The discretionary admission scheme will make up to 2,240 university places available this year, opening varsity admission to passionate students who fall slightly short of the entry score for a degree course. The National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University will increase the number of places under the scheme, which was introduced in 2004, from 10 per cent to 15 per cent of their intake. This is a substantial proportion, particularly because the keen competition for university places multiplies the worth of any discretionary process. Obviously, every place won under the scheme means one fewer offer to a person using the traditional, score-based route.
While this opportunity will hearten aspiring students, it might alarm purists who fear a dilution of academic standards because of the sheer numbers involved. They should be reassured that Singapore is not emulating the practice of certain American colleges, which admit promising sportsmen although they may display little academic interest and less capability. By contrast, the scheme here gives tertiary institutions here the flexibility to admit a student who shows great interest in a course or a profession but is marginally short of the grades needed to make the cut. Discretionary admissions are not an easy detour to university but a route which admits only those who are likely to meet the academic rigours of university life.
The discretionary scheme is necessary because it ensures a steady source of diversity. Applicants with compelling resumes in sports, the arts, community service and entrepreneurship - in addition to good, if not the best, grades - uphold the rationale of the university as an environment for well-rounded education. It is an arena for the pursuit of excellence in different forms. Students with different backgrounds bring with them values earned from diverse experiences that have tested them relentlessly. Sports, for example, stretch a person's capacity for concentration and endurance. The imaginative pursuit of the truth in the arts is required, too, alongside the empirical quest for knowledge in the natural and social sciences. Community service underscores the importance of altruistic engagement in society. And entrepreneurship is a reminder of the role of innovation in furthering the frontiers of economics.
Discretionary admissions to university reflect the logic of the Direct School Admission scheme to secondary schools. It casts the net wide in offering places to talented children in fields such as sports and the arts. Widening the talent pool at the secondary level cannot end there but must be followed through at tertiary institutions. What must be upheld is that those who enter a school or a university through the discretionary route should justify their presence academically. Valuable opportunities should not be squandered.