Universities, polytechnics suspend overseas placements as Singapore widens border restrictions

Universities, polytechnics suspend overseas placements as Singapore widens border restrictions

Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), including local universities and polytechnics, will suspend all overseas placements in light of border restrictions announced by Singapore on Sunday (Mar 15). In this week's Spotlight, Deborah Wong finds out what alternative arrangements varsities are making for their students.

SINGAPORE: Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), including local universities and polytechnics, will suspend all overseas placements in light of new border restrictions announced by Singapore on Sunday (Mar 15).

The Ministry of Education (MOE), together with the IHLs, have decided to suspend all official overseas placements, including internships and exchange programmes, until the end of July, MOE said in a press release.

Students who are currently on such overseas placements will be recalled "as soon as is practicable", and the IHLs will support them with alternative learning arrangements, it added.

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The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) on Mar 4 suspended all student exchanges to Italy.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday announced that people who enter Singapore with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom will be issued with a 14-day stay-home notice.

This will take effect from 11.59pm on Monday and applies to all travellers, including Singapore residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors, said MOH.

An exception will be made for Singaporeans and Malaysians coming to the country through Singapore’s sea and land crossings with Malaysia, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said. Separate arrangements are currently being worked out by a bilateral joint working group with Malaysia.

NO DELAY IN STUDENTS' GRADUATION: MOE

MOE noted that various countries have announced similar border restrictions, and universities worldwide have moved to full online learning and even closed their campuses, including campus housing.

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"The decision to suspend overseas placements was reached after careful consideration of the uncertainties ahead, the fact that the students would be able to access similarly meaningful learning opportunities locally, as well as the well-being of our students and their academic progression," said the education ministry.

"MOE will continue to monitor the global situation and work closely with the IHLs to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our students."

The ministry also sought to allay concerns about the loss of credits earned during students' overseas placements or exchanges.

"First, there will be no delay in students' graduation. IHLs will support the affected students by providing alternative learning arrangements. This would include credit bearing modules during the summer semester or local internship placements," said MOE.

"As most of the affected students are second or third year students, they also have the option to take additional credits in subsequent years.

"In the coming weeks, the IHLs will work with each affected student to finalise these alternative arrangements."

MOE said the alternative arrangements should not impose any additional financial cost to students, and that all additional modules or local internships will not add to the current school fees.

NUS said on Sunday that in addition to the suspensions of all overseas placements, all official overseas trips for staff will also be suspended until end-July 2020. 

In the circular signed by Dr Peck Thian Guan, director of the university’s Office of Safety, Health and Environment, NUS said: “The Global Relations Office as well as Faculties and Schools will be in contact with the affected students to provide assistance.”

Staff and students “who must travel for official reasons” must seek approval from their supervisors or the management office of their departments, wrote Dr Peck, adding that Singaporeans should also e-register their overseas travel with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

NUS also reminded staff and students to declare any travel plans up to Jul 31 in its Overseas Travel Declaration system, and update them if there are subsequent changes.

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“While these additional precautionary measures may temporarily disrupt your work or study activities and travel plans, it is vital that we strictly abide by these measures,” wrote Dr Peck, reminding that non-compliance with any of the control measures implemented by the Government will be subject to prosecution under the Infectious Diseases Act. 

“Please also note that non-compliance with measures introduced by NUS to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 is considered an offence, and disciplinary action will be taken against staff and students. All non-compliance will be dealt with in accordance with the NUS Code of Conduct and the NUS student disciplinary procedures.”

Dr Peck also announced that the professor and the student who were confirmed with COVID-19 last month have recovered and been discharged from the hospital.

The 54-year-old male professor, who works at the School of Design and Environment in NUS, was identified as Case 53 by the Ministry of Health (MOH). He was discharged on Saturday. 

The student from the Faculty of Engineering, or Case 71, was discharged on Mar 5. 

Dr Peck wrote: “The professor and student are well, and are happy to be back with their families. Our colleagues will continue to be in regular contact with them to ensure that they have the support they need.”

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Source: CNA/jt(mi)

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