Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Support for Higher Education - Differences Between Singapore and America

Some thoughts after re-reading Mr Wang's post:

(On the effects of globalisation)

...the American worker may be displaced, but America knows that it is not his fault. And America knows that the American worker must not be left to die. America knows that the American worker needs help.

In Singapore, my sense is that the government is more likely to tell you: "Get out of my elite uncaring face". Not in those exact words, surely they would be more diplomatic, but the spirit of it would be largely the same. Yes?


Point is very simple.

It's not so much:

"there, there, it's not your fault"


"you're losing out, you better do something about it"

... but

"you're in trouble, we know it, and we will help you"


"you're losing out, you better do something about it".

I have yet to truly step out into the working world, but I can already see the differences in the way universities in both countries treat those having the most difficulty (and needy) in paying for college (or university studies).

I watched C-Span on Tuesday; it featured CollegeBoard's annual review of (U.S) college costs and financial aid.

Costs are going up, and federal aid in the form of Pell grants is going down. But some of the most established private and state universities have started their own inititatives to ensure that the poorest students are not denied access to college due to rising financial costs and without the need to borrow.

Examples include the Carolina Covenant, Access Virginia, Michigan's M-Pact, Washington's Husky Promise, plus the the likes of HYPM etc.

What do I see in the local (public) universities (NUS/NTU)?

They basically tell you to take a loan, while reserving the bulk of their scholarships for foreigners.


Peishan said...

i wld argue that you can't really compare singapore against the US. while the US has hundreds and hundreds of universities, sg only has 3. so while the smaller and less established unis in the US can reach out to the less capable students, and offer them fully paid scholarships, sg unis can't afford to do that if they want to be world class. so the crux of the arg, i believe, should point to whether sg unis should aim towards reaching out to everyone who wants a higher education.

Fox said...

Actually, offering scholarships to foreign undergraduates, no matter how bright they are, to study in sg universities doesn't make them world-class in any way. World-class universities are world-class because of the quality of their research.

sngck said...

NS for locals, jobs for foreigners.

Peishan said...

fox: true, but i'd also say that you can't have a world-class institution w/out bright students. professors need research assistants, and where else can they go to find bright ones?

Fox said...

Based on my experience as an undergraduate in NUS, I am quite certain that most of the foreign undergraduates on scholarships don't contribute at all to the quality of research in NUS/NTU. In fact, locals tend to more involved in undergraduate research than the foreign students.

Besides, if the professors really need bright research assistants, they can always increase the financial value of graduate fellowships or hire better postdocs.

Wowbagger said...

while the smaller and less established unis in the US can reach out to the less capable students, and offer them fully paid scholarships, sg unis can't afford to do that if they want to be world class

It is actually the best universities in the US who offer the most financial aid, simply because the best universities are also the richest.

I agree that sg universities cannot afford to do it, but that's not because they are not world class, but because they lack the enormous endowments that the best US universities have. And amongst the reasons for their puny endowments is the scarcity of millionaires in Singapore who would donate huge amounts to universities, and the apathetic (for good reason, mind you) alumni who don't care enough about their alma maters to repay them.

melvinleok said...

At a fundamental level, the reputation of a university depends on the calibre of its faculty. Without that, no amount of financial incentives will entice exceptional graduate students to enroll.

The strategy of enticing high-calibre undergraduate students to enroll through full scholarships is typically motivated by a desire to artificially cause the university to appear more selective than it truly is.

I am however included to believe that the reason for NUS's strategy with regards to Singaporean students is rather simple. There is no financial incentive on the part of local universities to reduce the sticker price for average but poor Singaporean students, since they are already cheaper than a foreign education, and as such, these students do have a more affordable option available to them if they intend to pursue a tertiary education.

In contrast, Singaporean universities are competing on a global marketplace for international students. The sad reality is that the vast majority of students they attract via their scholarships are either middling in their ability, or view Singapore as something of a stepping stone to the United States and the United Kingdom.

I am intrigued by the singular obsession of Singaporean universities to become world-class. As state institutions, the fundamental role of such universities should be to advance the interest of the state. This is typically achieved by educating its population, and how are state universities able to justify its dependence on public funds if it fails in this fundamental obligation. While it is indeed true that many state universities in the United States have increased their out-of-state student population, this has been in response to dramatic decreases in the level of financial support from the state.

I would venture to suggestion that it is impossible to sustain a world-class research university in a country which only has three universities, without artificially shoring up the infrastructure through continual infusions of funds. Berkeley is able to achieve preeminence as it rests atop an extensive and diversified state higher education system consisting of the the ten University of California campuses, the California State Universities, and the numerous community colleges. This allows Berkeley to be exceptionally selective, while providing Californians with a wealth of higher-education options.

For NUS to achieve that preeminence would by necessity compromise the public university system's obligation to provide quality, affordable higher-education opportunities to the people of Singapore.

Peishan said...

It is actually the best universities in the US who offer the most financial aid, simply because the best universities are also the richest - yes, but they offer financial aid to the people who deserve it most; ie, they are the brightest and not just the poorest, which was the pt of my arg.