Tue, Jul 28, 2009
Overseas students don't want to work in Singapore

Jonah , 22, has been studying in US for less than a year, but he has already decided that he will not return to Singapore to work after graduation.

A first-year student taking computer science at Stanford University, he says that US is far ahead of Singapore in science and technology. Situated near the Silicon Valley, Stanford's outstanding students are offered jobs by top IT firms even before they graduate.

"They have the world's top firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple - companies that value creativity. Working for them will broaden my horizons and improve my resume," he told my paper.

"While there are also many multi-national companies in Singapore, my impression is that they focus on product assembly, marketing and sales."

According to a survey by Experiences 2009, the organiser of an annual US education convention, there are quite a lot of overseas students who think like Jonah.

According to the survey of 153 Singaporean undergraduates at 15 top US universities, as many as 79 per cent prefer to work in US after they graduate. Only 18.1 per cent want to return to Singapore immediately after they complete their studies.

At Chung Cheng High School's 70th anniversary celebration last month, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong expressed his concerns about this phenomenon. He said that more than one-fifth of the students who performed well between 1996 to 1999 (those who scored at least four 'A's and a B3 in General Paper) are no longer working in Singapore a decade later.

More than one third of those who studied overseas and did not receive scholarships are also not working in Singapore.

In SM Goh's speech he pointed out Singapore's conundrum - while preparing our students to be 'entrepreneurial and world-ready', we are also 'growing wings' on them and more students will be heading overseas to develop their careers in future.

Why they leave

Why has Singapore no hold for these students? Do they leave because the pull factors from other countries are much stronger?

Students interviewed by my paper say that they leave not only because of the lack of job opportunities, but also because Singapore is too stressful, or because they don't feel appreciated.

Ng Hui Jin, 20, a Biology student at Imperial College in UK said that the pace of life is so fast in Singapore she can barely catch her breath at times. She feels that Europeans place more emphasis on quality of life. The pace is slower there and her classmates do not compare their results.

"Perhaps the learning environment and lifestyle here is what keeps Singaporean students in Europe," said Hui Jin.

Ridy Lie, 28, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2003 has worked at Amazon.com for six years. He said that he likes the free and easy culture in American IT companies. A software developer, he can wear t-shirt and jeans to work, and their supervisors do not require that they report to work by a certain time.

"The company also provides a two-storey recreation area which includes a basketball court, arcade and gym. Our bosses even encourage us to spend our time there during work hours, to get inspiration."

Higher pay also played a part in his decision to stay in the US.

"Big IT firms in US will pay a fresh grad between US$60,000 to US$80,000 (S$87,000 to S$115,000) while investment banks and consultancies can pay up to US$90,000 (S$130,000), this is practically three to five times more than what they can get in Singapore."

At least one student says that she wants to leave because she doesn't feel appreciated.

After the financial crisis last year, many firms around the world retrenched a large number of employees and quite a number of graduates made their way back home but were unable to find a job in Singapore.

London School of Economics graduate Ruchika Tulskyan, 22, applied to 20 companies for a job but received no response.

"The government has been encouraging overseas students to return to Singapore, but Singaporean corporations do not seem to hold the same attitude. It has made me doubt my decision to come back."

Disappointed, Ruchika has decided to further her studies at Columbia University next month.

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