Sunday, April 08, 2007

ST: Drawing talented Chinese nationals

For those who have read today's edition (April 9, 2007) of the Straits Times, the independent bastion of journalistic integrity staffed by Singapore's finest, you may have noticed the slew of articles on Chinese and Malaysian Chinese immigrants in the review section. There was one that caught my attention.

Drawing talented Chinese nationals

SINCE diplomatic ties were established in 1990, Singapore has been opening its doors to Chinese nationals to study and work in the Republic.

One of them is Lianhe Zaobao's assistant chief sub- editor Zhou Zhaocheng. After getting his master's degree from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1998, he joined the Chinese-language newspaper.

The Jiangsu native obtained his PhD last year. He and his wife, also from China, have a child and the family of three are now Singapore permanent residents.

There are 30,000 Chinese nationals studying in Singapore. Scholarship holders studying at NUS and Nanyang Technological University number over 3,000 and 2,600 respectively. These students, bonded to work in Singapore for six years, will probably form the bulk of Chinese immigrants in Singapore.


Whoever came up with the policy of attracting PRC immigrants by dispensing undergraduate scholarships has no idea about their true sentiments towards Singapore. As an undergraduate in Singapore, I knew many PRC undergraduates on MOE scholarships. Later, when I was working in Singapore, I had many PRC colleagues. When I came over to the US, I had three room-mates who were PRC nationals and even met a former TA of mine who was a recipient of an MOE scholarship in NUS and left Singapore after his finishing his bond. So, I believe that I know better and many more of these people - the very people that the Singapore government is hoping to form the bulk of Chinese immigrants in Singapore - than some million-dollar policymaker in MOE. From my experience, the majority of them have no intention of making Singapore their home.

When I informed people that I was going to the US for graduate school, I could see the sharp contrasting difference between the responses of my Singaporean acquaintances and those of my PRC acquaintances, which revealed their sentiments towards Singapore. The Singaporeans congratulated me on how lucky I was to get into a US graduate school and asked me how long I would stay in the US before coming back. The PRC nationals asked me how I got into a graduate school in the US and their well-wishes were along the lines of how they hoped that they could be coming along with me.

I am not against PRC nationals in any particular way. My ex-boss in Singapore was a PRC national and he was a good man who got me out of trouble more often than I deserved. I know PRC nationals who admire Singapore. One of my most pro-Singapore PRC friends was a PhD student Mr. Z whom I had met in NUS. He was full of always praises for Singapore (he even thought highly of NS!) and told me that he intended to marry his girlfriend and find a job and a place to live in Singapore. Well, good luck to you, Mr. Z.

The problem is the Singapore government which believes that its MOE scholarships can be used to reel in bright young PRC nationals in the hope that they will settle in Singapore. The truth is, most of these people have no intention of staying on, being young and well-educated. To them, getting a scholarship to study in Singapore is a great way for them to leave China and Singapore is only a stepping-stone.

A former classmate of mine told me that she was planning on converting her PR status to citizenship so that her bond would cease and she could leave for the US. To her, Singapore offered the opportunity to learn English as well as to get a recognised degree but in her heart, Singapore is not her home and she knows that her prospects can be better elsewhere. The 6-year bond was something to be resented - a view she shared with many of her countrymen.

If only there is a million-dollar senior official who can understand that...


0.02 said...

I think most young people take the Singapore scholarship for granted. It's not only the PRC ones.

After the government lowered the criteria for HK immigrants in the 80s, I recall the HK scholars in my secondary school days who would sit and talk loudly about how horrible the situation is. But they were also the ones who opened my eyes to the foreign papers that do not paint such glowing pictures of Singapore.

I encountered similar situations with some Malaysian colleagues in the workplace and of course, the ubiquitous PRCs ... it just happens that there are so many of them and they get much better deals and they act like it is their birthright ...

I remember a PRC classmate of mine in the US grad schools who had stayed in Singapore previously asking me whether he could use his Singapore passport to take advantage of easier visa regulations. It was very insensitive to say the least.

However, I also had close friends from the PRC who never stepped foot into Singapore who asked me why I had a somewhat jaundiced opinion of the PRC people.

After I had many close chats with one of them, we realise that it takes all kinds to make the world, and PRC does not always mean bad. And my instant antipathy towards them is too much of a stereotype.

And as for the likes of the PRC guy who asked me to teach him how to exploit my country's passport, I can only shrug my shoulders and pretend ignorance to keep the peace. Perhaps we will at least reap some goodwill dividends?

Btw, it is a 3 year bond, and not a 6 year bond, isn't it?

Fox said...

It's a 6-year bond for the PRC scholarship holders - 3 for the tuition grant and 3 for the MOE scholarship.

Anonymous said...

This is the same situation as the Singapoe government being suspicious of Malays and not giving them military training or higher education - that they may not be loyal to Singappore. How can they be sure the PRC scholars will be? But I guess Chinese can trust Chinese, ya?

Fox said...

I don't think it is about loyalty.

In my opinion, what the Singapore govt is probably hoping to get out of its scholarship scheme for the PRC nationals is that the majority of them will stay on permanently in Singapore as PRs or citizens after their enforced 10 years (4 for undergraduate, 6 for bond) of acclimatisation on our little island.

Unfortunately, that's just wishful thinking on the part of the Singapore government. Most of those scholars that I have spoken to are really marking time, resentful of their 6-year bond and preparing to leave for the US once their bonds are up.

Christopher said...

I know some students who are contemplating getting PR status simply to take advantage of certain benefits (e.g. higher pay due to CPF requirement), and then withdrawing the whole lump sum when they are done with their bond. I agree it's somewhat insensitive for them to ask a Singaporean's whether such strategies are foolproof, but our government is asking for it if there are loopholes that foreigners can exploit. It's also demoralizing to hear that the only tangible benefit of PR/citizenship is a fast buck or medical subsidies. That's what it boils down to these days.

Fox said...


Every graduating PRC scholar automatically gets a letter from ICA asking them if they want to apply for PR, which they usually get within one month after applying. As far as I know, no one has ever turned down the offer.

inexplicable said...

All Singapore Permanent Residents and international students (except those already bonded by the PSC or the Ministry of Health) will be bonded under the terms of the tuition grant to work for a Singapore-registered company for three years upon completion of their degrees so as to discharge some of their obligations to the Singapore public for the high subsidy to their university education.

Fox said...


What is the point you are trying to make?