AIM debate in Parliament: (Round 8) – its all about transparency?


By Leong Sze Hian

A lot of people (what is a lot to some may be little to others – for example, I cannot understand how people who earn more than $1 million can object to paying $50 more to those earning less $1,000) have asked me – what is the AIM saga all about?

Transparency and accountability?

Well, in a nutshell – its all about transparency (or rather a lack of it) and accountability.

The AIM saga may arguably be just a  symptom of the infestation of an endemic disease (lack of transparency and accountability) that permeates in all stratum of society in our country today.

The galore of conflicts of interest are sometimes simply brushed off as mere latitude.

Arguably, the lacking in transparency even occurs sometimes in the highest body of the land too -Parliament.

Let me give one example (there are many examples which I shall write about in the coming days) from the most recent Parliamentary sitting:

I refer to the article “Intake of international students at S’pore universities at 16%: Education Minister” (Channel NewsAsia, May 14).

16% foreign students intake?

It states that “Currently, international students comprise 16 per cent of the universities’ intake, Mr Heng said.

In a written parliamentary reply to Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, Mr Heng said the majority of university places have gone to Singaporeans.

Mr Yee had asked for a breakdown on enrolled and admitted student numbers — of Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreigners — for Yale-NUS College and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

Mr Heng said Singaporean students make up 79 per cent of the universities’ intake for the current school year (Academic Year 2012), while Permanent Residents comprised five per cent.

Mr Heng added Singapore’s autonomous universities are required to cap the intake of international students at 2011 levels.”

Never answer the question?

NCMP Yee Jenn Jong’s question asking for a breakdown of enrolled and admitted student numbers was not answered because only the intake (first year?) was given.

I also believe that the figure of 16 per cent is only for foreign students, excluding PRs, and also for undergraduate students only, excluding graduate students.

24% foreign undergraduate students?

In this regard, according to the article “Foreign students capped at 20% or 24% in NUS” (TR Emeritus, May 8) – “The Ministry of Education often asserts that the percentage of international students enrolled in all local public universities is capped at 20% [1].

However, the numbers retrieved from NUS’ own online systems paint a grimmer picture.

A total of 5965 students, or 24.2% of the full-time undergraduate population, are international students. This obviously exceeds the mythical 20% cap.”

64% non-Singaporean undergraduate students?

If we assume that 15 per cent of the local undergraduate students are PRs, then about 64.4 per cent are Singaporeans.

40+% non-Singaporeans in total student population?

I also understand that about 70 to 80 per cent of graduate students in the local universities are non-citizens.

So, what percentage of the total student population in the local universities are not Singaporeans? About 40 plus per cent?

Since there is no transparency on the breakdown of the total student population, let’s try to estimate the figures.

If we assume that about 11.4 per cent (15 per cent of the locals) are PRs, we get 9,241 undergraduate students out of the total full-time students of 25,979 in FY2012/2013, who are non-citizens.

If we assume 70 per cent of the graduate students are non-citizens, we get 7,147 graduate students out of the total graduate students of 10,210, who are non-citizens.

This works out to a non-citizen overall student percentage of 45.3 per cent.

People who reply in Parliament don’t understand simple English?

Mr Yee’s question which asked specifically for the statistics on ‘Yale-NUS College and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine” was also not answered.

I hate to say this, but if the Minister of Education appears to have a problem understanding simple English in a Parliamentary question and gives a reply that does not answer the question – if a student in school fails to answer the question that he or she is asked in an examination – what grade do you think he will get?

Moreover, since it was a written Parliamentary reply, the Minister had ample time and resources to prepare his reply. Its like a student is given ample time to bring the question home, do research and consult others, and yet still never answer the question!

Foreign students’ statistics?

Shouldn’t such statistics be made public on a regular basis?

Are there any public universities in the world with such a high percentage of foreigners?

How much money are we spending in a year on all the foreign students in the public universities – tuition grant, scholarships, etc?

More foreign students help university rankings?

In this connection, I would like to quote from the article “Local univs pro-FT students & profs to get high rankings” (TR Emeritus, May 20) – “The NUS was ranked overall 25th recently, partly because they scored 100% for INTERNATIONAL FACULTY and 98.3% for INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS. However, for quality of research (CITATIONS PER FACULTY), they obtained only 51.1%. (

That is, to avoid low ranking, local universities are abusing the criteria set by ranking agencies by depriving locals of their rightful places at the universities.”


How many foreign students paying full fees?“, Mar 7, 2012

What percentage of students in our universities are Singaporeans?“, Aug 16, 2011

Foreign scholars: Missing statistics?“, Feb 22, 2012