised to see any PSC scholars.

For eg, at Yale, "If a student's family has a yearly income of USD $45,000 or less, his or her parents will not be expected to make any financial contribution toward the cost of Yale". Link

Liquidfuel said...

Good post, Mr Wang. It is a sad truth for many Singies who are still so hung up on scholarships. Scholars are not worth much in the global economy, especially .sg scholarships. Unless the scholar intends to make his career in the civil sector.

In the few MNCs I've worked for, the degree means nothing. Absolutely nothing. It is just an initial stepping stone. How well one performs is based on your contributions to the company. And nobody literally cares if you are a scholar. You just have to work your way up just like the guy next to you.

Jimmy Mun said...

It is not true that the Chinese don't take care of each other. Hong Kongers and Taiwanese investing in China often work with their, err, "countrymen" first. And if you worked with PRC nationals in Singapore, you know they take good care of their own too. It's the Singaporeans who has no concept of taking care of Singaporeans, unless otherwise encouraged by a government campaign. Just take a look at the ST Forum to see the Singaporeans busily bashing Singaporeans.

As for the bank Mr Wang mentioned, I believe it is a German bank which is the poster boy of everything wrong with our foreign talent policy. This is a German bank that doesnt sponsor the Oktoberfest festivities, but sponsors all sorts of Indian festivals. I'm not surprised if they hire exclusively from India now, without so much as a glance at what is available in Singapore.

The PSC scholarship is designed for failure. Students from poor families are more rooted to Singapore and more grateful for the opportunity, but are financially handicapped when competing with the rich Wee Shu Mins with not a care in the world, while the rich who are far more likely to win the scholarship are far more mobile and feel little moral obligation towards their bond because they could have afforded to study overseas irregardless of the scholarship.

kilroy said...

This Singaporean trait to look after only their individual selves....can't blame them. It is to be expected in our regime as that is what the government has been telling Singaporeans all these years to do! No crutch mentality. Everything is done for a price...you vote for me you get upgrading. You vote opposition wait long long....

Recruit Ong said...

From what little i observed of the real world, it is relationship and 关系 that matters. Yes meritocracy and abilities count but not much. It is the networking and relationship building that gets things moving and seal deals. So it may not be a good thing to be brainwashed from young to believe always in meritocracy and hard work blah blah. In my opinion EQ matters more than IQ. And scholarship is more of a kind of financial aid, not a measure of capabilities or talent.

suminotro said...

recruit ong:

yes, you really have observed very very little about the real world. meritocracy and hard work "don't count much"? are you kidding me? you seem to have the lazy notion that people don't really need to work very hard at all; instead, you say that they should spend their time mainly working their charm on others. how naive could anyone get? you grossly understate the importance of substance. you obviously haven't spent even a few days in an office environment before. why don't you try it when you actually get a job?

hard work is the fundamental requirement to climbing that ladder, and is thus the most important. you have to get the work ethic and attitude into yourself before you even think about charming your way around the workplace. do you really think people are too stupid to see through you, not to mention your boss? don't forget that, depending on your company, you have to spend one or two years in the same position. it's not BMT. that's more than enough for people to know you inside out. and so if you're too lazy to give more than your 100% and hope to rely on your charm, people will know you're total rubbish.

senior staff are usually charming, yes, but they certainly didn't get there with charm alone.

and our government scholarships aren't financial aid. they're a measure of your academics, CCA and interview performance, among other measures of past performance in school. please don't mislead people by commenting on things you don't know about.

Recruit Ong said...

Suminotro, is that why you are still slogging in the office at 730pm? Hehehe... Ok joking lah dont flame me .. ;)
Me is chao keng soldier, work smart not hard \^^/

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Wang,
Nice insightful post.
Let's have more of these issues on your blog.
Honestly, I can't relate to your other "profound" topics.
Maybe it is just me.
or maybe I need to read more psycho- or neuro- research stuff.


Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, most Hong Kongers have low regard for the Cambridge G.C.E. A-levels -- claiming that a C grade in the HKALE is equivalent to an A grade in the Cambridge A-levels. If you've seen the HKALE exam questions, you'll probably concur.

Anonymous said...

Two words: Sour grapes.

Anyway PSC scholars rarely leave the civil service, so your long winded essay is all for nothing. LOL!

OH BTW, it's true that there are many foreigners in Singapore now. But they're all in the private sector. Also, they're employees mostly, and not the ones who make hiring decisions. In any case, PSC scholars don't fight for such crumbs.

Also, look at all these foreigners you're saying, in our education system now, also put through the same mileposts and also jostling and fighting tooth and nail for PSC scholarships. LOL!

We already have a ex PRC SAFOS scholar, and another two children of migrants who got PSC scholarships. So much for FOREIGN TALENT policy affecting the PSC.

We all know Mr Wang is a bootlicking farmer in the work force unable to rise high. That's why he has all this time on his hands to pen hate essays and all this anger and bitterness in him. LOL!

Two words: SOUR GRAPES

Cheryl Be Good said...

Only sour grapes will think scholarships are financial aids in Singapore where our Prime Minister is a PSC SAFOS and President's Scholar. So his father, MM Lee was very poor and could not afford to send him to Cambridge lah? Hahahahahahhahaha!!!!!

Hahahahahhahaha did this big time moron, recruit ong, just come out from under a rock where the sun doesn't shine?

Mr Wang, you found your partner. Your fellow SOUR GRAPE!