A*Star reduces financial penalty for bond-breakers

June 7, 2007 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

Thursday • June 7, 2007

Lee U-Wen
u-wen@mediacorp.com.sg

ITS stringent demands on its scholars came up for public debate two years ago. And its highly competitive scholarship programme was devised by the man who had made waves with his uncompromising stance on naming and shaming bond-breakers.

Now, in a surprise move, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has reduced the financial penalty imposed on scholars who terminate their bonds prematurely.

A letter was recently sent to all its scholars, informing them that A*Star had amended the terms and conditions of their bonds with immediate effect.

Three major changes have been implemented. First, the penalty compound rate of interest chargeable is now 10 per cent per annum, down from 15 per cent previously.

This interest rate will also be calculated up to the date when the termination was announced, for those who have not begun serving their bonds upon graduation.

For scholars who have, the interest will be calculated up to the first day of their service period — typically four or six years.

However, this does not mean scholars and their parents can take as long as they want to pay up. A*Star will now impose a late payment interest if they do not meet the settlement deadline.

Lastly, all National Science Scholars (Bachelor of Science) — who make up nearly half of all A*Star’s scholars — who choose to break their bonds will be allowed a pro-rated rate of damages, provided they have served at least two years of their bond, as compared to four years previously.

In the letter dated May 23, A*Star’s graduate academy director Timothy Sebastian told scholars: “You will be pleased to note that the changes will not only serve to streamline processes but are largely beneficial to you.”

Responding to queries by Today, an A*Star spokesman said the changes came about after a regular review to “rationalise” the scholarship’s terms and conditions.

“The changes are largely favourable and will be implemented from this year for our new awardees. A*Star has also decided to offer these changes to our existing scholars,” said the spokesman.

It was for the existing scholars to decide if they wished to accept the new terms. “A*Star expects most of the existing scholars to respond positively to the offer,” the spokesman added.

The decision by A*Star to soften the repercussions for its bond-breakers appears to mark a new chapter in the controversy surrounding government scholarship bond-breakers.

In 1998, then Economic Development Board (EDB) chairman Philip Yeo – who later as A*Star chairman initiated the agency’s famed scholarship programme – insisted on publicly naming and shaming such bond-breakers. His rationale was that taxpayers’ money was used to educate them but, instead of returning home to serve the country upon graduation, they had chosen to work abroad.

The EDB stopped publicly naming its bond-breakers after 2001, according to previous reports.

In May 2005, Mr Yeo was reported as saying that Singapore men were “whiny and immature”, stemming from his observations that all government scholars who broke their bonds in the 1990s were males.

Mr Yeo also insisted on all A*Star scholars achieving first-class honours if they were studying in the United Kingdom, or maintaining grade-point averages of at least 3.8 – out of a maximum of four – in American universities.

Last night, he was unavailable for comment on A*Star’s move as he was abroad.

A*Star now has more than 600 scholars under its various programmes. By August, the statutory board aims to add at least another 150 new scholars to its research and development talent pipeline. The target is to train 1,000 Singaporean PhDs by 2015.

WHAT’S CHANGED …

for A*Star scholars who break their bonds

Rate of interest reduced

Before 15 per cent per annum

Now 10 per cent per annum

Interest period shortened

Before Calculated up to the date of full payment of applicable liquidated damages

AFTER Calculated up to the date of scholarship termination or the start of the service commitment period.

Pro-ration revised

National Science Scholarship (Bachelor of Science) – 6-year bond

• Current pro-ration – after 4 years

• Revised pro-ration – after 2 years

A*Star Graduate Scholarship (Local) – 3-year bond

• Current pro-ration – after 1 year

• Revised pro-ration – after 2 years

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Entry filed under: scholarship, Singapore.

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