06 July 2004


Education is subsidised in Singapore's State-owned universities. In the recent years, the level of subsidies has been steadily cut back, forcing the debt share of local students to balloon after graduation. It is no wonder then, that they feel aggrieved about the level of educational subsidies foreign students receive.

In order to make the universities "competitive" (and frankly I'm not sure how that works), our leaders intend fees for local students to eventually be identical to the fees that foreign students pay.

Such moves will draw predictable and justified queries, such as:
Why are foreign students subsidised for their education?
Why are local students subsidising the fees of foreign students?

Even with the rabid privatisation of universities across the Atlantic, the common practice is still for national students or students the university's province to receive subsidies, and for foreign students to pay more. And even with the rabid privatisation, not even Blair's university reform plan demands that local citizens eventually pay the exact same fees that rich foreigners fork out.

These however are not our concern for today.

I want us to commiserate with the foreign students and the trap they've fallen into.

It is evident that foreign students in NUS and NTU are subsidised, even though they (currently, but not for much longer) pay more than Singaporean students. The two universities offer the cheapest educations for foreign students in the Austalasian continent.

The terms of their bond basically states this: Your fees are greatly reduced. Upon graduation, you will serve out this bond/subsidy by working in Singapore for the next 3 years in a permanent job.

With the bulk of foreign students in NUS and NTU studying engineering and other courses that involve a period of internship, what used to happen was that the student will be offered a bond or a promise from the intern company to work there for the next 3 years.

Since 1997 and 2000, there has been something like a very bad recession. Local students who had bonds or scholarships with private companies and GLCs have had their bonds "forgiven" immediately after graduation.

I'm sure that they feel damned instead, since the "forgiveness" is phrased as: The company is currently experiencing major financial difficulties due to the recession. It cannot afford to take on new employees at the moment. We understand you have a bond with to work for us. We forgive that bond, and wish you the best in your job hunt.

This has happened since the recession first broke out. If our ministers are correct (i.e. not lying or not misinformed) in their assertions that the economy is recovering, why is it foreign students are beginning to fall prey to this phenomena, when they used to be immune to this 'forgiveness' stunt in previous years?

So foreign student loses bond from company, but is forced under the original contract with NUS/NTU/Singapore to work here in a permanent job for a period of 3 years. Not just any job, but a Permanent Job. Not a Contract Job. Not a Temp Job. And no, don't expect the Singapore Government to find you a job. The government does not owe you a job, and is not obligated to help you find one - not even if you're a foreign student on a bond.

You can be stuck here for much longer than 3 years. Meanwhile, you have a country to return to. A career and life waiting at home. And you're stuck doing temp jobs HERE that have nothing to do with your education, which will be irrelevant to the job you want to do when you return. Meanwhile, the reply of the gracious Singapore government to these foreign students is: Just settle for any old permanent job, serve and fuck off.

Why isn't the Singapore Government forgiving the bonds of foreign students, like what the private sector has been doing?

Personally, I'd advise foreign students stuck in ridiculous bonds in Singapore to do the right thing. Take a vacation, visit home, and don't come back. We understand the shit you're going through because we experience it too.

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