Universities increase fees: $677m net investment loss?


By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to media reports about all three Singapore public universities raising fees for the incoming cohort of students.

For example, the National University of Singapore (NUS) will raise fees by four to ten per cent.

Since NUS's web site states that "The University will also lift the one-year fee increase deferment that was implemented in AY2009/2010, and implement the previously published tuition fees from AY2010/2011 for the AY2009 cohort", the actual increase is by eight to 21 per cent for normal courses and law/pharmacy, and not by four to ten per cent.

In this regard, last year's tuition was $6,360 (normal courses) and $7,340 (law/pharmacy), which will increase to $6,890 and $8,890 respectively.

According to NUS's annual report ended March 2009, it had a Deficit for the Year of $589 million, and Accumulated Surplus of $1.6 billion.

For 2008, it had a Surplus for the Year of $183 million.

As its Net Investment Loss for 2009 was $677 million, does it mean that the Deficit of $589 may be due primarily to the Net Investment Loss?

Since global equity markets (MSCI World Index) have recovered by about 75 per cent from the lowest point in March 2009, is there a pressing need to increase fees by up to 21 per cent, given that the Accumulated Surplus is $1.6 billion?

In this connection, Singapore is just coming out of its worse recession, with 60,100 unemployed residents as of December and wages fell by 3.2 per cent in real terms in 2009.

So, shouldn't we be cautious in starting to raise fees so soon, like the recently announced increase in Service and Conservancy Charges and polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education fees?

With Endowment Funds of $1.56 billion, does it mean that  NUS lost about 43 per cent in investing in just one year ($677 million Net Investment Loss divided by $1.56 billion Endowment Funds)?

Its Net Investment Loss for 2008 was only $6.4 million.

For comparative purposes, according to NTU's 2009 annual report for the same period, it had a Deficit for the Year of $130 million, Accumulated Surplus of $1.5 billion, Funds and resources of $1.5 billion. and Loss on Investments of $276 million.