Friday, January 25, 2008

ST: It's S'pore's gain even if 30-40% of immigrants settle here: MM Lee

This recent Straits Times article caught my eye. The MM said that it is Singapore's gain even if 30 to 40 percent of immigrants settle here. He also acknowledged that many PRC and India students use Singapore as a stepping stone to the West. Well, it certainly took him some time to catch on to what most ordinary Singaporeans have known for a long time.

I was back in Singapore a couple of weeks ago. Feeling nostalgic, I took out my copy of Commencement 2004, which stated who graduated with what degree in 2004 from NUS. As I thumbed through the pages of the booklet, I saw that majority of the first class honours graduates from the Engineering and Science faculties had very Chinese Singaporean surnames (Lim, Tan, Teo, etc). Mind you, these faculties are where the PRC and India scholars are concentrated. Also, first class honours are usually given to the top 3 to 10 percent of the cohort (depending on the specific course of study).

Given that foreign students make up 20 percent of the NUS undergraduate body, you should expect PRC and India scholars in the Engineering and Science faculties to be grabbing the majority share of the top honours. After all, we are told that for every one local undergraduate on scholarship studying in a university in Singapore, we have two foreign undergraduates also on scholarship. Surely, it would not be unreasonable to expect our foreign undergraduate scholars perform academically. If undergraduate scholarships are given out on the basis of pure academic merit, then we should expect the ratio of foreign to local first class holders to be 2 to 1. Yet, this is not even true in the faculties in which the foreign students are concentrated.

This clearly demonstrates the strong anti-local bias in our foreign talent policy. Good local students, who study the same subjects as equally able foreign students, are given much less financial incentives to enroll in our local universities, unlike their foreign counterparts. What more can I say?