By Liew Hanqing
A NETIZEN is calling it a free lunch for China scholars - at Singapore's expense.
Many are outraged that a China student, here on a Singapore scholarship, had slipped out of Singapore quietly without completing his studies.
They were responding to a blog post which claimed that a first-year Anderson Junior College (AJC) student, a Chinese national here on a bond-free scholarship, went missing after skipping school for several days.
It is understood that he had used Singapore as a launching pad to move on to study in a US university.
The New Paper asked the Ministry of Education (MOE) how much such a scholarship is worth, but MOE would not disclose this information.
A source from AJC said the student had left without a word.
When queried by The New Paper, AJC principal Susan Leong confirmed that the student had packed up and left in August.
But, in a statement issued jointly with the Education Ministry, Ms Leong said AJC had contacted the boy's family in China when he was found missing, and the family had claimed the boy was with them.
AJC, however, said it has yet to establish contact with the boy himself, or confirm for themselves whether he was indeed with his parents.
Ms Leong said the JC was only in contact with the boy's mother.
She added: 'The college understands that the student had left without permission as his father had taken ill in China and he was unable to contact his family.'
But how did he find out that his father was ill when he could not contact his family? The statement did not address this question.
'The college has maintained contact with his mother since the incident happened, and will continue to monitor the situation and encourage the student to return to Singapore to resume his studies.'
Ms Leong declined to say more.
But some netizens are incensed that the student left without a word.
One netizen wrote: 'It probably deprived a Singaporean student the chance to study at the JC.
'Perhaps, to deter such runaways, a security deposit should be introduced?'
Another added: 'These foreign students go on to university if they pass their A levels. Now with just O levels, they can apply to foreign universities. Who are the 'quitters'?'
It is not known how long the student was in Singapore before joining AJC earlier this year.
Yet another netizen attributed the student's departure to youthful immaturity.
'It should be no surprise that these students might view this (Singapore scholarship) as a stepping stone (free lunch) for other plans,' he wrote.
'They simply lack the maturity, experience and understanding of the world as they are still young. Of course they will make selfish decisions.'
Key personnel from the various JCs make regular trips to China to woo potential scholars, who are selected based on merit. The scholars' education and lodging are paid for, and they also receive a monthly stipend for daily expenses.
Since the blog entry appeared last week, the link to the website has been circulated on numerous popular forums and blog aggregators, and has been fodder for the blogosphere.
Blogger Aaron Peng wrote that he was not surprised that the scholar left without permission.
'After they finish studying, they can just pack and go anywhere in the world... with the world-class education that the Singapore Government has given them for free!
'Who says there is no free lunch? There is, just not for Singaporeans.'
Added blogger Warren Tan, an AJC student: 'If it is indeed true that after so much investment (which is controversial in the first place) in foreign students, by our Government, these students can come and go so easily, we need to reconsider our policies.'
Other China scholars The New Paper spoke to said they felt the student was irresponsible for leaving without a word.
The New Paper asked MOE whether this was the first such incident of a student leaving without a word, whether the ministry had any measures in place to prevent such incidents from happening, and how much the student's scholarship was worth.
But MOE did not respond to these questions, issuing only the joint response with AJC.
Feng Quan, 16, a Jurong Junior College student from China on scholarship here, said he felt the student displayed a lack of integrity.
'Since he had already accepted the scholarship, he shouldn't have left without a word, whatever his reasons. The least he should have done was to seek the approval of the authorities.'
Very good deal
He added that he values the scholarship he was awarded, because 'it was a very good deal'.
He said: 'In China, for us to get into top universities like Tsinghua University or Beijing University, we have to work really hard, and there's no guarantee we can even get in.
'In Singapore, as long as we study consistently, we can get a place in a top local university, and Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world.'
Added schoolmate and fellow China scholar Zhong Jicheng, 18: 'The proper thing to do would have been for the student to write a letter explaining his decision to leave. It isn't right to just leave quietly.'
He added that the student should not have taken up the scholarship if he had the intention of leaving.
Like many of his peers, Jicheng said he plans to stay in Singapore for his undergraduate education. He hopes to pursue a degree in hospitality management here.
'I like studying here because it isn't too stressful like it is in China, and the education system is more flexible,' he said.
This article was first published in The New Paper on 18 Nov 2008.