A*Star scientist starts arts grant in protest against six-year bond

Dr Eng Kai Er as she appeared outside the Subordinate Courts in April 2009. She was fined $2,000 for streaking down Holland Village in the buff on Jan 24, 2009. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Dr Eng Kai Er as she appeared outside the Subordinate Courts in April 2009. She was fined $2,000 for streaking down Holland Village in the buff on Jan 24, 2009. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

A research scholar from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) who strolled naked through Holland Village five years ago is creating a buzz online with another radical move.

Dr Eng Kai Er, 30, now a scientist in an A*Star laboratory and a dancer-choreographer, has launched an arts grant to protest against her six-year scholarship bond with the agency.

Under the No Star Arts Grant - which she initially called the A*Star Arts Grant - she has pledged to give $1,000 a month from her salary to support arts projects for a year.

In her blog post before it was edited, Dr Eng, who studied at Cambridge University and Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute on an A*Star scholarship, explained why she decided to give out the grant.

"Eng Kai Er is not interested in science at all, but has to serve her bond or pay, as of 30 September 2014, around $741,657.37 in order to quit her job," she wrote.

"Since she understands the pain of having a paid job that is not aligned with her interests, she wishes to change the world by having more instances of paid jobs aligned with people's interest."

She went on to say how she prefers to support arts projects that are unlikely to receive other sources of funding.

In 2009, the former Hwa Chong Junior College student was fined $2,000 for stripping and walking down Lorong Mambong with Swedish exchange student Jan Philip "for a thrill".

She was given a warning by A*Star but allowed to keep her scholarship, which paid for her studies up to PhD level. For that, she was bonded for six years.

It is believed that Dr Eng - who is part of a programme to groom directors at The Substation Theatre and recently staged a play titled Fish - tried transferring her bond to the National Arts Council but was unsuccessful.

Her latest stunt has provoked mixed reactions from the public.

Business development executive Malcolm Tan, 44, felt Dr Eng should have refused the scholarship early on and should now bear the responsibility for her privileged education.

"It would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There should be a bond."

Others though felt that the Government should be flexible and allow scholarship holders to serve out their bonds in their areas of interest.

Another bonded government scholarship holder, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times: "Really, what do you know when you are 18 years old. It's only later that you get a feel of where your interests truly lie. But by then it's too late."

The Necessary Stage's artistic director, Mr Alvin Tan, said Dr Eng's grant "makes possible an alternative form or platform of giving to the arts".

The Straits Times asked A*Star about its policy on transferring the bonds of scholarship holders and on Dr Eng originally naming the grant after the agency, but it did not get back by press time.

sandra@sph.com.sg