By Leong Sze Hian

According to the article “Fourth varsity: Third time’s the charm?” (Straits Times, September 1), 23.5 per cent of each cohort makes it to the local universities, “But what is significant though is that up to half of each cohort do end up with degrees, whether from here or overseas”.

It also cited the case of a couple who had to clean out their savings, mortgaged the family’s three-room flat, and deferred plans for the mother to retire from her job as a factory operator, in order to send their children overseas for a university education, because there wasn’t enough places in the local universities.

Since bout 26.5 per cent of the cohort had to obtain a university degree, other than at the local universities, how many parents, like the couple above, may have ended up with insufficient funds for retirement?

To what extent has the “panel to review the university sector’s” decision in January 2003, to drop the idea of a fourth university recommended by the panel of international experts in January 2001, and the Government committee in July 2001, contributed to the state of retirement funding now (here, here and here) and into the future?

It is interestingly co-incidental that the then (January 2003) new minister of state, Dr Ng Eng Hen, who led the panel, is now the Minister of Manpower, who is proposing the changes to the CPF system.

Until such time that the much anticipated clarification (“University places – numbers don’t add up”) by the minister of state for education on university places for foreigners takes place, perhaps the effect and implications of our foreign university places and scholarships policy, on Singaporean students and their parents’ retirement funding, may be analysed and debated further.

So, what has university places and compulsory annuities, got to do with jobs creation?

One of the main reasons given in January 2003, for dropping the recommended fourth university, was that “In 2003, we (only) created 20,000 jobs a year. This quarter (second quarter 2007), we created 60,000 jobs. That’s the contrast you are talking about: in one quarter alone, we created three years’ worth of jobs compared to 2003”.

Well, on the subject of contrast, what was the percentage of jobs created that went to Singaporeans in 2003, compared to now? (link)

So, instead of waiting (for about 7 years already since the fourth university was first mooted, and another 8 years until 2015) – “The commitment has been given, subsidised university places for 30 per cent by 2015, and a high-quality education… we will deliver” – why not review our foreign student policy now?

Who knows? A single stroke may kill 2 birds with 1 stone – the university places problem and the CPF problem!

Read more of Sze Hian’s writings here.

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