What inspired you to make a gift to NUS?
We have always believed in giving back to the community – the only question was identifying the objective and the form of giving. Our parents were educators and made us aware from a young age that not only is education the most powerful personal enabler, it is the ultimate social equaliser, which ensures a healthy meritocracy. As a result, we decided to begin with giving to educational causes.
On a personal level, both of us benefitted from student grants, scholarships and bursaries during our time at NUS. It was therefore easy for us to decide to help those who need a quality tertiary education. In addition, Yik Luen has first-hand experience with endowment funds in some of the top US colleges. This made us realise how important it is for a great learning institution to be able to establish a virtuous cycle of giving by the alumni body to the university’s endowment. This enables the university to undertake research and projects that propel it to world-class standards and give bursaries and scholarships, thereby attracting the best students regardless of financial background. These students will in turn give to the university as alumni. This is probably one of the most important factors for the success of many famous American private universities as compared to their counterparts in the rest of the world. The latter rely mostly on government funding, which may not be sustainable in the long term. We hope that NUS can be the first university in this part of the world to adopt and promote such a virtuous cycle.
Why did you choose to support bursaries? What are your hopes for the recipients?
We believe in meritocracy. Students with financial difficulties are disadvantaged vis-à-vis those who are financially worry-free as they may have to work and study at the same time whereas their classmates can devote all their time and energy to their studies. We hope to help level the playing field for financially strapped students by taking away the burden of the school fees. We hope that bursaries will promote social mobility, enabling people from less well-off backgrounds to reach a higher rung on the economic ladder than their parents and grandparents. A college degree has become the minimum criteria to participate in the competition in the modern work place but the cost of such an education is increasing by the day. Bursaries are the easiest answer to help those deserving individuals to ‘cross another bridge’, so to say, to be able to compete effectively in society. We would like to build up an endowment that will help pay the school fees of 10 undergraduates every year. Our only message for the recipients: “Do not forget to give back one day when you can afford to!”
Can you tell us something about you and your giving philosophy?
Yik Luen is a new Singapore citizen and feels that he owes a lot of what he has today to Singapore. This includes an Asean scholarship to study in Raffles Institution, a great career start with the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation and two Singaporean daughters. Our giving philosophy is still at an embryonic stage. We do not yet know which charitable effort we want to help next but we have found a great way of ‘stretching’ the money we are donating – by taking advantage of the attractive ‘dollar-for-dollar matching’ scheme offered by the Singapore government for charitable donations to qualified charitable organisations. In short, under the scheme, one could possibly double to quadruple the impact of every ‘net-of-tax dollar’ one donates. With careful tax planning, we hope to accumulate more financial resources over time to help causes of our choice by setting up an endowment with the Community Foundation of Singapore (http://www.cf.org.sg). Our gift to NUS is made through our endowment account at the Community Foundation. In fact, we hope more working professionals like ourselves will realise that there is actually a way to start accumulating financial resources for charitable causes over time with such government incentives.
What role did NUS play in your lives?
We have fond memories of NUS. We made many good friends with whom we still keep in touch. Apart from a quality tertiary education, NUS gives one the network of friends that is very much a cross-section of Singapore society. Many of our friends in NUS moved on to become leading researchers, academics, lawyers, financiers, doctors, businessmen, senior civil servants, politicians, playwrights and accomplished individuals in their respective fields of endeavour. We are glad we are part of this network that helps to power Singapore’s development.
The Yik Luen and Wei Han Bursary will benefit students at the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Law.