S’porean students feel the heat from foreign counterparts

Local university and junior college students are feeling the heat from foreign students for coveted spots at local universities.

They were reacting to the news last week that international students make up 18 per cent of the total undergraduate intake in Singapore's universities for the academic year 2011.

The proportion, however, appears to differ across faculties. Foreign students make up a mere one per cent in Medicine and Law courses, but the figure could go as high as 27 per cent in Science and Engineering.

Ng Ding Neng, 23, who is currently studying in Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (Mathematics and Economics), said international students form around a quarter of his course, and most are from China.

In a written reply to MP Ang Wei Neng's queries in Parliament last Friday regarding the foreign student intake in universities, Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat explained that the exceptionally-high intake for Science and Engineering courses is attributed to the fact that they produce much-needed manpower in sustaining key industries but are "less popular with talented Singaporeans", reported Channel NewsAsia.

Heng also highlighted that majority of the international students are on the Tuition Grant scheme, which helps to defray their fees. Moreover, they are tied to a bond that requires them to work in Singapore for three years.

25-year-old Farhan Hamid from NUS told Yahoo! Singapore that this generates a double problem, because not only do they take up spaces in universities here, they are also taking up job opportunities for fresh graduates.

Another NTU student, Vera Lau Shi Min, 18, said the presence of foreigners drives up the bell-curve and forces local students to step-up and match the standards, or get a lower grade.

"As local students, we see our foreign peers as tough competition, which makes us frustrated instead of being a source of motivation. That's because our GPA depends on a bell-curve, hurting our grades as a result," the first-year NTU Sport Science and Management student proclaimed.

But is help on the way?

In his National Day Rally speech in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assured that the government will set aside more places for Singaporeans in universities here and that the foreign enrollment (in absolute numbers) will be capped at present levels.

As such, it's expected the proportion of foreign students in local universities will eventually shrink, easing the unhappiness expressed by some who felt it is no longer "Singaporeans first" when it comes to places at local universities.

In fact, the percentage of foreign undergraduate intake was slightly higher at 20 per cent from the year 1999 to 2006, according to NUS Professor Dr. Loy Hui Chieh, who gathered information from the Education Statistics Digest Online. In 1997, it was only 10 per cent.

Data from 2007 to 2010 are not readily available online.

But apart from competition in the classroom, do Singaporean students generally welcome their foreign counterparts in campus life?

Foo Jiahui from Nanyang Business School said that having foreigners definitely adds colour to campus life and makes it interesting to mix around with people from different nationalities.

Chua Khoon Wee, on the other hand, claimed that interaction between foreign and local students is limited, and foreigners are usually either alone or in their own groups, though there are exceptions.

As for local students taking their A' Level examinations in two weeks' time, they are already feeling the intense pressure, as many compete for a limited number of places in universities here.

Liu Ting Ting, 18, from Nanyang Junior College, is one of them.

"I sincerely hope that the universities could put us students (taking Cambridge paper) as priority over the international students, simply because our mode of testing has proven to be more demanding than SATs and IB papers, and that competition is already tough within us as we compete for our As and Bs," she told Yahoo! Singapore.

But 17-year-old ASEAN scholar Ng Zhan Ming from Malaysia urged Singaporeans to be confident about facing competition for university places.

"Singaporeans should be happy that these foreigners are actually looking towards Singapore as a premier education hub, and how can Singapore who keeps wanting to 'increase its education standards' not accept more academically-inclined foreign students?" he questioned.

"The universities are already being very strict on foreigners due to political and social pressure," said the Raffles Institution (Junior College) student who scored 10 A1s for his O' Level examinations last year.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting