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Singapore’s academic community has become increasingly concerned about a succession of deaths at the Nanyang Technology University campus, with at least two apparent student suicides in one week, one of them linked to the murder of an academic, as well as a fatal car accident – all in the space of three weeks and all from the same faculty.
The murder-suicide involved an Indonesian student who was in his final year of an engineering degree. The student allegedly stabbed his professor after his Asean scholarship was revoked. He is then believed to have thrown himself off a student building.
The death of a research fellow in the car accident and the other student suicide, who was also a Chinese national, involved Nanyang’s school of electrical and electronic engineering. A report in last week’s Singapore Sunday Times said the university would not comment on the series of events. Despite this, some writers in the Singapore press have suggested the deaths point to a possible trend.
Reports of increased enrolments in universities around the world suggest that students are taking up further study as a result of the global financial crisis. But this could be a mixed blessing for the institutions.
Apart from the stress on administrators and the bigger piles of assignments for academics to mark, there may also be longer queues at student counselling services. Even worse, there may be more students suffering untreated depression, with subsequent violence and suicide.
Younger students have never experienced the likes of the current economic crisis. Although this could be sufficiently anxiety-provoking to prompt their investment in additional qualifications, such anxiety associated with low self-esteem may bring with it increased stress and inevitable sleeplessness and depression.
Combined with the financial pressures of funding their studies, along with the pressures to do well, this could result in a lethal mix of stressors.
The International Education Association, which represents international education professionals in Australia and New Zealand, is one of the few organisations to have tried to develop a response to this apparent trend.
The association has produced a useful resource for its members handling critical incidents in the international student community, such as a suicide of an international student.
The Nanyang campus does have a student counselling programme for international students, as well as a crisis help line and advice on self-help for mental health problems and stress self-management support.
But the deaths last month raise questions about whether university administrations and student services around the globe need to review their crisis support resources in the context of the global financial crisis.
* Dr Colin A Sharp is Managing Director of Education Development Brokers