No Singaporean tertiary student is ever displaced by an international student: Ong Ye Kung

SCREENSHOT of Education Minister Ong Ye Kung: YouTube channel

SINGAPORE — No Singaporean student is ever displaced from an institute of higher learning (IHL) because of an international student, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (5 August).

Speaking in Parliament, Ong said the number of IHL places is planned with Singaporean students in mind.

Responding to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera, Ong replied that once all Singaporean students who meet the standards set by IHLs are admitted, the IHLs would then raise the admission bar by “a few notches” and admit a small minority of international students over and above the local students.

The annual education budget of about $13 billion is overwhelmingly spent on local students to make education affordable, Ong said. In addition to the heavy government subsidies available to all Singaporean students, there is also financial aid in the form of assistance and bursaries to ensure that fees remain affordable for lower to middle middle income families. Such financial aid is for Singaporean citizens only, Ong added.

On the trend of Singapore’s annual government spending on international students in terms of scholarships and tuition grants, Ong said this had fallen by about 50 per cent over the last 10 years.

In a written parliamentary reply to Perera last month, Ong revealed that from 2014 to 2018, the Ministry of Education (MOE) spent $130 million annually on scholarships and other forms of financial aid given to foreign students studying in Singapore schools and universities.

Ong explained on Monday that the real cost incurred by the government on international students is significantly less than $130 million by drawing an analogy of a customer’s restaurant voucher.

“Let's say a restaurant gives $100 voucher to a customer. So the voucher is worth $100 to the customer. But the incremental cost to the restaurant to fulfill the voucher can be much less. Why? Because the cost of rental utilities, service staff management etc. are more or less fixed already, whether customer turns up with a voucher or not.

“You imagine if tomorrow we send back all our international students on scholarships, how much of our education budget do we save? I think it would be much less than $130 million because that is the worth of the scholarships to international students, not the expenditure incurred by the system. Overhead costs such as the buildings and laboratories, equipment management manpower, faculty will still need to be incurred anyway.”

If Singapore were to send back all the international students, it will lose the opportunities for Singaporean students to build bonds and bridges with students from other countries and expand the network of friends, Ong added.

Singapore will also lose a catchment of people who could contribute to Singapore, according to Ong.

International students in IHLs who are awarded scholarships are required to work in Singapore for at least three years after they graduate.

“Many eventually sink roots take up permanent residency, 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 know global network of fans and friends who can speak up for Singapore from time to time and forge collaborations with Singapore,” Ong said.

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MOE spent $130M annually on foreign student scholarships and funding in 2014-2018