S'porean university students go overseas as exchange programmes resume

SMU third-year student Clarissa Neo started her exchange at Oregon State University in the US in January. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CLARISSA NEO

SINGAPORE - University students are packing their bags and heading overseas again as schools gradually resume exchange programmes, with countries easing border restrictions.

Demand for overseas experiences has not abated, with thousands of students applying for such programmes, which had been suspended since March 2020 because of Covid-19.

Local institutions told The Straits Times that some students went abroad in January this year, and more are expected to do so in coming months.

About 120 students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) headed overseas between last October and January under the NUS Overseas Colleges programme, a work-study entrepreneurial stint. They are now based in five locations - Stockholm, Munich, Toronto, Silicon Valley and New York.

An NUS spokesman said its student exchanges also resumed in January this year, with some 1,000 students travelling this semester.

Similarly, about 450 students from Singapore Management University (SMU) are going on exchange, with some flying out as early as last December. It has resumed exchange programmes with about 95 per cent of its 220 partner universities across 45 countries and regions, said a spokesman.

SMU has seen more interest from students - 700 have applied from last December - 30 per cent higher than pre-Covid-19 numbers.

Nine students from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) began their eight-month immersion programme at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States in January this year, as part of SUTD's technology entrepreneurship programme.

An SUTD spokesman said it has partnerships with 21 countries, and that before Covid-19, it would have sent about 73 per cent of its students in a cohort for programmes abroad. The institution has a cohort size of about 500 students.

Professor Tan Ooi Kiang, deputy provost for education at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said 1,800 students have applied for exchange in the upcoming academic year, which starts in August.

This is about 60 per cent of the number of applications the university would receive before the pandemic, he noted. NTU has overseas tie-ups with more than 330 partner universities in over 40 countries.

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) has, since last December, opened applications for overseas programmes such as work-study stints, immersion and student exchanges, which are expected to resume from the first quarter of this year.

A handful of Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) students left in January for overseas work attachments or semester exchange programmes. Most of its overseas programmes are still being held virtually, through workshops or group discussions, a spokesman said.

"Partnership discussions on overseas academic exchanges are still ongoing, with many partner universities in Asia-Pacific remaining cautious on student mobility programmes," he added.

In the months ahead, SMU aims to match 50 students to companies as part of a global innovation immersion programme, a three-month internship with high-growth start-ups in hot spots like China, South-east Asia, the US and Europe.

The format could be a mix of physical overseas internships or remote attachments for cities with travel restrictions.

Last year, 45 students took part in the programme, conducted virtually by the SMU Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

SMU third-year student Clarissa Neo, 22, started her exchange at Oregon State University in the US in January.

"From the process of application to the flight, there was always this uncertainty about whether the exchange would be confirmed or cancelled," said the double major in politics, law and economics, and finance.

"I was a bit hesitant because of the Covid-19 situation in the US and the Omicron variant, but I still wanted the experience because I think it's a valuable opportunity."

She chose her current exchange university as she has family and friends in California, which is near Oregon state. "If anything happens, like border controls, I won't be stranded."

"I wanted to experience student life overseas, meet students from other countries and backgrounds, and learn to live independently," said Ms Neo, who is exploring a three-month global internship that SMU offers, in China or Hong Kong.

This internship will be after her exchange stint, if she applies for it and is successful.

"It depends on the travel rules and my personal timeline, but for now I'm very grateful to be on exchange," she added.

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