KRC Articles Helped Prompt NUS Financial Aid Rethink – On the USP-KRC Controversy

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Comments (11)
  1. Liyan says:

    Hi Choon Hwee and Keira,

    I applaud your efforts in championing for more financial aid for needy students and *hugs* to you both for having to endure the backlash.

  2. Anon says:

    I am surprised that the author of this article has made it seem as if their actions has been the championing cause for the discussions on financial aid. This dismisses all the discussions the ENTIRE community has been actively engaging in (sometimes arguing) even before the articles were published. This was not the first and only voice amidst a sea of disagreement. Neither did the articles bring up anything new that had not already been discussed and brought to the attention of the administration. If anyone should be applauded, it should be the incredible MC we have that has actually been engaged with both students and admin.

  3. John Richardson says:

    As Director of USP, I would like to make three corrections:

    1 The article suggests that the USP leadership decided the battle for co-ed suites was the important one. This is not true. Co-ed suites never represented a major issue or battle for us.
    2 The article suggests that we dropped the question of scholarships and bursaries. This is also not true. Financial aid has always been, and remains, an important part of our work and our planning.
    3 The article states that the USP leadership adopted a “rhetoric of helplessness” which it imparted to students. It quotes what appears to be a private conversation with one USP director in support of this. But the general statement is not true. There was no collective “rhetoric of helplessness.” We did not believe, or say to students, that nothing could or would be done.

    I’d also like to express one qualification about interpretation. The article suggests that it was the KRC articles which “prompted” an “overhaul to the financial aid system.” Cause and effect are very difficult to determine in human affairs. No doubt the KRC articles played a part, perhaps an important part. But so, too, did the many hours of dedicated work put in by university employees, as well as feedback from students and alums, before and after the KRC articles.

    1. Koh Choon Hwee says:

      Dear Prof Richardson,

      Thank you for your comment.

      1) I had understood from Professor Martin Henz over lunch on 3 May 2012 that the USP leadership had picked the ‘battle’ for co-ed suites as the ‘more important’ battle. I was extremely surprised as it was the first I had heard this, and so I had spent some time clarifying this with him. He stood by his view. I understand that different individuals within the NUS administration will have different ideas of the goings on on campus, and I am glad you have clarified here that it was not an important battle.

      2 and 3) I have noted in my article that efforts have been put into this financial aid issue prior to KRC’s involvement — I had noted USP students and professors have raised this issue before. I am sorry that given the way things turned out, it seems that not enough emphasis has been put on these prior efforts — I apologize and would like to reiterate here that I am very appreciative of the efforts that you and your team have put in on this issue prior to KRC’s involvement.

      But I still feel that the USP leadership did not go far enough in trying to resolve this issue — not just in terms of effort, but also in terms of flexibility and creativity.

      Yes, there were many limits and constraints, as I have shown in my article, that you all faced. Nevertheless, there were available means of working around the limitations that Keira and I had both brought up — for example, why not make the Residential Assistants scheme a need-based scheme? We were told during the feedback session with Vice Provost Tan Tai Yong on 21st Oct 2011 by yourself and Prof Kang that this would constitute an “abuse” of the Residential Assistants scheme as it was not designed to cater to the financial aid problem. Our suggestion was dismissed almost immediately without deeper consideration. The inflexibility we faced in this small issue was rather disheartening, and the reason given did not satisfy us — why was this seen as an ‘abuse’, but not as a means of coping with the current lack of funds, while ensuring that a small number of meritorious students from low-income families will be guaranteed a place in the USP without extra cost?

      Further, while you say that you and your colleagues “did not believe, or say to students, that nothing could or would be done”, the fact remains that one of the USP directors did tell me, a student, that “USP can’t do much about [the financial aid problem] besides make noise, and making noise likely won’t help.” I do acknowledge that this USP director did see KRC’s potential in contributing to this issue, and that was why we had that long email correspondence, contents of which I had incorporated in my first article on this issue on 9 October 2011. Yet, so many of the Facebook comments and comments left on KRC’s articles by USP students indicated that sense of ‘there is nothing else that can be done on the financial aid issue, so why is KRC bringing this old issue up’? I would suggest we agree to disagree on our interpretation on this “rhetoric of helplessness”.

