Coronavirus pandemic

Slight drop in interest in overseas courses among scholarship applicants due to Covid-19

Covid-19 uncertainties have led to a slight drop in interest in overseas courses, some say

The Public Service Commission's Scholarships Award Ceremony last year. The PSC as well as major companies including OCBC Bank say that they will continue to consider candidates for the same number of scholarships as previous years.
The Public Service Commission's Scholarships Award Ceremony last year. The PSC as well as major companies including OCBC Bank say that they will continue to consider candidates for the same number of scholarships as previous years. PHOTO: PUBLIC SERVICE DIVISION

Both public and private sector organisations mostly plan to forge ahead with offering scholarship opportunities to promising students, despite greater pressures on public spending and companies' bottom lines due to Covid-19.

While overseas scholarships continue to be offered, students will also be given the option to pursue their studies in Singapore, given the global uncertainties arising from the pandemic.

The Public Service Commission (PSC), as well as companies including OCBC Bank and ST Engineering, say they will continue to consider candidates for the same number of positions as previous years.

Other public sector scholarship providers - including the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Building and Construction Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) - also said they will proceed with scholarship programmes as before.

The PSC said there is no quota on the number of scholarships it awards annually. It typically gives out an average of 70 to 80 scholarships a year.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that it awards an average of about 15 to 20 scholarships a year - these are applied for through the PSC.

In the private sector, ST Engineering said it is in the process of selecting scholars and expects to take in 15 from the new batch of applicants, the same number as last year.

An OCBC spokesman said it will be awarding a similar number of scholarships this year compared with last year.

"We believe that this pandemic is an event that will eventually pass. However, education lasts a lifetime and sets the stage to create a lasting impact on any individual," the spokesman said.

CAAS said that job placements for its scholars will not be affected - scholars will start work with it once they complete their studies.

Many, including the PSC and Singapore Airlines, said that their yearly intake is not fixed, and like any other year, this year's intake will depend on applicants' merits and the organisation's operational needs.

Companies added that while their criteria as a whole will generally remain unchanged, the pandemic has made certain skills and qualities more attractive.

For example, Changi Airport Group (CAG) said that having agility and intellectual curiosity, specifically in the area of data and technology, has come to the forefront.

"Covid-19 has brought about a huge digital transformation in the workplace, and it is important for our next generation of talents to be able to adapt and stay relevant to a digital future that is fast-changing and also more data-centric," CAG said.

It added that while it will take time for the aviation sector to recover, long-term competitiveness remains a focus, with talent development as a strategic investment.

In the public sector, the URA said the growing importance of digitalisation means it has also offered more scholarships in computer and data science.

Because of Covid-19 and measures such as social distancing, interviews and assessments for scholarships have been moved online.

CAG said its scholarship team will be marketing to schools through online channels such as webinars and virtual scholarship fairs.

For students looking to study overseas, acquiring a scholarship might not be enough.

Many who have already been accepted into overseas schools or programmes are wondering if they should go, given the uncertain situation in many countries.

An applicant, who wanted to be known only as Ryan, said he has been accepted into a university in the United States but is not sure whether to proceed, or if he will even be able to, given border closures.

The 19-year old is currently a full-time national serviceman.

Scholarship providers said they have seen a slight drop in interest for overseas programmes.

The PSC said that in view of the pandemic, those offered overseas scholarships are concurrently given the option to pursue their studies in Singapore.

MOE, for example, said: "We will consider the prevailing Covid-19 situation and travel advisories before students proceed with their studies overseas.

"Scholars who are unable to (do so) immediately will be advised to consider attending their lessons remotely, if their university offers the option."

Ms Celine Phua, 22, an ST Engineering scholar about to complete her undergraduate degree at University College London, is set to embark on her master's at Stanford later this year,

"I am worried," she said about Stanford. "It took a long time to apply and get the place - now it feels demoralising to think I might not get to attend."

She is back in Singapore and finished her final few weeks of undergraduate work via online classes.

The global pandemic could also affect current scholarship holders, especially those studying overseas and are now back home, as they may be unable to return to school.

The PSC said that many scholarship holders have the option of continuing their studies online.

"However, we are cognisant of the individual differences in circumstances and will exercise flexibility where needed," it said.

"Some might do a gap year in the public sector, contributing to Covid-19-related operations, and resume their studies the year after."

The MHA said that in view of the ongoing situation, it will consider each Home Team scholarship holder's circumstances when helping them determine their next steps.

These could include continuing their studies online, postponing their studies and/or assuming duties at their respective Home Team departments for the time being.

Public sector agencies and the private companies The Sunday Times spoke to do not foresee the career progression and job opportunities of this Covid-19 batch of scholars being heavily affected.

A returning scholar, who started work at ST Engineering last Tuesday after completing his mechanical engineering studies at Nanyang Technological University, said while it is unfortunate to start his career in this environment, he is not worried.

Mr Timothy Teo, 25, said he was grateful to have the job. "The fear is real, my peers are doing all they can to find jobs, but there is much uncertainty," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 07, 2020, with the headline Slight drop in interest in overseas courses among scholarship applicants due to Covid-19. Subscribe