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     FrontPage Edition: Tue 7 Mar 2006

2nd Defence Minister speaks on NS deferment & disruption


Speech by Second Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at Committee of Supply Debate
NSF Deferment
Let me first touch on deferment and explain the basis for deferments that we have previously allowed and the recent changes that have been put into place...
Despite the legislated enlistment age and operational requirements, MINDEF had exercised flexibility in the past by allowing some groups of students to complete their studies before serving their NSF.
MINDEF had granted deferment to those who could start their full-time course of study before the age of 18 for local courses and before 17½ for overseas courses, and this was assuming that such courses would not last more than 3 or 4 years.
Similarly, pre-enlistees are granted deferment for ¡®A¡¯ levels and polytechnic diploma courses if they are below 19 years old as at 1 January of the year of commencement of the course.
Such exceptions were workable if the majority of NS-liable males entered into a few institutions with fixed starting terms. We could predict quite reliably the proportion and number of students that would be deferred.
But educational opportunities have expanded exponentially in the past few years. We now have a proliferation of institutions with a variety of modules in Singapore.
New compressed integrated courses have also been introduced, so that students could theoretically start anytime within the year. The opportunities to study abroad and at different times of the year have also increased as Singaporeans have become more affluent. Many more Singaporeans would be able to start universities or other courses before ages 17½ abroad or 18 locally.
It is no therefore no longer tenable to grant deferments based on past criteria.
MINDEF has therefore decided to get back to basics, rationalise our deferment policy based on operational needs and the primary goals of National Service¡ªthis is a starting principle and a fundamental one.
In rationalising our policy, it was understood that NS is a sacrifice which may mean that Singaporeans would have to defer their university studies till after they have completed National Service.
We applied the key principles of universality and equity to ensure that everyone within the same cohort would receive more or less the same treatment in allowing them to attain their educational qualifications.
Therefore, MINDEF will only grant deferment for pre-enlistees to gain their basic educational qualifications of ¡®A¡¯ levels, polytechnic diploma, or below.
This is reasonable as most of our 18 year old NS enlistees would either have completed their basic qualification programme or are about to complete it.
As university degrees are considered higher educational qualifications, deferments for university studies will no longer be allowed. This new policy for deferments has been in place from the end of last year.
Now, the vast majority of our enlistees will not affected by this rationalisation. Our past records show that under the old previous deferment policy, less than 100 a year were granted deferment for university studies in the past¡ªthis is a special 100. Moving on, this will no longer be allowed.
For those affected, what it means is that they have to serve NS like the rest of their peers before going for their university studies. This is the norm, even for those who do their pre-university studies overseas. More than 75% of those granted deferment for pre-university studies in the past returned to serve their NS before proceeding to university.
As part of our rationalisation, ITE students will now be able to proceed to undertake a polytechnic diploma course ¨C a basic educational qualification ¨C before enlisting for NS.
Even then, we will only allow such deferments if they are below 20 years old as at 1 January of the year of commencement of the course.
Now I know there are many NSFs with ITE qualifications who are already currently serving in the SAF. We will allow early disruption to all those who have completed their BMT to pursue their polytechnic diploma in Apr 2006 or Apr 2007, provided that they qualify for the deferment under the new policy.
NSF Disruption
Now let me talk about disruption. Mr Leong, Dr Ong and Dr Loo called for greater flexibility in granting disruption from full-time NS for tertiary studies. Dr Loo asked, some of the members have asked that disruption from full-time NS to be granted to all scholarship holders.
Let me qualify that disruptions not only affect the training and operational readiness of the individual; it also impacts the unit as a whole ¨C because the army fights as a unit. It will compromise unit standards and its operational readiness. This is especially so because the duration of NS has been reduced to 2 years.
MINDEF therefore allows disruption only in selected cases and based on the three principles. First it must be subject to the operational readiness of their units not being compromised.
For equity, we will allow disruptions for those who are enlisted for NS in later intake batches, so that they are able to start university in the same year as their peers or of the same school cohort, who were enlisted earlier. Now, let me give you a few examples so you can understand what I am saying.
For example, NSFs belonging to the same ¡®A¡¯ level or Polytechnic cohort are typically enlisted over two intakes¡ªwe can¡¯t bring them all because of the flow ¨C so they are split over two intakes due to capacity constraints at the training schools. ¡®A¡¯ level holders are typically enlisted in the December and March intakes¡ªthere are basically two intakes, while Diploma holders are typically enlisted in the June and September intakes.
In each of these cases, MINDEF will allow disruption of up to 2 months to those who were called up in the later intake so that they could enter university in the same year as those who were enlisted in the earlier intake¡ªthe principle of equity.
Allow me to illustrate this with an example because it can get quite confusing. An ¡®A¡¯ level NSF enlisted in December 2005, will complete his 2-year NSF liability in December 2007 and be able to commence his university studies, if he wanted to, say in February 2008, if he starts in an Australian university. But his classmate who was enlisted in April 2006 will only complete his NS liability in April 2008.
In other words, the classmate who was enlisted late and his peers can now start university in February 2008. For such cases due to different call up dates, MINDEF may grant a 2-month disruption to pursue his university studies.
However, MINDEF does not allow disruption to those who are trying to start an overseas course or a local course one academic year ahead of their male peers within the same cohort...
Using the same example, we would not allow disruptions for an ¡®A¡¯ level NSF enlisted in December 2005 to start university in September 2007. That would be unfair to his peers of his cohort in Singapore who can only commence their studies in 2008. It is in fact untenable. Because of the expanded choice of universities both here and locally, almost all students could find a place to start at some university earlier and apply for disruption.
As for disruption for scholarship holders, only PSC scholars have been given special consideration for disruption after serving 6 to 10 months of NS to do their university studies, before returning to complete the remainder of their full-time NS.
Now annually, only about 30 are granted such early disruptions. This is not extended to other scholarship holders as early disruption has significant impact and needs to be minimised. Such special consideration is only given to PSC scholarship holders as it is an important conduit for bringing key talent into the Public Service.

Full Text of Speech

Source: News Release 6 Mar 2006

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