Friday, June 01, 2007

Mortar Boards for All? Or not?

This past week the Straits Times published many complaint letters from Singaporean parents whose kids did reasonably well in the A levels but fail to secure places in the local universities.

Suggestions such as freeing up the use of CPF monies to finance overseas undergraduate education, opening more universities and/or places in Singapore for the 'average' A level holders (The California model) were raised.

Open access or research/academic excellence with extremely selective criteria? Can the two coexist in a single institution? The current Sg public tertiary education system is clearly inadequate. While the number of slots available is obviously scarce, the public (rightly or wrongly) sees foreign talents as adding unnecessary competition to the local college going pool.

Recommended reads: Higher Education subsidies, and the situation with US state flagships.

Expect to see more of such letters next year, Dragon babies or not.

Ease CPF-funds rule for overseas study

MY DAUGHTER scored As and Bs for her A levels but failed to get into the law faculty at NUS and SMU. Neither did she qualify for her second choice - accountancy. She was offered her fifth choice.

Unless one has excellent grades, the influx of foreign talent and scholars has rendered it increasingly competitive (and difficult) for good to average performers to secure a place in the local universities. This has been exacerbated by the drive by the universities to attract top talent that would have otherwise qualified (with scholarships) for the likes of Oxford and Cambridge by offering double degrees, scholarships and tie-ups with overseas institutions.

It is shocking to learn that some students with four As failed to qualify for even an interview with the medicine faculty this year. Students with excellent results of A1 (General Paper) and four As also failed to qualify to study law at NUS.

These students may have to venture overseas. Ironically the four As would have secured them a place at some of the top international universities.

However, they may be deprived of pursuing their dreams by the very high cost of a tertiary education overseas.

My daughter has secured offers from UK universities to study law. An estimated $250,000 is required for the three-year course. None of the banks I contacted is prepared to offer a study loan for overseas tertiary education. All they could offer are the usual overdraft and personal loans, with collateral and at an interest rate of prime plus 1 per cent.

CPF Ordinary Account funds can be used for local tertiary education but not for overseas studies. I have written to the Ministry of Manpower but to no avail.

The ministry should consider allowing the use of CPF funds for overseas tertiary education, perhaps capping it at a certain limit, or come up with other solutions.

Singapore's goal of becoming an education hub would be questionable if the people's educational aspirations cannot be accommodated.

Ong Cher San


Did son just miss the mark or ...?

I WAS disappointed when my son, with As in all four subjects (three sciences and mathematics) and distinctions in two 'S' papers (one of which was Chemistry) and a B4 in the General Paper, could not obtain a place in the pharmacy course at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
But I was more disappointed with not knowing by how far he missed obtaining a place or whether he should not have applied for the course in the first place because, with his results, he had 'no chance'. I wonder what the A-level scores of the last qualifying student for the pharmacy course were.

It seems far easier for an O-level student to 'know' why he did not qualify for a polytechnic course. I have seen the polytechnics provide booklets with information on the aggregate O-level score of the last student to be admitted to each course in the previous year. Special requirements needed (e.g., minimum score for certain subjects) were also included.

There is also the Joint Admission Exercise booklet for secondary-school students with similar information.

I urge the local public universities to come up with the same. The universities should not refrain from doing so on the grounds that admission criteria change from year to year. The polytechnics do caution that the information they provide is meant as a guideline but the data remains very useful for students and their parents.

If there are non-academic criteria and other preferences for certain courses, lay them out too. It cannot be too difficult.

Tan Tor Seng

1 comment:

nofearSingapore said...

It is sad.
Every year exam smart students ( about 50-70% RJC & HCJC have 4 A's), fight for places in the 3 local U's.
Once there, the rat race just continues where they left off in JC.
For the sake of sanity and balance, I have prepared my kids for overseas education from the word "Go".
It costs more but it is my gift for their future.
As you already know, one doesn't knee to be a genius to get into very good overseas U's.
I agree that CPF sooner or later will be released for overseas education due to public pressure!