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S'pore Universities Take New Leaps

28 Dec

SINGAPORE – A new university, a third medical school, collaboration with an Ivy League institution and the debate over mother tongue languages.

These were some of Singapore’s main developments on the educational scene this year.

One innovative programme is the Campus Builder Programme, which gives early entrants to the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) a say in creating their ideal campus.

This includes giving feedback on classroom design, forming clubs and societies, even deciding on the food in the canteen.

Mr Toh Yong Cheng, 20, plans to pursue his interest in mathematics and systems engineering at SUTD and will also help out as a research technician under Professor Daniel Frey, co-director of the Singapore-MIT International Design Centre.

Said Mr Toh: “When we have our own ideas, we can suggest it to the professors … Maybe we’ll even make our own product, our own design even before we get into university.”

SUTD president Tom Magnanti said the university hopes to hire some 60 faculty members by 2012 and, over time, build this up to 350 to 400 faculty members, who will be involved in both teaching and research.

He said: “Universities are built on what we all call ‘flywheels’. You attract the best faculty, they attract the best students. You attract the best students, they attract the best faculty. And we hope we got the flywheel working.”

Also planned – student accommodation.

Professor Magnanti is intent on creating a strong campus culture, something he experienced at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States where he was Dean of its School of Engineering.

He said: “There’s something special about MIT. You go there and you just feel the pulse of the place and you feel the enthusiasm. We want to replicate that at SUTD. “

SUTD, Singapore’s fourth publicly-funded university, is aiming to have 4,000 undergraduate students and 2,000 postgraduate students.

Meanwhile, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is finalising its agreement with Yale University to start a liberal arts college, with details expected early next year.

It is also opening two of its four undergraduate residential blocks – which will hold 600 students each – at its new university town at Warren from August next year.

The NUS said its graduate residential complex, which has space for 1,700 students, will also be ready. The 19-hectare site will be fully completed by 2013.

As for the Nanyang Technological University, it has partnered the United Kingdom’s Imperial College to set up Singapore’s third medical school.

The school will open in 2013, with an initial intake of about 50 students, which is expected to grow to 150 over the next five years. There are more degree options as well for polytechnic graduates, in the form of the Singapore Institute of Technology.

The institute has partnered five foreign universities to offer courses ranging from the culinary arts to naval architecture.

In other education moves, more students in the Normal Academic stream can soon enter polytechnic, without sitting for the O-levels.

And a review of the teaching of Mother Tongue languages at the PSLE is underway.

Many had thought that the Education Ministry was reducing the weightage of the subject, sparking a spirited debate within the Chinese community.

Eventually, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there would be no cut to the weightage.

The review of mother tongue languages will be out early next year.

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Trip To 'Unwind' Proved Fatal

28 Dec

SINGAPORE – He telephoned his mother and sister-in-law on Sunday morning to share the excitement of a good catch from his kelong fishing trip in Sibu Island.

They were Mr Chua Lim Khoon’s last words to them. The boat he was on, which was making its way from the kelong to a jetty in Mersing, capsized about 300m from its destination.

Mr Chua, 45, a project coordinator with a start-up firm, was one of the four people who died from the boating tragedy that happened on Sunday.

Another victim, Ms Low Li Jun, 33, was a cousin while the other two, Mr Adrian Tan, 67, and Mr Tor Soon Kwee, 41, were his friends.

Mr Chua, a bachelor known as "Ben", was the youngest of four siblings.

His body was brought back to Singapore last night by his sister and eldest brother.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said that the bodies of the other three Singaporeans would be returning to Singapore yesterday evening.

The MFA and Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru assisted with arrangements for the return.

Speaking to MediaCorp at the wake last night, one of Mr Chua’s brothers, who declined to be named, said the close-knit family has been going on fishing trips for the past six to seven years.

They used to go as often as "once a month", but in recent years, the trips had been less frequent.

Mr Chua had gone for the ill-fated trip because he wanted to unwind with friends and family at the kelong, a sister-in-law said.

The brother who spoke to MediaCorp said he was supposed to go on the trip but did not because of work commitments.

When asked to describe his younger brother, he became teary-eyed. "He was a good brother, and he took very good care of our mother," he said. Cheow Xin Yi

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A Struggle At Sea

28 Dec

MERSING (Johor) – As efforts were intensified yesterday to find the sole Singaporean still missing after the Boxing Day tragedy in Malaysia, the first accounts have emerged from survivors of the boat mishap that has now claimed the lives of four Singaporeans.

