ORIENTATION programmes run for first-year students of individual nationalities were preventing integration within the student population, said a Malaysian doctoral student, who asked: Why not scrap them to encourage international students to mix with Singaporeans?
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong felt the issue was best left to the university to decide.
But he added that there was value in such orientation programmes. They allowed international students to find information about various services relevant to their nationalities, to ease their way into Singapore.
'But at the same time, you don't want them to be trapped in that circle, you want them to break out of that and have friends across nationalities,' he said.
Nanyang Technological University's student clubs, societies, and interest groups organise various orientation programmes for students, with some along nationality lines.
Mr Lee said: 'I think it's something which the universities have been pondering and they ought to do some more thinking about it.'
The problem of ethnic cliques within universities was not confined to Singapore, he pointed out.
Cambridge University, he noted, has 800 students from China. It is trying to think of ways to encourage them to interact more with other students as well.
The task will not be easy as it is only natural for people of the same ethnic background to stick together.
In Singapore's public housing estates, for example, where there are racial quotas for each block and precinct, some households of the same race still end up buying homes next to or near one another, he said.
TAN HUI YEE
This article was first published in The Straits Times.