SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Ministry of Defence (Mindef) scholarships have attracted a record number of applicants this year, with recipients from a more diverse background, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
To increase diversity, he has tasked Mindef and SAF senior officers to work with principals of schools and polytechnics to facilitate more of those living in one to three-room HDB flats, and those from poorer families, to apply for the scholarships.
Speaking at the scholarship ceremony held at the Istana on Friday (July 20), Dr Ng said: "As a system, we ought to maintain meritocracy because it has served Singapore well. But like the format of this ceremony, we also need to update the applications of meritocracy to keep its ethos even as circumstances change."
The eight types of scholarships were awarded to 84 recipients - 22 females and 62 males - and saw a record number of 1,300 applicants, a 60 per cent increase from 2014.
They were given out by the Public Service Commission, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), SAF and Mindef.
The ceremony this year included recipients of the SAF Medical Scholarship and SAF Local Dentistry Scholarship for the first time.
Upon completion of tertiary education, recipients of the uniformed scholarships will be appointed various roles that will prepare them for senior command and leadership positions in Mindef and SAF.
Recipients of the medicine and dentistry scholarships will return as medical and dental officers, and be groomed for senior medical positions in the SAF Medical Corps.
Dr Ng noted that the number of female recipients of Mindef and SAF scholarships this year has doubled from a decade ago.
He added: "I am also glad that our scholars come from a wide number of schools and polytechnics - 17 different institutions this year. Some come from humble backgrounds - living in HDB three-room flats or smaller."
He said that while selection criteria must still be merit-based, recognition should be given to those who come from families with fewer resources.
"It is in Mindef and SAF's interest to have such scholars succeed."
Lieutenant Kew Yi Hong, 22, is one of six polytechnic students who received a scholarship.
The former Temasek Polytechnic student, who graduated second in his cohort in aerospace engineering,is a recipient of the SAF Merit Scholarship, which is awarded to individuals with academic excellence and dynamic leadership qualities.
The platoon commander in guards, who signed on in October 2016, said a scholarship was not on his mind at first.
"I signed on first with the purpose of nurturing others, and my unit commander told me to apply for the scholarship. After I found out more about the scholarship, I thought if I managed to get it, it would give me a lot more exposure to this sector of defence and can allow me to contribute better to the people I'm leading," he said.
"I think not many polytechnic students know about this scholarship, but more should try it out because at the end of the day, it's about merit."
He added that he signed on so that he could be exposed to people of different social classes, and hoped to teach and encourage them.
He recounted a trooper who could not do a single push-up.
"Seven months later, he could do over 60 push-ups. His section commander and I did extra training with him - we ran and did push-ups together - and it paid off. I believe in leadership by example."
Lt Kew will be studying aerospace engineering in the Nanyang Technological University next year.
Said Dr Ng: "The scholarships we award today are the country's long-term investment, on a 20-year time-frame, to ensure that we have the right leaders, in values and aptitude to lead the Ministry of Defence, SAF, DSTA, DSO National Laboratories and other government organisations.
"It is what this generation's leaders invest in for the next generation, so that in the next generation we can secure our way of life and independence through a strong defence."