for Bangladeshi Students
office of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) rises around a central
courtyard. Concrete encloses a circle. Within it, goldfish languidly
turn beneath lotus pads in small pools, trailing gossamer fins.
Way above me, surrounded by wall and window, the sky is a blue
is a soft December morning, 9:30 a.m., warmer than in Dhaka.
I raise my arms, stretch. Time to get to the business at hand.
Ken, my guide, takes me to the second floor. Up here the light
splashes against the outer pillars of a wide, colonial-style
verandah. I shake hands with Liza and am ushered inside a cool,
dark room with high ceilings. Inside, I am introduced to John
and Ong, also of Education Services, STB. I ease into a chair,
exchange pleasantries, open the binder in front of me. Click
goes the Powerpoint, lighting up a graph to begin the crash
course on Singapore's education system.
am here because Singapore, driving forward with its typical
efficiency, is transforming itself into an 'education hub'.
The essential angle is fairly simple: The world education market
is worth about $ 2.2 trillion, and Singapore wants a major slice
of the pie. Primarily the Asian pie.
key to the strategy is to attract the increasing numbers of
Asian students, along with business executives signing up for
corporate education, who otherwise go to Western universities
to get their engineering and MBA degrees. A huge amount of government
money has been plowed in. The plan, launched around in 1997,
was to build, around the core of Singapore's own first-rate
universities, a world-class university programme by establishing
linkages with up to 10 top-flight Western universities. These
would be 'centers of excellence in education and research, with
strong links to industry.' Today, six American universities
(Stanford, MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins
University, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania,
The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business), three
from Europe (INSEAD, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven and Technische
Universität Mü nchen), and one from China (Shanghai
Jiao Tong University) have linked up in various ways: joint
programmes and seminars, student and faculty exchanges, visiting
scholars, joint degree programmes, similar syllabi and courses.
Others such as Cornell, Ecole Polytechnique, and the well-known
Indian Institute of Technology: are in the pipeline.
was on a tour of this 'hub', to take a close-up look at some
of its constituent parts, that the STB had invited someone from
The Daily Star. To go around the campuses, meet academics, deans
of engineering and technical universities, listen to presentations,
get a feel of the place.
I should probably make clear to readers and prospective students
that there are many excellent sources of information on the
topic on government and individual university Web sites (principally
www.singaporeedu. gov.sg) as well as in well-written guides
available from the Education Services Division, Singapore Tourism
Board and the Singapore Ministry of Education. Bangladeshi students
interested in higher education in Singapore should check them
out and write to the ministries/services concerned for more
visited the German Institute of Science & Technology, Nanyang
Technological University, Centre for Creative Leadership, the
University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Singapore
Management University, the National University of Singapore,
and Stansfield College.
kept thinking, what is in it for the Bangladeshi student wanting
to study abroad?
a lot, actually.
was surprised to learn that the Singapore Ministry of Education
provides tuition grants to all students who can get admission
at the local universities and polytechnics, Including international
students. I can't think of a single other foreign state that
will provide funds to international students to study. There
exist scholarship/training programmes in which one can compete
and qualify but usually that is a state-to-state, or institution-to-institution
arrangement, not directly with individuals. That is incentive
to us Bangladeshis indeed. Besides the above, there is a whole
host of scholarships, bursaries and tuition loans that should
be investigated diligently by the concerned student. For example,
I came to know that excellent scholarships are offered by Singapore
Airlines to deserving foreign students/candidates.
students who apply for the education ministry's tuition grant
are required to sign a bond obliging them to work in Singapore
for three years after graduation. Which sounds perfectly okay
to me. Not only is Singapore a great place to work and live
but the least you can do is repay in kind the people who paid
for your education.
graduation, they help with job placement. And in this regard
the various universities do their research.
example, at the Nanyang Technological University presentation
by Dr. Lo, the emphasis was on their new Master's degree programme
in environmental engineering. The NTU people have studied the
matter astutely. The Asian environmental technology market is
a multi-billion dollar market that is expected to grow hugely
as more factories in Asia spew out smoke, as pollution levels
rise in our air and water, as garbage piles up in cities in
the coming decades. There it is: a huge job market in which
it would be good to get in early.
which I listened to the good Mr. Ng Boon Hwang, director of
NTU's Office of Professional Attachments. Five of us sat in
the room, with brilliant sunlight pouring through a picture
window at my back. Looked like a great day for cricket. Below
us lay the large, quiet campus, all green hollows and rises,
university buildings scattered here and there with paved walkways
between them, soccer fields, neat, orderly, streamlined. No
graffiti, no slogans, no demos, no strikes or close-downs. Though
I had come in the middle of vacations and the campus was comparatively
deserted, I could imagine classes ticking away like Swiss watches
during regular season. Every institution large and small --and
Stansfield College, a private university, was indeed competitively
tiny, within one building, like the private universities here
in Bangladesh that I visited there had that same sense of order
who makes the best job applicant?" I asked Mr. Hwang at
one point. "The extrovert, the one who can best talk about
himself, the job, why he thinks he is the best one suited for
it," Mr. Hwang replied. "The one with people skills,
one who does not get discouraged easily, the one who begins
the job search early on, while still a student. The one who
can best sell himself. We teach the rest." The 'rest' is
of course, maintaining links with companies, with the private
sector, industry heads, teaching interview and resume writing
skills, keeping and providing job databases, arranging internships
and hosting job fairs. "The economy is in a recession,
of course, and it is very competitive out there, but" he
added with a smile, "we try. We try very hard to get jobs
for our graduates."
