"NUS can be pro-active to help needy students." By Vernie Alison Oliveiro. The Straits Times (Forum), 27 Sep 2006.
I REFER to Associate Professor Ang Siau Gek's letter "Undergrad-burglar may yet complete studies" (ST, Sept 22). While it was reassuring to learn that NUS has funds to help poor undergraduates, what was disquieting was that So Weng Kei did not make use of them.
While I commend NUS on its efforts to raise funds for financial aid, it can also be more aggressive in finding and helping poor students.
NUS's website for students has links to residential life and off-campus accommodation, policies on photocopying and extra-curricular activities, loss of matriculation cards, and other issues affecting student life. Under the label "Useful Links", I learn about "NUS Corporatisation".
Nowhere on this webpage is the issue of financial aid prominently highlighted. I clicked on the link "Office of Finance" and was referred to a page which talked about "financial planning, budget management, development of financial systems, financial control and reporting, and payroll administration".
I finally found a link to the "Financial Aid Directory". It was link No.34, buried under a myriad of topics. Imagine my disappointment when all it led to was a one sentence paragraph which says that "a Student Financial Aid Unit has been set up within the Registrar's Office to provide a visible and integrated approach to assist students with financial difficulties or concerns".
Does this sound like a "visible" approach?
In contrast, on the webpage for my school at Harvard University, student financial aid is one of only eight prominent links on the page. Click on this and you are referred to further links to information on applications, loans, work study, fellowships, and other sources of funding. Indeed, on Harvard's main website, "Admissions and Financial Aid" is the second tab you see next to "Home".
Every year I receive a handbook on how I may finance my studies. I am also sent financial aid forms. The Associate Dean of Student Affairs and the Director of Student Services make themselves available regularly and remind us to come to talk to them on any issue.
Approachable departmental administrators are known to be a student's first resource on financial aid issues. Several of my friends had face-to-face discussions on their financial situation with the Administrative Dean herself. Therein lies the recognition that "copyright and photocopying", "information on bird flu", university "corporatisation" and "Constitution, Statutes, and Regulations" would be of little concern to a student who cannot afford to be one in the first place.
The first step to improving NUS's ability to find and help needy students would be to make financial aid information far more prominent on its website.
Highlighting this will let all students know that seeking financial aid is a normal part of student life at NUS, and that it's nothing to be embarrassed about. There should be a direct link to the Student Financial Aid Unit prominently highlighted on NUS's main webpage.
The second thing NUS needs to do is to make its administration seem more approachable so that students who need financial aid will not be discouraged from seeking help.
Harvard alumni NUS President Shih Choon Fong may want to take the lead on this issue by emulating the example of Harvard Interim President Derek Bok. President Bok will be meeting students this semester. He will be seeing us on a first-come first-served basis.
Vernie Alison Oliveiro (Ms) Massachusetts, USA
"NUS should make financial aid more visible, available and less confusing." By Rachel Yap. The Straits Times (Forum Online), 29 Sept 2006
I REFER to the letter, 'NUS can be proactive to help needy students' by Miss Vernie Alison Oliveiro (ST, Sept 27). Her letter highlighted the very problems I have faced in applying for a NUS Study Loan.
I am a currently a first year student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), on a DBS Tuition Fee Loan, which does not cover the entire school fees for the semester. Following the example of my brother who is a second year student, and has successfully applied for a NUS Study Loan only after he matriculated in late September last year, I similarly tried to apply online after my matriculation in August but I was unsuccessful. Moreover, the link to financial aid was indeed, as Miss Oliveiro mentioned, 'buried' and was not visibly listed on the NUS website, adding to my frustration. I had to go through many links before finding the page itself.
The officer on the hotline I called said applications for the NUS Study Loan closed after April 2, but I was unable to apply for the loan as my application to NUS as a course of study had not been approved. Nor did I receive confirmation of my acceptance by NUS or the matriculation package regarding the loan before April 2. I received both letters only a month later, in May.
Moreover, the officer told me the NUS Study Loan was now used as an incentive for students to choose NUS as their choice university, to my surprise. I was then told to make an appeal by e-mail, which I did that day.
I received a reply five days later and after many exchanges with the officer in charge to explain my situation, I was told my appeal was successful and I should submit my application and supporting documents by Sept 5, which I did.
On Sept 23, however, I was told my application was unsuccessful. As payment of my remaining school fees was due on Sept 28, my mother and I decided to go to NUS in person to make another appeal. We were transferred from one department to another, and then told we could not see anyone in person. Instead, we could speak to an officer only by phone.
I called the number given, and explained my situation, asking if I could delay payment of school fees, but the officer said something along the lines of, 'But it's only $420'. He asked me twice, 'So what do you want us to do?' before telling me I could e-mail NUS and ask to pay in instalments, which had to be in two payments and completed before the final exams, before he seemingly replaced the receiver hastily.
I would have appreciated a better response, not one that was so hasty and, to one who might easily take offence, rather insensitive. Although $420 pales in comparison to a few thousand dollars, it is by no means a small sum either. If it were so easy to pay, I would not go through all the trouble to appeal for a loan or ask for a delay in payment.
Noting that e-mail regarding financial aid was sent to all who applied for a bank tuition fee loan last year, I understand there may have been an overwhelming response or even misuse of funds or loans, thus NUS cautious approach this year. Hence, I am prepared to take on part-time jobs as soon as I have completed the first exams in my modules this semester, to facilitate payment of school fees for the remaining semesters.
However, from my experience, it can be seen that students who need financial help seem to be largely discouraged or even made to feel as if they are freeloaders. It was not even a grant I applied for, but a loan which I will have to repay after graduation.
I have redressed my situation by taking on a part-time job, but what about other students who have been turned away without appeal, or are unable to fit a part-time job into their schedule? I hope NUS will make financial aid prominently visible, available and less confusing for those who may need it in the future.
Rachel Yap Wei Li (Miss)
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