Sat, Aug 22, 2009
The New Paper
4 out of 5 scholarships not open to S'poreans?

THE post-graduate programmes in the National University of Singapore (NUS) law faculty are open to students from all around the world - except Singapore.

At least that's the way it appears on the faculty's website.

Are Singaporeans being marginalised on their own turf?

There are five categories of scholarships on offer: Research Scholarship, the Graduate Scholarship for Asean Nationals, the Faculty Graduate Scholarships (FGS), the Scholarship for Young Asian Academics, and the Microsoft Scholarship.

Only the Research Scholarship is open to Singaporeans.

The rest are open to a range of nationalities and come with the qualifier 'except Singapore citizens and permanent residents'.

That has riled some netizens and students.

Blogger Mr Wang wrote: 'It is clear that in our country today, citizenship... turns out to be a liability.'

Mr Wang, who could not be contacted, compared NUS Law's scholarship distribution to that of the University of Cambridge. Its law faculty website displays eight categories of scholarships and funding programmes for post-graduate students, none of which exclude British citizens.

In fact, one of the eight is exclusively for citizens from Britain and Commonwealth countries.

Netizens' outrage

Mr Wang's blog postings sparked reactions among other netizens, most of whom questioned the exclusion of Singaporeans in the NUS Law post-graduate scholarships.

But Associate Professor Alan Tan, the vice-dean of Graduate Programmes in NUS Law, insisted it was wrong to say Singaporeans are excluded from most of the scholarships.

He said it was necessary to look at the number of recipients in each scholarship category and that the FGS category is, in fact, open to Singaporeans despite the NUS Law website stating otherwise.

But he did not clarify why it was not made clear on the website.

Prof Tan said about 10 to 12 students are awarded the scholarship each year but declined to reveal how many were Singaporeans or PRs.

There is no cap on the number of Research Scholarships - which are open to Singaporeans - given out yearly. He did not give exact numbers on how many were given out, or how many were awarded to Singaporeans.

In comparison, only one or two scholarships are given for the other three categories.

Prof Tan said the difference between the profile of NUS Law's post-graduate students and that of its undergraduates should also be taken into account.

'The LLM does not qualify the holder for practice in Singapore. It is the undergraduate LLB degree that qualifies the holder,' he said.

'As such, the bulk of our undergraduate students are Singaporeans, but the proportion is reversed for post-graduate students.'

'Mostly non-S'poreans'

He said 98 per cent of the latter are non-Singaporeans, 'because Singaporeans very rarely apply to take post-graduate courses. They prefer to go overseas'.

Prof Tan said NUS encourages Singaporeans who have obtained the LLB to pursue an LLM abroad 'because we feel they should obtain overseas exposure'.

Said an NUS Law Year 3 undergraduate who declined to be named: 'If you want to practise law here, the LLM is not necessary, but if I had to pursue an LLM, I would take up NUS' programme because it's much more cost-effective even without a scholarship.'

The fees for Singaporeans applying for a Masters in NUS Law Faculty are significantly lower because of subsidies - $5,890 for most programmes, compared to $14,730 for foreigners, according to NUS.

Recent graduate and NUS Law valedictorian Zhuo Wenzhao said the NUS masters' programmes have 'many modules that are similar to those offered to undergrads', so local students graduating with an NUS Law LLB may 'feel they're doing the same thing '.

The 25-year-old chose to pursue a joint programme by NUS and New York University (NYU) which allowed him to get his LLB from NUS and LLM from NYU in four years.

However, Mr Zhuo added: 'Even if Singaporeans make up the minority of the post-graduate student population, there is no need to exclude Singaporeans in terms of eligibility.

'This would ensure that scholarships are awarded based on merit.'

Hoe Pei Shan, newsroom intern

This article was first published in The New Paper on .

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