Thursday, January 05, 2006

Getting 'a star' drubbing...

Remember this? Seems like one member of the public has made the effort to highlight it on the national press. I wonder how the said organisation would respond. Several other government/quasi-governmental agencies have the same practice.

Actually hor, don't bother with scholarships lah, do this instead. Many friends I know are breaking/broke bonds, so why sign away your lives to it and be miserable financially, emotionally and psychologically?

Overreaching for the stars?

A*Star expects too much from scholars

Friday • January 6, 2006

Letter from
Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the report "Fuzzy is good, says MOE" (Dec 30). It says that when you move from a system that is about efficiency, to a system that is about choice, you have a set of talents that need to be nurtured. It says students have more choices and it is about moving from an exam meritocracy to a talent meritocracy.

I support the changes by the Ministry of Education, and would like to suggest that they be applied through the higher levels of the educational hierarchy.

The A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) scholarship system may be driving our scholars away from elite universities and pursuing their academic interests.

My friend's child is an A*Star scholar at a foreign university. A letter was received from A*Star which said that as the Grade Point Average (GPA) was below 3.8: "I must remind you that scholars who are not able to meet this standard may not be able to obtain A*Star support for a post-graduate programme".

According to A*Star's website, all A*Star scholars have GPAs below 3.6 at one Ivy League university. At another Ivy League university, 50 per cent had GPAs below 3.8. If the best that Singapore has are unable to meet the requirement, I think we may need to question this arbitrary minimum grade. It is very difficult to get a GPA of 3.8 or higher at some universities or faculties, particularly at some of the very prestigious ones.

To cite an example, at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law, I understand that only two students in its history have obtained first class honours, one of them being none other than our Minister Mentor. Yet, one has to attain such honours in British universities, according to A*Star requirements.

To address the problem of "grades inflation", I understand that some faculties at prestigious universities have a "forced grading curve" policy.

From what I understand through the grapevine of the scholars community, the trick is to choose universities where it is easy to get 3.8 GPA, and once you are there, choose courses in which it is easy to score high grades.

Our young scholars should be encouraged to pursue their academic interests with passion, instead of demotivating and dampening their pursuits with an arbitrary grading number.

The welcome letter to scholarship recipients ends quite aptly with: "Make the most of your educational opportunity to learn and excel, and climb new heights in research when you return to contribute to R &D in Singapore."

Perhaps this can only be achieved if we re-consider the bureaucratic policy on grades, because as of Fall 2004, 18 per cent of A*Star scholars had GPAs below 3.8, according to A*Star's website.

Edit (12 Jan): The agency responded, on ST and Today. Nothing new though, just rehashing (and copying and pasting) from what is already available on their website. What I do gleam from it though - is the acknowledgement that their local PhD scholars are "2nd rate", even for those on such joint local-overseas PhD programs, prestigious institutions or not.

A*Star scholars held to the highest standards

Friday • January 13, 2006

Letter from Timothy Sebastian
Director, A*Star Graduate Academy

WE REFER to the letter by Mr Leong Sze Hian, "Overreaching for the stars" (Jan 6), and the comment by Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan, "Play a game of risk, scholars" (Jan 10).

Contrary to their views, the vast majority of A*Star scholars are in fact able to attain the high academic standards set by A*Star as detailed below.

A*Star has articulated its scholarship principles and academic criteria publicly on our websites:



Currently, A*Star has 141 National Science Scholarship (NSS) scholars pursuing their Bachelor of Science (BSc) studies at the best universities abroad. In spring last year, 127 NSS BSc scholars sat for their examinations.

Of these, 104 scholars, or 82 per cent, achieved Grade Point Average (GPA) scores of 3.8 and above, or 1st-class honours. Forty-seven scholars among the 104 attained the maximum GPAs of 4.0 or 1st-class honours with an A grade or equivalent in ALL subjects.

Twenty scholars, or 16 per cent of the 127 scholars, attained GPAs from 3.6 to below 3.8 or 2nd-class upper honours. Only three scholars, or 2 per cent of the 127 scholars, attained GPAs of below 3.6.

A*Star's National Science Scholarship (NSS), launched in July 2001, is the only scholarship programme in Singapore which funds a combined programme of overseas undergraduate (BSc) and graduate (PhD) studies.

The three-year NSS BSc scholarship funds the pursuit of undergraduate studies in Science and Engineering at an overseas university of the scholar's choice from our select list of universities as detailed in our website. These select universities are top-tier universities in specific biomedical science or engineering areas, and have attained their high ranking due to the excellent quality of their education.

Most overseas universities also require scholars to take humanities courses to broaden their education, in addition to advanced science or engineering courses necessary for graduate studies.

For example, Vijay Chandrasekhar from the NSS (BSc) 2002 batch completed his studies in three years with a GPA of 3.97 and graduated with a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering, a Minor in Economics and a Master of Science (MSc) in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Melon University. Vijay is now home for his one-year research attachment and will proceed for his PhD studies in August/September this year.

Scholars who successfully complete their BSc studies with a GPA of 3.8 and above or 1st-class honours will return home for a one-year research attachment, and will then be considered for funded PhD programmes at top graduate schools abroad.

A*Star sets a high academic standard of a 3.8 GPA and above or 1st-class honours to ensure that our scholars get into the very best PhD programmes in the top universities. Our scholars have to compete with the best and brightest talents worldwide for admission. Only those with excellent academic scores and specific interest in research will be fully funded for these top PhD programmes.

Scholars are also assessed on their interest and ability to undertake original research through an eight-week research attachment completed during their undergraduate studies, as well as through a one-year research internship at an A*Star research institute after their BSc studies.

Scholars who achieve a GPA of above 3.6 but below 3.8 or a 2nd-class upper honours are individually reviewed by a Select Panel. They may be considered for PhD programmes locally, to benefit from closer support and supervision, under the A*Star Graduate Scholarship programme.

This programme is tenable at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, and through select joint local and overseas PhD programmes, such as the A*Star-Imperial College PhD Partnership (the United Kingdom), the A*Star-University of Illinois PhD Partnership (the United States) and the A*Star-Karolinska Institut PhD Partnership (Sweden).

Thus, 98 per cent of our NSS-BSc scholars qualify for either overseas or local support for their PhD programmes. The 2 per cent who fail to attain a GPA score of 3.6 or a 2nd Upper Honours will be offered administrative and executive positions at A*Star.

Investment in human capital is a long-term effort and high standards must be maintained.

screw the curve

1 comment:

blinkymummy said...

got scholarship very good oredi ah!!

i couldn't even get funding to do my phd.