Amid Covid-19 outbreak, some Singapore school leavers rethink overseas study plans

SUTD has launched another admissions exercise from May 4 to cater to students. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Raffles Institution alumnus Valerie Lu, 19, was all set to head to the United States to start her degree studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art this August, but the pandemic has made her rethink her plans.

After factoring in the looming economic uncertainties and the high cost of studying overseas, she applied last week for a place in the new degree course in design and artificial intelligence offered by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

The university, which has pushed back the start date of its academic year from May to Sept 14 from this year, launched another admissions exercise from May 4 to cater to people such as Ms Lu.

Apart from hosting online information sessions on its various programmes, SUTD - like the other five autonomous universities - has taken admissions online, including conducting interviews for shortlisted applicants.

It said more than a 100 A-level holders and polytechnic diploma holders have attended its online information sessions so far. Another three information sessions will be held on Friday (May 15).

The university, which offers four other degree courses - in architecture and sustainable design; engineering product development; engineering systems and design; and information systems technology and design - said it has received another round of applications and will start interviewing shortlisted applicants next week.

University officials said its information sessions cater to two groups of potential applicants.

One group comprises polytechnic diploma holders who are serving full-time national service and cannot meet the earlier May start date.

A bigger group includes Singaporeans like Ms Lu who have decided to apply to a local university, instead of heading overseas.

SUTD said this round of applicants will be assessed on the same holistic criteria used for all its applicants. Besides, the ability to cope with the academic rigour of the courses, the university also looks out for those who do well in teams, are intellectually curious and are comfortable being hands-on.

Ms Lu, who will be interviewed online next week, said she hopes to land a place at SUTD.

"I was set on heading to US, but when the pandemic hit, I wasn't sure any more because, despite the partial scholarship, it would have cost my parents a lot more. Besides, no one knows how overseas travel will be affected in the coming months."

Former St Joseph's Institution student Ian Ng, 21, who has a place to study applied and computational mathematics at the University of Notre Dame in the US, echoed Ms Lu's comments when he said that he decided to look at local universities because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, especially in the US.

"I was keen on going overseas, partly because of the exposure I will have. But when the pandemic started, my parents said I should reconsider, since we are not even sure if the universities are going to offer classes on campus. Also, the spread of the disease is not well-managed in the US and does not inspire confidence," he said, adding that he is especially interested in SUTD's Technology Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) to nurture technopreneurs. Students selected for the programme get to spend time abroad at business nodes in China and the US, including Silicon Valley.

"I am going to look at how things pan out, going forward, and if there are just as good opportunities here at a fraction of the cost, then why not?" he said.

While SUTD has become an attractive option for young people like Mr Ng, the university said it has changed its academic calendar on account of "the uncertainty of the restrictions to on-campus activities and lessons" because of the evolving Covid-19 situation.

It added that the change will be permanent, which means that subsequent cohorts will also begin their academic year in September.

Besides SUTD, the other five universities last week announced that they will consider applications from Singaporeans who were planning to study overseas but who may now prefer to study locally because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

They have to write directly to the universities by May 17.

Students who are midway through their studies at overseas universities and are unable to continue with them, can sign up for modular courses offered by the local universities or enrol for a semester.

Three other young Singaporeans heading overseas, including the UK, said they too are looking at other options, including the local universities or attending coding school. One of them, Ms Grace Woo, 20, said she has decided to take a gap year to work in a social enterprise, before enrolling in her business course in the UK next year.

"Everything is suddenly topsy turvy, but instead of waiting it out, I have decided that I might as well go and work for a start-up. In a way, it will also be an education, just of a different kind."

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