Choppy waters, a violent shaking of the boat and then the struggle in the water – for some, even a struggle to escape the boat cabin. The story was told while more than 130 personnel from various agencies in Mersing were out at sea to search for Mr Ng Kian Teck, 44.

Although the search was halted when darkness fell, Johor chief police officer Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Shariff told the media – and distraught family members, when he visited the operations room at Tanjong Leman ferry terminal in the afternoon – that the authorities would do whatever it takes to find Mr Ng.

"We’ll carry on as long as is needed to look for the missing person. I’ve also instructed the police to expedite investigations." he said.

He declined to comment on whether there were enough life jackets on the boat for the 29 passengers – including 19 Singaporeans – as investigations were ongoing, but it was clear that the boat travelling towards mainland from a kelong near Sibu island was overloaded.

One of the survivors, Mr Heng Lih Hooi, said he knew there were life jackets in the cabin – 12, according to his wife – but none of the passengers were wearing them, nor were they asked to.

"I think wearing the life jackets could probably have saved some of our friends," he told MediaCorp as he related the chaotic situation shortly before the boat capsized.

"About 15 to 20 minutes after we left the kelong, we experienced choppy waters. So the boat was actually shaking quite violently, especially left and right. At some time, the boatman asked some of us to go to the front of the boat. I think he was trying to balance the boat. And he called for the action two times."

The boat then sank and a rescue boat arrived 10 minutes later.

"Many of us were trying to struggle out of the cabin. And some of them actually broke the glass, the window, in order to climb out," said Mr Heng.

"I was more worried about my loved ones because my wife is a non-swimmer. I myself am a non-swimmer …

"The waves kept on splashing over (us) and we were drinking a lot of (sea) water. In fact, some of our relatives were admitted to hospital because of drinking too much sea water.

"I would say we cheated death this time round. We were lucky to survive."

He may not have been the only one. Singapore permanent resident and mechanic Mr Liang, together with his wife and 13-year-old daughter, were supposed to be on the boat that capsized, but decided to take a later boat after he overheard talk that the former was leaking, although investigations are still ongoing.

Earlier in the day, the body of the fourth Singaporean victim, Mr Tor Soon Kwee, 41, was recovered and identified by family members. Some distraught family members of the four victims gathered outside the mortuary at Mersing yesterday, while others came together at the ferry terminal to offer prayers. One Singaporeans remains warded in hospital

Mr Mokhtar said the authorities will form a committee to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

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Taiwanese Celebrity's Daughter To Plead Guilty To Casino Offences

28 Dec

Singapore – A Taiwanese celebrity’s daughter, accused of converting more than $100,000 worth of casino cash chips for her own use, intends to plead guilty to her offences, a district court heard yesterday.

Chiu Yee Fong was working at Resorts World Sentosa casino as a croupier when she allegedly committed the crimes.

The 30-year-old also told the court that her parents would be making restitution to the casino on her behalf.

Chiu allegedly converted chips amounting to $111,400 entrusted to her by the casino between Sept 28 and Nov 7. She also purportedly converted another $900 worth of casino chips for her own use on Nov 6.

About $11,000 worth of casino chips were also allegedly found in Chiu’s possession in a flat at Block 33, Toa Payoh Lorong 6, on Oct 21.

Yesterday, Chiu accepted the prosecution’s offer to plead guilty to two of the three charges she faced.

The case was adjourned for a week for the Attorney-General’s Chambers to appoint a deputy public prosecutor to handle the matter. Chiu, the daughter of Taiwanese actor Chiu Yong Qin, will be back in court on Jan 3.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Chiu – who regularly appears on drama serials on television here – said his daughter, who arrived here a few months ago, had problems adjusting to life in Singapore.

She also has a history of anxiety and panic attacks, added Mr Chiu, who is also known by his stage name, Long Tian Xiang.

If convicted of converting the chips for her own use, Chiu can be jailed up to 15 years and fined. She can also be jailed up to five years and fined a maximum of $150,000 if found guilty of possessing the chips outside the casino.

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No Rise In Severely Ill H1N1 Patients Here, Says MOH

27 Dec

SINGAPORE – As health experts in the United Kingdom warn of the worst winter flu outbreak there in 10 years, a check with Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) last week presented a marked difference in the flu situation here.

There has been no significant increase in patients severely ill from the H1N1 infection, a ministry spokesperson said, declining to reveal exact numbers.

Statistics from a fortnight ago showed influenza activity in Singapore remains low.

