Monday, 25 September 2023

We are shifting our daily news to Gutzy.Asia Support us there!

Student campaigners demand transparency and urgent improvements in NTU’s financial aid system

In March this year, a group of students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) banded together to campaign to improve the university’s financial aid system.

Known as NTU Financial Aid Friends (NTU FNAF), this group consists of students who have received financial aid themselves. They firmly believed that NTU, being a public education institution, should prioritize access and affordability, recognizing that education is a fundamental right rather than a privilege.

On 23 and 24 May, NTU FNAF compiled a list of seven major issues commonly faced by NTU students when applying for financial aid. Alongside these issues, they proposed solutions and examined the school’s response to their suggestions.

NTU on Monday (6 June) responded to the student group’s statement, and addressed the claim made by NTU FNAF that bursaries were often disbursed after school fees were due. The university maintained that their bursaries are indeed disbursed prior to the payment deadlines.

NTU also emphasized that they provide needs-based financial support through the NTU Bursary and 200 donor-funded bursaries, which are determined based on students’ gross monthly household per capita income.

However, the student group swiftly responded with further proof, citing an incident where a student received a late fee as they received the Higher Education Bursary after the tuition fee payment deadline had passed.

Furthermore, NTU FNAF highlighted the concern that NTU had combined the donor-funded bursaries with the NTU Bursary, urging the school to provide transparency regarding the number of NTU bursary recipients and the specific eligibility criteria for the bursary.

NTU FNAF identifies seven major issues faced by NTU students and offers suggestions

Through conversations with over 30 students and conducting focus groups, NTU FNAF identified seven major issues commonly faced by NTU students in relation to financial aid. Alongside these issues, the group provided their suggestions, which include:

  • Access and clarity in the financial aid application process
  • Lack of transparency over FA’s application criteria and disbursement amounts
  • Flexibility for extenuating circumstances
  • Timeline issues on bursary disbursement
  • Unclear and outdated information on the website, including broken links
  • Insufficient needs-based subsidies and a complex guarantor process for foreign students
  • Discrepancy in Financial Aid amounts

The student-led movement has caught the university administration’s attention, leading to a meeting between the group and NTU’s student life and financial aid office in April.

During the meeting, the student group effectively highlighted the areas in which they believed improvements were necessary.

They proposed their suggestions to the school, aiming to enhance the financial aid process and ensure that students in need have better access to the aid, ultimately reducing their financial burden.

Regarding the lack of transparency over FA’s application criteria and disbursement amounts, the group suggested that the school clearly state the eligibility criteria and provide an FA calculator, like both SMU and NUS provide financial aid calculators on their sites.

Some students asked to provide “proof” for extenuating circumstances

According to NTU Financial Aid Friends, some students in need of financial aid may have circumstances that don’t “fit the boxes” due to issues such as complicated family situations, non-traditional sources of income or facing household debt.

The students have found that when they are asked to provide “proof” for these unique circumstances, there is often a lack of clarity from the office regarding what specific documents are required. They have experienced delays in receiving responses or have been given short deadlines to submit multiple documents.

To illustrate this, the group shared an example of a student who was given only 2.5 days to submit six different documents, including income slips from all members of their household.

“Proof of these circumstances may be difficult and/or time-consuming to obtain, especially if they involve: informal arrangements or contacting multiple persons, for example collecting multple months worth of payslips, contacting multiple family members.”

Students who have been kicked out of their homes being requested to provide “proof of homelessness”

The group highlights other problematic situations, such as students from single-parent families being asked to provide documents from a parent with whom they no longer have contact, or individuals who have been kicked out of their homes being requested to provide “proof of homelessness” without clear guidelines on what would constitute suitable evidence.

Furthermore, the group notes that sensitive documents, like death certificates, have to be resubmitted in each application cycle.

In light of these issues, the group propose that the university should ensure students receive prompt and clear replies regarding the exact documents required, extend deadlines to allow for a reasonable timeframe, and provide an option for students to schedule appointments with the financial aid officers to explain their circumstances in person.

