SINGAPORE - Since she was in secondary school, 21-year-old Joyce Lee has been pulling shifts in various retail or service jobs to save up for university.
From gigs like working as a barista at McDonald's or being a service crew member at a sushi joint, Ms Lee has managed to set aside about $10,000 over the years.
But the incoming freshman at Singapore Management University's (SMU) Lee Kong Chian School of Business was still worried about whether she would be able to afford tuition fees for four years, which would come up to about $45,000.
"Even with bursaries and my part-time jobs, I am not sure if I will have enough money," said the eldest child of three from a single-parent family. Her mother is a cashier, while both her younger sisters, in university and polytechnic, are also working part-time.
But when she accepted the offer at SMU earlier this year, she was pleasantly surprised to find out that her tuition fees will be fully paid for.
She was one of 13 incoming freshmen at SMU who are the first batch of students to benefit from SMU Access.
Launched in March, the scheme offers grants and scholarships to ensure that the tuition fees of its financially needy Singaporean undergraduates are fully covered throughout their four years there.
All 13 who received the grant this year also qualified for the scholarship component, called the Quantedge Foundation Scholarship. It is given out to financially needy students with strong academic potential - conditional on them maintaining a cumulative grade point average of at least three out of four each year.
On Monday (Aug 14), the freshmen attended an appreciation ceremony at SMU, where they received their scholarship certificates.
All students who meet the qualifying criteria for SMU Access, based solely on students' household economic circumstances, such as per capita income and housing type, will be eligible for the grant. They do not have to go through additional interviews, and there is no cap on the total number of beneficiaries under this scheme.
SMU Access is seed-funded by an $8 million gift from local charity Quantedge Foundation, and will be supported through government grants, SMU funds, and other donor gifts.
Mr Suhaimi Zainul-Abidin, a board member of the Quantedge Foundation, said: "We want to send a message (to all Singaporean students) that they should never be shy or have second thoughts about going to university, as long as they qualify."
That should change perceptions about the cost of going to university, and encourage those who dream of going to university to do so, he added.
Ms Lee, who used to work between 20 and 40 hours a week when she was a student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that the grant will allow her to put more time into her studies and pursue her interest in financial risk analysis as a career.
"I will still work part-time for an additional source of income, but now I can also give some money to my mother and she does not have to worry about school fees."
Another Quantedge Foundation scholarship holder, 20-year-old Lee Wen Hui, said that receiving the grant was an "unexpected gift".
"I can stop taking allowances from my parents and also have more time for co-curricular activities like dance or a cappella singing," said Ms Lee Wen Hui, who wants to join the banking and finance industry.