      Lastly, on the choice of title — these were the exact words the the Provost had emailed to me: Keira’s situation and the KRC articles did get us to re-think our approach. And we did a big overhaul to the FA system.

      In addition, I know that Keira’s situation had helped the Office of the Provost better articulate the inadequacies of the Financial Aid system in NUS, and that Prof Tan had shared her story to many parties (without revealing her identity), including MOE.

      I understand why you may feel “prompted” is not the best word here — but from my point of view, it seemed as if I was putting in more effort at that particular period in time (not before) on this issue, and Keira was putting herself out there in championing this issue, while one of your USP directors is telling me that he was only paid to do academic stuff, and that students would be more effective in championing the financial aid cause. When the Facebook backlash occurred and Keira had to bear the brunt of it, the lack of response from your team was also extremely, upsetting.

      I would like to reiterate that I do feel I should have spent more time in my article emphasizing your team’s efforts on this issue prior to KRC’s involvement, but even then, I still feel that much more flexibility and imagination could have been exercised in dealing with the multiple constraints.

      On another note, I hope you and your team will look deeply into what constitutes an online “private” space — can a Facebook group with 770+ students, most of whom are living in the same quarters, be considered “private” in the same sense as a private Gchat conversation between two individuals? I hate to bring this up as it may only fuel more petty emotions amongst the students, but Tembusu provides a ready-made reference/template that your team could take into account. Yes, Cinnamon/USP is definitely capable of being its own place, its own program – I am most certain and confident of that, I have absolute faith in my peers and in your team, and most of all in this University Scholars Program from which I have benefitted so much, in this community which has shown much kindness to me all these years, and so all this pains me too. But there are core questions that nobody has bothered to ASK despite my bringing them up, and it is only by my having to resort to a public medium such as this — and putting Keira’s welfare on the line, putting KRC’s name on the line, putting my own self on the line — that you guys are only beginning to listen.

      Thank you very much.

    2. The Kent Ridge Common says:

      Dear Readers,

      We would like to direct your attention to the Straits Times Report dated 7 June 2012 on this issue. (

      After corroborating with NUS officials and Kent Ridge Common writers, the Straits Times reported in its article titled “More aid for students in scholar scheme” that Ms Chen’s case, which was first raised in the KRC, “had provided a ‘sense of urgency’ and prompted [NUS] to give more financial help in the form of bursaries.”

      We are happy that both NUS officials and the Straits Times acknowledged KRC’s role in helping to prompt a financial aid rethink. We wish the USP all the best in continuing its work with regards to financial aid.

      Best regards,
      The Kent Ridge Common Team.

  4. sporescores says:

    I am disappointed in how elitist and petty many of the comments were in attacking Keira and Choon Hwee. Rather than discussing the issue at hand that the authors had raised, the commenters made personal attacks, questioned Keira’s qualification for USP and nitpicked on the writing style. Many commenters also seem to confuse meritocracy with the ability of students and their families to pay for the USP’s residency requirements. I hope the majority of USP students aren’t so elitist and dismissive of the plight of their peers who come from poor families. More importantly, I hope Singapore’s future leaders and elites do not trivialise the financial difficulties of poor families.

  5. Xavier says:

    It seems that CH has no ill intentions towards USP from what she has mentioned through her dedicated and thorough correspondences with some of the USP administration. That must be one hell of a fieldwork to conduct. I hereby apologize for the initial suspicion, in a previous post, of her “ulterior motive” for this episode.

    Let us go back to Keira’s subsidies again. A poster mentioned in the previous article on “Cyberbullying in NUS” and that I quote:

    [quote] There was a comment that NUS is not in the business of equalising life opportunities. Well, that is incorrect. NUS is not a private institution for the elite, the rich or the influential.

    It is public institution funded by the tax-payers and its alumni. The NUS alumni therefore expects NUS to be an equal opportunity institution for all Singaporeans irrespective of their financial background and the alumni will be greatly surprised if this is not so. The only discrimination permitted in NUS is that based on merit. [/unquote]

    It is true that if Keira has the merit to enter USP, then USP has no reason to decline her application. But let us not confuse the two situations we are facing here: Her eligibility to enter USP, and the resources required to purchase the services of USP education. If Keira has no financial means to afford a USP education, it does not automatically imply that she is entitled to a free education. The financial resources, required to fund her education, has to divert from somewhere else.