finally, as per the logic of the meritocracy that is Singapore's
abiding creed, if your work is indispensable to the company,
if you have a demonstrable ability and talent, you can apply
for Singaporean citizenship. Which, overall, is not a bad deal!
is impossible here to detail each institution I visited separately
here, but the story line was basically the same: linkage with
a solid Western university, tough degree programmes, superior
faculty, quality education. At the National University of Singapore,
where I talked with the business school folks, they underlined
their highly-rated APEX-MBA programme, with its emphasis on
the Asian context. The campus, like NTU's, has sweeping vistas
and winding roads cutting through little hills.
Singapore Management University is a private university funded
by the government. It is building a spanking new, state-of-the-art
campus building right in the center of the city and its innovative
teaching method is shifting away from the traditional classroom
lecture towards seminars, where more responsibility, and greater
challenges, devolve upon the students. The University of Chicago
Graduate School of Business (almost exclusively for professionals/corporate
executives) follows the same exact curriculum as the mother
ship back in Chicago, with the same faculty being flown in,
and is housed in a delightful building that was once a temple.
The German Institute of Science and Technology wants to produce
the new kind of technocrat for the globalised future, Joerg
Schweizer, its CEO (yes, today universities are run along corporate
lines and Technische Universitat Munchen is no different), told
me, with 'cultural awareness' in business contexts as an important
part of the study programme.
College, the last place I toured, is a small, reputed private
business school with University of London and London School
of Economics diploma and degree programmes. Here I should mention
that Singapore's array of private schools, with all manner of
diplomas and degrees, can be bewildering, and the prospective
student should be careful to check whether the private universities
are SQC (Singapore Quality Class) recipients. Just like in other
countries, Singapore too has its own fast-buck artists setting
up backroom classes in order to cash in on the "foreign
degree" hunger of the middle-class Asian student.
other places I visited were in a different category. One was
Bhavan's Indian Central School, called an 'international' school
in Singapore, with a wholly Indian curriculum and examination
setup. Such schools were originally set up for the children
of foreigners, but now welcome students from different nationalities
and co-exist with Singapore's own public schools. I also talked
with (on the only overcast Singapore afternoon, when later it
rained, gently, and boys glued to screens in video game parlors
raised their heads momentarily towards the windows) Michael
Jenkins of the Center for Creative Leadership, where company
executives undergo a sort of shock treatment designed to shake
them out of standard, cookie-cutter thinking and gain fresh,
creative perspectives on business management. And once you talk
with Michael you realise that this isn't some faddish, New Age-y
stuff but serious re-training.
topic I raised with all the faculty members/academic staff concerned
English. What about the proficiency level of English in the
applicants? A good A level, or TOEFL, or something similar was
the answer. I said that with Bangladeshi students this could
be the sticking point, in that while they could conceivably
ace the science part of the exams, they could get hung up on
English. The answer was that in addition to A/O level results,
the universities had their own interviews and entrance exams,
and if somebody demonstrated brilliance in the technical part,
they for their part could perhaps relax the English requirements.
As well put them through an English language course after admission.
That the same problem was true of the Vietnamese and Chinese
students hereit is estimated that fully a third of the international
students in Singapore are from mainland Chinabut that eventually
they coped with it and did well. Good students have determination!
had one other question, which I put to Liza at the Singapore
Tourist Board presentation. All this engineering and business
courses are fine, these technical things, I said, but what about
stuff that other Bangladeshi students are interested in: gender
studies, poverty reduction strategies, development economics,
law and human rights, alternative architecture? These are subjects
and issues a lot of bright, young Bangladeshis are interested
in. We have them, she answered, at our national universities.
conclusion, all things being equal, I have to say that Singapore
looked like an outstanding place for Bangladeshis interested
in pursuing higher studies abroad. Besides the financial help
and the later rewards for academic excellence, Singapore offers
a unique opportunity to grow up in a westernised, cosmopolitan
environment and yet experience minimal culture shock: it is
after all an Asian country only a few hours away by air, there
is a huge Indian community, South Asian food is everywhere,
and the native Sinagaporean is a friendly, if busy, creature.
Added to all the above are the opportunities for interaction
with students from neighbouring countries and establishing regional
networks and friendships, to internalise a disciplined ethos
and work habits, plus access to, and acculturalisation with,
the latest technologies and applications. For parents who are
concerned about their children being thrown too fast too young
into Western cultural environments (though of course one has
to add here that going through the broadest range of experiences
is a necessary part of growing up), Singapore has enacted draconian
laws regarding drugs and pornography. I was quite surprised
to learn that viewing pornography on the Web, something that
is widespread in Dhaka, is impossible in Singapore, which monitors
the Web servers and cuts off all those 1-800 sites.
all in all, I would tell Bangladeshi students planning to go
abroad for higher education to look into the possibilities in
Singapore, to research all angles, pore through Web sites and
guide books, do a cost/benefit analysis, and then make up their
minds. It just might be the most rewarding thing they have done
in a long time.