Additionally, the group recommends automatic follow-ups when a student indicates extenuating circumstances in their application and suggests saving documents and details from previous application cycles to streamline the process.

The group also mentions that the school management has informed them that students facing extenuating circumstances can approach their school’s student care managers, who will assist them in liaising with the financial aid office.

Bursaries are sometimes disbursed after school or hall fee deadlines

The NTU Financial Aid Friends added that students who are unable to pay their school fees on time are penalised through late fees, have their access to online portals revoked and are denied admission to examination halls.

Hence, the group suggested that the administration charge school and hall fees after bursaries are disbursed and waive late payment fees in the case of bursary disbursement delay.

On the issue, the group was told NTU is unable to ensure that bursaries will be disbursed before tuition fees and other fees are billed.

The group raised suspicions that very few students receive the NTU bursary each year

The NTU Financial Aid Friends discovered through their conversations that none of the students they spoke to received bursary amounts beyond what they were entitled to under the MOE Higher Education Bursaries (HEB/HECB).

Even students with the lowest tier of per-capita household incomes, which is below S$500, did not receive additional financial support beyond the MOE bursaries, unless they had received donated bursaries or scholarships.

They also found that many students were unaware of the NTU Bursary and its existence.

In comparison to other publicly-funded universities, the group noted that NTU provides the least need-based financial aid among the “Big 3” universities in Singapore.

They pointed out that NUS and SMU bursaries cover 100% or more of tuition fees for full-time Singaporean undergraduates with specific per capita income thresholds, such as S$750 for NUS and S$1000 for SMU.

The bursary allegedly reserved for “the most needy students” who are in “extreme situations

The group added that from conversations with university staff, they learned that NTU is unable to guarantee that students under a certain PCI will receive the NTU Bursary.

The bursary is said to be reserved for “the most needy students” who are in “extreme situations.”

“We are unsure what this criteria is. For example, a student we spoke to with a PCHI of $450 did not receive the NTU Bursary at all. How “extreme” must our situations be?” the group asked.

NTU responds, insisting timely disbursement of bursaries

According to a response from NTU on Monday (6 June), the university confirmed that they had met with the student group, NTU Financial Aid Friends in April to address their concerns and provide clarifications on the financial aid application, review, and disbursement processes.

“We have reached out to them on May 22 to arrange a follow-up meeting and are awaiting their response,” NTU told Singapore’s media outlet TODAY.

However, NTU refuted the group’s claims that bursaries were often disbursed to students after school fees were due, insisting that its bursaries are disbursed before fee payments are due.

NTU emphasized that financial aid students who face difficulties in meeting fee deadlines are encouraged to seek assistance from their school’s Associate Chair (Students) office or student care managers.

In addition to bursaries provided by the Ministry of Education (MOE), NTU highlighted that they also offer needs-based financial support through the NTU Bursary and 200 donor-funded bursaries based on students’ gross monthly household per capita income.

In the previous academic year, over 7,000 students received NTU and donor-funded bursaries, with approximately 14% of them coming from the lowest income group and having their tuition fees fully funded due to their significant financial needs.

The student group provided evidence of late fee incident, contradicting NTU’s response

The student group promptly responded to the school’s statement, provide more proof that students are only receiving their bursaries after school fees are due.

The group attached a screenshot of an email sent to a Higher Education Bursary recipient, who was old that it would only be disbursed by December 2021, while the final E-bill states tuition fee payment must be made by 25 October 2021.

“He was issued a late fee which they (the school) did not waive.”

For another example, a stdent was only provided the balance of her bursary and loan amount on 17 March, while Hall fees were due on 6 March.

Student group urges NTU to provide transparency on number of NTU bursary recipients

The student group also responded to NTU’s claim that they offer needs-based financial support through the NTU Bursary and donor-funded bursaries.

The group pointed out that NTU had lumped the donor-funded bursaries together with the NTU Bursary, stating that 7,000 students were receiving both types of bursaries.