    As mentioned in the quoted comment, the university gets its funding from taxpayers and alumni. If Keira’s was eligible for subsidy, it shall be drawn from this pool of money. For alumni, donations are entirely voluntary, but as for taxpayers it is highly unlikely that everybody would approve of having their taxes raised to fund Keira’s education. Who is to decide whether or not funding Keira’s education would be in the best interests of all taxpayers? Maybe person A decides that taxes should be well spent on public infrastructure etc.

    What I am trying to say is that advocating for an increase for subsidies, any sort and not just for Keira’s case, through the use of mandatory taxation, is giving less say as to what taxpayers would like their tax money to be spent on. Keira’s case may be a singular event, but if such a concession is to be made for every sort of case whereby somebody faces some sort of setback due to his or her life events or socio-economic circumstances, NUS would see no end in increasing subsidies, either through asking for more taxpayer’s money from the Government, or diverting the school’s budget from more pressing needs.

    I would suggest KRC to try to publicise this case to the print media. is a good platform, as I first saw this case off Facebook where yahoo was providing the newsfeed. Get the awareness of this case going, and I would say if it will not trouble you, Choon Hwee, too much, to solicit for donations to fund Keira’s subsidy. This would allow private individuals and institution to direct funding to her case, and we can be sure that Keira’s subsidies are fully voluntary, instead of relying on mandatory taxpayer’s monies where not all taxpayers are willing participants for Keira’s cause.

  6. Martin Henz says:

    Dear Choon Hwee:

    You are writing in a comment above:

    “I had understood from Professor Martin Henz over lunch on 3 May 2012 that the USP leadership had picked the ‘battle’ for co-ed suites as the ‘more important’ battle.”

    You don’t seem to be quoting me, but rather you are quoting your own understanding of a conversation we had. [I don’t expect that you are in a position to quote me, because you didn’t take notes or recordings and the conversation happened a month ago.]

    Let me make it clear to you and your readers: I do not think (and never said) that co-ed suites are more important than the financial situation of our students. I also do not think (and never said) that the USP leadership ever considered co-ed suites to be more important than the financial situation of our students.


    Martin Henz, Associate Professor, USP and School of Computing
    Residential Fellow in the USP residential college

    1. Koh Choon Hwee says:

      Dear Prof Henz,

      I respect your different account of what transpired over lunch, and suggest that we agree to disagree.

      You never said that co-ed suites were more important than financial aid, but you definitely said that Prof Richardson, at the time, felt that he had to pick his battles, and the battle he picked was the one regarding co-ed suites. I was so surprised, and wondered aloud if it was because I was Singaporean and had lived through GE 2011 that such issues meant more to me than to the USP leadership, and you had said perhaps that was indeed the case.

      However, I understand that you have changed that view now, and that Prof Richardson also thinks otherwise. I am glad to note this change.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Choon Hwee.

  7. Martin Henz says:

    Dear Choon Hwee:

    Again, you are mistaken. I was not involved in the decisions to set up the residential college, and was not in a position to comment on them. In our conversation, I highlighted to you that in the setup of a complex structure such as a residential college, a myriad of issues arise that the Director needs to handle carefully and with a sense of pragmatism, and gave examples from my experience at USP. I tried to convince you that sometimes, important issues need to be set aside to be tackled when the time is right.

    I find it disingenuous that you picked the example of co-ed suites and pitted it against financial aid.


    Martin Henz, Associate Professor, USP and School of Computing
    Residential Fellow in the USP residential college

    1. Koh Choon Hwee says:

      Dear Prof Henz,

      I am not mistaken, and I understand now that you were not in a position to say the things you had told me over lunch.
      I also understand that you now revise your view on what had transpired.

      Thank you for asking me out for lunch that day anyway, and your comment.
      I wish you all the best in your new ideas and endeavors for USP, sincerely.

      Best regards,
      Choon Hwee.

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