SINGAPORE, Aug 19 — When international student Amber (not her real name) got accepted into a master’s programme at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in May this year, she immediately applied to enter Singapore under a student pass.
She knew that the process of entering Singapore would not be straightforward given the Covid-19 travel restrictions due to the rising number of community cases here at that time.
Then, days turned to weeks and Amber, who did not want to be named so as to not jeopardise her relationship with the school, still had not received her entry approval from the Singapore authorities. She declined to specify which country she is in for the same reason, only that her home country is in Europe.
To make matters worse, NTU sent her an email recommending that those unable to return to Singapore should postpone their studies by applying for the course next year, and that deferrals were not possible.
NTU is facing criticism because it is the only one of Singapore’s main universities where students and faculty staff members stranded abroad are unable to study or teach online until they are able to enter the country.
Other universities that TODAY contacted are allowing professors and students who are stuck overseas to hold and attend classes virtually.
Amber, who is in her early 20s, said that NTU told her to be physically present in Singapore by the end of September, in time for the second semester, and that she would not be allowed to attend virtual classes from where she is.
It was only more than a month later, in July, that she was finally granted approval to enter Singapore. Her semester was about to start and she was “a week away from having to seriously think about dropping out”.
She arrived in Singapore on Tuesday (August 17) and is serving her stay-home notice while attending two more weeks of online lectures and tutorials in the process.
NTU states on its website that lessons will generally be conducted online until Friday and that in-person lessons will resume next Monday.
While her stay-home notice will extend beyond next Monday, Amber said that the university will allow her to take the lessons online as it is still making adjustments on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s been super stressful trying to get to Singapore in time for the course,” she said. “It’s really complicated trying to get the adjustments made just for you with little direct guidance from the university.”
Several students and faculty members at NTU have faced similar woes due to the prevailing border restrictions. Some have even considered taking a leave of absence for the semester so that they may resume their studies when border controls are relaxed.
Unsure when he can return to teach
One NTU faculty member said that he had visited his home country for family reasons, but has been unable to return to Singapore since due to the strict border controls here. As a result, NTU had put him on no-pay leave, he added.
The faculty member, who did not want to be named as he did not want to sour his relationship with the school, said that the policy “could have been better thought out”.
There were instructors who had to cancel their courses due to the uncertainty of when they could return. However, when they had obtained entry approval and returned to Singapore, they were “left with no classes to teach this semester”, he said.
He added that the school has been trying to help him by pushing for his entry approval, but he has not yet received any news.
He is still hoping to enter Singapore soon and continue teaching his course. In the meantime, he has uploaded recorded lectures online, while a teaching assistant is handling the physical tutorials.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do if I don’t get entry approval soon.”
A petition, started by someone claiming to be an NTU student, is urging the university to allow stranded international students to study from home.
“Making arrangements for studying remotely has become standard practice for nearly all the global universities,” the petition read. It has about 400 signatories as of Wednesday.
It suggested that NTU should also adopt this practice, so that international students and faculty are not “punished” for deciding to return home.
Arranging for absence coverage for faculty
In response to queries from TODAY, NTU said that it has been “actively engaging and assisting our international students and employees who are unable to return to or enter Singapore due to prevailing border measures”.
The majority of international students had returned or will be returning on time for the new academic year, it added.
For students unable to return, the university has been supporting them by, for example, allowing credits from some select online courses to be transferred to the affected students’ course of study.
“Students who are not able to return to Singapore in time will have their tuition fees for the semester waived.”
For faculty members, NTU said that there are a few who have been unable to return due to travel restrictions. The university has made arrangements for absence coverage so that students can continue with their learning.
However, it did not confirm if the faculty members who are unable to return would be placed on no-pay leave.
Other universities that TODAY approached said that they have allowed online lessons to continue, even for faculty members and students who could not return to Singapore.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) said that its faculty members who are waiting for entry approval to return to Singapore can continue to teach remotely from abroad.
“In the event that they are unable to do so, the university will or has made alternative arrangements to ensure that classes are not disrupted.”
NUS will also support all students who are unable to attend in-person classes through online learning, it added.
The Singapore Management University (SMU) said that it will conduct all undergraduate and postgraduate professional classes online “until further notice”.
Faculty members who are unable to return to Singapore in time may teach remotely during this period. It is also aware of students who are still unable to return to Singapore and it will continue to assist them.
“For example, such students can tap class recordings and attend selected online classes and online assessments to keep up with lessons,” SMU said. “We are also looking at providing specific sessions with teaching assistants for these students.”
Over at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, the majority of its classes are conducted online and its faculty are permitted to teach and conduct lessons virtually.
“Students who are overseas can also attend classes online,” it said. ― TODAY