Of the 13,484 patients who sought treatment at polyclinics from Dec 12 to 18 for acute respiratory infections, only one in 100 cases had flu-like illness – compared to 15 to 20 per cent during the H1N1 pandemic last year.

Samples taken from those with flu-like illness showed 37 per cent testing positive for the flu virus.

However, H1N1-2009 is the predominant circulating strain. Compare this with the flu situation in the UK which has seen 460 people there in intensive care, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The World Health Organisation’s latest flu update states that the H1N1 virus is still similar to the strain used in the current flu vaccine, and that the increasing influenza activity observed across parts of Europe indicates the start of wintertime influenza epidemics in several countries.

The MOH here urged high-risk groups, including those aged 65 and above, young children aged 5 and below, as well as pregnant women in their second and third trimesters, to get vaccinated.

The rate of flu in England and Wales is 87.1 cases per 100,000 of the population, a rate which has tripled in seven days.

The latest figures show 27 deaths from flu, 24 of which were from H1N1 flu. Nine of the cases were children The Daily Telegraph reported on. Neo Chai Chin

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The Mystery Behind Commuter's Three Failed Ez-Link Top-Ups

27 Dec

SINGAPORE – Thrice he topped up his card with $20 each time.

And thrice the money was deducted from his bank account but was not transferred to his ez-link card.

This despite the Add Value Machine showing the transactions to be successful.

It is not known how prevalent this problem is as Transitlink, which maintains the machines, declined to reveal figures on such failed transactions.

When train commuter Abdul Razak Subahan tried topping up his ez-link card via Nets last month, he found $20 deducted from his bank account. But it was not reflected in his card value.

It was only when Mr Abdul Razak used his card the next day that he realised the card’s value had not increased by $20.

He tried topping up the card again, but with the same result.

Frustrated, the freelance software programmer, 50, reported it to staff at Raffles Place MRT station.

After getting a bank statement proving $40 had been deducted from his bank account, he filled up a form seeking a refund.

On Dec 6, it happened a third time at Simei MRT station.

He said: “I told the station staff, ‘If the machine is faulty, please put up a sign, because a lot of people would also have this problem’,” said Mr Abdul Razak, who lives in Tampines and travels to Raffles Place to help out at his aunt’s business.

Station staff told him his experience was not unique.

MediaCorp sent Transitlink queries on Dec 9 and – in a reply two weeks later – a spokesperson said commuters might have removed their transit cards from the machines before the top-up value is properly encoded on the card.

The Transitlink spokesperson added: “Customers can check if the top-up amount is properly encoded by placing it on the reader again, and if the card value shown on the screen is correct, commuters can then remove their cards.”

Transitlink did not comment on whether it had encountered other complaints similar to Mr Abdul Razak’s.

When told of Transitlink’s explanation, Mr Abdul Razak said he had removed his card only after the machine had indicated the transaction was successful.

On Dec 23, Mr Abdul Razak received an SMS saying his refund was ready for collection at any ticketing office.

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MDIS Students Affected By Lost Scripts To Retake Exam Next Month

27 Dec

SINGAPORE – First, their exam scripts were lost. Then came the possibility they would have only a short time to prepare to re-sit it.

But that fear – as 31 students from the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) have discovered – was unfounded. They have been given a date extension to retake the multiple-choice-question (MCQ) paper next month.

The school will conduct the re-test on Jan 19 next year instead of Dec 18 which was two weeks ago.

On Nov 30, the students were told their scripts had been lost and no explanation was given as to how it had happened.

It is believed that those affected by the missing scripts – which MDIS had previously attributed to an "administrative lapse" – are full-time final-year students, the majority of whom are foreigners.

When contacted, an MDIS spokesperson said that officials have met up with the students and they have agreed on the new date.

The spokesperson added: "The students are happy and satisfied with the Institute’s efforts in addressing their concerns."

Previously, MDIS told the students that Oklahoma City University (OCU) – its partner university in the Mass Communications Programme – had advised the private school that candidates should re-take the paper or it would be difficult for the university to assess and award marks for the MCQ component.

One relieved student said he and his classmates had spent nine days in September preparing for the paper under the guidance of OCU lecturers.

Students were also worried that they would have too little time to prepare for the re-exam, since they also had to go through other courses at that time.

But MediaCorp understands that they will only sit for the MCQ paper after they have completed their current module.

"This is definitely good news as we will be able to concentrate on our current subjects before re-sitting for the MCQ test," said another student, 20. Zul Othman

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