Like many other National Servicemen who have ORDed, 29-year-old biomedical engineer Muhammad Afiq understands the struggles of finding a job.
“Securing a job can be tough, as employers often look for both experience and academic qualifications,” he said. When he chanced upon the SAFRA Bond-Free Education Scheme, he believed it would give him an opportunity to upskill himself and expand his career pathway.
“After my National Service, I started my career with a low starting pay as I had no prior work experience in the field. I have always wanted to further my education, and this sponsorship has helped me achieved that. With this programme, it not only lets me develop the much-needed skill sets for the industry I am in, but also facilitates business networking with my classmates and professors.”
The programme was formed in 1994 to encourage and provide SAFRA members with education opportunities. Some of the renowned institutions in Singapore partnering SAFRA to offer Diploma, Degree and Master’s programmes include the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), SIM Global Education, PSB Academy, Informatics Academy, Kaplan Higher Education Institute, as well as Aventis School of Management.
For Muhammad Afiq, a longtime SAFRA member, his journey to upskill himself began when he heard about the scheme from a warrant officer during his National Service.
“I wanted to find alternatives to fund my studies while working. I researched more online on the education sponsorships that were available in Singapore and decided that the SAFRA Bond-Free Education Scheme suited me best,” he said.
He filed his application online. “Besides filing my academic records, I had to request for references from my NS superiors,” he explained. “Luckily for me, I had a great relationship with everyone and they responded promptly with recommendation letters.”
Next were the crucial interview rounds. Muhammad Afiq recounted how he winged it: “I believe I gave them a good first impression when I turned up dressed in a suit. At the same time, I had prepared well and was able to answer the questions from the panel without any problem.”
Other factors were also at play. For one, he was an exemplary soldier during NS. “I had done rather well during my time,” he said, revealing that he was the recipient of various awards, including the Chief of Transport Officer Coin, Commander’s Coin and Best Soldier awards.
Another plus point was the relevance of his programme to his profession. “Not only was I applying for a degree programme related to my diploma course, but I was already working in the same biomedical field as the programme I’m studying for,” he said. He was elated when awarded.
While juggling studies with a full-time job was not easy, being able to study for his degree with the financial assistance of the scheme was worth the effort.
“I was able to afford my education at SUSS with the help of the sponsorship. School fees could easily reach up to $5,000 a semester,” he said. “As my burden was eased with the financial aid, I was able to focus on my schoolwork and work without worries.”
Muhammad Afiq, who will graduate with his degree later this year, advised prospective applicants to pick a subject they enjoy. “Your passion for the subject that you’re taking is key. It’s not worth your time if you’re doing it only for the piece of paper,” he said. “You would be able to understand lessons easier if you’re interested in them. An education is for life.”
How To Apply
Visit www.safra.sg/education for application details. Candidates must have completed full-time National Service and be a valid SAFRA Ordinary A, Ordinary B or Life member. Full-time National Servicemen under Ordinary A who are seeking to apply for study in any of the stated educational institutions will also be considered if they are in their last year of service and/or whose Operationally Ready Date falls at least three (3) months before the start date of the applied course.
Applications for the upcoming intake will close on 30 Sep 2020.