The group emphasized that donated bursaries are not the same as needs-based bursaries provided by the school, as they often have specific eligibility requirements, such as: taking a specific degree; being in a specific CCA; or meeting a minimum CGPA requirement.

As such, coverage from donated bursaries is not purely needs-based, and does not cover all students similarly.

“For example, there is disproportionately more donated bursaries for students in science and engineering courses.”

In contrast, school-based bursaries like the NUS Bursary and SMU Access are purely needs-based and guaranteed to all NUS and SMU students who meet the respective per capita household income (PCHI) thresholds.

The group added that NUS’ and SMU’s donated bursaries are in addition to these guaranteed bursaries.

“However, none of the students we spoke to in our Focus Group Discussions received any needs-based bursaries (excluding donated bursaries) beyond the MOE HEB/HECB, ” hence, the student group said this means that none of them received the NTU bursary, including students with PCHI of $450 or even $0.

The group presses the NTU to be transparent on the number of NTU bursary recipients and reveal the exact eligibility criteria for the NTU bursary.

“Dear NTU, why not be transparent about the number of students receiving the NTU bursary, WITHOUT lumping it together with donated bursaries?”


Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Latest posts

Election surprises and certainties: Dissecting Tharman’s presidential win

In the 2023 Presidential Election, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam secured a stunning 70.4% landslide victory, surprising many, including himself. Despite expectations that TKL would win the opposition votes, voters from both camps showed a preference for Tharman's charisma and perceived competency. As Singapore reflects on the outcome, questions arise about the election's fairness and the real implications of Tharman's dominant win.

Volunteer as a Polling and Counting Agent for Singapore’s 2023 Presidential Election

For the upcoming Singapore Presidential Election on 1st September, members of the civil society have spearheaded an initiative to strengthen our democratic fabric. We invite committed individuals to join us as Polling and Counting Agents, standing together for a transparent, fair, and just election. This vote counting exercise, organized by members of civil society, is not specifically in support of Mr Tan Kin Lian, a candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election. It's an exercise in active citizenry. Nonetheless, Mr Tan endorses this initiative, which hinges on his candidacy, championing transparency, and has given permission for the results to be shared publicly.

Reflections from the Centenary: The Legacy of LKY and Singapore’s Future

Gilbert Goh reflects on the LKY centenary event: an inspiring showcase of a leader's global legacy juxtaposed against current challenges, urging Singapore to continue its path of progress.

Lim Tean advocates for Tan Kin Lian: A visionary leader for Singapore’s Presidency

In his speech at Mr Tan Kin Lian's launch of his presidential bid, Mr Lim Tean passionately championed the need for a truly Independent President. Highlighting Mr Tan Kin Lian's unique credentials and genuine concern for the wellbeing of Singaporeans, the Peoples Voice leader emphasized the pressing challenges of rising living costs and job insecurities faced by the public. Mr Lim depicted Mr Tan Kin Lian as a beacon of hope for the nation, advocating for a leader who genuinely understands and represents the people’s aspirations.

Tan Jee Say endorses Tan Kin Lian for President: A courageous, genuine, and humble...

In advocating for a truly representative leader, Tan Jee Say underscored Tan Kin Lian's humility, courage, and genuine dedication. Highlighting the pressing need for restored public trust and effective independence, Tan Jee Say emphasized that Tan Kin Lian, as the 'People's President', would bring back hope to Singaporeans and champion true democracy

Tan Kin Lian’s pledge: Rekindling unity and charting a vigorous future for Singapore

In the press conference to announce his bid for the Singapore presidency, Tan Kin Lian emphasizes safeguarding Singapore's reserves and strengthening public service integrity. Drawing on his 30-year leadership at NTUC Income, he envisions a future with affordable living, accessible housing, and job stability, pledging collaboration with the government for a united nation.

Strengthening Singapore’s political foundations: A call to action by Leong Mun Wai on Singapore’s...

Leong Mun Wai urges Singaporeans to strengthen political checks and balances, emphasizing, 'The best is yet to be for Singapore if we dare to make the right decision in upcoming elections.

Trending posts