Case of the NTU ex-exchange student

October 24, 2005 at 12:05 am 1 comment

Was alerted to this on today (Oct 24)’s ST Forum. Thanks to Huichieh for sending me a copy of the original article that started it (See below).

Oct 20, 2005
Exchange student’s switch to US varsity surprises NTU
by Jane Ng

NANYANG Technological University has moved to plug loopholes in its exchange programme after an undergraduate sent to the United States stayed on there.

NTU pays the tuition fees – capped at $7,000 – to foreign universities for its exchange students, who have to bear travel and living expenses themselves.

Mr Cheng Yi Wei, 24, a civil engineering student, was part of the first batch of students NTU sent to the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta in December last year for six months.

The Straits Times understands that he applied to study in Georgia Tech through its normal application process after he got there, and both universities were unaware of this until after he was accepted.

Mr Cheng’s batch did not have to promise to return the amount NTU invested on their overseas programme even if they decided to withdraw from the university.

But steps have now been taken to prevent such transfers, said NTU deputy president, Professor Er Meng Hwa.

And students going on the programme will now have to sign a contract requiring them to return the amount subsidised should they withdraw from NTU.

Mr Cheng declined to speak to The Straits Times but he told NTU’s campus newspaper Nanyang Chronicle last month that he is ‘transferring to another academic environment that suits me better’.

‘I know some people are unhappy about my decision but I chose of my own free will and am not legally bound by any contracts,’ he said.

Prof Er said that although NTU has taken steps to prevent students from abusing the programme, the system is not foolproof. But he hopes that ‘students will be able to see the value of this programme and the trust that the university is placing on them’.

Georgia Tech, which ranks consistently in US magazine News & World Report’s list of top 10 public universities, has apologised for letting Mr Cheng’s application slip through. An NTU spokesman said the two universities have a mutual agreement to bar such admissions.

The six-month customised exchange programme aims to provide NTU students with the experience of studying or working abroad to achieve personal development and to discover their potential.

It differs from the usual exchange programmes as the curriculum at the foreign university is specially tailored to cater to NTU students.

NTU sent 180 students to China and the US last December and will be sending another batch of students this year to the two countries and to India, Switzerland and France.


ST Forum, Oct 24, 2005
Can ex-exchange student evade his conscience?

I AM writing in response to the report, ‘Exchange student’s switch to US varsity surprises NTU’ (ST, Oct 20), on engineering student Cheng Yi Wei’s switch to Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta while on an exchange programme from the Nanyang Technological University.

It is unfortunate that Mr Cheng, 24, failed to consider the implications
of his actions:

By accepting to study in NTU initially, he deprived another student a precious chance to study there;

By taking advantage of the exchange programme to switch to another university, he deprived another NTU student of the rare opportunity to take part in the programme; and

By doing so, he abused the trust that NTU had placed in its undergraduates.

It was shocking to read that Mr Cheng said he could do it since he was not ‘legally bound’.

This event has had severe consequences – now NTU will have to legally bind its students on aspects that would not have been an issue when there was trust. Has our society degenerated to such a level that a six-month programme needs legal contracts?

While Mr Cheng managed to evade the legal repercussion of his actions, he cannot avoid his conscience.

What we do in life echoes in eternity – this a line from the movie Gladiator. Singapore society cannot thrive in a web of legal boundaries, but on the ethics of the people.

Kelvin Law Wei Ming

Like Mr Wang, I don’t see anything wrong with this chap switching schools. In fact, I know some Singaporean students who are unable to afford the full 3 or 4 year overseas undergraduate education have made full use of the exchange program. They would study one or two years in the local varsities, then go on exchange overseas. If they like it there, some would decide to stay on as regular full-time students.

Unlike their peers who head overseas straight after the A levels (or after NS for the non-PSC scholar guys), these exchange students who switch have several advantages.

1. They saved a bunch of money by switching to Geico (:P) studying locally (and paying local rates while overseas) for part of their undergraduate studies.

2. By the time they go on exchange, they are usually more mature than those who left immediately after As. Those Singapore exchange students I met tend to enjoy more of their time than their stressed regular counterparts. (No 3.8 GPA requirements?) Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is usually some overlapping of the course/module syllabi – which means the exchange students going through material that they had already covered before in Singapore in previous semesters.

3. They have the option of heading home after 6 months (or 1 year) to continue their studies at NUS/NTU/SMU should they not like it overseas. The other group would find it more difficult (and costly) should they not adjust overseas and want to enroll in the local universities.

4. Getting that ‘coveted’ overseas degree with no bond. (That means you have the option of staying put in the US to look for a job after graduation.) I know of two guys who transferred from NUS to UIUC and Michigan respectively after studying locally for two years. It is also easier to get admitted to the top US graduate schools with a US undergraduate degree.

Anyway, I guess this ‘loophole’ is now closed for the NTU folks. This Kelvin Law speaks like one of those who spoke out during the bond-breakers debate in ’00. Conscience, ethics? Heh.

Higher education is increasingly being seen as a business; people either attend the schools they like or they will switch. It is hardly an issue in the US, where some 58% (1980s data) of the entire undergraduate student body attended more than one institution prior to getting his/her bachelors degree.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Elia Diodati  |  October 24, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    Well, especially since NTU apparently didn’t spot the loophole, people shouldn’t be blamed for taking advantage of it.


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