Child prodigy’s university dream in doubt as he's too young for a visa

14-year-old may miss opportunity to attend top London university over visa issue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 10:25am

A child prodigy might lose the chance to attend a prestigious British university next month because he is too young for a student visa.

Arjun Singh, a 14-year-old resident of Kowloon City, last week achieved straight As - including one A* - in his international A-level exams for physics and mathematics.

He was accepted to study physics at King's College London - a prospect he said he would relish. "Study is a big pleasure," Singh said, adding that he particularly enjoys physics because of the "power of explanation" it lends to everyday phenomena.

"You don't just describe things. You understand why they happen," he said.

But his dreams are in danger of being cut short.

According to UK Border Agency regulations, the university cannot apply for the appropriate student visa for Singh until he is 16.

Another possibility - a "child student" visa - could not be sponsored by tertiary institutions, Singh said.

With the new academic term less than a month away, he and his mother have been desperately searching for a solution.

"We're trying to contact the British consulate. We hope they can help with Arjun's situation," Anita Singh said. "The situation is very confusing; we don't know which visa to apply for."

A spokesperson for the British consulate said it would not comment on individual cases.

If successful in his visa bid, Singh would be the youngest international student ever to attend the university, said its director of public relations, Alison Denyer.

Singh is one of about 20,000 gifted children in Hong Kong, according to criteria that define the group as the top 2 per cent of the pupil population.

Today, he is set to undergo an aptitude test and interview for potential admission to the University of Hong Kong.

In 2009, then fifth-grader Singh withdrew from an international school that refused to allow him to skip grades. Since then, he has been homeschooled, as the Education Bureau could not find a school suitable for his needs, Anita Singh said.

"It is fair to say that Arjun has a precocious talent and is exceptionally gifted," said Stephen Tommis, head of the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, of which Singh is a member.

"I am delighted he has been accelerated up to university level and I hope he can find personal fulfilment there."

Some gifted children can become frustrated, anxious or stressed because of under-stimulation or an inability to fit in with their peers.

Arjun Singh admitted this had been his experience, but said it had not been a serious problem.

"I suffered because of my curiosity. No one could answer all my questions," said Singh, whose speech is peppered with rapid-fire questions.

However, Singh is bashful about his talents, even reluctant to accept they are innate.

"Everyone has a brain. Anyone can do it if they try hard enough."

Singh says he hopes to become an academic "researching high-energy particle physics".

"I want to try to contribute something to the physics community, so we can progress further," he said.