Angus Ross Prize: Cambridge axes top literature prize for A-level students

Angus Ross Prize: Cambridge axes top literature prize for A-level students
Hwa Chong Institution alumnus Raymond Scott Lee, who won in 2015, is the last Angus Ross Prize recipient.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Everything has to come to an end, sometime, children's book writer L. Frank Baum so famously wrote in The Marvellous Land Of Oz.

And so it is with the Angus Ross Prize, given to the top A-level English literature student outside Britain.

Since it was first awarded for performance in the 1987 exam, Singapore students have won every year except in 2000.

Last year, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), which awarded the prize, discontinued the award.

The last prize was awarded in 2015 to Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) alumnus Raymond Scott Lee, who sat the national exam in 2014. He beat about 12,000 candidates.

A CIE spokesman told The Straits Times last week that the decision was made after a review.

"The normal evolution of the relevant Singapore-Cambridge and Cambridge International qualifications has gradually created differences in the assessments, such that the comparisons between the two to support the award of the Angus Ross Prize are becoming increasingly challenging," he said.

Top Singapore literature students have outperformed their peers from other countries, including New Zealand, Mauritius and the United States.

Winners received a bank draft worth £100 (S$175) and a commendation letter from Cambridge.

Since 2010, the CIE had narrowed its search for the winner to the pool of Singapore candidates.

CIE told The Straits Times in 2015 that past experience showed the "clear winners were always among Singapore candidates".

The prize is named after Dr Angus Ross in honour of his long association with CIE as chairman of the A-level English literature examiners.

The winner is selected by a panel of senior examiners who look for, among various criteria, maturity of thought and brilliance of expression in students' scripts.

Past Singapore winners include the late theatre actress Emma Yong, who died of stomach cancer at age 37 in 2012, and Mr Li Shengwu, who is a grandson of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

He is now in Harvard on a fellowship.

The Ministry of Education "currently does not award a top academic award in any subject" and has no plans to introduce an award to replace the Angus Ross Prize.

HCI produced half of the 28 Singapore winners, including the first winner Mavis Chionh, now the second solicitor-general of the Attorney-General's Chambers.

Mr Lee, the 2015 winner, said the award was an affirmation of the efforts put in by students and teachers.

"It also generates interest among the public for literature as a meaningful academic subject."

The 21-year-old full-time national serviceman plans to read law at the National University of Singapore.

He said students do not work hard just to get the accolade.

"It's not the main goal, but just a bonus when they get their A-level results."

Some past winners

MAVIS CHIONH

  • Then: First winner of the Angus Ross prize, introduced in 1987. She was a student from Hwa Chong Junior College.
  • Now: Appointed Singapore's Second Solicitor-General last month. She graduated with a law degree from the University of Oxford and later obtained a Master of Laws degree in Chinese Law from the National University of Singapore.

EMMA YONG

  • Then: Won in 1994 as a student from Raffles Junior College (RJC). She said then of her win: "I've fantasised about it, but never expected it."
  • Now: She became an accomplished theatre actress, starring in home-grown hits such as Cabaret and Dim Sum Dollies. She died in 2012 at 37 of stomach cancer.

AARON MANIAM

  • Then: Also from RJC, he won in 1997. He was the first Indian-Muslim to win it.
  • Now: He is a director of the industry division at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In 2005, he published a collection of poems, Morning At Memory's Border. A second book is expected to be out this year.

calyang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on February 6, 2017.
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