Forum Letter Replies

March 05, 2015

MOU-AU Scholarship For Students With Clear Passion For An Academic Career

We thank Mr Sum Siew Kee for his views on the new Ministry of Education-Autonomous University (MOE-AU) Scholarship (TODAY Voices Online, 18/2).

The MOE-AU Scholarship is being introduced to give young Singaporeans the opportunity to pursue an academic career at our local Autonomous Universities (AUs). It sponsors recipients for up to four years of undergraduate studies, after which the recipient will apply for a postgraduate scholarship from the AUs as part of the Singapore Academic and Research Talent Scheme.

We agree with Mr Sum that a scholarship like this one is a long-term commitment, and this will be impressed on all prospective applicants from the outset. Our experience in administering scholarships has been that the vast majority of scholarship recipients serve out their commitments to MOE and society honourably.

We would like to add that the MOE-AU scholarship is not the only developmental opportunity available to young Singaporeans. Only those with a clear passion for an academic career, and who will be able to make such a commitment, will be considered. We will only award the scholarship to a very small, carefully selected group.

A distinctive feature of the MOE-AU scholarship will be academic mentorship and developmental opportunities offered by the AUs even during the period of undergraduate study. Each scholarship recipient will be paired with an AU, and assigned an established academic who will provide mentorship on academic, research and career matters. This will help the scholarship recipients better appreciate the rigour of an academic career, and support them in their longer-term development as they prepare for a career in academia.

Through these efforts, we seek to ensure a good fit between the scholarship recipients and the AUs. However, we also understand that such a fit may not always be possible. For scholarship recipients who are eventually found not to be a good fit for an academic career, MOE will work with them to explore alternative careers in the public service after their undergraduate studies on an exceptional basis, taking into consideration the recipient’s suitability and commitment.

More information on the scholarship and the application process can be found at http://moe.gov.sg/education/scholarships/moe-au/. Applications for the scholarship are now open.

Mr John Lim
Director
Higher Education Division
Ministry of Education

Research and academic careers being fixed too early (Sum Siew Kee, Today Voices Online, 18/2)

I read with concern about the new Ministry of Education-Autonomous University Scholarship, which is to be offered at the undergraduate level. (“More support for students keen on research and academic career”; Feb 3)

It appears to be a poor strategy for, or band-aid solution to, a bigger problem, even though we lack a scholarship now that compels students to work at a local university after they graduate.

The worry is that we may be putting pressure on more top students to choose a career early in life. Moreover, we are channelling them into increasingly specific careers.

Scholarships used to be given mostly for Civil Service jobs; now, science research bodies have joined in too.

I am all for encouraging more Singaporeans to take up academic jobs here and enliven the academic scene; too many talents are being funnelled into public service and research institutes independent of the universities.

As the case of Dr Eng Kai Er shows, though, we may be fixing their careers too early, based on what little they know after junior college education.

Science and humanities as taught in schools can be very different from how they are taught in universities. Many PhD candidates, let alone pre-university students, are not intimately familiar with their subject of interest.

Unlike the Civil Service, which offers many positions and allows officers to rotate their jobs, smaller organisations such as research institutes and universities offer less room, presumably, to manoeuvre.

While retaining talent in Singapore is a good thing, retaining willing talent is just as important. Otherwise, we may see more Kai Ers in future.