Coronavirus: MOE recalls all students overseas on exchange and internship programmes

Among those the National University of Singapore is recalling are some 200 students on an overseas internship programme. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Students on official overseas placements, including all internships and exchange programmes, will be asked to return to Singapore as soon as possible, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a statement on Sunday (March 15).

With developments on the coronavirus outbreak - including new border restriction measures announced on Sunday to reduce the number of imported cases into Singapore - the MOE and institutes of higher learning (IHLs) have decided to suspend all official overseas placements until the end of July.

"Students who are currently on such overseas placements will be recalled as soon as is practicable," said the ministry.

The MOE said that IHLs will address students' concerns about the loss of credits earned during their exchanges or placements.

There will be no delay in students' graduation and the IHLs will support affected students by providing alternative learning arrangements, such as credit-bearing modules during the summer semester or local internship placements.

"As most of the affected students are second- or third-year students, they also have the option to take additional credits in subsequent years.

"In the coming weeks, the IHLs will work with each affected student to finalise these alternative arrangements," the MOE said.

It added that the alternative arrangements should not impose additional financial cost to students, and the additional modules or local internships will not add to the current school fees.

"MOE will continue to monitor the global situation and work closely with the IHLs to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our students," it said.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has already asked students to come home.

It is recalling some 200 students on an overseas internship programme after the MOE last Friday afternoon issued a directive requiring all overseas students at IHLs to return to Singapore as soon as possible.

The recall by NUS will be a large-scale operation that needs to be done in phases due to the size of the programme's cohort, according to an e-mail sent by the university to students on the NUS Overseas College Programme (NOC), which was seen by The Straits Times.

The NOC is an internship programme with an emphasis on technology entrepreneurship, and participants spend either six months or a year at a start-up overseas and take entrepreneurship courses at a designated partner university.

NUS Overseas Colleges director Chee Yeow Meng said in the e-mail: "NUS has been closely monitoring the Covid-19 outbreak across the world, with great concern.

"The recent global development has caused serious concerns in NUS senior management for your health and safety, even more so with the trends these last couple of days.

"We now feel it prudent and urgent to recall all overseas NOC students back to Singapore," added Professor Chee, who is also associate vice-president for innovation and enterprise.

Providing more details on the recall, he said the students' location managers and directors will be in touch with them on the dates, periods and logistical arrangements for their journey back to Singapore.

They will also help students to obtain air tickets for their return.

The university will pay or reimburse students' flights back to Singapore and other transport costs.

It will also reimburse their rental deposits, outstanding rental obligations on their accommodation, mobile and Wi-Fi plans, shipping of belongings and extra baggage allowance within reason, and other items on a case-by-case basis.

NUS will also inform students' internship companies about the recall and find ways for students to continue their internship with the companies in Singapore as an option, where possible.

"We will ensure that you will suffer no academic loss and financial loss due to this recall," Prof Chee wrote, adding that the university will put in place a meaningful programme for students to continue their NOC programme in Singapore even after they return.

They will also fully receive their academic credits for the programme.

On measures students will have to take upon returning to Singapore, Prof Chee said all those returning from Germany will be issued a stay-home notice, as directed by the Ministry of Health.

Students returning from other countries will be asked to go on a voluntary leave of absence for 14 days, away from the NUS campus.

The university will provide an on-campus facility for students' self-isolation period if their family is not in Singapore or they prefer to serve their stay-home notice or leave of absence away from home.

ST has contacted the university for more information.

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