Friday, 7 August 2015

Singaporeans the second-largest group of non-British undergrads at Oxbridge

US universities with the most S'porean students are also among the most prestigious
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2015

Singaporeans make up the second-largest group of non-British undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, with only students from China ahead of them.

Last year, Oxford had 169 Singaporeans studying for their first degrees and Cambridge had 221, according to figures obtained by The Straits Times.

In both cases, they are the second-largest group after students from China and ahead of bigger countries such as the United States and India.

"Singaporeans clearly punch above their weight," said Mr James Gold, director of Oxford Summer College, which runs preparatory programmes for students eyeing a place in the most reputed universities in Britain.

"It is remarkable that a small island nation is able to send so many students to the most competitive universities around the world, including the UK," he said, noting that every undergraduate place in Oxford and Cambridge is fought over by eight to 12 students in and outside Britain.

Education counsellors say that the US universities with the most Singaporean students are among the most prestigious. They include Stanford, Harvard, Cornell and the University of California, Berkeley.

Ms Karen Kaylor, director of the US Education Information Centre in Singapore, said record numbers of Singaporeans are choosing to study in the US as the tuition fees offer value for money. Last year, there were 4,500 Singaporeans in American universities.

"The US dollar is low and Singapore students want brand-name degrees and the US has many top-tier institutions," she said.

Attending a US university generally costs between US$35,000 and US$65,000 (S$48,000 and S$90,000) a year in tuition and living costs.

At top-tier institutions, it ranges between US$55,000 and US$75,000 a year, but an increasing number of Singaporeans heading to the top American universities are on "mom and pop scholarships", said Ms Kaylor.

"I get students telling me that they don't care how much it costs as long as it is a top university," she added. This, they believe, improves their job prospects.

Likewise, Mr Gold said a degree from a prestigious university advantages students in many ways.

"It definitely gives students the edge when they go seeking job opportunities," he said.

"But it is also the social and professional networks they plug into while studying at universities like Oxford and Cambridge.

"Many of their classmates are likely to go on to become political and industry leaders and top scientists, top doctors and lawyers."

National serviceman Adrian Toh, 20, who aims to study at Oxford or Stanford, said: "A garden-variety degree won't do any more. You have to have something more."

His businessman father Y.C. Toh has set aside $500,000 for his overseas studies. "People ask me why a local university won't do for my son and I tell them, 'What about the top government scholars?'" Mr Toh said, noting that these scholarship holders usually head for top universities overseas. "I want the best for my son as well," he added.

Degree-seekers fly overseas for an edge
More top S'pore students seek professional degrees at prestigious universities abroad
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2015

Even as the Government increases university places here, Singaporeans continue to flock overseas for degrees.

The profile of those leaving Singapore for universities overseas, however, has changed. Many of them are no longer polytechnic graduates but A-level and International Baccalaureate diploma holders.

Many have top scores and places in the local institutions but feel that an overseas degree from a prestigious institution such as Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial College London will give them an edge.

And their parents are ready to fork out $200,000 to $400,000 for them to study for professional degrees.

Last year, Singaporeans came behind only the Chinese among non-British undergraduates studying at Oxford and Cambridge.

In the United States, too, the universities that account for the most Singaporean students are among America's most prestigious.

Finance and economics are the top choices for Singaporeans studying in the US.

Figures also show that over the last five years, more Singapore students have been heading to British and Australian universities to take up professional degrees. British Council figures show that the number of Singaporean students in Britain went up from 4,000 in 2009 to 7,000 last year. Tellingly, 1,390 of them are reading law and another 465 are studying medicine and dentistry.

Of the 6,300 Singaporeans in Australian universities, 300 are studying law, 108 dentistry and 66 medicine.

Mr Shabir Aslam, director of education at the British Council Singapore, said Singaporeans aim for Britain's top universities.

He said: "They have top grades, so they aim for the best British universities and the most competitive degree courses. Despite the limited number of places, they get in."

He said many are looking for top-notch degrees in law, medicine or dentistry. He noted that it would cost $70,000 on average a year to study those courses. For medicine which takes five years, it would add up to around $400,000.

British and Australian universities say that they are keen to have Singaporeans as they are high-performing students.

Imperial College London, which partners Nanyang Technological University to run a medical degree programme in Singapore, currently has 59 Singaporeans studying medicine in London. Five years ago, it had fewer than 10.

Professor Jenny Higham, vice-dean (education and institutional affairs) of the medical faculty at Imperial, said Britain's general medical council restricts the intake of international students and Imperial requires top grades for admission to medicine, but a significant number of Singaporeans who apply to Imperial meet the univer-sity's standards.

Australian schools have similar curbs.Of the University of Western Australia's 20 international students, 18 are Singaporeans.

Twelve of 21 students interviewed had one offer, if not two, from the local universities, but still chose to go overseas.

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said this was another example of "parentocracy" at work, where parents seek to provide advantages to their children.

"It is not just an elite degree from an elite institution.

"It is also the social and professional networks that their children will acquire by studying in these elite institutions," he said.

Top scorers drawn to read law at Oxford
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2015

Mr Daron Tan and Mr Zachary Foo, both 22, scored top A-level grades and had their minds set on studying law.

They tried getting places at the top British universities, including Oxford, University College London and King's College.

Mr Foo also applied to the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU).

When they received an offer of a place from Oxford, both of them chose to go there.

Mr Tan, a former Raffles Institution student, decided not to apply to the local universities after receiving the offer from Oxford.

"I had always wanted to study overseas as I felt that I would get more out of being thrown into a different, challenging environment," he said.

He added that he felt "somewhat guilty" about his parents having to pay for his education at Oxford, which will come up to $200,000 over three years.

His father is an IT professional working in a bank and his mother is a housewife.

Having spent one year at Oxford, he feels that he has gained much from the experience.

Said Mr Tan: "You have two or three students to a tutor and you are forced to debate and defend your ideas. I have become a lot more confident of speaking up."

Mr Foo, a former student of St Andrew's Junior College, was offered a place to study law at both NUS and SMU.

He cited reasons similar to Mr Tan's for opting to go overseas. He said part of the attraction of reading law at Oxford for Singaporeans is the chance to work in the "magic circle" of elite law firms in London.

Now about to start his second year at Oxford, he has already gone for recruitment talks at top law firms in London and hopes to land an internship stint with one of them in his second year.

Mr Foo's studies are paid for by his mother, who works in a bank, and his father, a lecturer.

He said of his Oxford education so far: "It's interesting, it's multi- faceted. I feel I am getting a lot out of it."

Asked if they will return to Singapore, Mr Foo said he is likely to, but Mr Tan said he would like to explore work opportunities in London for a few years at least.

"From what my seniors tell me, you get to delve into different areas of law and cases that are multi-jurisdictional.

"That sounds interesting to me," said Mr Tan.

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