MOE spends at least S$340 million each year on scholarships and tuition grants for foreign students in tertiary institutions

The Ministry of Education (MOM) announced that it spent about S$130 million annually on scholarships for international students studying in local schools and autonomous universities in the last five years.

This was revealed by the Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in a Parliamentary written answer on Monday (July 8), after Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera raised this question.

“The Government does give out a small number of scholarships for international students in our schools and Autonomous Universities. The total Government spending for this group of international students comes up to around S$130 million a year, which is 1% of MOE’s annual budget of S$13 billion. Every education system in the world will provide some support to international students, and Singaporeans are also benefitting from foreign sponsorships for their studies,” said Mr Ong.

However, Mr Ong did not completely answer Mr Perera’s question. This is because Mr Perera also asked the Minister what are other forms of financial aid given to foreign students studying in Singapore schools and universities, which Mr Ong failed to answer.

It turns out that a similar question was raised in 2014 by Png Eng Huat, who is the Workers’ Party’s MP for Huogang SMC about the total tuition grant given to international students, as well as the number and percentage of international students who receive tuition grants in the 13 approved institutions, grouped by polytechnics, universities and others.

In response to this, then Minister of Education Heng Swee Keat noted that the tuition grants for international students comes up to about S$210 million per year.

As for the percentage of tuition grants given, Mr Heng said that 6% of 1,700 international students receive tuition grant in each matriculation cohort, and 13% of 2,200 receive in the public-funded universities.

In 2015, Mr Heng also revealed that there were around 3,650 international students in matriculation cohort in the polytechnics and autonomous universities who received the tuition grant, after the question was asked by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Lina Chiam.

However, according to official figures, there were about 65,000 foreign students in Singapore as of June 2018.

Mr Heng also mentioned that since 2012, there are about 900 scholarships awarded to international students at the undergraduate level each year. These scholarships include school fees, and typically include accommodation and some allowances, and the annual cost per scholarship is about S$25,000 on average.

Mr Heng revealed this figure after former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Yee Jenn Jong asked him in a Parliament sitting in 2015.

But, it’s important to note that the total of S$340 million spent on foreign students does not include scholarships and tuition grants for secondary and junior college.

International students who defaulted on repayment

In Monday’s response, Mr Ong said the international students’ academic performance is “closely monitored every semester” and the scholarship would be retracted if the scholar’s don’t perform well.

In addition, Mr Ong also pointed out these international students who are recipients of the scholarship at autonomous universities are also obliged to work in a Singapore entity up to six year upon their graduation.

He added, these students may “eventually apply for and are granted Permanent residency, and some may also take up citizenship”.

However, back in 2014, Mr Png asked the total amount of tuition grants given to international students who defaulted on their agreement to work in a Singapore-based company for three years upon graduation, and the actions taken by MOE to recover the tuition grants.

To this, Mr Heng revealed that 2 out of 10 students, which translates to 20%, defaulted their repayment. “Some did not work immediately upon graduation as they have gone overseas for further study but did not seek deferment approval from MOE, some are in the midst of seeking deferment approval, and some are still seeking employment,” he told.

He added, “Action will be taken against those who default on their service obligations by pursuing liquidated damages from these individuals. Where liquidated damages cannot be recovered, their status as bond defaulters will be taken into consideration should they subsequently apply to work or reside in Singapore”.

Mr Png also asked how much fund was recovered from these defaulted individuals, but Mr Heng declined to answer citing “not relevant”.

If that is not all, the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) also found out in 2016 that MOE did not do much to make sure international students who are scholarship recipients but failed to serve their bonds were reminded of their obligations and paid up liquidated damages.

In its report, AGO highlighted that MOE failed to monitor and enforce these bonds for the scheme, which disbursed S$36.52 million in financial year 2014/2015. It added that MOE could have done more by following up with the universities on cases where actions had not been taken, since all universities submit yearly reports on the bond status of its scholarship winners.