Coronavirus: Singaporeans rethinking plans to study overseas

Some switch to local universities as pandemic uncertainties loom

Raffles Institution student Valerie Lu, 19, was all set to head to the US to start her degree studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art this August, but the pandemic has made her rethink her plans.

After factoring in the looming economic uncertainties and the high cost of studying overseas, she applied last week for a place in the new degree course offered by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in design and artificial intelligence.

The university, which pushed back the start date of its academic year from May to Sept 14 this year, launched another admissions exercise from May 4 to cater to students such as Ms Lu.

Subsequent intake cohorts will start their academic year in August or September.

Apart from hosting online information sessions on its various programmes, SUTD - like the other five autonomous universities - has taken admissions online, including conducting interviews for shortlisted applicants.

It said more than 200 A-level holders and polytechnic diploma holders attended its online information sessions, including three sessions held yesterday.

The university, which offers four other degree courses - in architecture and sustainable design; engineering product development; engineering systems and design; and information systems technology and design - said it has started receiving another round of applications and will start interviewing shortlisted applicants next week.

University officials said the students attending its information sessions cater to two groups.

One group comprises polytechnic diploma holders who were serving full-time national service and could not meet the earlier May start date for SUTD.

A bigger group includes Singaporeans like Ms Lu who have decided to apply to a local university, instead of heading overseas.

SUTD said this round of applicants will be assessed on the same holistic criteria used for all its applicants. Besides the ability to cope with the academic rigour of the courses, the university also looks out for students who work well in teams, who are intellectually curious, and who are comfortable being hands-on.


Ms Lu, who will be interviewed online next week, said she hopes to land a place at SUTD.

"I was set on heading to the US, but when the pandemic hit, I wasn't sure any more because, despite the partial scholarship, it would have cost my parents a lot more. Besides, no one knows how overseas travel will be affected in the coming months."

Former St Joseph's Institution student Ian Ng, 21, who has a place to study applied and computational mathematics at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, echoed Ms Lu's comments.

"I was keen on going overseas, partly because of the exposure I will have. But when the pandemic started, my parents said I should reconsider as we are not even sure if the universities are going to offer classes on campus.

"Also, the spread of the disease is not well managed in the US and does not inspire confidence," he said, adding that he is especially interested in SUTD's Technology Entrepreneurship Programme to nurture technopreneurs.

Students selected for the programme get to spend time abroad at business nodes in China and the US, including Silicon Valley.


"I am going to look at how things pan out, going forward, and if there are just as good opportunities here at a fraction of the cost, then why not?" he said.

Besides SUTD, the other five universities last week announced that they will consider applications from Singaporeans who were planning to study overseas but who may now prefer to study locally because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

They have to write directly to the universities by May 17.

Students who are midway through their studies at overseas universities, and unable to continue with them, can sign up for modular courses offered by the local universities or enrol for a semester.


Three other young Singaporeans heading overseas, including to the United Kingdom, said they, too, are looking at other options, including attending local universities or coding school.

One of them, Ms Grace Woo, 20, said she has decided to take a gap year to work in a social enterprise, before enrolling in her business course in the UK next year.

She said: "Everything is suddenly topsy turvy but, instead of waiting it out, I have decided that I might as well go work for a start-up. In a way, it will also be an education, just of a different kind."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2020, with the headline 'Singaporeans rethinking plans to study overseas'. Print Edition | Subscribe