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MOE spends S$238 million yearly on scholarships and tuition grants for foreign students

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Education spends about S$238 million a year on scholarships and tuition grants for international students studying in Singapore, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung revealed in Parliament on Monday (Aug 5).

No Singaporean is ever displaced from institutes of higher learning because of an international student, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said.

No Singaporean is ever displaced from institutes of higher learning because of an international student, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said.

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Education (MOE) spends about S$238 million a year on scholarships and tuition grants for international students studying in Singapore, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung revealed in Parliament on Monday (Aug 5). 

Mr Ong also said that foreign students are admitted into institutes of higher learning on more stringent requirements only after “all Singaporean students who meet the standards have been admitted”.  

“No Singaporean is ever displaced from institutes of higher learning because of an international student,” he added. This was in response to a question by Workers’ Party’s Non-constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Leon Perera, who asked about the Government’s spending on foreign students. 

Out of the S$238 million, S$108 million are spent on tuition grants. The rest of the S$130 million are on scholarships — a figure that was released a month ago as a written response to a parliamentary question also raised by Mr Perera. 

The S$238 million amounts to about 1.8 per cent of the ministry’s annual budget of S$13 billion, a proportion that Mr Perera said “was on the high side”.  

SPENDING ON FOREIGN STUDENTS HAS DROPPED

However, Mr Ong said that MOE’s budget is “overwhelmingly spent on local students” in the form of government subsidies and financial aid, which are only for Singapore citizens. 

The amount of government spending on scholarships and tuition grants for international students has also fallen by about 50 per cent over the past 10 years, Mr Ong revealed. 

Singaporean students pay around 25 per cent of the total cost of a place in university. 

“Even after tuition grant, a foreigner still pays twice the amount (that) a Singaporean (does),” he said. 

He also said that the S$238 million does not reflect the real cost to the education system as a whole.

Using the analogy of a restaurant giving S$100 vouchers to customers, he said that the incremental cost to the restaurant to fulfil the voucher can be much less because the cost of rental fees, utilities, manpower and so on are more or less fixed, whether the customer uses the voucher or not.

So even if Singapore sends back all the international students on scholarships, it is not going to save much on the education budget because overhead costs such as buildings, laboratories, equipment and so forth will still be incurred. 

BENEFITS OF HAVING FOREIGN STUDENTS    

Mr Ong explained that there are benefits to having international students, such as opportunities for Singaporean students to connect with people from other countries, and having a catchment of people who can contribute to Singapore. 

“This is an increasingly important aspect of education because we are working in a globalised, multicultural world,” he said.

“Many eventually sink roots, take up permanent residency and/or citizenship and raise their families here. Even if they decide to leave Singapore after fulfilling their obligations, they can be part of our valuable global network of fans and friends, who can speak up for Singapore and forge collaborations with Singapore.”

Providing scholarships and tuition grants for international students is also a practice among universities around the world, and Singaporean students studying overseas also benefit from subsidised education or scholarships offered by universities in other countries.  

“So we give some and take some. Our institutes of higher learning cannot depart from this international practice norm, and have to be part of this global education network,” Mr Ong said. 

The benefits of having and spending on international students are thus “clear”, though he added that there is a need to do it in “the right proportion”.  

In response to Mr Ong’s question on the Workers’ Party’s position on this policy, Mr Perera, who spoke on a personal basis, said that he wanted to find out whether the Government’s spending on foreign students as opposed to students here is “calibrated based on the benefits we receive back”. 

While Mr Perera said that the S$238 million as a proportion of the ministry’s overall budget “seems to be on the high side”, he would keep an open mind if the Government can show that this amount of spending on foreign students could generate economic multipliers.

Nominated MP Walter Theseira suggested that the Government could get more foreign students to be net fee payers, as is the practice in overseas universities in the United Kingdom and Australia. Net fee payers refer to foreign students who are paying more to the university than the grant amount they receive.

Mr Ong replied that there are “some” students, specifically those who do not apply for tuition grants, who are already net fee payers. 

FOREIGN STUDENTS WHO DEFAULT ON BONDS

Separately, Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat filed a question asking about the number of international students who defaulted on their bond obligations in the last three years and the amount of the grants given to these students, as well as the results of recovery efforts.

In reply, Mr Ong said that about 4 per cent of international students default on their bonds now and the tuition grants given to this group of students come to about S$5.5 million yearly.

He added that the ministry takes a serious view of these students who default on their bonds.

“It is not just a matter of money, but also honour and trust. We have managed to recover from a few, and we will continue to make suitable recovery efforts. 

“For those who fail to pay their liquidated damages, we have also taken actions to prevent them from working or residing in Singapore.”

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