Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Scholarship to foreigners: zero sum to Singaporeans and benefits to government?



General comments in the internet seem to suggest it is a zero sum game to award scholarships to foreign students. However, if you look at the other side of the equation, there are some benefits too but they go to the government and the government is not sharing them with the people.  

So, giving scholarship to foreign students is not a zero sum game and there are yields and benefits, both tangible and intangible, to Singapore.  The government is only willing to stress the importance of foreign talents and their contributions but fail to disclose they have indeed some other benefits.  The non-disclosure is perhaps the result of non-distribution of benefits to the people.  Or the received benefits are not being properly and equally distributed to the people?

What benefits?

What are the benefits that we are talking about?  For the pragmatic PAP government, if there are no returns, will they invest on something? So, they tell the citizens, we need talents and these foreign students may stay in Singapore and contribute to our economy. Besides these merits, are there any more benefits or hidden benefits or intangible benefits?

Could it be a situation that foreign students benefit from the scholarship and at the same time, our government and government linked companies too received some tangible and intangible benefits in return?  The government intentionally presents Singaporeans only one side of the story. That is the government is spending millions of dollars in scholarships to foreign students and wants to boost our talent pool. They keep the arguments here and are happy to see debates around this topic. Hence, they can keep the benefits away.

Take the case of China, our Temasek, GIC and GLCs are active investors there and due to our good relationship with China, we can get some tangible and intangible benefits from them.  A piece of land in a prime location, an IPO and priority share allocation, banking and financial opportunities, etc. all these can generate handsome financial returns and definitely more than the amount of money spent on foreign scholarship.

When we hear GLCs making money in China, it looks like they build them with their own credit and ability.  But it could be a case of using public funding (of scholarship, of ministerial visits) to enrich these GLCs.  So, when they make money using public fund, the benefits received, have they share with you? They go back to the government and the government spends or keeps the money in their own political belief – no welfare state, no minimum wage, rich-poor gap…etc.    

Distribution problem

The question is the benefits distribution. The government, Temasek, GIC and GLCs make money using public fund but they may not distribute the money according to the wishes of the people. It looks like they are enriching themselves using public fund, so spending millions of dollars on scholarship is not a big deal.  They use your money to build up their reputation, PR and get projects, piece of land, contacts and finally they claim that they are smart business people doing successful businesses in China and other countries.    

Same analogy: scholarships and buses

This analogy is same as GLCs using monopoly status to make money in Singapore.  Just imagine SBS and SMRT, before these two public transport companies get into troubles, we need to spend billions of dollars to buy buses for them.  They make money and will they distribute the profit to you? So buying buses and giving scholarship to foreigners are the same analogy – the people lose, the government wins.  To the general public, Singaporeans only see one side of the story – paying for the scholarships and buses, but have we looked at the other side? Who are the taking the benefits?

Love others?

Unless we can be extremely generous, not only aiming for an inclusive Singapore society, but an inclusive world society.  We are making effort to help the world in educating the youths and we don’t mind giving scholarships to foreigners.  But under the PAP’s money minded education for so long, can we be so generous and treat non-Singaporeans and people in the world, love them as our parents, brothers and sisters?  

If you look at Tang dynasty, the capital, chang an (长安), was the world academic centre of the time. Foreign students were automatically entitled for full boarding and free education while local students had to study on their own, spent their own money on education and sat for the imperial examination on their own travel expenses. What the PAP is doing now is in fact no match to Tang dynasty government.  However, we are a small country we certainly cannot afford to give full boarding and free tuition to all foreign students and demand returns.

What benefits that Tang dynasty received were mainly intangible in political and cultural aspects.  Singapore will not have such an ambition and influence and most likely our intention is not in these areas but money only.

So, what are other benefits that we can get from investing foreign students?  Besides money, what else?  Unfortunately, Singaporeans and the government are focusing different side of the money. 

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