Over the Chinese New Year visitations today, many of my relatives who just graduated from JCs last year are worried about their A-Level results that will be released soon. Those who are already in the universities complain about the intense competition they face from foreigners and the scholarships they receive.

I personally graduated from last year from a very reputable JC and am now studying in the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. What is this misinformation that foreigners take away scholarships and university places away from Singaporeans?Our Professors have a high number of foreigners I give you that but students? I don’t buy it.

The majority of scholarships are taken by Singaporeans. At least 80% of university places are taken by Singaporeans, what is the issue?  I certainly do not see that many scholars or foreigners in NUS implying the 20% figure is true.

In fact I argue that we need to have foreigners in our universities. Four reasons

a. Student diversity

Need I explain the benefit of this? In our tutorials, local students hardly speak up. I can easily say that at least 50% class participation is contributed by the vocal foreign students despite their numbers being less than 20%.

Even then, the foreign students are usually more articulate, contribute better points and smoke less. I cannot say the same for the Singaporean students including myself.

The foreigners coming from different backgrounds have different ideas on certain questions whereas Singaporeans only know how to blindly regurgitate standard answers. The foreign students punch above their weight.

b. Keep Singaporeans on our toes and face the realities of globalization

Foreigners are hungrier. Our former PM Lee Kuan Yew once said “If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem.” Although what he said offended many people, but as usual, the truth hurts.

The foreigners I met are usually more high-achieving, hardworking and probably more well-read than the average Singaporean Uni student. With the bell-curve system, it ensures that Singaporean students like myself have to work just as hard as them to get good grades.

Many of my better local friends also admit it is this foreign competition that has “spurred” them to work harder. We need better competition not less. We are an open and globalized economy. Our competition comes from every corner of the globe. I rather our students and myself face the bitter reality of the working world earlier than later.

c. Better to have them compete on our side than against Singapore from the outside

I believe our scholarship system is very stringent and only the very best can get to study in NUS and the other local universities. They have to maintain their CAP at at least second-upper every semester to keep their scholarship and most do. Majority of Singaporeans do not. After graduating, they have to work in Singapore for some years. Based on anecdotal evidence, majority will choose to stay after their bond.

I put it to you all, is it better to have this smart students on our side or against us?

4. Maintain our world-class university ranking and standards

I hear battle cries that we should give more Singaporean university places if they want it. Where is the issue of standards? Our Unis cannot just accept more students if they like it. Basic economics tell you that increasing the supply of a good will lower its price. Just like a good, arbitrarily increasing the student population will LOWER the minimum standard of incoming students and by extension the quality of results produced. It will also raise the standard for foreign students.

We should give our Unis the right to demand only the best can enter them. A very good example is Malaysia. We can see the bumiputra policy of favouring a certain racial group has resulted in low standards in their universities. Their top university Universiti Malaya is not even in the top-100. NUS and NTU are in top 50.

The top universities are mostly from US and Europe where their liberal and struct university admission standards have accepted top students from all around the world. Look at their research capabilities, social science concepts and the scientific breakthroughs they produced, many of them do not even have Western-sounding names.

In order for our local Unis to improve, we need to further attract top talent. Many anti-government bloggers like to pontificate about equality for this and that. When it comes to equality of university admission foreign or local, they are strangely silent.

Wrapping up

Let us look at the big picture shall we. There is a war on attracting talent worldwide whether it is the best workers or smartest students, this is something we cannot afford to let up now. Human resource is the only natural resource we have unlike our neighbors who afford to favor certain races and still make survive.

We have to ensure the future of Singapore by attracting the very best to work and study here, even better if they make Singapore their home. We have to make some sacrifices for the greater good and economic strength of this country.