Singapore proposes 70 per cent study abroad target

In city state’s budget, outdated mindsets and “elephants in the room” are out, Asian studies and travel are in 

March 7, 2020
Source: Getty

Singapore has announced plans to ensure 70 per cent of undergraduates have study abroad experiences, with trips elsewhere in Asia the priority.

The “70-70 plan” announced as part of Singapore’s draft budget aims to give overseas experiences to 70 per cent of local graduates from institutes of higher learning, which include universities, polytechnics, foreign branch campuses and art colleges. Of those students, 70 per cent will travel within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, China or India. Currently, about half of graduates have the opportunity to go abroad.  

The initiative was announced despite the current lockdown because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Students from the West are flocking here to experience Asia because it is a culturally rich and exciting region,” the education minister, Ong Ye Kung, said. “Our students should do so too. This is our own backyard, where we always have a natural competitive advantage.”

The Asia-Ready Exposure Programme, which would fund these “immersion trips” around Asia, was announced on 6 March. 

Mr Ong said that travel would be paired with Asian content being more prominently featured in social studies, history, geography and economics curricula. He said that study of the humanities “must provide students with a deeper appreciation of the geographies, histories, cultures, languages, and economies of countries in the region”.

Debates on the 2020-21 budget have offered up several other striking proposals, including a call for an “education transformation map” to better utilise the city-state’s third-largest expenditure, after defence and health.  

Denise Phua, a lawmaker and Central Singapore’s mayor, urged the government to develop a “map” that was similar to that used by the business sector to “force industry captains” to study and review their enterprises. Speaking in Parliament on 3 March, she said that Singapore had such “maps” only for early and adult education, and that the secondary and higher education sectors were “missing pieces”.  

Ms Phua called out “elephants in the room” such as an “excessive focus on the academic rat race” and “age-old mindsets” that would not be reformed by the education ministry alone.   

“We need to be bold enough to honestly ask what our education system should look like, and decide where we should redesign, reskill and better resource,” said Ms Phua, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education. She also said that greater attention needed to be paid to digital literacy and lifelong learning. 

Other lawmakers spoke of the need for greater mental wellness and peer support in higher education institutions. 

The 2020-21 draft budget, unveiled in February, also gave nods to technological advances and adult education at the city’s universities.  

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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