Five students keen to begin their overseas studies in China next month will have to wait a while more before they can fly over, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The recipients of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) Scholarship will likely be pursuing their university degrees at the prestigious Tsinghua and Peking universities through online learning indefinitely when school starts.
Ms Shi Xinyao, 18; Ms Rebecca Yang Xinze, 19; Ms Rachel Lee Xin Ying, 18; and Ms Pek Ning Xuan, 19, received the scholarships at SFCCA's Toa Payoh headquarters yesterday.
The fifth recipient, Ms Kuo Pei Yu, 19, who returned to Singapore at the start of this month after five months volunteering in a Taiwan village as an English teacher, could not attend the ceremony as she is serving her stay-home notice, which ends next Wednesday.
The five were selected from 16 applicants this year, more than the 13 applicants last year, even as the Covid-19 pandemic affected the study plans of some.
The bond-free scholarship funds up to $15,000 for an academic year, including airfare, school fees, accommodation, insurance and living expenses, and each recipient is required to commit to a work attachment programme with the SFCCA or its member organisations.
Ms Kuo, who spoke to The Straits Times on the phone after yesterday's ceremony, said she would prefer to be able to study in China rather than remotely.
"One part that attracted me to study in China was the chance to immerse myself in its culture and environment, and I had the option to stay with local students and get to interact with them," said Ms Kuo, who has yet to decide her major but will be studying at Yuanpei College at Peking University.
Ms Shi said she hopes to be able to head to China soon to pursue liberal arts, also at Yuanpei College. "For some lessons, I heard that we can go out to experience China's cities, so this is real-life experience that I would be missing out on (as a result of remote studying)," she said.
All five recipients have yet to successfully apply for student visas.
Due to the Covid-19 situation, the Chinese Embassy in Singapore is accepting visa applications only for necessary economic, trade and sci-tech activities and urgent humanitarian needs, according to a notice on its website dated July 17 this year.
The students will have to adapt to the online learning situation, said Ms Pek, who will be majoring in humanities and social sciences at Tsinghua University. She is the only one of the five who is from River Valley High School. The others are from Hwa Chong Institution.
A majority of applicants each year come from Hwa Chong, River Valley and Dunman High School, said SFCCA president Tan Aik Hock.
The federation has been gathering more support from the individual clan associations and hopes to give one or two more scholarships to future cohorts, he added.
He also announced that an SFCCA Scholars Network comprising the different batches of scholarship holders has been set up, marking 10 years since the scholarship was introduced. The network should be a platform the scholarship holders can leverage for opportunities to continue learning, growing and contributing back to the Chinese community, said Mr Tan.
Ms Yang, who will pursue economics and finance at Tsinghua, said she hopes to come up with events and ideas to better engage young people and pique their interest in Chinese culture during her future work attachment programme.