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September 2000, Vol. 3 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Managing Foreign Students: The Science Approach
Associate Professor Ang Siau Gek
Sub-Dean, Faculty of Science

The Faculty of Science has an extensive outreach programme to promote our courses through local and overseas promotional talks in our endeavour to bring in good quality students, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Over the last four years, we have seen the fruits of these efforts in the steady increase in the intake of foreign undergraduate students as shown below:

  1997 1998 1999 2000
Total Undergraduate Intake 922 939 1,095 1,224
No. of Foreign Undergraduate 81 117 217 241

Malaysians form the bulk of the foreign student population in the Faculty. Besides Malaysia and countries like India, China, and Indonesia, the Science Faculty has also witnessed an expansion in the diversity of the countries of origin of foreign students to non-traditional sources like the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Mauritius. With the increase in the number of students coming from different cultural and economic backgrounds, we have encountered unusual situations that have required us to adapt how we manage foreign students as the expectations of these students can be quite different.

Studying in a foreign country can be a difficult experience for some students. For instance, problems can arise due to cultural differences. In order to help foreign students make the transition into life at NUS as smoothly as possible, the Science Faculty has a mentor system, where all undergraduates are assigned academic mentors in the major subject areas. Wherever possible, we have tried to assign mentors who are either from the students’ country of origin or a nearby country. However, this may not always be possible as the Faculty has a limited number of staff members (or none at all) from certain countries.

Apart from learning to live in a different cultural environment, foreign students have to confront homesickness and loneliness, being away from family and friends. Consequently, the Faculty has implemented a buddy system in which senior Science students from the same countries of origin are encouraged to make early contact with their freshmen counterparts. The Faculty has also been instrumental in persuading the hostels to house our foreign students on campus in order that they benefit from close interaction with their peers.

The Science Faculty feels very strongly that foreign students should be given as much assistance as is given to local students, if not more, to enable them to perform to the best of their abilities. A particularly serious problem faced by some foreign students coming from non-traditional sources involves linguistic difficulties. For these students, coming to NUS means having to switch to learning in a language normally used minimally at home, perhaps only in a foreign language course. In the Faculty, we have made special efforts to help such students by assigning, in some cases, graduate student mentors who will help them to adjust to speaking and learning in the English language. We have been very heartened by the results of some of these students who have justified themselves as worthy of the efforts that we have put in for them.

In addition, the Faculty has also been helping those coming from less privileged backgrounds to make up for any shortcomings in their previous educational experience. For instance, we conduct computer software courses during semester vacations, giving priority to foreign students who sign up.

For some students, coming to Singapore is their first experience away from home and some have been distracted by what Singapore has to offer outside of campus. The strict rules imposed by the Faculty on class attendance has helped us to ensure that students, both local and foreign, attain a certain level of competence in their subjects in order to take examinations at the end of the semester. However, discipline in work is still very much the responsibility of the individual student, and there is a limit to what the Faculty can do. Unfortunately, there have been instances whereby concerned parents (both local and foreign) have been unduly demanding in their expectations of what Faculty members should be accountable for in this respect.

Thus far, we have spared no effort to enrich the educational experience of our foreign students both culturally and academically, including providing a handbook (also available at that contains information regarding important aspects of on- and off-campus life to help foreign students settle down in Singapore. In the future, we hope to continue improving our capabilities and make the period during which our foreign students study at the Faculty of Science even more fulfilling.

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Inside this issue
International Students in NUS
Foreign Students in the Faculty of Business Administration
Managing Foreign Students: The Science Approach
The English Language & the NUS Foreign Student